Slave Narrative of Joe High
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Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Joe High
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Joe High interviewed May 18, 1937 has long been one of the best independent gardners in Raleigh, working variously by the hour or day.
My name is Joe High. I lives at 527 So. Haywood. St. Raleigh, N. C. Now dere is one thing I want to know, is dis thing goin’ to cost me anything. Hold on a minute, and le’ me see. I want to be square, and I must be square. Now le’ me see, le’ me see sumpin’. Sometimes folks come here and dey writes and writes; den dey asts me, is you goin’ to pay dis now? What will it cost? Well, if it costs nothin’ I’ll gib you what I knows.
Let me git my Bible. I wants to be on de square, because I got to leave here some of dese days. Dis is a record from de slave books. I’ve been tryin’ to git my direct age for 35 years. My cousin got my age. I wuz born April 10, 1857. My mother’s name wuz Sarah High. Put down when she wuz born, Oct. 24, 1824. This is from the old slave books. We both belonged to Green High, the young master. The old master, I nebber seed him; but I saw old missus, Mis’ Laney High. The old master died before I wuz born. We lived two miles north uv Zebulon. You know where Zebulon is in Wake County? I had two brothers, one brother named Taylor High, ‘nother named Ruffin High. My sister died mighty young. She come here wrong; she died. I’ member seeing my uncle take her to the grave yard. I don’t know whe’re there’s enny rec’ord o’ her or not.
My work in slavery times wuz ridin’ behin’ my Missus, Clara Griffin, who wuz my old missus’ sister’s daughter. She came to be our missus. When she went visiting I rode behind her. I also looked atter de garden, kept chickens out uv de garden, and minded de table, fanned flies off de table. They were good to us. Dey whupped us sometime. I wuz not old enough to do no fiel’ work.
One time I slep’ late. It wuz in the fall uv the year. The other chilluns had lef’ when I got up. I went out to look for ’em. When I crossed the tater patch I seen the ground cracked and I dug in to see what cracked it. I found a tater and kept diggin’ till I dug it up. I carried it to the house. They had a white woman for a cook that year. I carried the tater and showed it to her. She took me and the tater and told me to come on. We went from the kitchen to the great house and she showed the tater to the old missus sayin’, ‘Look here missus, Joe has been stealin’ taters. Here is the tater he stole’. Old missus said, ‘Joe belongs to me, the tater belongs to me, take it back and cook it for him. When the cook cooked the tater she asked me for half uv it. I gave it to her. If I had known den lak I knows now, she wuz tryin’ to git me to git a whoppin’ I wouldn’t ‘er give her none uv dat tater.
There were some frame houses, an part log houses, we called ’em the darkey houses. The master’s house wuz called ‘the great house’. We had very good places to sleep and plenty to eat. I got plenty uv potlicker, peas, and pumpkins. All us little darkies et out uv one bowl. We used mussel shells, got on the branch, for spoons. Dey must not er had no spoons or sumpin. The pea fowls roosted on de great house evey night. I didn’t know whut money nor matches wuz neither.
I ‘member seein’ Henry High, my first cousin, ketch a pike once, but I never done no fishin’ or huntin’. I ‘member seein’ the grown folks start off possum huntin’ at night, but I did not go.
I wore wooden bottom shoes and I wore only a shirt. I went in my shirt tail until I wuz a great big boy, many years atter slavery. There were 50 or more slaves on the plantation. Old women wove cloth on looms. We made syrup, cane syrup, with a cane mill. We carried our corn to Foster’s Mill down on Little River to have it ground. It wuz called Little River den; I don’t know whut it is called in dis day.
There wuz a block in de yard, where missus got up on her horse. There were two steps to it. Slaves were sold from this block. I ‘member seein’ them sold from this block. George High wuz one, but they got him back.
Dey did not teach us anything about books; dey did not teach us anything about readin’ and writin’. I went to church at the Eppsby Church near Buffalo, not far from Wakefield. We sat in a corner to ourselves.
My brother Taylor ran away. Young master sent him word to come on back home; he won’t goin’ to whup him, and he come back. Yes, he come back.
We played the games uv marbles, blind fold, jumpin’, and racin’, and jumpin’ the rope. The doctor looked atter us when we were sick, sometimes, but it wuz mostly done by old women. Dey got erbs and dey gib us wormfuge. Dey worked us out. I wuz not old enough to pay much attention to de doctor’s name.
I ‘members one day my young master, Green High, and me wuz standin’ in de front yard when two men come down the avenue from de main road to the house. Dey wanted to know how fer it wuz to Green High’s. Master told ’em it wuz about 2 miles away and gave ’em the direction. Dey were Yankees. Dey got on their horses and left. Dey didn’t know dey wuz talking to Green High then. When dey left, master left. I didn’t see him no more in a long time. Soon next day the yard wuz full uv Yankee soldiers. I ‘members how de buttons on dere uniforms shined. Dey got corn, meat, chickens, and eveything they wanted. Day didn’t burn the house.
Old man Bert Doub or Domb kept nigger hounds. When a nigger run away he would ketch him for de master. De master would send atter him and his dogs when a nigger run away. I ‘member one overseer, a Negro, Hamp High and another Coff High. Nobody told me nothin’ about being free and I knowed nothin’ ’bout whut it meant.
I married Rosetta Hinton. She belonged to the Hintons during slavery. She is dead; she’s been dead fourteen years. We were married at her mother’s home; the river plantation belonging to the Hintons. I wuz married by a preacher at this home. Atter the wedding we had good things to eat and we played games. All stayed there that night and next day we went back to whar I wuz workin’ on de Gen. Cox’s farm. I wuz workin’ dere. We had 6 chillun. Two died at birth. All are dead except one in Durham named Tommie High and one in New York City. Tommie High works in a wheat mill. Eddie High is a cashermiser, (calciminer) works on walls.
I thought slavery wuz right. I felt that this wuz the way things had to go, the way they were fixed to go. I wuz satisfied. The white folks treated me all right. My young missus loved me and I loved her. She whupped me sometimes. I think just for fun sometimes, when I wuz ridin’ behind her, she would tell me to put my arms around her and hold to her apron strings. One day she wuz sittin’ on the side saddle; I wuz sittin’ behind her. She wud try to git old Dave, the horse she wuz a ridin to walk; she would say, ‘Ho Dave’, den I wud kick de horse in de side and she wud keep walkin’ on. She asked me, ‘Joe, why does Dave not want to stop?’
I saw a lot of Yankees, I wuz afraid of ’em. They called us Johnnie, Susie, and tole us they wouldn’t hurt us.
I think Abraham Lincoln is all right, I guess, the way he saw it. I think he was like I wuz as a boy from what I read, and understand; he wuz like me jest the way he saw things. I liked the rules, and ways o’ my old master and missus, while the Yankees and Abraham Lincoln gave me more rest.
How did I learn to read? Atter de war I studies. I wonts ter read de hymms an’ songs. I jis picks up de readin’ myself.
It’s quare to me, I cannot remember one word my mother ever said to me, not nary a word she said can I remember. I remember she brought me hot potlicker and bread down to the house of mornings when I wuz small; but I’se been tryin to ‘member some words she spoke to me an’ I cain’t.