Interviewer: F. S. DuPre
Person Interviewed: George Woods
Location: Spartanburg, South Carolina
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While looking for an ex-slave in a certain part of Spartanburg this morning, I was directed across the street to “an old man who lives there”. I knocked at the door but received no answer. Then I noticed an old man walking around by the side of the house. He was tall and straight, standing about 6 feet 2 inches. He said that his name was George Wood and that he was 78 years of age.
He stated that he was born during slavery, and lived on Peter Sepah’s place in York County. Peter Sepah’s farm, where he was born, was near the North Carolina line; it consisted of approximately 200 acres. His parents were named Dan and Sarah Wood. His mother was given to old man Sepah by his father as a wedding present, and his grandfather had been given to an older Sepah by his parent as a wedding present. He said it was the custom in slavery times that a slave be given to the son or daughter by the white people when they got married.
He was too young to work, but about the time the war was over, he was allowed to drive the horses that pulled the thrasher of wheat. His master used to walk around and around while the wheat was being thrashed, and see that everybody was doing their work all right. His father lived on another plantation. There was only one family of slaves on the whole plantation. He, his mother, and five children lived in a one-room log cabin about 30 or 40 feet from the “big house”. Their beds consisted of straw mattresses. They had plenty to eat, having the same food that the white folks did. They ate ash cakes mostly for bread, but once a week they had biscuits to eat. When the wheat was thrashed, they had biscuits mostly for breakfast; but as the wheat got scarcer they did not have much wheat to eat. He said that Buffalo Creek flowed pretty close to their place and that the creek emptied into Broad River. Shelby, N.C., their market, was about ten miles distant. He thinks that it was easier then than now to get something to eat.
The log cabin where he and his mother lived was kept comfortably warm in the winter time. All they had to do, was to go to the wood-pile and get all the wood they needed for the fire. His mother worked on the farm, washed clothes and helped with the cooking at his master’s house. The slaves stopped work every Saturday afternoon about three o’clock; then his mistress would have his mother to patch their clothes, as she did not like to see their clothes needing patching. “We used to have lots of fun,” he said, “more than the children do now. As children, we used to play marbles around the house; but no other special game.”
Uncle George said that the patrollers saw that the colored people were in their houses at 8 o’clock every night. “They would come to the house and look in; of course, if a man had a pass to another plantation or some place, that was all right; or if he had some business somewhere. But everybody had to be in the house by 8 o’clock.” He also stated that if a slave strayed off the plantation and didn’t have a pass, if he could out-run the “pateroller” and get back upon his own place, then he was all right. The only slave he ever saw get a whipping, was one who had stayed out after hours; then a switch was used on him by a “pateroller”. He said he never saw any slaves in chains or treated badly, for his master was a good man, and so was his “Missus”. One day his mother went to a church that was not her own church. On coming back, she saw a “pateroller” coming behind her. She began to run, and he did too; but as he caught up with her, she stepped over a fence on her master’s place and dared the “pateroller” to do anything to her. He didn’t do a thing and would not get over the fence where she was, as he would have been on somebody’s place besides his own.
He said that when the corn-shucking time came, both whites and blacks would gather at a certain plantation. Everybody shucked corn, and they all had a good time. When the last ear of corn was shucked, the owner of the plantation would begin to run from the place and all would run after him. When they caught him, he was placed on the shoulders of two men and carried around and around the house, all singing and laughing and having a good time. Then they would carry the man into his house, pull off his hat and throw it into the fire; place him in a chair; comb his head; cross his knees for him and leave him alone. They would not let him raise a second crop under his old hat—he had to have a new hat for a new crop. Then they would all, colored and white, gather to eat. The owner of the farm would furnish plenty to eat; sometimes he would have some whiskey to drink, but not often, “as that was a dangerous thing to have”.
He said that if a man who was chewing or smoking met a woman, he would throw his tobacco away before talking with the woman.
There was plenty of fruit in those days, so brandy was made and put into barrels in the smoke-house; and the same way they had plenty of corn, and would put up a still and put the whiskey they made into barrels.
People in those days, he said, had “manners”. The white and colored folks would have their separate sections in the church where they sat. “I’ve seen a white man make another white man get up in church and give his place to a colored man when the church was crowded.” He said his father was baptized by Rev. Dixon, father of Tom Dixon, who was a Baptist preacher. His mother was sprinkled by a Methodist white preacher, but he was baptized by a colored preacher.
Asked about marriages among the slaves, he said the ceremony was performed by some “jack-legged” colored preacher who pronounced a few words and said they were man and wife.
He said the colored people did not know much about Jeff Davis or Abraham Lincoln except what they heard about them. All that he remembered was a song that his Missus used to sing:
“Jeff Davis rides a big gray horse,
Lincoln rides a mule;
Jeff Davis is a fine old man,
And Lincoln is a fool.”
Another song was:
“I’ll lay $10 down and number them one by one,
As sure as we do fight ’em,
The Yankees will run.”
One day his “Missus” came to their house and told his mother they were free and could go anywhere they wanted to, but she hoped they would stay on that year and help them make a crop. He said his mother just folded her hands and put her head down and “studied”. She decided to stay on that year. The next year, they moved to another plantation, where they stayed for twenty years.
“Before they were free, every colored man took the name of his master, but afterwards, I took my father’s name.”
He said that the Yankee soldiers did not come to their place, but they were ready for them if they had come. The silver was buried out in the lot, and stable manure was piled and thrown all about the spot. The two good horses were taken off and hidden, but the old horse his master owned was left. He said that sometimes a Confederate soldier would come by riding an old horse, and would want to trade horses with his master. Sometimes his master would trade, for he thought his horse would be taken anyway. His master would never get anything “to boot”, as the soldier didn’t have the “to boot” when the trade was made. So the soldier would ride off the horse, leaving the poor, broken-down one behind. Sometimes after the war, the Confederate soldiers would come by the house, sick, wounded and almost starved; but his mistress would fix something to eat for them; then they would go on.
“‘Possum and ‘taters were plentiful then. When a slave wanted to go hunting, he could go; but we had to work then—nobody works now.” He said that on rainy days, his mother did not have to go to the field, but stayed at home and sewed or carded. He said that after freedom came to the slaves, he worked on a farm for $5.00 a month. After he had been on the farm for many years, he heard that Spartanburg was on a boom, so he came here and worked at railroading for many more years. He has quit work now; but still does a little gardening for some white folks. He said that the white people in the South understand the colored people.
When asked if he had ever seen a ghost, he replied that he had never seen one and had never seen a person who had. “I don’t believe in those things anyhow,” he said. He also stated he had never heard of anybody being “conjured” either. He said that all the niggers in his section were scared of the niggers from way down in South Carolina, for their reputation as conjurers was against them, so they always fought shy of them and didn’t have anything to do with the “niggers from way down in South Carolina”.