Evans, Millie (interview)
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Mrs. Carol Graham Person interviewed: Millie Evans Age:
Yo' say yo' is in'rested in the lives of the slaves? Well, Miss, I is one of 'em. Was born in 1849 but I don' know jus' when. My birthday comes in fodder pullin' time cause my ma said she was pullin up till bout a hour 'fore I was born. Was born in North Carolina and was a young lady at the time of surrender.
I don' 'member ol' master's name; all I 'member is that we call 'em ol' master an ol' mistress. They had bout a hundred niggers and they was rich. Master always tended the men and mistress tended to us.
Ev'y mornin' bout fo' 'clock ol' master would ring de bell for us to git up by an yo could hear dat bell ringin all over de plantation. I can hear hit now. Hit would go ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling and I can see 'em now stirrin in Carolina. I git so lonesome when I thinks bout times we used to have. Twas better livin back yonder than now.
I stayed with my ma every night but my mistress raised me. My ma had to work hard so ev'y time ol' mistress thought we little black chilluns was hungry 'tween meals she would call us up to the house to eat. Sometime she would give us johnny cake an plenty of buttermilk to drink wid it. They had a long trough fo' us dat day would keep so clean. They would fill dis trough wid buttermilk and all us chillun would git roun' th' trough an drink wid our mouths an hol' our johnny cake wid our han's. I can jus' see myself drinkin' now. Hit was so good. There was so many black fo'ks to cook fuh that the cookin was done outdoors. Greens was cooked in a big black washpot jus' like yo' boils clothes in now. An' sometime they would crumble bread in the potlicker an give us spoons an we would stan' roun' the pot an' eat. When we et our regular meals the table was set under a chinaberry tree wid a oil cloth table cloth on when dey called us to th' table they would ring the bell. But we didn' eat out'n plates. We et out of gourds an had ho'made wood spoons. An' we had plenty t'eat. Whooo-eee! Jus' plenty t'eat. Ol' master's folks raised plenty o' meat an dey raise dey sugar, rice, peas, chickens, eggs, cows an' jus' ev'ything good t'eat.
Ev'y ev'nin' at three 'clock ol' mistress would call all us litsy bitsy chillun in an we would lay down on pallets an have to go to sleep. I can hear her now singin' to us piccaninnies:
"Hush-a-bye, bye-yo'-bye, mammy's piccaninnies Way beneath the silver shining moon Hush-a-bye, bye-yo'-bye, mammy's piccaninnies Daddy's little Carolina coons Now go to sleep yo' little piccaninnies." When I got big 'nough I nursed my mistress's baby. When de baby go to sleep in de evenin' I woul' put hit in de cradle an' lay down by de cradle an go to sleep. I played a heap when I was little. We played Susannah Gal, jump rope, callin' cows, runnin', jumpin', skippin', an jus' ev'ythin' we could think of. When I got big 'nough to cook, I cooked den.
The kitchen of the big house was built way off f'om the house and we cooked on a great big ol' fi' place. We had swing pots an would swing 'em over the fire an cook an had a big ol' skillet wi' legs on hit. We call hit a ubben an cooked bread an cakes in it.
We had the bes' mistress an master in the worl' and they was Christian fo'ks an they taught us to be Christianlike too. Ev'y Sunday mornin' ol' master would have all us niggers to the house while he would sing an pray an read de Bible to us all. Ol' master taught us not to be bad; he taught us to be good; he tol' us to never steal nor to tell false tales an not to do anythin' that was bad. He said: Yo' will reap what yo' sow, that you sow it single an' reap double. I learnt that when I was a little chile an I ain't fo'got it yet. When I got grown I went de Baptist way. God called my pa to preach an ol' master let him preach in de kitchen an in the back yard under th' trees. On preachin' day ol' master took his whole family an all th' slaves to church wid him.
We had log school houses in them days an fo'ks learnt more than they does in the bricks t'day.
