The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor Person Interviewed: Laura Thornton 1215 W. Twenty-Fourth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas Age: 105?
"My native home is Alabama. I was born not far from Midway, Alabama, about twelve miles from Clayton. Midway, Clayton, and Barber are all nearby towns. We used to go to all of them.
"My master was Tom Eford. When he died, I fell to Polly Eford. Polly Eford was the old lady. I don't know where they is and they don't know nothing about where I is. It's been so long. Because I done lef' Alabama fifty years. I don't know whether any of them is living or not. It's been so long.
"Their baby boy was named Giles Eford. His mother was Miami Eford and my father's name was Perry Eford. That is the name he went in. My mother went in that name too. My father died the second year of the surrender. My mother was a widow a long time. I was a grown-up woman and had children when my father died.
"I married during slavery time. I don't remember just how old I was then. My old man knows my age, but I can't remember it. But he's been dead this year makes thirteen years. I had one child before the surrender. I was just married to the one man. I was married after the surrender. I don't want to be married again. I never seed a man I would give a thought to since he died. Lord knows how long we'd been married before he died.
"We came here and stayed four years and we bought a home down on Arch Street Pike about ten miles from here. I lived there sixty years. I've got the tax receipts for sixty years back. I ain't never counted the ones I paid since he's been dead.
"I was the mother of three children and none of them are living. All of them dead but me.
"They made like they was goin' to give old slave folks a pension. They ain't gimme none yit. I'm just livin' on the mercy of the people. I can't keep up the taxes now. I wish I could git a pension. It would help keep me up till I died. They won't even as much as give me nothin' on the relief. They say these grandchildren ought to keep me up. I have to depend on them and they can't hardly keep up theirselves.
"When the Civil War broke out, my baby was about seven years old. My mother was here when the stars fell. She had one child then.
"I remember a war before the Civil War. I heard the white folks talking about it. They wouldn't tell colored folks nothing. They'd work them to death and beat them to death. They'd sell them just like you sell hogs. My mother was sold from me when I was little. Old lady Eford, she was my mistress and mammy too. If she ever slapped me, I don't know nothin' 'bout it.
"My daddy made his farm jus' like colored people do now. White man would give him so much ground if he'd a mind to work it. He had a horse he used.
"We lived a heap better than the people live now. They fed you then. You ate three times a day. When twelve o'clock come, there dinner was, cooked and ready. Nothin' to do but eat it, and then set down and res' with the other people. There was them that was good.
"But them what was mean done the colored folks bad.
"I was little when my mother was sold from me. I was runnin' about though in the yard. I couldn't do nothing. But I was a smart girl. The first work I can remember doin' was goin' to the field ploughing. That is the first thing I remember. I was little. I just could come up to the plough. I cut logs when I was a little child like them children there (children about ten years old playing in the street). I used to clean up new ground-do anything.
"My mother and father both worked in the field. My father was sold away from me jus' like my mother was. Old lady Eford was my mother and father too. That was in Clayton, Alabama. Old Tom Eford had three boys-one named Tom, one named William, and there was the one named Giles what I told you about. William was the oldest, Tom was the second, and Giles was the youngest.
"I never learnt to read and write. In slave time, they didn't let you have no books. My brother though was a good reader. He could write as well as any of them because he would be with the white children and they would show him. That is the way my brother learnt. He would lay down all day Sunday and study. The good blessed Lord helped him.
"The man I married was on the plantation. They married in slave time just like they do these days. When I married, the justice of peace married me. That was after freedom, our folks would give big weddings just like they do now (just after the war). I ain't got my license now. Movin' 'round, it got lost. I was married right at home where me and my old man stayed. Wasn't nobody there but me and him and another man named Dr. Bryant. That wasn't far from Midway.
"I can't talk much since I had those strokes. Can't talk plain, just have to push it out, but I thank God I can do that much. The Lord let me stay here for some reason-I don't know what. I would rather go, but he ain't called me.
How the Day Went
"We got up after daylight. Tom Eford didn't make his folks git up early. But after he was dead and gone, things changed up. The res' made 'em git up before daylight. He was a good man. The Lord knows. Yes Lord, way before day. You'd be in the field to work way before day and then work way into the night. The white folks called Eford's colored people poor white folks because he was so good to them. Old Tom Eford was the sheriff of Clayton.
"His folks came back to the house at noon and et their dinner at the house. He had a cook and dinner was prepared for them just like it was for the white folks. The colored woman that cooked for them had it ready when they came there for it. They had a great big kitchen and the hands ate there. They came back to the same place for supper. And they didn't have to work late either. Old Tom Eford never worked his hands extra. That is the reason they called his niggers poor-white folks. Folks lived at home them days and et in the same place. When my old man was living, I had plenty. Smokehouse was full of good meat. Now everything you git, you have to buy.
