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Interviewer: Travis Jordan
Person Interviewed: Hector Hamilton
Location: North Carolina
Ex-Slave 90 Years
Dey wuz two General Lee’s, in de ‘Federate War. One los’ his fight, but de other won his.
One of dese Generals wuz a white man dat rode a white hoss, an’ de other wuz a mean fightin’ gander dat I named General Lee, though I didn’ know den dat he wuz goin’ to live up to his name. But when de time come dat long neck gander out fit de whole ‘Federate army.
My white fo’ks lived in Virginia. Dey wuz Marse Peter an’ Mis’ Laura Hamilton. Dey lived on de big Hamilton plantation dat wuz so big dat wid all de niggers dey had dey couldn’ ‘ten’ half of it. Dis lan’ done been handed down to Marse Peter from more den six gran’pappys. Dey wuz cotton an’ ‘bacca fields a mile wide; de wheat fields as far as yo’ could see wuz like a big sheet of green water, an’ it took half hour to plow one row of cawn, but dey wuz plenty of slaves to do de work. Mistah Sidney Effort, Marse Peter’s overseer, rode all over de fields every day, cussin’ an’ crackin’ his long blacksnake whip. He drove dem niggers like dey wuz cattle, but Marse Peter wouldn’ ‘low no beatin’ of his niggers.
Marse Peter had acres an’ acres of woods dat wuz his huntin’ ‘zerve. Dey wuz every kind of bird an’ animal in dem woods in shootin’ season. Dey wuz snipes, pheasants, patridges, squirrels, rabbits, deers, an’ foxes; dey wuz even bears, an’ dey wuz wolfs too dat would come an’ catch de sheeps at night.
Dey wuz always a crowd at Easy Acres huntin’ ridin’ dancin’ an’ havin’ a good time. Marse Peter’s stables wuz full of hunters an’ saddlers for mens an’ ladies. De ladies in dem days rode side saddles. Mis’ Laura’s saddle wuz all studded wid sho nuff gol’ tacks. De fringe wuz tipped wid gol’, an’ de buckles on de bridle wuz solid gol’. When de ladies went to ride dey wore long skirts of red, blue, an’ green velvet, an’ dey had plumes on dey hats dat blew in de win’. Dey wouldn’ be caught wearin’ britches an’ ridin’ straddle like de womens do dese days. In dem times de women wuz ladies.
Marse Peter kept de bes’ sideboa’d in Princess Anne County. His cut glass decanters cos’ near ’bout as much as Mis’ Laura’s diamon’ ear rings I’s goin’ tell yo’ ’bout. De decanters wuz all set out on de sideboard wid de glasses, an’ de wine an’ brandy wuz so ole dat one good size dram would make yo’ willin’ to go to de jail house for sixty days. Some of dat wine an’ likker done been in dat cellar ever since Ole Marse Caleb Hamilton’s time, an’ de done built Easy Acres befo’ Mistah George Washington done cut down his pappy’s cherry tree. Dat likker done been down in dat cellar so long dat yo’ had to scrape de dus’ off wid a knife.
I wuz Marse Peter’s main sideboa’d man. When he had shootin’ company I didn’ do nothin’ but shake drams. De mens would come in from de huntin’ field col’ an’ tired, an’ Marse Peter would say: ‘Hustle up, Hecter, fix us a dram of so an’ so.’ Dat mean dat I wuz to mix de special dram dat I done learned from my gran’pappy. So, I pours in a little of dis an’ a little of dat, den I shakes it ‘twell it foams, den I fills de glasses an’ draps in de ice an’ de mint. Time de mens drink dat so an’ so dey done forgot dey’s tired; dey ‘lax, an’ when de ladies come down de stairs all dredd up, dey thinks dey’s angels walkin’ in gol’ shoes. Dem wuz good times befo’ de war an’ befo’ Marse Peter got shot. From de day Marse Peter rode his big grey hoss off to fight, we never seed him no more. Mis’ Laura never even know if dey buried him or not.
After de mens all went to de war dey won’t no use for no more drams, so Mis’ Laura took me away from de sideboa’d an’ made me a watchman. Dat is, I wuz set to watch de commissary to see dat de niggers wuzn’ give no more den dey share of eats, den I looked after de chickens an’ things, kaze de patter-rollers wuz all ‘roun’ de country an’ dey’d steal everythin’ from chickens to sweet taters an cawn, den dey’d sell it to de Yankees. Dat’s when I named dat ole mean fightin’ gander General Lee.
Everywhare I went ‘roun’ de place dat gander wuz right at my heels. He wuz de bigges’ gander I ever seed. He weighed near ’bout forty pounds, an’ his wings from tip to tip wuz ’bout two yards. He wuz smart too. I teached him to drive de cows an’ sheeps, an’ I sic’d him on de dogs when dey got ‘streperous. I’d say, Sic him, General Lee, an’ dat gander would cha’ge. He wuz a better fighter den de dogs kaze he fit wid his wings, his bill, an wid his feets. I seed him skeer a bull near ’bout to death one day. Dat bull got mad an’ jump de fence an’ run all de niggers in de cabins, so I called General Lee an’ sic’d him on dat bull. Dat bird give one squawk an’ lit on dat bull’s back, an’ yo’ never seed such carryin’s on. De bull reared an’ snorted an’ kicked, but dat gander held on. He whipped dat bull wid his wings ‘twell he wuz glad to go back in de lot an’ ‘have hese’f. After dat all I had to do to dat bull wuz show him General Lee an’ he’d quiet down.
Now I’s goin’ to tell yo’ ’bout Mis’ Laura’s diamon’ ear rings.
De fus’ Yankees dat come to de house wuz gentlemens, ‘cept dey made us niggers cook dey supper an’ shine dey muddy boots, den dey stole everythin’ dey foun’ to tote away, but de nex ones dat come wuz mean. Dey got made kaze de fus’ Yankees done got de pickin’s of what Mis’ Laura hadn’ hid. Dey cut open de feather beds lookin’ for silver; dey ripped open de chair cushings lookin’ for money, dey even tore up de carpets, but dey didn’ fin’ nothin’ kaze all de valuables done been buried. Even mos’ of de wine done been hid, ‘twuz’ all buried in de ole graves down in de family grave yard wid de tombstones at de head an’ foots. No Yankee ain’t goin’ be diggin’ in no grave for nothin’.
Dey wuz one Yankee in dis las’ bunch dat wuz big an’ bustin’. He strut bigoty wid his chist stuck out. He walk ‘roun’ stickin’ his sword in de chair cushions, de pictures on de walls an’ things like dat. He got powerful mad kaze he couldn’ fin’ nothin’, den he look out de window an’ seed Mis’ Laura. She wuz standin’ on de po’ch an’ de sun wuz shinin’ on de diamon’ ear rings in her ears. Dey wuz de ear rings dat belonged to Marse Peter’s great-great-gran’mammy. When de sojer seed dem diamon’s his eyes ‘gun to shine. He went out on de po’ch an’ went up to Mis’ Laura. ‘Gim me dem ear rings,’ he say jus’ like dat.
Mis’ Laura flung her han’s up to her ears an’ run out in de yard. De sojer followed her, an’ all de other sojers come too. Dat big Yankee tole Mis’ Laura again to give him de ear rings, but she shook her head. I wuz standin’ ‘side de house near ’bout bustin’ wid madness when dat Yankee reach up an’ snatch Mis’ Laura’s hands down an’ hold dem in his, den he laugh, an’ all de other sojers ‘gun to laugh too jus’ like dey thought ‘twuz funny. ‘Bout dat time Ole General Lee done smell a fight. He come waddlin’ ‘roun’ de house, his tail feathers bristled out an’ tawkin’ to he’sef. I point to dem sojers an say, “Sic him, General Lee, sic him.”
Dat gander ain’t waste no time. He let out his wings an’ cha’ged dem Yankees an’ dey scatter like flies. Den he lit on dat big sojer’s back an’ ‘gun to beat him wid his wings. Dat man let out a yell an’ drap Mis’ Laura’s hands; he try to shake dat goose, but General bit into his neck an’ held on like a leech. When de other sojers come up an’ try to pull him off, dat gander let out a wing an’ near about slap dem down. I ain’t never seed such fightin! Every time I holler, Sic him, General Lee start ‘nother ‘tack.
‘Bout dat time dem Yankees took a runnin’ nothin. Dey forgot de ear rings an’ lit out down de road, but dat gander beat dat bigoty yellin’ sojer clear down to de branch befo’ he turned him loose, den he jump in de water an’ wash hese’f off. Yes, suh, dat wuz sho some fightin’ goose; he near ’bout out fit de sho nuff Marse General Lee.