Interviewer: Edwin Driskell
Person Interviewed: Lewis Favor
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
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[TR: informant also referred to as Favors in this document.]
Among Atlanta’s few remaining ex-slaves is one Lewis Favors. When he fully understood this worker’s reasons for approaching him he consented to tell what he had seen and experienced as a slave. Chewing slowly on a large wad of tobacco he began his account in the following manner: “I was born in Merriweather County in 1855 near the present location of Greenville, Georgia. Besides my mother there were eight of us children and I was elder than all of them with one exception. Our owner was Mrs. Favors, but she was known to everybody as the “Widow Favors.” My father was owned by a Mr. Darden who had a plantation in this same county. When the “Widow’s” husband died he left her about one-hundred acres of land and a large sum of money and so she was considered as being rich. She didn’t have many slaves of her own and so her son (also a plantation owner) used to send some of his slaves over occasionally to help cultivate her crops, which consisted of cotton, corn, and all kinds of vegetables.”
In regard to her treatment of the slaves that she held Mr. Favors says: “She wasn’t so tight and then she was pretty tight too.”
Those slaves who were field hands were in the field and at work by the time it was light enough to see. They plowed, hoed, and then later in the season gathered the crops. After the harvesting was over the fences were repaired and rails were split. In rainy weather nobody had to work out of doors, instead they shelled the peas and corn and sometimes ginned the cotton. At night the women were required to spin and to weave. In the winter season no work was required at night unless they had not spun as much thread as was required. At such times they had to work at night until the amount set had been reached.
Mr. Favor’s mother was the cook for the “Widow Favors” and her two neices who lived with her. The Favors had paid the owner of a hotel Four hundred dollars to have the hotel cook teach her (Mr. Favors mother) to prepare all kinds of fancy dishes. His father was a field hand on the Darden plantation. In addition to this he repaired all the shoes when this was necessary.
As a child Mr. Favors was not very strong physically and because of this the “Widow” made him her pet. He never had to do any work other than that of waiting on the mistress while she ate her meals. Even in this he had to get up at four o’clock in the morning and help his mother in the kitchen. Sometimes he would sweep the yards if he felt like doing so. When he grew older he was given the task of picking the seed out of the cotton at night.
On Sundays all the servants were free to do as they pleased, that is, with the exception of Mr. Favors, his mother, and the two women who serve as maids to the “Widow’s” two neices. At other times if a task was done before the day was over with they were given the remaining time to do as they pleased. However, everybody had a one week holiday at Christmas.
Mr. Favors made the following statement in regard to the clothing: “Everybody wore the homespun cotton clothes that were made on the plantation by the slave women. The women wore striped ausenberg dresses while the men wore ausenberg pants and shirts that had been made into one garment. My clothes were always better than the other little fellows, who ran around in their shirttails because I was always in the house of the “Widow.” They used red clay to do the dyeing with. In the winter time cracked feet were common. The grown people wore heavy shoes called brogans while I wore the cast-off shoes of the white ladies. We all wrapped our feet in bagging sacks to help them to keep warm. We were given one complete outfit of clothes each year and these had to last until the time for the next issue.”
Sheets for the beds were also made out of homespun material while the heavier cover such as the quilts, etc., were made from the dresses and the other clothing that was no longer fit for wear.
As a general rule all of the slaves on this plantation had enough food to keep them well and healthy. At the end of each week the field hands were given enough food to last them seven days. For most of them the week’s supply consisted of three and one-half pounds of pork or fat meat, one peck of meal, flour, and black molasses. The only meals that they had to prepare from the above mentioned articles were breakfast and supper. Dinner was cooked in the plantation kitchen by one of the women who was too old for work in the fields. For this particular meal the slaves had some different type of vegetable each day along with the fat meat, corn bread, and the pot liquor which was served every day. They were allowed to come in from the fields to the house to be served. Breakfast usually consisted of fat meat, molasses, and corn bread while supper consisted of pot-liquor, bread, and milk. The only variation from this diet was on Sunday when all were allowed to have bisquits instead of corn bread. Mr. Favors was asked what happened if anyone’s food was all eaten before it was time for the weekly issue and he answered: “It was just too bad for them ’cause they would have to do the best they could until the time came to get more.” When such a thing happened to anyone the others usually helped as far as their limited supplies would permit.
Mr. Favors says that he, his mother, and the two maids ate the same kind of food that the “Widow,” and her nieces were served. After he had seen to the wants of all at the table he had to take a seat at the table beside his owner where he ate with her and the others seated there.
There were two one-roomed cabins located directly behind the four-roomed house of the “Widow,” the entire lot of them were built out of logs. These two cabins were for the use of those servants who worked in the house of their owner. At one end of each cabin there was a wide fireplace which was made of sticks, stones, and dried mud. Instead of windows there were only one or two small holes cut in the back wall of the cabin. The beds were made out of heavy planks and were called “Georgia Looms,” by the slaves. Wooden slats were used in the place of bed springs while the mattresses were merely large bags that had been stuffed to capacity with hay, wheat straw, or leaves. The only other furnishings in each of these cabins were several benches and a few cooking utensils. Mr. Favors says: “We didn’t have plank floors like these on some of the other plantations; the plain bare ground served as our floor.” As he made this statement he reminded this worker that he meant his mother and some of the other house servants lived in these cabins. He himself always lived in the house with the “Widow Favors,” who had provided a comfortable bed along with a small chair for his use. These slaves who worked in the fields lived in several cabins that were somewhat nearer to their fields than the other two cabins mentioned above.
The remaining buildings on the Favors’ plantation were the smokehouse and the cook house where in addition to the cooking the younger children were cared for by another old person. The woman who cared for these children had to also help with the cooking.
Whenever any of the slaves were sick the doctor was called if conditions warranted it, otherwise a dose of castor oil was prescribed. Mr. Favors stated that after freedom was declared the white people for whom they worked gave them hog-feet oil and sometimes beef-oil both of which had the same effect as castor oil. If any were too ill to work in the field one of the others was required to remain at the cabin or at some other convenient place so as to be able to attend to the wants of these so indisposed.
When Mr. Favors was asked if the servants on this plantation ever had the chance to learn how to read or to write he answered: “They was all afraid to even try because they would cut these off,” and he held up his right hand and pointed to his thumb and forefinger. At any rate the “Widow,” nieces taught him to read a few months before the slaves were set free.
On Sunday all were required to attend the white church in town. They sat in the back of the church as the white minister preached and directed the following text at them: “Don’t steal your master’s chickens or his eggs and your backs won’t be whipped.” In the afternoon of this same day when the colored minister was allowed to preach the slaves heard this text: “Obey your masters and your mistresses and your backs won’t be whipped.” All of the marriages ware performed by the colored preacher who read a text from the Bible and then pronounced the couple being married as man and wife.
Although nobody was ever sold on the Favors plantation Mr. Favors has witnessed the selling of others on the auction block. He says that the block resembled a flight of steps. The young children and those women who had babies too young to be separated from them were placed on the bottom step, those in their early teens on the next, the young men and women on the next, and the middle-aged and old ones on the last one. Prices decreased as the auctioneer went from the bottom step to the top one, that is, the younger a slave was the more money he brought if he was sold.
Sometimes there were slaves who were punished by the overseer because they had broken some rule. Mr. Favors says that at such times a cowhide whip was used and the number of lashes that the overseer gave depended on the slave owner’s instructions. He has seen others whipped and at such times he began praying. The only punishment that he ever received was as a little boy and then a switch was used instead of the whip. If the “Patter-Roller” caught a slave out in the streets without a pass from his master they proceeded to give the luckless fellow five lashes with a whip called the cat-o-nine-tails. They gave six lashes if the slave was caught out at night regardless of whether he had a pass or not.
As none of the slaves held by the “Widow” or her son ever attempted to run away there was no punishment for this. However, he has heard that on other plantations blood hounds were used to trail those who ran away and if they were caught a severe beating was administered.
Sometime after the civil war had begun the “Widow Favors” packed as many of her belongings as possible and fled to LaGrange, Georgia. He and his mother along with several other slaves (one of whom was an old man) were taken along. He never heard any of the white people say anything about the war or its possible results. At one time a battle was being fought a few miles distant and they all saw the cannon balls fall on the plantation. This was when the journey to LaGrange was decided upon. Before leaving the “Widow” had the slaves to bury all the meat, flour, and other food on the plantation so that the Yankee soldiers would not get it. Mr. Favors was given about two thousand dollars in gold currency to keep and protect for his owner. At various intervals he had to take this money to the “Widow” so that she might count it. Another one of the slaves was given the son’s gold watch to keep on his person until the Yanks left the vicinity.
Before freedom was declared Mr. Favors says that he prayed all of the time because he never wanted to be whipped with the cowhide, like others he had seen. Further he says that it was a happy day for him when he was told that he could do as he pleased because he realized then that he could do some of the things that he had always wanted to do.
When freedom was declared for the slaves the Favors family freed slaves valued at one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The live stock that they sold represented a like sum. Mr. Favors and his mother remained with the “Widow,” who gave him his board in return for his services and paid his mother twenty-five dollars per year for hers as cook.
“Even after the war things were pretty tough for us” stated Mr. Favors. “The plantation owners refused to pay more than thirty or forty cents to a person for a days work in the fields. Some of them would not allow an ex-slave to walk in the streets in front of their homes but made them take to the out-of-the-way paths through the woods to reach their various destinations. At other times white men cut the clothes from the backs of the ex-slaves when they were well dressed. If they didn’t beg hard enough when thus accosted they might even be cut to death!” After the first three years following the war conditions were somewhat better, he continued.
Mr. Favors says that his old age is due to the fact that he has always taken good care of himself and because he has always refrained from those habits that are known to tear a person’s health down.