Pettus, Henry C.
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson Person interviewed: Henry C. Pettus, Marianna, Arkansas Age: 80
"I was born in Wilkes County, near Washington, Georgia. My mother's owners was Dr. Palmer and Sarah Palmer. They had three boys; Steve, George, and Johnie. They lived in Washington and the farm I lived on was five miles southeast of town. It was fifty miles from Augusta, Georgia. He had another farm on the Augusta Road. He had a white man overseer. His name was Tom Newsom and his nephew, Jimmie Newsom, helped. He was pretty smooth most of the time. He got rough sometimes. Tom's wife was named Susie Newsom.
"Dick Gilbert had a place over back of ours. They sent things to the still at Dick Gilbert's. Sent peaches and apples and surplus corn. The still was across the hill from Dr. Palmer's farm. He didn't seem to drink much but the boys did. All three did. Dr. Palmer died in 1861. People kept brandy and whiskey in a closet and some had fancy bottles they kept, one brandy, one whiskey, on their mantel. Some owners passed drinks around like on Sunday morning. Dr. Palmer didn't do that but it was done on some places before the Civil War. It wasn't against the law to make spirits for their own use. That is the way it was made. Meal and flour was made the same way then.
"Mother lived in Dr. Palmer's office in Warren County. It was a very nice log house and had a fence to make the front on the road and the back enclosed like. Inside the fence was a tanyard and house at some distance and a very nice log house where Mr. Hudson lived. Dr. Palmer and Mr. Hudson had that place together. The shoemaker lived in Washington in Dr. Palmer's back yard. He had his office and home all in the same. Mr. Anthony made all the shoes for Dr. Palmer's slaves and for white folks in town. He made fine nice shoes. He was considered a high class shoemaker.
"Mother was a field hand. She wasn't real black. My father never did do much. He was a sort of a foreman. He rode around. He was lighter than I am. He was old man Pettus' son. Old man Pettus had a great big farm-land! land! land! Wiley and Milton Roberts had farms between Dr. Palmer and old man Pettus' farm. Mother originally belong to old man Pettus. He give Miss Sarah Palmer her place on the Augusta Road and his son the place on which his own home was. They was his white children. He had two. Mother was hired by her young mistress, Dr. Palmer's wife, Miss Sarah. Father rode around, upheld by the old man Pettus. He never worked hard. I don't know if old man Pettus raised grandma or not; he never grandpa. He was a Terral. He died when I was small. Grandpa was a field hand. He was the only colored man on the place allowed to have a dog. He was Dr. Palmer's stock man. They raised their own stock; sheep, goats, cows, hogs, mules, and horses.
"None of us was ever sold that I know of. Mother had three boys and three girls. One sister died in infancy. One sister was married and remained in Georgia. Two of my brothers and one sister come to Arkansas. Mother brought us boys to a new country. Father got shot and died from the womb. He was a captain in the war. He was shot accidentally. Some of them was drinking and pranking with the guns. We lived on at Dr. Palmer's place till 1866. That was our first year in Arkansas. That was nearly two years. We never was abused. My early life was very favorable.
"The quarters was houses built on each side of the road. Some set off in the field. They must have had stock law. We had pastures. The houses was joining the pasture. Mr. Pope had a sawmill on his place. The saw run perpendicularly up and down. He had a grist mill there too. I like to go to mill. It was dangerous for young boys. Mr. Pope's farm joined us on one side. Oxen was used as team for heavy loads. Such a contrast in less than a century as trucks are in use now. I learned about oxen. They didn't go fast 'ceptin' when they ran away. They would run at the sight of water in hot weather. They was dangerous if they saw the river and had to go down a steep bank, load or no load the way they went. If it was shallow they would wade but if it was deep they would swim unless the load was heavy enough to pull them down. Oxen was interesting to me always.
"Children didn't stay in town like they do now. They was left to think more for themselves. They hardly ever got to go to town.