Down in the quarters ev'y black family had a one or two room log cabin. We didn' have no floors in them cabins. Nice dirt floors was de style then an we used sage brooms. Took a string an tied the sage together an had a nice broom out'n that. We would gather broom sage fo' our winter brooms jus' like we gathered our other winter stuff. We kep' our dirt floors swep' as clean an' white. An our bed was big an tall an had little beds to push under there. They was all little er nough to go under de other an in th' daytime we would push 'em all under the big one an make heaps of room. Our beds was stuffed wid hay an straw an shucks an b'lieve me chile they sho' slep' good.
When the boys would start to the quarters from th' fiel' they would get a turn of lider knots. I specks yo' knows 'em as pine knots. That was what we use' fo' light. When our fire went out we had no fire. Didn' know nothin' bout no matches. To start a fire we would take a skillet lid an a piece of cotton an a flint rock. Lay de cotton on th' skillet lid an' take a piece of iron an beat the flint rock till the fire would come. Sometime we would beat fo' thirty minutes before the fire would come an start the cotton then we woul' light our pine.
Up at th' big house we didn' use lider knots but used tallow candles for lights. We made the candles f'om tallow that we took f'om cows. We had moulds and would put string in there an leave the en' stickin' out to light an melt the tallow an pour it down aroun' th' string in the mould.
We use to play at night by moonlight and I can recollec' singin wid the fiddle. Oh, Lord, dat fiddle could almos' talk an I can hear it ringin now. Sometime we would dance in the moonlight too.
Ol' master raised lots of cotton and the women fo'ks carded an spun an wove cloth, then they dyed hit an made clothes. An we knit all the stockin's we wo'. They made their dye too, f'om diffe'nt kin's of bark an leaves an things. Dey would take the bark an boil it an strain it up an let it stan' a day then wet the 'terial in col' water an shake hit out an drop in the boilin' dye an let it set bout twenty minutes then take it out an hang it up an let it dry right out of that dye. Then rinse it in col' water an let it dry then it woul' be ready to make.
I'll tell yo' how to dye. A little beech bark dyes slate color set with copperas. Hickory bark and bay leaves dye yellow set with chamber lye; bamboo dyes turkey red, set color wid copperas. Pine straw dyes purple, set color with chamber lye. To dye cloth brown we would take de cloth an put it in the water where leather had been tanned an let it soak then set the color with apple vinegar. An we dyed blue wid indigo an set the color wid alum.
We wo' draws made out of termestic that come down longer than our dresses an we wo' seven petticoats in the winter wid sleeves in dem petticoats in the winter an the boys wo' big ol' long shirts. They didn' know nothin bout no britches till they was great big, jus' wen' roun' in dey shirttails. An we all wo' shoes cause my pa made shoes.
Master taught pa to make shoes an the way he done, they killed a cow an took the hide an tanned it. The way they tanned it was to take red oak bark and put in vats made somethin' like troughs that held water. Firs' he would put in a layer of leather an a layer of oak ashes an a layer of leather an a layer of oak ashes till he got it all in an cover with water. After that he let it soak till the hair come off the hide. Then he would take the hide out an it was ready for tannin'. Then the hide was put to soak in with the red oak bark. It stayed in the water till the hide turned tan then pa took the hide out of the red oak dye an it was a purty tan. It didn' have to soak long. Then he would get his pattern an cut an make tan shoes out'n the tanned hides. We called 'em brogans.
They planted indigo an it growed jus' like wheat. When it got ripe they gathered it an we would put it in a barrel an let it soak bout a week then we woul' take the indigo stems out an squeeze all the juice out of 'em an put the juice back in the barrel an let it stan' bout nother week, then we jus' stirred an stirred one whole day. We let it set three or four days then drained the water off an left the settlings and the settlings was blueing jus' like we have these days. We cut ours in little blocks an we dyed clothes wid it too.
We made vinegar out of apples. Took over ripe apples an ground 'em up an put 'em in a sack an let drip. Didn' add no water an when it got through drippin we let it sour an strained an let it stan for six months an had some of the bes vinegar ever made.
We had homemade tubs and didn' have no wash boa'ds. We had a block an battlin' stick. We put our clo'es in soak then took 'em out of soak an lay them on the block an take the battling stick an battle the dirt out of 'em. We mos'ly used rattan vines for clotheslines an they made the bes clo'es lines they was.
Ol' master raised big patches of tobaccy an when dey gather it they let it dry an then put it in lasses. After the lasses dripped off then they roll hit up an twisted it an let it dry in the sun 10 or 12 days. It sho' was ready for some and chewin an hit was sweet an stuck together so yo' could chew an spit an 'joy hit.
The way we got our perfume we took rose leaves, cape jasmines an sweet bazil an laid dem wid our clo'es an let 'em stay three or fo' days then we had good smellin' clo'es that would las' too.
When there was distressful news master would ring the bell. When the niggers in the fiel' would hear the bell everyone would lis'en an wonder what the trouble was. You'd see 'em stirrin' too. They would always ring the bell at twelve 'clock. Sometime then they would think it was some thin' serious an they would stan up straight but if they could see they shadow right under 'em they would know it was time for dinner.
The reason so many white folks was rich was they made money an didn' have nothin' to do but save it. They made money an raised ev'ything they used, an jus' didn' have no use fo' money. Didn' have no banks in them days an master buried his money.
The floo's in the big house was so pretty an white. We always kep' them scoured good. We didn' know what it was to use soap. We jus' took oak ashes out of the fi'place and sprinkled them on the floo' and scoured with a corn shuck mop. Then we would sweep the ashes off an rinse two times an let it dry. When it dried it was the cleanes' floo' they was. To make it white, clean sand was sprinkled on the floo' an we let it stay a couple of days then the floo' would be too clean to walk on. The way we dried the floo' was with a sack an a rag. We would get down on our knees an dry it so dry.
I 'member one night one of ol' master's girls was goin' to get married. That was after I was big 'nough to cook an we was sho' doin' some cookin. Some of the niggers on the place jus' natchally would steal so we cook a big cake of co'n-bread an iced it all pretty an put it out to cool an some of 'em stole it. This way old master found out who was doin the stealin cause it was such a joke on 'em they had to tell.
All ol' master's niggers was married by the white preacher but he had a neighbor who would marry his niggers hisself. He would say to the man: "Do yo' want this woman?" and to the girl, "Do yo' want this boy?" Then he would call the ol' mistress to fetch the broom an ol' master would hold one end an ol' mistress the other an tell the boy and girl to jump dis broom and he would say: "Dat's yo' wife." Dey called marryin' like that jumpin the broom.
Now chile I can't 'member everything I done in them days but we didn' have ter worry bout nothin. Ol' mistress was the one to worry. Twasn't then like it is now, no twasn't. We had such a good time an ev'ybody cried when the Yankees cried out: "Free." Tother niggers say dey had a hard time 'fo' dey was free but twas then like tis now. If you had a hard time we don it ourselves.
Ol' master didn' want to part with his niggers an the niggers didn' wan' to part with ol' master so they thought by comin to Arkansas they would have a chance to keep 'em. So they got on their way. We loaded up our wagons an put up our wagon sheet an we had plenty to eat an plenty of horse feed. We traveled bout 15 or 20 miles a day an would stop an camp at night. We would cook enough in the morning to las' all day. The cows was drove t'gether. Some was gentle an some was not an did dey have a time. I mean, dey had a time. While we was on our way ol' master died an three of the slaves died too. We buried the slaves there but we camped while ol' master was carried back to North Carolina. When ol' mistress come back we started on to Arkansas an reached here safe but when we got here we foun' freedom here too. Ol' mistress begged us to stay wid her an we stayed till she died then they took her back to Carolina. There wasn' nobody lef' but Miss Nancy an she soon married an lef' an I los' track of her an Mr. Tom.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives