Person Interviewed: Octavia George
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Mansieur, Louisiana
Date of Birth: 1852
I was born in Mansieur, Louisiana, 1852, Avoir Parish. I am the daughter of Alfred and Clementine Joseph. I don’t know much about my grandparents other than my mother told me my grandfather’s name was Fransuai, and was one time a king in Africa.
Most of the slaves lived in log cabins, and the beds were home-made. The mattresses were made out of moss gathered from trees, and we used to have lots of fun gathering that moss to make those mattresses.
My job was taking care of the white children up at the Big House (that is what they called the house where our master lived), and I also had to feed the little Negro children. I remember quite well how those poor little children used to have to eat. They were fed in boxes and troughs, under the house. They were fed corn meal mush and beans. When this was poured into their box they would gather around it the same as we see pigs, horses and cattle gather around troughs today.
We were never given any money, but were able to get a little money this way: our Master would let us have two or three acres of land each year to plant for ourselves, and we could have what we raised on it. We could not allow our work on these two or three acres to interfere with Master’s work, but we had to work our little crops on Sundays. He remind you, all the Negroes didn’t get these two or three acres, only good masters allowed their slaves to have a little crop of their own. We would take the money from our little crops and buy a few clothes and something for Christmas. The men would save enough money out of the crops to buy their Christmas whiskey. It was all right for the slaves to get drunk on Christmas and New Years Day; no one was whipped for getting drunk on those days. We were allowed to have a garden and from this we gathered vegetables to eat; on Sundays we could have duck, fish and pork.
We didn’t know anything about any clothes other than cotton; everything we wore was made of cotton, except our shoes, they were made from pieces of leather cut out of a raw cowhide.
Our Master and Mistress was good, they let us go to church with then, have our little two- or three-acre crops and any other thing that the good masters would let their slaves do. They lived in a big fine house and had a fine barn. Their barn was much better than the house we lived in. Master Depriest (our master) was a Frenchman, and had eight or nine children, and they were sure mean. They would fight us, but we were not allowed to fight our little Master or Mistress as we had to call them.
The overseer on Master’s plantation was a mean old fellow, he carried his gun all the time and would ride a big fine horse and go from one bunch of slaves to the other. Some poor white folks lived close to us. They could not own slaves and they had to work for the rich plantation owners. I believe that those poor white folk are to blame for the Negroes stealing because they would get the Negroes to steal their master’s corn, hogs, chickens and many other things and sell it to them for practically nothing.
We had to work plenty hard, because our Master had a large plantation. Don’t know just how many acres it was, but we had to be up at 5 o’clock in the morning and would work until dark then we would have to go home and do our night work, that is cook, milk, and feed the stock.
The slaves were punished for stealing, running off, not doing what their master told them and for talking back to their master. If any of these rules were disobeyed their feet and hands were chained together and they were put across a log or a barrel and whipped until the blood came from then.
There were no jails; the white man was the slaves’ jail. If whipping didn’t settle the crime the Negro committed, the next thing would be to hang him or burn him at stake.
I’ve seen them sell slaves. The whites would auction them off just as we do cattle and horses today. The big fine healthy slaves were worth more than those that were not quite so good. I have seen men sold from their wives and I thought that was such a crime. I knew that God would settle thing someday.
Slaves would run away but most of the time they were caught. The Master would put bloodhounds on their trail, and sometimes the slave would kill the bloodhound and make his escape. If a slave once tried to run away and was caught, he would be whipped almost to death, and from then on if he was sent any place they would chain their meanest bloodhound to him.
Funerals were very simple for slaves, they could not carry the body to the church they would just take it to the graveyard and bury it. They were not even allowed to sing a song at the cemetery. Old Mistress used to tell us ghost stories after funerals and they would nearly scare me to death. She would tell of seeing men with no head, and see cattle that would suddenly turn to cats, and she made us believe if a fire was close to a cemetery it was coming from a ghost.
I used to hear quite a bit about voodoo, but that something I never believed in, therefore, I didn’t pay any attention to it.
When a slave was sick, the master would get a good doctor for him if he was a good slave, but if he wasn’t considered a good slave he would be given cheap medical care. Some of the doctors would not go to the cabin where the slaves were, and the slave would have to be carried on his bed to his master’s back porch and the doctor would see him there.
When the news came that we were free, all of us were hid on the Mississippi River. We had been there for several days, and we had to catch fish with our hands and roast them for food. I remember quite well when old Master came down to there and hollered, Come on out niggers; you are free now and you can do as you please! We all went to the Big House and there we found old Miss crying and talking about how she hated to lose her good niggers.
Abraham Lincoln! Why we mourned three months for that man when he died! I wouldn’t miss a morning getting my black armband and placing it on in remembrance of Abraham, who was the best friend the Negroes ever had. Now old Jeff Davis, I didn’t care a thing about him. He was a Democrat and none of them mean anything to the Negro. And if these young Negroes don’t quit messing with the democratic bunch they are going to be right back where we started from. If they only knew as I know they would struggle to keep such from happening, because although I had a good master I wouldn’t want to go through it again.