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Interviewer: Sadie B. Hornsby
Person Interviewed: Susan Castle
Location: Athens, Georgia
On a beautiful morning in April, the interviewer found Susan sitting in the door of her cabin. When asked if she would like to talk about the old plantation days, she replied; “Yes Ma’am, I don’t mind tellin’ what I know, but for dat I done forgot I sho’ ain’t gwine make nothin’ up. For one thing, I ain’t never lived on no plantation. I was a house servant in town.” She added: “Do you mind me axin’ you one favor?” Consent was given and she continued: “Dat is, please don’t call me Aunt Susan; it makes me feel lak I was a hundred years old.
“I was borned in Clarke County, March 7, 1860; I believes dat’s what dey say. Mudder was named Fannie and Pappy’s name was Willis. Us chillun called ‘im Pappy lak he was de onliest one in de world. He fust belonged to Marse Maxwell of Savannah, Georgia. I was so little I disremembers how Pappy come by de name of Castle. In all de seben of us chillun, I didn’t have but one brudder, and his name was Johnny. My five sisters was Mary, Louvenia, Rosa, Fannie, and Sarah. All I ‘members ’bout us as chilluns was dat us played lak chilluns will do.
“In de quarters us had old timey beds and cheers, but I’ll tell you whar I slept most times. Hit was on a cot right at de foot of Mist’ess’ bed. I stayed at de big house most of de time at night, and ‘fore bedtime I sot close by Mist’ess on a foot stool she had special for me.
“All I ricollects ’bout my gran’ma was she belonged to General Thomas R.R. Cobb, and us called ‘im Marse Thomas. Gran’ma Susan wouldn’t do right so Marse Thomas sold her on de block.
“Us had evvything good to eat. Marse Thomas was a rich man and fed ‘is Niggers well. Dey cooked in a big open fireplace and biled greens and some of de udder vittals in a great big pot what swung on a rack. Meat, fish and chickens was fried in a griddle iron what was sot on a flat topped trivet wid slits to let de fire thoo. Dey called it a trivet ’cause it sot on three legs and hot coals was raked up under it. Hoe cakes made out of cornmeal and wheat flour sho’ was good cooked on dat griddle. ‘Tatoes was roasted in de ashes, and dey cooked bread what dey called ash cake in de ashes. Pound cake, fruit cake, light bread and biscuits was baked in a great big round pot, only dey warn’t as deep as de pots dey biled in; dese was called ovens. Makes me hongry to think ’bout all dem good vittals now.
“Oh! Yes Ma’am, us had plenty ‘possums. Pappy used to cotch so many sometimes he jest put ‘em in a box and let us eat ‘em when us got ready. ‘Possums tasted better atter dey was put up in a box and fattened a while. Us didn’t have many rabbits; dey warn’t as much in style den as dey is now, and de style of eatin’ ‘possums lak dey done in slav’ry times, dat is ’bout over. Dey eats ‘em some yet, but it ain’t stylish no mo’. Us chillun used to go fishin’ in Moore’s Branch; one would stand on one side of de branch wid a stick, and one on de udder side would roust de fishes out. When dey come to de top and jump up, us would hit ‘em on de head, and de grown folks would cook ‘em. Dere warn’t but one gyarden, but dat had plenty in it for evvybody.
“In summer time us wore checkedy dresses made wid low waistes and gethered skirts, but in winter de dresses was made out of linsey-woolsey cloth and underclothes was made out of coarse unbleached cloth. Petticoats had bodice tops and de draw’s was made wid waistes too. Us chillun didn’t know when Sunday come. Our clothes warn’t no diffu’nt den from no udder day. Us wore coarse, heavy shoes in winter, but in summer us went splatter bar feets.
“Marse Thomas was jest as good as he could be, what us knowed of ‘im. Miss Marion, my Mist’ess, she won’t as good to us as Marse Thomas, but she was all right too. Dey had a heap of chillun. Deir twin boys died, and de gals was Miss Callie, Miss Sallie, Miss Marion (dey called her Miss Birdie), and Miss Lucy, dat Lucy Cobb Institute was named for. My mudder was Miss Lucy’s nuss. Marse Thomas had a big fine melonial (colonial) house on Prince Avenue wid slave quarters in de back yard of his 10-acre lot. He owned ‘most nigh dat whole block ‘long dar.
“Oh! dey had ’bout a hundred slaves I’m sho’, for dere was a heap of ‘em. De overseer got ‘em up ’bout five o’clock in de mornin’ and dat breakfust sho’ had better be ready by seben or else somebody gwine to have to pay for it. Dey went to deir cabins ’bout ten at night. Marse was good, but he would whup us if we didn’t do right. Miss Marion was allus findin’ fault wid some of us.
“Jesse was de car’iage driver. Car’iages was called phaetons den. Dey had high seats up in front whar de driver sot, and de white folks sot in de car’iage below. Jesse went to de War wid Marse Thomas, and was wid him when he was kilt at Fred’ricksburg, Virginia. I heard ‘em sey one of his men shot ‘im by mistake, but I don’t know if dat’s de trufe or not. I do know dey sho’ had a big grand fun’al ’cause he was a big man and a general in de War.
