Dunwoody, William L.
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person interviewed: William L. Dunwoody 2116 W. 24th Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: About 98
[HW: Remembers Jeff Davis]
"I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in the year 1840.
"My father was killed in the Civil War when they taken South Carolina. His name was Charles Dunwoody. My mother's name was Mary Dunwoody. My father was a free man and my mother was a slave. When he courted and married her he took the name of Dunwoody.
"Ain't you seen a house built in the country when they were clearing up and wanted to put up somethin' for the men to live in while they were working? They'd cut down a tree. Then they'd line it-fasten a piece of twine to each end and whiten it and pull it up and let it fly down and mark the log. Then they'd score it with axes. Then the hewers would come along and hew the log. Sometimes they could hew it so straight you couldn't put a line on it and find any difference. Where they didn't take time with the logs, it would be where they were just putting up a little shack for the men to sleep in.
"Just like you box timber in the sawmill, the men would straighten out a log.
"To make the log house, you would saw your blocks, set em up, then you put the sills on the blocks, then you put the sleepers. When you get them in, lay the planks to walk on. Then they put on the first log. You notch it. To make the roof, you would keep on cutting the logs in half first one way and then the other until you got the blocks small enough for shingles. Then you would saw the shingles off. They had plenty of time.
"The slaves ate just what the master ate. They ate the same on my master's place. All people didn't farm alike. Some just raised cotton and corn. Some raised peas, oats, rye, and a lot of different things. My old master raised corn, potatoes-Irish and sweet-, goober peas (peanuts), rye, and wheat, and I can't remember what else. That's in the eating line. He had hogs, goats, sheep, cows, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks. That is all I can remember in the eating line. My old master's slaves et anything he raised.
"He would send three or four wagons down to the mill at a time. One of them would carry sacks; all the rest would carry wheat. You know flour seconds, shorts and brand come from the wheat. You get all that from the wheat. Buckwheat flour comes from a large grained wheat. The wagons came back loaded with flour, seconds, shorts and brand. The old man had six wheat barns to keep the wheat in.
"All the slaves ate together. They had a cook special for them. This cook would cook in a long house more than thirty feet long. Two or three women would work there and a man, just like the cooks would in a hotel now. All the working hands ate there and got whatever the cook gave them. It was one thing one time and another another. The cook gave the hands anything that was raised on the place. There was one woman in there cooking that was called 'Mammy' and she seed to all the chilen.
Feeding the Children
"After the old folks among the slaves had had their breakfast, the cook would blow a horn. That would be about nine o'clock or eight. All the children that were big enough would come to the cook shack. Some of them would bring small children that had been weaned but couldn't look after themselves. The cook would serve them whatever the old folks had for breakfast. They ate out of the same kind of dishes as the old folks.
"Between ten and eleven o'clock, the cook would blow the horn again and the children would come in from play. There would be a large bowl and a large spoon for each group of larger children. There would be enough children in each group to get around the bowl comfortably. One would take a spoon of what was in the bowl and then pass the spoon to his neighbor. His neighbor would take a spoonful and then pass the spoon on, and so on until everyone would have a spoonful. Then they would begin again, and so on until the bowl was empty. If they did not have enough then, the cook would put some more in the bowl. Most of the time, bread and milk was in the bowl; sometimes mush and milk.
"There was a small spoon and a small bowl for the smaller children in the group that the big children would use for them and pass around just like they passed around the big spoon.
"About two or three o'clock, the cook would blow the horn again. Time the children all got in there and et, it would be four or five o'clock. The old mammy would cut up greens real fine and cut up meat into little pieces and boil it with corn-meal dumplings. They'd call it pepper pot. Then she'd put some of the pepper pot into the bowls and we'd eat it. And it was good.
"After the large children had et, they would go back to see after the babies. If they were awake, the large children would put on their clothes and clean them up. Then where there was a woman who had two or three small children and didn't have one large enough to do this, they'd give her a large one from some other family to look after her children. If she had any relatives, they would use their children for her. If she didn't then they would use anybody's children.
"About eleven o'clock all the women who had little children that had not been weaned would come in to see after them and let them suck. When a woman had nursing children, she would nurse them before she went to work, again at around eleven o'clock and again when she came from work in the evening. She would come in long before sundown. In between times, the old mammy and the other children would look after them.
"I saw Jeff Davis once. He was one-eyed. He had a glass eye. My old mistiss had three girls. They got into the buggy and went to see Jeff Davis when he come through Auburn, Alabama. We were living in Auburn then. I drove them. Jeff Davis came through first, and then the Confederate army, and then the Yankees. They didn't come on the same day but some days apart.
"The way I happened to see the Yanks was like this. I went to carry some clothes to my young master. He was a doctor, and was out where they were drilling the men. I laid down on the carpet in his tent and I heard music playing 'In Dixie Land I'll take my stand and live and die in Dixie.' I got up and come out and looked up ever which way but I couldn't see nothing. I went back again and laid down again in the tent, and I heard it again. I run out and looked all up and around again, and I still couldn't see nothin'. That time I looked and saw my young master talking to another officer-I can't remember his name. My young master said, 'What you looking for?'
"I said, 'I'm looking for them angels I hear playing. Don't you hear em playing Dixie?' The other officer said, 'Celas, you ought to whip that nigger.' I went back into the tent. My young master said, 'Whip him for what?' And he said, 'For telling that lie.' My young master said to him like this, 'He don't tell lies. He heard something somewhere.'
"Then they got through talking and he come on in and I seed him and beckoned to him. He came to me and I said, 'Lie down there.' He laid down and I laid down with him, and he heard it. Then he said, 'Look out there and tell him to come in.'
"I called the other officer and he come in. The doctor (that was my young master) said, 'Lie down there.' When he laid down by my young master, he heard it too. Then the doctor said to him, 'You said William was telling a damn lie.' He said, 'I beg your pardon, doctor.'
"My young master got up and said, 'Where is my spy glasses? Le'me have a look.' He went out and there was a mountain called the Blue Ridge Mountain. He looked but he didn't see nothin'. I went out and looked too. I said, 'Look down the line beside those two big trees,' and I handed the glasses back to him. He looked and then he hollered, 'My God, look yonder' and handed the spy glasses to the other officer. He looked too. Then the doctor said, 'What are we going to do?' He said, 'I am goin' to put pickets way out.' He told me to get to my mule. I got. He put one of his spurs on my foot and told me to go home and tell 'ma' the Yanks were coming. You know what 'ma' he was talking about? That was his wife's mother. We all called her 'mother.'
"I carried the note. When I got to Mrs. Dobbins' house, I yelled, 'The Yanks are coming-Yankees, Yankees, Yankees!' She had two boys. They runned out and said, 'What did you say?'
"I said, 'Yankees, Yankees!'
"They said, 'Hell, what could he see?'
"I come on then and got against Miss Yancy's. She had a son, a man named Henry Yancy. He had a sore leg. He asked me what I said. I told him that the Yanks were coming. He called for Henry, a boy that stayed with him, and had him saddle his horse. Then he got on it and rode up town. When he got up there, he was questioned bout how did he know it. Did he see them. He said he didn't see them, that Celas Neal saw them and the doctor's mother's boy brought the message. Then he taken off.
"Jeff Davis went on. The Confederates went on. They all went on. Then the Yanks passed through.
"The first fight they had there, they cleaned up the Sixty-Ninth Alabama troops. My young master had been helping drill them. He went on and overtook the others.
Right After the War
"I am not sure just what we did immediately after freedom. I don't know whether it was a year or whether it was a year and a half. I can just go by my mother. After freedom, we came from Auburn, Alabama to Opelika, Alabama, and she went to cooking at a hotel until she got money enough for what she wanted to do. When she got fixed, she moved then to Columbus, Georgia. She rented a place from Ned Burns, a policeman. When that place gave out, she went to washing and ironing. Sterling Love rented a house from the same man. He had four children and they were going to school and they took me too.
"I fixed up and went to school with them. I didn't get no learning at all in slavery times.
How Freedom Came
"I don't know whether all the whites did it or not; but I know this-when they quit fighting, I know the white children called we little children and all the grown people who worked around the house and said, 'You all is jus' as free as we is. You ain't got no master and no mistiss,' and I don't know what they told them at the plantation.
"Right after the War, my mother worked-washed-for an old white man. He took an interest in me and taught me. I did little things for him. When he died, I took up the teaching which he had been doing.
"At first I taught in Columbus, Georgia. By and by, a white man came along looking for laborers for this part of the country. He said money grew on bushes out here. He cleaned out the place. All the children and all the grown folks followed him. Two of my boys came to me and told me they were coming. We hoboed on freights and walked to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We stayed there awhile. Then a white man came along getting laborers. I never kept the year nor nothin'. He brought us to Lonoke County, and I got work on The Bood Bar Plantation. Squirrels, wild things, cotton and corn, plenty of it. So you see, the man told the truth when he said money grew on bushes.
"I taught and farmed all my life. Farming is the greatest occupation. It supports the teacher, the preacher, the lawyer, the doctor. None of them can live without it.
"I can't do much now since that lady knocked me down with her automobile and made me a cripple. I'd a been all right if so many of them young doctors hadn't experimented on me. Then I can't see good out of one eye. I can't do much now. I don't know why they won't give me a pension."
William Dunwoody had some of his dates and occurrences mixed up as would be natural for a man ninety-eight years old. But there was one respect in which he was sharper than anyone else interviewed.
At the close of the first day's interview when I arose to go he said to me, "Now you got what you want?" I told him yes and that I would be back for more the next day. Then he said, "Well, if you got what you want, there's one thing I want you to do for me before you go."
"Certainly, Brother Dunwoody," I said, "I'll be glad to do anything you want me to do. Just what can I do for you?"
"Well," he said, "I want you to read me what you been writin' there."
And I read it.
A little grandchild about four years old kept us company while he dictated to me. I furnished pennies for the child's candy and a nickel for the old man's tobacco.
The old man got a kick out of the dictation. After the first day, he became very cautious. He would say, "Now don't write this," and he wouldn't let me take it down the way he said it. Instead, he would make a long statement and then we would work out the gist of it together. He is not highly schooled, and he is not especially prepossessing in appearance; but he is a long way from decrepit-mentally.
He walks with a crutch and has a defect in the sight of one eye. He has good hearing and talks in a pleasant voice.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives