Slave Narrative of Harriet Cheatam
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Interviewer: Anna Pritchett
Person Interviewed: Harriet Cheatam
Place of Birth: Gallatin, Tennessee
Date of Birth: December 25, 1843
Place of Residence: 816 Darnell Street
Federal Writers’ Project of the W.P.A. District #8 Marion County Anna Pritchett 1200 Kentucky Avenue
FOLKLORE MRS. HARRIET CHEATAM-EX-SLAVE 816 Darnell Street
Incidents in the life of Mrs. Cheatam as she told them to me.
“I was born, in 1843, in Gallatin, Tennessee, 94 years ago this coming (1937) Christmas day.”
“Our master, Martin Henley, a farmer, was hard on us slaves, but we were happy in spite of our lack.”
“When I was a child, I didn’t have it as hard as some of the children in the quarters. I always stayed in the “big house,” slept on the floor, right near the fireplace, with one quilt for my bed and one quilt to cover me. Then when I growed up, I was in the quarters.”
“After the Civil war, I went to Ohio to cook for General Payne. We had a nice life in the general’s house.”
“I remember one night, way back before the Civil war, we wanted a goose. I went out to steal one as that was the only way we slaves would have one. I crept very quiet-like, put my hand in where they was and grabbed, and what do you suppose I had? A great big pole cat. Well, I dropped him quick, went back, took off all my clothes, dug a hole, and buried them. The next night I went to the right place, grabbed me a nice big goose, held his neck and feet so he couldn’t holler, put him under my arm, and ran with him, and did we eat?”
“We often had prayer meeting out in the quarters, and to keep the folks in the “big house” from hearing us, we would take pots, turn them down, put something under them, that let the sound go in the pots, put them in a row by the door, then our voices would not go out, and we could sing and pray to our heart’s content.”
“At Thanksgiving time we would have pound cake. That was fine. We would take our hands and beat and beat our cake dough, put the dough in a skillet, cover it with the lid and put it in the fireplace. (The covered skillet would act our ovens of today.) It would take all day to bake, but it sure would be good; not like the cakes you have today.”
“When we cooked our regular meals, we would put our food in pots, slide them on an iron rod that hooked into the fireplace. (They were called pot hooks.) The pots hung right over the open fire and would boil until the food was done.”
“We often made ash cake. (That is made of biscuit dough.) When the dough was ready, we swept a clean place on the floor of the fireplace, smoothed the dough out with our hands, took some ashes, put them on top of the dough, then put some hot coals on top of the ashes, and just left it. When it was done, we brushed off the coals, took out the bread, brushed off the ashes, child, that was bread.”
“When we roasted a chicken, we got it all nice and clean, stuffed him with dressing, greased him all over good, put a cabbage leaf on the floor of the fireplace, put the chicken on the cabbage leaf, then covered him good with another cabbage leaf, and put hot coals all over and around him, and left him to roast. That is the best way to cook chicken.”
Mrs. Cheatam lives with a daughter, Mrs. Jones. She is a very small old lady, pleasant to talk with, has a very happy disposition. Her eyes, as she said, “have gotten very dim,” and she can’t piece her quilts anymore. That was the way she spent her spare time.
She has beautiful white hair and is very proud of it.
Submitted December 1, 1937 Indianapolis, Indiana