"We raised a pet pig. Nearly every year we raised a pet pig. When mother would be out that pig would get my supper in spite of all I could do. The pig was nearly as large as I was. I couldn't do anything. We had a watermelon patch and sometimes sold Dr. Palmer melons. He let us have a melon patch and a cotton patch our own to work. Mother worked in moonlight and at odd times. They give that to her extra. We helped her work it. They give old people potato patches and let the children have goober rows. Land was plentiful. Dr. Palmer wasn't stingy with his slaves-very liberal. He was a man willing to live and let live so far as I can know of him.
"During the Civil War things was quiet like where I was. The soldiers didn't come through till after the war was over. Then the Union soldiers took Washington. They come there after the surrender.
"The Union soldiers came in a gang out from Washington all over the surrounding country, scouting about, and notified all the black folks of freedom. My folks made arrangements to stay on. Two colored men went through the country getting folks to move to southwest Georgia but before mother decided to move anywhere along come two men and they had a helper, Mr. Allen. It was Mr. William H. Wood and Mr. Peters over here on Cat Island. They worked from Washington, Georgia. We consented to leave and come to Arkansas. We started and went to Barnetts station to Augusta, to Atlanta. There was so many tracks out of order, bridges been burnt. We crossed the river at Chattanooga, then to Nashville, then to Johnsonville. We took a boat to Cairo, then to Memphis, then on to some landing out here. Well, I never heard. We went to the Woods' place and made a crop here in Arkansas in 1866. I worked with John I. Foreman till 1870 and went back to the Woods' farm till 1880. Then I went to the Bush place (now McCullough farm). I farmed all along through life till the last twelve years. I started preaching in 1875. I preach yet occasionally. I preached here thirty-six years in the Marianna Baptist church. I quit last year. My health broke down.
"Chills was my worst worry in these swamps. We made fine crops. In 1875 yellow fever come on. Black folks didn't have yellow fever at first but they later come to have it. Some died of it. White folks had died in piles. It was hard times for some reason then. It was hard to get something to eat. We couldn't get nothing from Memphis. Arrangements was made to get supplies from St. Louis to Little Rock and we could go get them and send boats out here.
"In 1875 was the tightest, hardest time in all my life, A chew of tobacco cost ten cents. In 1894-'95 hard times struck me again. Cotton was four and five cents a pound, flour three dollars a barrel, and meat four and five cents a pound. We raised so much of our meat that didn't make much difference. Money was so scarce.
"Ku Klux-I never was in the midst of them. They was pretty bad in Georgia and in northeast part of this county. They was bad so I heard. They sent for troops at Helena to settle things up at about Marion, Arkansas now. I heard more of the Ku Klux in Georgia than I heard after we come here. And as time went on and law was organized the Ku Klux disbanded everywhere.
"Traveling conditions was bad when we came to Arkansas. We rode in box cars, shabby passenger coaches. The boats was the best riding. As I told you we went way around on account of burnt out and torn up bridges. The South looked shabby.
"I haven't voted since 1927 except I voted in favor of the Cotton Control Saturday before last.
"Times has come up to a most deplorable condition. Craving exists. Ungratefulness. People want more than they can make. Some don't work hard and some won't work at all. I don't know how to improve conditions except by work except economical living. Some would work if they could. Some can work but won't. Some do work hard. I believe in bread by the sweat of the brow, and all work.
"The slaves didn't expect anything. They didn't expect war. It was going on a while before my parents heard of it. I was a little boy. They didn't know what it was for except their freedom. They didn't know what freedom was. They couldn't read. They never seen a newspaper like I take the Commercial Appeal now. I went to school a little in Arkansas. My father being old man Pettus' son as he was may have been given something by Miss Sarah or Dr. Palmer or by his white son, but the old man was dead and I doubt that. Father was killed and mother left. Mother knew she had a home on Dr. Palmer's land as long as she needed one but she left to do better. In some ways we have done better but it was hard to live in these bottoms. It is a fine country now.
"I own eighty acres of land and this house. (Good house and furnished well.) We made six bales of cotton last year. My son lives here and his wife-a Chicago reared mulatto, a cook. He runs my farm. I live very well."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives