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Interviewer: Travis Jordan
Person Interviewed: Mary Wallace Bowe
Location: Durham, North Carolina
My name is Mary Wallace Bowe. I was nine years ole at de surrender.
My mammy an’ pappy, Susan an’ Lillman Graves, first belonged to Marse Fountain an’ Mis’ Fanny Tu’berville, but Marse Fountain sold me, my mammy an’ my brother George to Mis’ Fanny’s sister, Mis’ Virginia Graves. Mis’ Virginia’s husban’ was Marse Doctor Graves. Dey lived on de ole Elijah Graves estate not far from Marse Fountain’s plantation here in Durham county, an’ Mis’ Virginia an’ Mis’ Fanny seed each other near ’bout every day.
I was little when Marse Fountain an’ Marse Doctor went to de war but I remembers it. I remembers it kaze Mis’ Fanny stood on de po’ch smilin’ an’ wavin’ at Marse Fountain ’til he went ‘roun’ de curve in de road, den she fell to de floor like she was dead. I thought she was dead ’till Mis’ Virginia th’owed some water in her face an’ she opened her eyes.
De nex day Mis’ Virginia took me an’ mammy an’ we all went over an’ stayed wid Mis’ Fanny kaze she was skeered, an’ so dey’d be company for each other. Mammy waited on Mis’ Virginia an’ he’ped Surella Tu’berville, Mis’ Fanny’s house girl, sweep an’ make up de beds an’ things. I was little but mammy made me work. I shook de rugs, brung in de kindlin’ an run ‘roun’ waitin’ on Mis’ Virginia an’ Mis’ Fanny, doin’ things like totin’ dey basket of keys, bringin’ dey shawls and such as dat. Dey was all de time talkin’ about de folks fightin’ an’ what dey would do if de Yankees come.
Every time dey talk Mis’ Fanny set an’ twist her han’s an’ say: “What is we gwine do, Sister, what is we gwine do?”
Mis’ Virginia try to pacify Mis’ Fanny. She say, ‘Don’ yo’ worry none, Honey, I’ll fix dem Yankees when dey come.’ Den she set her mouf. When she done dat I run an’ hid behin’ Mis’ Fanny’s chair kaze I done seed Mis’ Virginia set her mouf befo’ an’ I knowed she meant biznes’.
I didn’ have sense enough to be skeered den kaze I hadn’ never seed no Yankee sojers, but ‘twaren’t long befo’ I wuz skeered. De Yankees come one mornin’, an’ dey ripped, Oh, Lawd, how dey did rip. When dey rode up to de gate an’ come stompin’ to de house, Mis’ Fanny ‘gun to cry. ‘Tell dem somethin’, Sister, tell dem somethin’; she tole Mis’ Virginia.
Mis’ Virginia she ain’ done no cryin’. When she seed dem Yankees comin’ ‘cross de hill, she run ‘roun’ an’ got all de jewelry. She took off de rings an’ pins she an’ Mis’ Fanny had on an’ she got all de things out of de jewelry box an’ give dem to pappy. “Hide dem, Lillmam” she tole pappy, ‘hide dem some place whare dem thieves won’t find dem’.
Pappy had on high top boots. He didn’ do nothin but stuff all dat jewelry right down in dem boots, den he strutted all’ roun’ dem Yankees laughin’ to heself. Dey cussed when dey couldn’ fin’ no jewelry a tall. Dey didn’ fin’ no silver neither kaze us niggers done he’p Mis’ Fanny an’ Mis’ Virginia hide dat. We done toted it all down to de cottin gin house an’ hid it in de loose cotton piled on de floor. When dey couldn’ fin’ nothin’ a big sojer went up to Mis’ Virginia who wuz standin’ in de hall. He look at her an’ say: ‘Yo’s skeered of me, ain’ yo’?’
Mis’ Virginia ain’ batted no eye yet. She tole him, “If I was gwine to be skeered, I’d be skeered of somethin’. I sho ain’ of no ugly, braggin’ Yankee.”
De man tu’ned red an he say: “If you don’ tell me where you done hide dat silver I’se gwine to make’ you skeered.”
Mis’ Virginia’s chin went up higher. She set her mouf an’ look at dat sojer twell he drap his eyes. Den she tole him dat some folks done come an’ got de silver, dat dey done toted it off. She didn’ tell him dat it wuz us niggers dat done toted it down to de cotton gin house.
In dem days dey wuz peddlers gwine ‘roun’ de country sellin’ things. Dey toted big packs on dey backs filled wid everythin’ from needles an’ thimbles to bed spreads an’ fryin’ pans. One day a peddler stopped at Mis’ Fanny’s house. He was de uglies’ man I ever seed. He was tall an’ bony wid black whiskers an’ black bushy hair an’ curious eyes dat set way back in his head. Dey was dark an’ look like a dog’s eyes after you done hit him. He set down on de po’ch an’ opened his pack, an’ it was so hot an’ he looked so tired, dat Mis’ Fanny give him er cool drink of milk dat done been settin’ in de spring house. All de time Mis’ Fanny was lookin’ at de things in de pack an’ buyin’, de man kept up a runnin’ talk. He ask her how many niggers dey had; how many men dey had fightin’ on de ‘Federate side, an’ what wuz was she gwine do if de niggers wuz was set free. Den he ask her if she knowed Mistah Abraham Lincoln.
‘Bout dat time Mis’ Virginia come to de door an’ heard what he said. She blaze up like a lightwood fire an’ told dat peddler dat dey didn’t want to know nothin’ ’bout Mistah Lincoln; dat dey knowed too much already, an’ dat his name wuzn [HW correction: wasn’t] ‘lowed called in dat [HW correction: her] house. Den she say he wuzn [HW correction: wasn’t] nothin’ but a black debil messin’ in other folks biznes’ [HW correction: business], an’ dat she’d shoot him on sight if she had half a chance.
De man laughed. “Maybe he [HW correction: Mr. Lincoln] ain’t so bad,’ he told her. Den he packed his pack an’ went off down de road, an’ Mis’ Virginia watched him ’till he went out of sight ‘roun’ de bend.”
Two or three weeks later Mis’ Fanny got a letter. De letter was from dat peddler. He tole her dat he was Abraham Lincoln hese’f; dat he wuz peddlin’ over de country as a spy, an’ he thanked her for de res’ on her shady po’ch an’ de cool glass of milk she give him.
When dat letter come Mis’ Virginia got so hoppin’ mad dat she took all de stuff Mis’ Fanny done bought from Mistah Lincoln an’ made us niggers burn it on de ash pile. Den she made pappy rake up de ashes an’ th’ow dem in de creek.