"Next morning, they all et their breakfast in the same kitchen. They et three meals a day every day. My mother never cooked except on Sunday. She didn't need to.
"Me and old lady Eford would be out in the yard and I would hear her cuss the pateroles because they didn't want folks to 'buse their niggers. They had to git a pass from their masters when they would be out. If they didn't have a pass, the pateroles would whip them.
"The jayhawkers would catch folks and carry them out in the woods and hang them up. They'd catch you and beat you to death.
"Colored folks what would run away, old lady Eford would call them 'rottenheads' and 'bloody bones.' We would hear the hounds baying after them and old lady Eford would stand out in the yard and cuss them-cuss the hounds I mean. Like that would do any good. Some slaves would kill theirselves before they would be caught. They would hear them dogs. I have seen old Tom Eford. He would have them dogs. He was sheriff and he had to do it. He carried them dogs. He would be gone two weeks before he would be back sometimes. Alden or Alton was the place they said they carried the runaways.
"They never kept no slaves for breeding on any plantation I heard of. They would work them to death and breed them too. There was places where old massa kept one for hisself.
"Folks had heap more pleasure than they do now in slave time. They had parties and dances and they would bow 'round. They had fiddles and danced by them. Folks danced them days. They don't dance now, just mess around. My brother could scrape the fiddle and dance on, all at the same time. Folks would give big suppers and ask people out. They would feed nice times with one another. Folks ain't got no love in their hearts like they used to have.
"Folks would give quiltings. They don't think about quilting now. They would quilt out a quilt and dance the rest of the night. They would have a big supper at the quilting. Nice time too. They would kill a hog and barbecue it. They would cook chicken. Have plenty of whiskey too. Some folks would get drunk. That was whiskey them days. They ain't got no whiskey now-old poison stuff that will kill people.
My daddy was jus' drunk all the time. He had plenty of whiskey. That was what killed old Tom Eford. He kept it settin' on the dresser all the time. You couldn't walk in his house but what you would see it time you got in. Folks hide it now. I have drunk a many a glass of it. I would go and take a glass whenever I wanted to.
How Freedom Came
"The old white folks told me I was free. They had me hired out. I wasn't staying with my owner. There wasn't nobody there with me but the white folks where I was staying. That morning I got up to get breakfast and there wasn't no fire and there wasn't so matches. I went to some neighbors to get a chunk of fire and they told me to go back to my folks because I was free. When I got back to the house they was mad and wanted to whip me. So I just put the fire down and never cooked no breakfast but jus' went on to my brother's. The reason they wanted to whip me was because I had gone outside of the house without their knowing it.
"When I went to my brother's, I had to walk twelve miles. My brother carried me to my mother and father. And then he took me back to old lady Eford, and she told me to go on to my mother, that I was free now. So he took me on back to my ma and pa. He said he'd do that so that I could stay with them.
"Slaves had money in slave time. My daddy bought a horse. He made a crop every year. He made his bale of cotton. He made corn to feed his horse with. He belonged to his white folks but he had his house and lot right next to theirs. They would give him time you know. He didn't have to work in the heat of the day. He made his crop and bought his whiskey. The white folks fed 'im. He had no expenses 'cept tending to his crop. He didn't have to give Tom Eford anything he made. He just worked his crop in his extra time. Many folks too lazy to git theirselves somethin' when they have the chance to do it. But my daddy wasn't that kind. His old master gave him the ground and he made it give him the money.
"My daddy left me plenty but I ain't got it now. I didn't care what happened when he died. People made out like they was goin' to put my money in the bank for me and took it and destroyed it. Used it for theirselves I reckon. Now I need it and ain't got it-ain't got a penny. For five or six years at my home, I made good crops. We raised everything we needed at home. Didn't know what it was to come to town to buy anything. If anybody had told me twenty years ago I would be in this shape, I wouldn't have believed it because I had plenty.
What Slaves Got When Freed
"They said they was gwine a give the slaves something, but they never did do it. Then the master made out like he was gwine a give the slaves so much if they stayed 'round and made his crops for him, but he didn't do it.
"If the Lord lets you git back tomorrow, try and come a little sooner in the day than you did today. I gits up about six in the morning. I don't believe in layin' in bed late. I go to bed directly after dark and I wake up early. The Lord never did mean for nobody to sleep all day."
A number of people testify to Laura Thornton's age. I am trying to check up on it. Results later. If she isn't a hundred [HW: and] five years old, she is "mighty nigh" it. She has feeble health, but a surprisingly alert mind, and a keen sharp memory. She has a tendency to confuse Reconstruction times with slavery times, but a little questioning always brings out the facts.
She doesn't like to talk much about marriage in slavery. Evidently she dislikes the fact that one of her children ms born before emancipation. She was evidently married only once, as questioning brought out; but she will refer to the marriage before emancipation and the one afterward as though they were to different persons.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives