Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: W. S. Debnam
Location: 701 Smith Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
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Yes, I remember the Yankees coming to Raleigh. I don’t know very much about those times, I was so young, but I remember the Yankees all right in their blue clothes; their horses, and so on. I’ll be 78 years old the 8th of this comin’ September an’ I’ve heard mother an’ father talk about slavery time a whole lot. We belonged to T. R. Debnam at Eagle Rock, Wake County. His wife was named Priscilla Debnam. My father was named Daniel Debnam an’ my mother was named Liza Debnam. My master had several plantations an’ a lot of slaves. I don’t know how many, but I know he had ’em. He fed us well; we had a good place to sleep. We had wove clothes, enough to keep us warm. He treated me just like he had been my father. I didn’t know the difference. Marster an’ missus never hit me a lick in their lives. My mother was the house girl. Father tended business around the house an’ worked in the field sometimes. Our houses were in marster’s yard. The slave quarters were in the yard of the great house. I don’t remember going to church until after the surrender.
I remember the corn shuckin’s, but not the Christmas and the fourth of July holidays. They had a lot of whiskey at corn shuckin’s and good things to eat.
I heard pappy talk of patterollers, but I do not know what they were. Pappy said he had to have a pass to visit on, or they would whip him if they could ketch him. Sometimes they could not ketch a nigger they were after. Yes, they taught us to say pappy an’ mammy in them days.
I remember the coon and possum hunts an’ the rabbits we caught in gums. I remember killin’ birds at night with thorn brush. When bird blindin’ we hunt ’em at night with lights from big splinters. We went to grass patches, briars, and vines along the creeks an’ low groun’s where they roosted, an’ blinded ’em an’ killed ’em when they come out. We cooked ’em on coals, and I remember making a stew and having dumplings cooked with ’em. We’d flustrate the birds in their roostin’ place an’ when they come out blinded by the light we hit ’em an’ killed ’em with thorn brush we carried in our han’s.
Marster had a gran’son, the son of Alonza Hodge an’ Arabella Hodge, ’bout my age an’ I stayed with him most of the time. When Alonza Hodge bought his son anything he bought for me too. He treated us alike. He bought each of us a pony. We could ride good, when we were small. He let us follow him. He let us go huntin’ squirrels with him. When he shot an’ killed a squirrel he let us race to see which could get him first, while he laughed at us.
I didn’t sleep in the great house. I stayed with this white boy till bed time then my mammy come an’ got me an’ carried me home. When marster wanted us boys to go with him he would say, ‘Let’s go boys,’ an’ we would follow him. We were like brothers. I ate with him at the table. What they et, I et. He made the house girl wait on me just like he an’ his son was waited on.
My father stayed with marster till he died, when he was 63 an’ I was 21; we both stayed right there. My white playmate’s name was Richard Hodge. I stayed there till I was married. When I got 25 years old I married Ida Rawlson. Richard Hodge became a medical doctor, but he died young, just before I was married.
They taught me to read an’ write. After the surrender I went to free school. When I didn’t know a word I went to old marster an’ he told me.
During my entire life no man can touch my morals, I was brought up by my white folks not to lie, steal or do things immoral. I have lived a pure life. There is nothing against me.
I remember the Yankees, yes sir, an’ somethings they done. Well, I remember the big yeller gobler they couldn’t ketch. He riz an’ flew an’ they shot him an’ killed him. They went down to marster’s store an’ busted the head outen a barrel o’ molasses an’ after they busted the head out I got a tin bucket an’ got it full o’ molasses an’ started to the house. Then they shoved me down in the molasses. I set the bucket down an’ hit a Yankee on the leg with a dogwood stick. He tried to hit me. The Yankees ganged around him, an’ made him leave me alone, give me my bucket o’ molasses, an’ I carried it on to the house. They went down to the lot, turned out all the horses an’ tuck two o’ the big mules, Kentucky mules, an’ carried ’em off. One of the mules would gnaw every line in two you tied him with, an’ the other could not be rode. So next morning after the Yankees carried ’em off they both come back home with pieces o’ lines on ’em. The mules was named, one was named Bill, an’ the other Charles. You could ride old Charles, but you couldn’t ride old Bill. He would throw you off as fast as you got on ‘im.
After I was married when I was 25 years old I lived there ten years, right there; but old marster had died an’ missus had died. I stayed with his son Nathaniel; his wife was named Drusilla.
I had five brothers, Richard, Daniel, Rogene, Lorenzo, Lumus and myself. There wont places there for us all, an’ then I left. When I left down there I moved to Raleigh. The first man I worked fer here was George Marsh Company, then W. A. Myatt Company an’ no one else. I worked with the Myatt Company twenty-six years; ’till I got shot.
It was about half past twelve o’clock. I was on my way home to dinner on the 20th of December, 1935. When I was passing Patterson’s Alley entering Lenoir Street near the colored park in the 500 block something hit me. I looked around an’ heard a shot. The bullet hit me before I heard the report of the pistol. When hit, I looked back an’ heard it. Capt. Bruce Pool, o’ the Raleigh Police force, had shot at some thief that had broken into a A&P Store an’ the bullet hit me. It hit me in my left thigh above the knee. It went through my thigh, a 38 caliber bullet, an’ lodged under the skin on the other side. I did not fall but stood on one foot while the blood ran from the wound. A car came by in about a half hour an’ they stopped an’ carried me to St. Agnes Hospital. It was not a police car. I stayed there a week. They removed the bullet, an’ then I had to go to the hospital every day for a month. I have not been able to work a day since. I was working with W. A. Myatt Company when I got shot. My leg pains me now and swells up. I cannot stand on it much. I am unable to do a day’s work. Can’t stand up to do a day’s work. The city paid me $200.00, an’ paid my hospital bill.
Abraham Lincoln was all right. I think slavery was wrong because birds an’ things are free an’ man ought to have the same privilege.
Franklin Roosevelt is a wonderful man. Men would have starved if he hadn’t helped ’em.