Slave Narrative of Spencer Barnett
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Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person Interviewed: Spencer Barnett (blind)
Location: Holly Grove, Arkansas
Occupation: Brakeman on freight train, Farmed, Worked in timber, He sold “shuck mats” and “bottomed” chairs
“I was born April 30, 1856. It was wrote in a old Bible. I am 81 years old. I was born 3 miles from Florence, Alabama. The folks owned us was Nancy and Mars Tom Williams. To my recollection they had John, William, and Tom, boys; Jane, Ann, Lucy, and Emma, girls. In my family there was 13 children. My parents name Harry and Harriett Barnett.
“Mars Tom Williams had a tanning yard. He bought hides this way: When a fellow bring hides he would tan em then give him back half what he brought. Then he work up the rest in shoes, harness, whoops, saddles and sell them. The man all worked wid him and he had a farm. He raised corn, cotton, wheat, and oats.
“That slavery was bad. Mars Tom Williams wasn’t cruel. He never broke the skin. When the horn blowed they better be in place. They used a twisted cowhide whoop. It was wet and tied, then it mortally would hurt. One thing you had to be in your place day and night. It was confinin’.
“Sunday was visiting day.
“One man come to dinner, he hit a horse wid a rock and run way. He missed his dinner. He come back fo dark and went tole Mars Tom. He didn’t whoop him. I was mighty little when that took place.
“They worked on Saturday like any other day. One man fixed out the rations. It didn’t take long fer to go git em.
“The women plowed like men in plow time. Some women made rails. When it was cold and raining they spun and wove in the house. The men cut wood under a shed or side the barn so it knock off the wind. Mars Tom Williams had 12 grown men and women. I was too little to count but I heard my folks call am over by name and number more times en I got fingers and toes. He would hire em out to work some.
“When freedom come on I was on Hawkin Lankford Simpson place. It was 3 or 5 miles from town. They had a big dinner-picnic close by. It was 4 or 5 day of August. A lot of soldiers come by there and said, ‘You niggers air free.’ It bout broke up the picnic. The white folks broke off home. Them wanted to go back went, them didn’t struck off gone wild. Miss Lucy and Mr. Bob Barnett give all of em stayed some corn and a little money. Then he paid off at the end of the year. Then young master went and rented at Dilly Hunt place. We stayed wid him 3 or 4 years then we went to a place he bought. Tom Barnett come to close to Little Rock. Mars William started and died on the way in Memphis. We come on wid the family. Guess they are all dead now. Wisht I know or could find em. Tom never married. He was a soldier. One of the boys died fo the war started.
“My brother Joe married Luvenia Omsted and Lewis Omsted married my sister Betsy and Mars Tom Williams swapped the women. My ma was a cook for the white folks how I come to know so much bout it all. Boys wore loose shirts till they was nine or ten years old. The shirt come to the calf of the leg. No belt.
“We had plenty common eating. They had a big garden and plenty milk. They cooked wid the eggs mostly. They would kill a beef and have a week of hog killing. They would kill the beef the hardest weather that come. The families cooked at night and on Sunday at the log cabins. They cook at night for all next day. The old men hauled wood.
“When I was a little boy I could hear men runnin’ the slaves wid hounds in the mountains. The landmen paid paddyrollers to keep track of slaves. Keep em home day and night.
“We took turns bout going to white church. We go in washin’ at the creek and put on clean clothes. She learned me a prayer. Old mistress learned me to say it nights I slept up at the house. I still can say it:
‘Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die fo I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.’
“The slaves at our places had wheat straw beds. The white folks had fine goose feather beds. We had no idle days. Had a long time at dinner to rest and rest and water the teams. Sometimes we fed them. Old mistress had two peafowls roosted in the Colonial poplar trees. She had a pigeon house and a turkey house. I recken chicken and goose house, too. When company come you take em to see the farm, the garden, the new leather things jes’ made and to see the little ducks, calves, and colts. Folks don’t care bout seeing that now.
“The girls went to Florence to school. All I can recollect is them going off to school and I knowed it was Florence.
“The Yankees burned the big house. It was a fine house. Old mistress moved in the overseer’s house. He was a white man. He moved somewhere else. The Yankees made raids and took 15 or 20 calves from her at one time. They set the tater house afire. They took the corn. Old mistress cried more on one time. The Yankees starved out more black faces than white at their stealing. After that war it was hard for the slaves to have a shelter and enough eatin’ that winter. They died in piles bout after that August I tole you bout. Joe Innes was our overseer when the house burned.
“The Ku Klux come to my house twice. They couldn’t get filled up wid water. They scared us to death. I heard a lot of things they done.
“I don’t vote. I voted once in all my life fo some county officers.
“I been in Arkansas since February 5, 1880. I come to Little Cypress. I worked for Mr. Clark by the month, J.W. Crocton’s place, Mr. Kitchen’s place. I was brakeman on freight train awhile. I worked on the section. I farmed and worked in the timber. I don’t have no children; I never been married. I wanted to work by the month all my life. I sells mats (shuck mats) $1.00 and I bottom chairs 50¢. The Social Welfare gives me $10.00. That is 10¢ a meal. That woman next door boards me—table board—for 50¢ a day. I make all I can outer fust one thing and another.” (He is blind—cataracts.)