“Some of de slaves on Marse Thomas’ place knowed how to read. Aunt Vic was one of de readers what read de Bible. But most of de Niggers didn’t have sense enough to learn so dey didn’t bother wid ‘em. Dey had a church way downtown for de slaves. It was called Landon’s Chapel for Rev. Landon, a white man what preached dar. Us went to Sunday School too. Aunt Vic read de Bible sometimes den. When us jined de chu’ch dey sung: ‘Amazing Grace How Sweet de Sound.’
“Marse Thomas had lots of slaves to die, and dey was buried in de colored folks cemetery what was on de river back of de Lucas place. I used to know what dey sung at fun’als way back yonder, but I can’t bring it to mind now.
“No Ma’am, none of Marse Thomas’ Niggers ever run away to de Nawth. He was good to his Niggers. Seems lak to me I ‘members dem patterollers run some of Marse Thomas’ Niggers down and whupped ‘em and put ‘em in jail. Old Marse had to git ‘em out when dey didn’t show up at roll call next mornin’.
“Marse Thomas allus put a man or de overseer on a hoss or a mule when he wanted to send news anywhar. He was a big man and had too many slaves to do anything hisse’f.
“I ‘spect dey done den lak dey does now, slipped ’round and got in devilment atter de day’s wuk was done. Marse Thomas was allus havin’ swell elegant doin’s at de big house. De slaves what was house servants didn’t have no time off only atter dinner on Sundays.
“Christmas was somepin’ else. Us sho’ had a good time den. Dey give de chilluns china dolls and dey sont great sacks of apples, oranges, candy, cake, and evvything good out to de quarters. At night endurin’ Christmas us had parties, and dere was allus some Nigger ready to pick de banjo. Marse Thomas allus give de slaves a little toddy too, but when dey was havin’ deir fun if dey got too loud he sho’ would call ‘em down. I was allus glad to see Christmas come. On New Year’s Day, de General had big dinners and invited all de high-falutin’ rich folks.
“My mudder went to de corn shuckin’s off on de plantations, but I was too little to go. Yes Ma’am, us sho’ did dance and sing funny songs way back in dem days. Us chillun used to play ‘Miss Mary Jane,’ and us would pat our hands and walk on broom grass. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout charms. Dey used to tell de chillun dat when old folks died dey turned to witches. I ain’t never seed no ghostes, but I sho’ has felt ‘em. Dey made de rabbits jump over my grave and had me feelin’ right cold and clammy. Mudder used to sing to Miss Lucy to git her to sleep, but I don’t ‘member de songs.
“Marster was mighty good to his slaves when dey got sick. He allus sont for Dr. Crawford Long. He was de doctor for de white folks and Marster had him for de slaves.
“My mudder said she prayed to de Lord not to let Niggers be slaves all deir lifes and sho’ ‘nough de yankees comed and freed us. Some of de slaves shouted and hollered for joy when Miss Marion called us togedder and said us was free and warn’t slaves no more. Most of ‘em went right out and left ‘er and hired out to make money for deyselfs.
“I stayed on wid my mudder and she stayed on wid Miss Marion. Miss Marion give her a home on Hull Street ’cause mudder was allus faithful and didn’t never leave her. Atter Miss Marion died, mudder wukked for Miss Marion’s daughter, Miss Callie Hull, in Atlanta. Den Miss Callie died and mudder come on back to Athens. ‘Bout ten years ago she died.
“I wukked for Mrs. Burns on Jackson Street a long time, but she warn’t no rich lady lak de Cobbs. De last fambly I wukked for was Dr. Hill. I nussed ’til atter de chillun got too big for dat, and den I done de washin’ ’til dis misery got in my limbs.”
When asked about marriage customs, she laughed and replied: “I was engaged, but I didn’t marry though, ’cause my mudder ‘posed me marryin’. I had done got my clothes bought and ready. Mrs. Hull helped me fix my things. My dress was a gray silk what had pearl beads on it and was trimmed in purple.
“What does I think ’bout freedom? I think it’s best to be free, ’cause you can do pretty well as you please. But in slav’ry time if de Niggers had a-behaved and minded deir Marster and Mist’ess dey wouldn’t have had sich a hard time. Mr. Jeff Davis ‘posed freedom, but Mr. Abraham Lincoln freed us, and he was all right. Booker Washin’ton was a great man, and done all he knowed how to make somepin’ out of his race.
“De reason I jined de church was dat de Lord converted me. He is our guide. I think people ought to be ‘ligious and do good and let deir lights shine ’cause dat’s de safest way to go to Heben.”
At the conclusion of the interview Susan asked: “Is dat all you gwine to ax me? Well, I sho’ enjoyed talkin’ to you. I hopes I didn’t talk loud ‘nough for dem other Niggers to hear me, ’cause if you open your mouth dey sho’ gwine tell it. Yes Ma’am, I’se too old to wuk now and I’se thankful for de old age pension. If it warn’t for dat, since dis misery tuk up wid me, I would be done burnt up, I sho’ would. Good-bye Mist’ess.”