The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Watt McKinney Person interviewed: Dock Wilborn A mile or so from Marvell, Arkansas Age: 95
Dock Wilborn was born a slave near Huntsville, Alabama on January 7, 1843, the property of Dan Wilborn who with his three brothers, Elias, Sam, and Ike, moved to Arkansas and settled near Marvell in Phillips County about 1855.
According to "Uncle Dock" the four Wilborn brothers each owning more than one hundred slaves acquired a large body of wild, undeveloped land, divided this acreage between them and immediately began to erect numerous log structures for housing themselves, their Negroes, and their stock, and to deaden the timber and clear the land preparatory to placing their crops the following season. The Wilborns arrived in Arkansas in the early fall of the year and for several months they camped, living in tents until such time that they were able to complete the erection of their residences. Good, substantial, well constructed and warm cabins were built in which to house the slaves, much better buildings "Uncle Dock" says than those in which the average Negro sharecropper lives today on Southern cotton plantations. And these Negroes were given an abundance of the same wholesome food as that prepared for the master's family in the huge kettles and ovens of the one common kitchen presided over by a well-trained and competent cook and supervised by the wife of the master.
During the period of slavery the more apt and intelligent among those of the younger Negroes were singled out and given special training for those places in which their talents indicated they would be most useful in the life of the plantation. Girls were trained in housework, cooking, and in the care of children while boys were taught blacksmithing, carpentrying, and some were trained for personal servants around the home. Some were even taught to read and to write when it was thought that their later positions would require this learning.
According to "Uncle Dock" Wilborn, slaves were allowed to enjoy many pleasures and liberties thought by many in this day, especially by the descendants of these slaves, not to have been accorded them, were entirely free of any responsibility aside from the performance of their alloted labors and speaking from his own experience received kind and just treatment at the hands of their masters.
The will of the master was the law of the plantation and prompt punishment was administered for any violation of established rules and though a master was kind, he was of necessity invariably firm in the administration of his government and in the execution of his laws. Respect and obedience was steadfastly required and sternly demanded, while indolence and disrespect was neither tolerated or permitted.
In refutation to often repeated expressions and beliefs that slaves were cruelly treated, provided with insufficient food and apparel and subjected to inhuman punishment, it is pointed out by ex-slaves themselves that they were at that time very valuable property, worth on the market no less than from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars each for a healthy, grown Negro and that it is unreasonable to suppose that these slaveowners did not properly safeguard their investments with the befitting care and attention such valuable property demanded or that these masters would by rule or action bring about any condition adversely effecting the health, efficiency or value of their slaves.
The spiritual and religious needs of the slaves received the attention of the same minister who attended the like needs of the master and his family, and services were often conducted on Sunday afternoons exclusively for them at which times the minister exhorted his congregation to live lives of righteousness and to be at all times obedient, respectful and dutiful servants in the cause of both their earthly and heavenly masters.
In the days of slavery, on occasion of the marriage of a couple in which the participants were members of slave-owning families, it was the custom for the father of each to provide the young couple with several Negroes, the number of course depending on the relative wealth or affluence of their respective families. It seems, however, that no less than six or eight grown slaves were given in most instances as well as a like number of children from two to four years of age. This provision on the part of the parents of the newly-wedded pair was for the purpose as "Uncle Dock" expressed it to give them a "start" of Negroes. The children were not considered of much value at such an age and the young master and his wife found themselves possessed with the responsibility attached to their proper care and rearing until such time as they reached the age at which they could perform some useful labor. These responsibilities were bravely accepted and such children received the best of care and attention, being it is said often kept in a room provided for than in the master's own house where their needs could be administered to under the watchful eye and supervision of their owners. The food given these young children according to informants consisted mainly of a sort of gruel composed of whole milk and bread made of whole wheat flour which was set before them in a kind of trough and from which they ate with great relish and grew rapidly.
Slaveowners, as a rule, arranged for their Negroes to have all needed pleasure and enjoyment, and in the late summer after cultivation of the crops was complete it was the custom for a number of them to give a large barbecue for their combined groups of slaves, at which huge quantities of beef and pork were served and the care-free hours given over to dancing and general merry-making. "Uncle Dock" recalls that his master, Dan Wilborn, who was a good-natured man of large stature, derived much pleasure in playing his "fiddle" and that often in the early summer evenings he would walk down to the slave quarters with his violin remarking that he would supply the music and that he wished to see his "niggers" dance, and dance they would for hours and as much to the master's own delight and amusement as to theirs.
Dock Wilborn's "pappy" Sam was in some respects disobedient, prompted mainly so it seems by his complete dislike for any form of labor and which Dan Wilborn due to their mutual affection appeared to tolerate for long periods or until such time that his patience was exhausted when he would then apply his lash to Sam a few times and often after these periodical punishments Sam would escape to the dense forests that surrounded the plantation where he would remain for days or until Wilborn would enlist the aid of Nat Turner and his hounds and chase the Negro to bay and return him to his home.
"Uncle Dock" Wilborn and his wife "Aunt Becky" are among the oldest citizens of Phillips County and have been married for sixty-seven years. Dan Wilborn performed their marriage ceremony. The only formality required in uniting them as man and wife was that each jump over a broom that had been placed on the floor between them. This old couple are the parents of four children, the eldest of whom is now sixty-three. They live alone in a small white-washed cabin only a mile or so from Marvell being supported only by a small pension they receive each month from the Social Security Board. They have a garden and a few chickens and a hog or two and are happy and content as they dip their snuff and recall those days long past during which they both contend that life was at its best, "Aunt Becky" is religious and a staunch believer, a long-time member of Mount Moriah Baptist Church while "Uncle Dock" who has never been affiliated with any religious organization is yet as he terms himself "a sinner man" and laughingly remarks that he is going to ride into Heaven on "Aunt Becky's" ticket to which comment she promptly replies that her ticket is good for only one passage and that if he hopes to get there he must arrange for one of his own.
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives