The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins Person Interviewed: John Elliott Age: 80 Home: South Border (property of brother's estate)
As told by: John Elliott
"No, ma'am. I ain't got no folks. They've all died out. My son, he may be alive. When I last heard from him, he was in Pine Bluff. But I wrote down lots of times and nobody can't find him. Brother said, that was before he died, that I could stay on in the place as long as I lived. His wife come to see me some years back and she said it was that way.
The comodity gives me milk, and a little beside. I'm expectin' to hear if I get the pension, Tuesday. No ma'am, I ain't worked in three years. Yes, ma'am, I was a slave. I was about 8 years old when they mustered 'em out the last time.
My daddy went along to take care of his young master. He died, and my daddy brought his horse and all his belongings home.
You see it was this way. My mother was a run-away slave. She was from, what's that big state off there-Virginia-yes, ma'am, that's it. There was a pretty good flock of them. They came into North Carolina-Wayne County was where John Elliott found them. They was in a pretty bad way. They didn't have no place to go and they didn't have nothing to eat. They didn't have nobody to own 'em. They didn't know what to do. My mother was about 13.
By some means or other they met up with a man named John Elliott. He was a teacher. He struck a bargain with them. He pitched in and he bought 200 acres of land. He built a big house for Miss Polly and Bunk and Margaret. Miss Polly was his sister. And he built cabins for the black folks.
And he says 'You stay here, and you take care of Miss Polly and the children. Now mind, you raise lots to eat. You take care of the place too. And if anybody bothers you you tell Miss Polly.' My Uncle Mose, he was the oldest. He was a blacksmith. Jacob was the carpenter. 'Now look here, Mose,' says Mister John, 'you raise plenty of hogs. Mind you give all the folks plenty of meat. Then you take the rest to Miss Polly and let her lock it in the smokehouse.' Miss Polly carried the key, but Mose was head man and had dominion over the smokehouse.
They didn't get money to any extreme. But whatever they wanted, Miss Polly would go along with them and they would buy it. They went to Goldsboro. That was the biggest town near us. The patrollers never bothered any of us. Once or twice they tried it. But Miss Polly wrote to Mr. John. He'd write it all down like it ought to be. Then they didn't bother us any more.
There was no speculation wid 'em like there was with other negro people. They never had to go to the hiring ground. Mr. John built a church for my mother and the other women who was running mates with her. And he built a school for the children. Some other colored children tried to come to the school too. They was welcome. But sometimes the white folks would tear up the books of the colored children from outside that tried to come.
Our folks stayed on and on. Mr. John was off teaching school most of the time. We stayed on and on. Pretty soon there was about 150-200, of us. Some of them was carpenters and some of them was this and some was that. Mr. John even put in a mill. A groundhog saw mill, it was. Some white men put it in. But it was the colored folks who run it. They all stayed right on on the farm. There wasn't any white folks about at all, except Miss Polly and Bunk and Margaret.
No, ma'am, after the war it didn't make much difference. We all stayed on. We worked the place. And when we got a chance, Mr. John let us hire out and keep the money. And if the folks wouldn't pay us, Mr. John would write the Federal and the Federal would see that we got our money for what we had worked. Mr. John was a mighty good man to us.
No ma'am. Nobody got discontented for a long time. Then some men come in and messed them up. Told us that we could make more money other places. And it was true too-if they had let us get the money. By that time Mr. John, had died. Bunk had died too, Miss Margaret had grown up and married. Her husband was managing the farm. He was good, but he wasn't like Mr. John. So lots of us moved away.
But about not making money. Take me. I raised 14-16 bales of cotton. The man who owned the land, I worked on halvers, sold it on the Liverpool market. But he wouldn't pay me but about 1/3 of what he collected on my half. And I says to him, 'You gets full price for your half, why can't I get full price for mine?' And he says, 'It's against the rules.' And I says, 'It ain't fair! And he says, 'It's the rules.' So after about six years I quit farming. You can't make no money that way. Yes-you make it, but you can't get it.
I went to town at Pine Bluff. There I got to mixing concrete. I made pretty good at it, too. I stayed on for some years. Then I came to Hot Springs. My brother was along with me. We both worked and after work we built a house. It took us four years. But it was a good house. It has six rooms in it. It makes a good home. My brother had the deed. But his widow says I can stay on. The folks what lives in the rest of the house are good to me.
When I got to Hot Springs I worked mixing concrete. There was lots of sidewalks being made along about that time. Then I scatter dirt all around where the court house is now. Then I worked at both of the very biggest hotels. I washed. I washed cream pitchers-the little ones with corners that were hard to clean.
No, I ain't worked in three years. It hard to try to get along. Some states, they pays good pensions. I can't be here long-don't look like I can be here long. Seems as if they could take care of me for the few days I'm going to be on this earth. Seems like they could.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives