Interviewer: Minnie B. Ross
Person Interviewed: Hannah Austin
When the writer was presented to Mrs. Hannah Austin she was immediately impressed with her alert youthful appearance. Mrs. Austin is well preserved for her age and speaks clearly and with much intelligence. The interview was a brief but interesting one. This was due partly to the fact that Mrs. Austin was a small child when The Civil War ended and too because her family was classed as “town slaves” so classed because of their superior intelligence.
Mrs. Austin was a child of ten or twelve years when the war ended. She doesn’t know her exact age but estimated it to be between seventy and seventy five years. She was born the oldest child of Liza and George Hall. Their master Mr. Frank Hall was very kind to them and considerate in his treatment of them.
Briefly Mrs. Austin gave the following account of slavery as she knew it. “My family lived in a two room well built house which had many windows and a nice large porch. Our master, Mr. Hall was a merchant and operated a clothing store. Because Mr. Hall lived in town he did not need but a few slaves. My family which included my mother, father, sister, and myself were his only servants. Originally Mr. Hall did not own any slaves, however after marrying Mrs. Hall we were given to her by her father as a part of her inheritance.
My mother nursed Mrs. Hall from a baby, consequently the Hall family was very fond of her and often made the statement that they would not part with her for anything in the world, besides working as the cook for the Hall family my mother was also a fine seamstress and made clothing for the master’s family and for our family. We were allowed an ample amount of good clothing which Mr. Hall selected from the stock in his store. My father worked as a porter in the store and did other jobs around the house. I did not have to work and spent most of my time playing with the Hall children. We were considered the better class of slaves and did not know the meaning of a hard time.
Other slave owners whipped their slaves severely and often, but I have never known our master to whip any one of my family. If any one in the family became ill the family doctor was called in as often as he was needed.
We did not have churches of our own but were allowed to attend the white churches in the afternoon. The White families attended in the forenoon. We seldom heard a true religious sermon; but were constantly preached the doctrine of obedience to our masters and mistresses. We were required to attend church every Sunday.
Marriages were conducted in much the same manner as they are today. After the usual courtship a minister was called in by the master and the marriage ceremony would then take place. In my opinion people of today are more lax in their attitude toward marriage than they were in those days. Following the marriage of a slave couple a celebration would take place often the master and his family would take part in the celebration.
I remember hearing my mother and father discuss the war; but was too young to know just the effect the war would have on the slave. One day I remember Mr. Hall coming to my mother telling her we were free. His exact words were quote—”Liza you don’t belong to me any longer you belong to yourself. If you are hired now I will have to pay you. I do not want you to leave as you have a home here as long as you live.” I watched my mother to see the effect his words would have on her and I saw her eyes fill with tears. Mr. Hall’s eyes filled with tears also.
Soon after this incident a Yankee Army appeared in our village one day. They practically destroyed Mr. Hall’s store by throwing all clothes and other merchandise into the streets. Seeing my sister and I they turned to us saying, “Little Negroes you are free there are no more masters and mistresses, here help yourselves to these clothes take them home with you.” Not knowing any better we carried stockings, socks, dresses, underwear and many other pieces home. After this they opened the smoke house door and told us to go in and take all of the meat we wanted.
On another occasion the mistress called me asking that I come in the yard to play with the children”. Here Mrs. Austin began to laugh and remarked “I did not go but politely told her I was free and didn’t belong to any one but my mama and papa. As I spoke these words my mistress began to cry.
My mother and father continued to live with the Halls even after freedom and until their deaths. Although not impoverished most of the Hall’s fortune was wiped out with the war”.
Mrs. Austin married at the age of 16 years; and was the mother of four children, all of whom are dead. She was very ambitious and was determined to get an education if such was possible. After the war Northern white people came south and set up schools for the education of Negroes. She remembers the organization of the old Storrs School from which one of the present Negroes Colleges originated.
Mrs. Austin proudly spoke of her old blue back speller, which she still possesses; and of the days when she attended Storrs School.
As the writer made ready to depart Mrs. Austin smilingly informed her that she had told her all that she knew about slavery; and every word spoken was the truth.