Skip to comments.Slavery, and what happened when the "Yankees" came
Posted on 06/07/2002 5:29:32 AM PDT by TexConfederate1861
By Al Hester
Editor's Note: During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration was formed to give out-of-work Americans useful tasks, paying them enough to put food on the table. The Federal Writers Project used ''white collar workers'' and writers to produce the acclaimed American Guides series. A little-known facet of the Federal Writers Project was the American Life Histories which consisted of about 4,900 interviews with Americans, black and white, and how they remembered their lives.
In the Athens area, four interviewers were hired, and they interviewed nearly 40 residents, both black and white. The manuscripts were never published, as the WPA program ended during World War II.
The following interview excerpt was conducted on Nov. 7, 1939, with the Rev. Alonzo Powers, a former slave. Powers was living on Rural Route #1 on the Danielsville Road, outside Athens, when Mrs. Ina B. Hawkes interviewed him. Powers was almost certainly a son of the famous quilter Harriet Powers, even though that link hasn't been proven. They lived in the same part of the county--Sandy Creek--and he was the first clerk of New Grove Baptist Church, where Harriet Powers was a member. Dialect conversation has been edited in standard English, and the use of the ''N-word'' by African Americans in their conversations about themselves, has been changed.
In talking to the owner of a tourist camp one day, I asked the whereabouts of a Negro by the name of Lonnie Pondly (Alonzo Powers). The owner replied, ''Yes, he lives in the third house down that lane. You know he is a preacher?''
I didn't, and then added that I would be glad to have the chance to talk to a colored preacher. I went down the white, sandy lane and found a two-room house. It had no front yard, no grass or trees for shade and no porch. I knocked on the door and a man answered. ''Who do you want to see?'' he asked. I told him that I wanted to see Lonnie Pondly. I heard a door shut, and I saw an old man walking around the house. ''Yes Ma'am, this is Lonnie Pondly,'' he volunteered. ''Good morning, Uncle!'' I said. ''Do you have a little time to spare this morning?'' ''Yes ma'am,'' he said, with a broad smile. It was a cool day, although the sun was shining very bright. I asked him to sit in the sun so we could talk better. He seemed to know what I came for because he said: ''Well, I was born eighty years ago in 1859. I was a slave, Miss. My young mistress and master's names were Nancy and John Lester. My father's master's name was Jimmie Nunn. He lived on the Danielsville Road. My father would have to get a pass from Mr. Jimmie to come to see my mother. You see, they were on different plantations. My father got to come to see my mother twice a week. If he slipped out without the pass the 'patterollers' (white men disciplining Negro slaves) got after him, and if he outrun them and got back to his master he was safe, but if he didn't, he got a whipping. Twenty-five licks was what he would get. ''As far back as I can remember is when us little Negroes was just big enough to run around. Mistress would be so good to us. She would always pay us in some way to help her. She would say, 'Bring me some water; git me some on the north side of the spring so it will be cool' or' pick up some bark for me and I will make some candy for my little Negroes.' ''Lawd Miss, you ought to have seen us scramble after that water and pick up those chips. ''I was born in Athens, Gawgia, Jan. 13, 1856. My father, Robert Wilborn was a Cherokee Indian. My mother was the daughter of a Negro woman and German doctor. There were 15 child'un of us, twelve boys and three girls. Dr. Edward Ware owned mother and we child'un, and father worked for him, making coffins for use when any of the slaves on his plantation died, and for Dr. Ware to sell, too.'' --Slave narrative of David Wilborn from Ohio
''My Mistress would not let anyone whip us, not even my mother or father. ''I remember one time they was sending us out to hoe cotton. I decided I didn't want to go, so I pitched a big fit. Instead of hoeing the cotton, I laid down and started grabbing it with my teeth. Master came out and sent me to the house. He said I never would amount to nothing. He didn't let me go to the field no more that year. He thought I was sick. ''Master would never raise over one bale of cotton. We had ox carts in those days. I can remember when it took two weeks to go to Augusta and back with that bale of cotton. ''We used to all go to the same church, colored and white. We would sit on one side. I would always go with my grandma. She would put her shoes in her pockets and when we got in a mile of the church she put her shoes on. When we left she would pull them off and go on home bare-footed. ''You know, Miss, in slavery time if any of the slaves was disobedient, their owner's would hold them 'till the speculators came around. Then they was sold. If the women had children, it made no difference--they had to leave them--or if the man had a wife he had to go just the same. ''I remember when the Yankees came through, one big Yankee come up to my Pa and said, 'I will give you my horse and blanket if you will show me all the old rich bugs (white planters).' ''Pa said, 'wait--let me get my shoes.' Instead of putting on his shoes, he run through the house and yelled, 'Everybody turn loose the horses.' All the Yankees horses were old broke-down and they would take ours. ''If a man wore a vest, the Yankees thought he had a watch. One big Yankee walked up to Uncle Harry and said, 'Take off that vest.' Another one said, 'Let the damn fool alone, can't you see he has no watch.' ''All the time Uncle Harry had it hid under the wood pile. ''One Yankee walked up to Mistress and said, 'How come you got such a big bosom? Give me all that money.' ''Mistress said, 'I haven't got any money.' ''The Yankee took his knife and cut Mistress' dress open, and gold and silver went everywhere. It was awful. ''Mr. Franklin was my master's older brother. The Yankees got him and hung him up by his toes. He would not tell where his money was. Then they hung him up by his neck; he could hardly whisper. Still he would not tell them where his money was. The Yankees yelled at one of his men to bring him the auger. He got poor old Mr. Franklin down and started boring in his head. ''Mr. Franklin said, 'Please don't kill me, I will tell--it is under a pile of rocks in the garden in an old trunk.' ''The Yankees made my mother cook fifteen bushels of peas and three middlins of meat. They didn't wait for them to get done. The peas just got hot and swelled. They took them and left with all the good horses they could catch of ours and all the money they could find. ''My young master went to war to substitute for Mr. Franklin. Miss, it seems as if I can see him now. He called me Ding. He said, 'Here Ding, take this big red apple, and if you don't ever see Master again, remember me by it.' ''I never did see him no more. He got killed fighting. Mistress got forty dollars.'' ''They called old John in to pray for Master. John was a big Negro. His prayer was, 'God bless young Master in the war, and give them their victory and bless old Master and Mistress at home.' ''Going home, his wife Mary said, 'John, how in the devil do you ever expect to be set free and you praying like that?' Old John looked at Mary and said, 'God knows what I mean.' He sat very quietly for a moment as if he were seeing everything over again. He took a long breath and smiled. ''Lord Miss, them was some days.'' ''How old were you at the time of the surrender,'' I asked. ''That's where I began another life, Miss. I was ten years old. (note the descrepancy in age from the 1859 birth date he gave.) ''Later, I come to Athens though. God bless you.''
Al Hester, Ph.D., retired journalism department head at the University of Georgia, is the editor and commentator for a forthcoming volume of selected American Life Histories involving Athens area residents. His book, "Athens Remembers: Life Histories from the Federal Writers Project, 1939-40," will be published by The Green Berry Press during Athens-Clarke County's bicentennial year. More information about the book is available from The Green Berry Press here in Athens at (706) 549-8680.
This article published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, June 17, 2001.
These people were anywhere from 80 to 110 years old when the narratives were done and it's fascinating reading. Many of them, at least here in Oklahoma, were former slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole), who came out here when their Indian masters were "translocated" in the 1830s. More often than not, you will read quite a different story than what you learned in school. The northerners were generally a coarse, vulgar, opportunistic lot, interested more with what spoils they could gather than "saving the Union" or "freeing the slaves".
Even if you consider the advanced age of the subjects and that time often smears Vaseline on the lens back through which we view our past, to soften the edges and blur the focus, there is still a substantive difference between what we've generally been told about slavery and what the former slaves themselves recalled. Yes, there will be a few Simon Legrees in the lot, and those are eagerly held up as the brush with which all slaveowners must be painted.
Go to a library, read the stories. Don't read the debates on FR and think you have anything close to an unbiased view (from either side) on the war, slavery, life in American in the 1860's, etc.
Well said bump!!
These interviews have to be balanced with the escape narratives (which again, represent only a small minority) and with the interviews conducted by the Freedman's Bureau during and immediately after the Civil War.
"The slaves are put in stalls like the pens they use for cattle- - a man and his wife with a child on each arm. And there's a curtain, sometimes just a sheet over the front of the stall, so the bidders can't see the "stock" too soon. The overseer's standin' just outside with a big black snake whip and a pepperbox pistol in his belt. Across the square a little piece, there's a big platform with steps leadin' to it.
"Then, they pulls up the curtain, and the bidders is crowdin' around. Them in back can't see, so the overseer drives the slaves out to the platform, and he tells the ages of the slaves and what they can do. They have white gloves there, and one of the bidders takes a pair of globes and rubs his fingers over a man's teeth, and he says to the overseer, "You call this buck twenty years old? Why there's cut worms in his teeth. He's forty years old, if he's a day." So they knock this buck down for a thousand dollars. They calls the men "bucks" and the women "wenches."
"When the slaves is on the platform- - what they calls the "block"- - the overseer yells, "Tom or Jason, show the bidders how you walk." Then, the slave steps across the platform, and the biddin' starts.
"At these slave auctions, the overseer yells, "Say, you bucks and wenches, get in your hole. Come out here." Then, he makes 'em hop, he makes 'em trot, he makes 'em jump. "How much," he yells, "for this buck? A thousand? Eleven hundred? Twelve hundred dollars? Then the bidders makes offers accordin' to size and build." -- James Martin, from the Slave Narratives.
Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.
I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, "The colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.
As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free- papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly- - and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty- two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.
P.S.- - Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
From Cincinnati Commercial, reprinted in New York Tribune, August 22, 1865.
Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. 1901.
XIV. The Atlanta Exposition Address
* * * *
To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, Cast down your bucket where you are. Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defence of yours , interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one.
Freedman's Bureau. Would that have been set up by the same folks that Tocqueville was speaking of here? And Non, you full well know the Slave Narratives have less good words to say about the north than they do the South. You want to post everyone of them? Go ahead. I'm sure we can find plenty of those narratives that don't hold the northern soldiers and their fight in very high regard not to mention a few that speak of fighting for the women and children left behind and brutally attacked by the northern invasion forces
Watch the detractors on this thread try to dispute these actual accounts as told by former slaves.
The legislation of the Southern states with regard to slaves presents at the present day such unparalleled atrocities as suffice to show that the laws of humanity have been totally perverted, and to betray the desperate position of the community in which that legislation has been promulgated. The Americans of this portion of the Union have not, indeed, augmented the hardships of slavery; on the contrary, they have bettered the physical condition of the slaves. The only means by which the ancients maintained slavery were fetters and death; the Americans of the South of the Union have discovered more intellectual securities for the duration of their power. They have employed their despotism and their violence against the human mind. In antiquity precautions were taken to prevent the slave from breaking his chains; at the present day measures are adopted to deprive him even of the desire for freedom. The ancients kept the bodies of their slaves in bondage, but placed no restraint upon the mind and no check upon eduction; and they acted consistently with their established principle, since a natural termination of slavery then existed, and one day or other the slave might be set free and become the equal of his master. But the Americans of the South, who do not admit that the Negroes can ever be commingled with themselves, have forbidden them, under severe penalties, to be taught to read or write; and as they will not raise them to their own level, they sink them as nearly as possible to that of the brutes.
"After the South had been conquered by war and humiliated and impoverished by peace, there appeared still to remain something which made the South different -- something intangible, incomprehensible, in the realm of the spirit. That too must be invaded and destroyed; so there commenced a second war of conquest, the conquest of the Southern mind, calculated to remake every Southern opinion, to impose the Northern way of life and thought upon the South, write "error" across the pages of Southern history which were out of keeping with the Northern legend, and set the rising and unborn generations upon stools of everlasting repentance." -- Frank Lawrence Owsley
Thanks for your kind words....
Somebody needs to stand up for the TRUTH....!
I wonder how many of those LOYAL white people were CARPETBAGGERS & SCALLAWAGS!?
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