Slave Narrative of Robert Williams
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Williams doesn’t know the year of his birth or the place, but he remembers of being “taken” from a plantation somewhere around Pontotoc, Mississippi, when he was a young fellow and here’s the way he tells it. I was a great big boy when the Civil War was going on, so I remember some things about it, but the children didn’t know about things then like they do now. Nowdays we wait and let the young folks talk, but in slave times they didn’t. The master done the talking and everybody better listen! Austin Williams was my father. Nancy was my mother’s name. And I was a little fellow when they took me away from my parents. I never did know where they come from. I had a sister name of Martha. Master told me there was other sisters. But I don’t remember them. Remember Martha, though, because one time I hit her in the face with a rock and was pretty scared about it afterward, and sorry, too. Guess I got a whipping for being bad. My first master was old John Meyers. He the master that sold me from my own folks, and after that I move around all the time without knowing why all the moving. Then one of my masters told me I was being sold, and that was why I was on the move. There was Master Williams, Robert Williams, the same as my own name; and there was Master Sanders and Master Dowell, and maybe some more. But after the freedom I took the name of Master Williams and I keep it ever since. In the Civil War I heard the ‘pop – pop’ of the guns at Cupelo, and Master said the Yankee soldiers passed by the plantation on the way there. There was a big elm tree near the place and from somewhere there come a big cannon ball. It hit that elm and splintered the branches like lightning damage. When the war started young Master Andrew Meyers and his cousin Joe Eddington saddled their horses and rode to town. They joined the South, went away to the war and never come back. Master Williams didn’t have many slaves of his own, but he hired lots of them to help the two different places he was farming. I stayed in a little room with the man who was cook. There was another slave family on the other place from where I was. I did not see them for I was not allowed to leave the place only once in a while and then with a pass. The master’s house was small. Just three rooms with a fireplace chimney in each room. It was a log cabin with a hall in the middle, and a porch. The porch was boxed in one end and that’s where I slept with the cook. After the war was over master built a new house and better than the first one. I stayed with the master after freedom and he got three girls – Josephine, Ellen and Birt, just the same names as the master’s own white girls. Mistress Ellen was married during the war, and her man would hide out to keep from going to the fighting. Hide in the cellar when anybody come around the place. But there was some that didn’t hide. Josephine and her man Frank Skinner both went to the war. They didn’t come back. Nobody know where they was killed. In slave times I chopped wood, cut logs and made boards. I chopped cotton, but never did I earn a dime in slave times for myself. With a dime in them days a Negro was rich. He could buy more with a dime than now for half-a-dollar. I hunted down a many coon and fox for to eat and then save the hides to make clothes and caps and jackets. Master like the rabbits to eat most and hunting was the glad time of the year for me and him. The old master sold my mother. Pappy stayed on at the place and married again. My step-maw had a cake and it was the first one I ever saw. It was in a box and I eat it. All of it. When my pappy found it gone and where it gone he give me a hard whipping. When I was coming up the children went around in long tailed shirts. Some of the white children wore the same thing. I use to spin the cloth every day when I was a boy. The mistress and some of the slave women would make cotton shirts and pants and color them in different colors and stripes. One time they give me some yellow pants; I gathered in the dock root and they color the cloth with that and give me them proud yellow pants all for my own! But most of the time the clothes was just white. There was one time I was sold that I remember. Along with a girl. The master stood us away from the other slaves, out in the open yard where everybody could see us. The buyers looked us over a long time. We was near naked and they feel of our arms and legs to see was we strong and healthy for the hard work of the fields. But they got the big price for a fat woman, that was because she was healthy to bring in lots of children. My head got the master $500. Sometimes the slaves sold at auction time was chained together, but mostly the chains was used only for the runaways. If a slave runaway it was mostly a short while before he was back again. In chains. And if there was say three or four, the whole lot of them was chained together and sometimes all whipped at the same time. In slave days the colored people had no schools. And no churches. But we could have meetings, though the master didn’t like it too much. He want us all to sleep instead of listening to preaching. Said we could work better with the rest, so when the meeting nights was set everybody slip away quiet so the old master wouldn’t know about it. Work was the most thing we did in slave times. Nothing but work. Even on Saturday night sometimes when we was allowed to rest there was washing to do or something. With the war over the white folks told us: “You are free. Free to dig for yourself.” But I didn’t know what they meant. But pretty soon I find out that it meant working for the same old master and getting paid for the work. That’s the first money earned in my whole life. Wasn’t much as folks figure money now-days. Get thirty, maybe a good worker get fifty cents a day. But that was good money, big money. When I got married the first time a preacher married us. A white man. Soon as the words was said we both go eat a meal and right away get to work again. Her name was Rilla, and the children come along and we named the boy Robert, and the girls Anna, Irene and Safa. Manda was the next wife and the third one I forget her name, but I think she is still living here in Muskogee somewheres. But in the old days when I first married me and Rilla rolled logs and split rails. My wife could roll logs good as any man. She was a strong woman and a year after the war she help to build chimneys for to make more money. I heard master talk about Abe Lincoln. Lincoln freed us, and I feel proud that he did. I can’t read (or write) but I hear folks say fine things about Lincoln and I know he was a great man, and I would like to read about him. Right now I am just learning the a, b, c’s, and when the time for me to die I want to be able to write my name in the Big Book on High.