Slave Narrative of Jim Allen

Interviewer: Mrs. Ed Joiner
Person Interviewed: Jim Allen
Location: West Point, Mississippi
Age: 87

Jim Allen, West Point, age 87, lives in a shack furnished by the city. With him lives his second wife, a much older woman. Both he and his wife have a reputation for being “queer” and do not welcome outside visitors. However, he readily gave an interview and seemed most willing to relate the story of his life.

“Yas, ma’m, I ‘members lots about slav’ry time, ’cause I was old ‘nough.

“I was born in Russell County, Alabamy, an’ can tell you ’bout my own mammy an’ pappy an’ sisters an’ brudders.

“Mammy’s name was Darkis an’ her Marster was John Bussey, a reg’lar old drunkard, an’ my pappy’s name was John Robertson an’ b’longed to Dr. Robertson, a big farmer on Tombigbee river, five miles east of Columbus. De doctor hisself lived in Columbus.

“My sister Harriett and brudder John was fine fiel’ hands an’ Marster kep’ ’em in de fiel’ most of de time, tryin’ to dodge other white folks.

“Den dere was Sister Vice an’ brudder George. Befo’ I could ‘member much, I ‘members Lee King had a saloon close to Bob Allen’s store in Russell County, Alabama, and Marse John Bussey drunk my mammy up. I means by dat, Lee King tuk her an’ my brudder George fer a whiskey debt. Yes, old Marster drinked dem up. Den dey was car’ied to Florida by Sam Oneal, an’ George was jes a baby. You know, de white folks wouldn’t often sep’rate de mammy an’ baby. I ain’t seen’ em since.

“Did I work? Yes ma’m, me an’ a girl worked in de fiel’, carryin’ one row; you know, it tuk two chullun to mek one han’.

“Did we have good eatins? Yes ma’m, old Marster fed me so good, fer I was his pet. He never ‘lowed no one to pester me neither. Now dis Marster was Bob Allen who had tuk me for a whiskey debt, too. Marse Bussey couldn’t pay, an’ so Marse Allen tuk me, a little boy, out’n de yard whar I was playin’ marbles. De law ‘lowed de fust thing de man saw, he could take.

“I served Marse Bob Allen ’til Gen’al Grant come ‘long and had me an’ some others to follow him to Miss’sippi. We was in de woods hidin’ de mules an’ a fine mare. Dis was after Emanc’pation, an’ Gen’al Grant was comin’ to Miss’sippi to tell de niggers dey was free.

“As I done tol’ you, I was Marse Allen’s pet nigger boy. I was called a stray. I slep’ on de flo’ by old Miss an’ Marse Bob. I could’a slep’ on de trun’le bed, but it was so easy jes to roll over an’ blow dem ashes an’ mek dat fire burn.

“Ole Miss was so good, I’d do anything fer her. She was so good an’ weighed’ round 200 poun’s. She was Marse Bob’s secon’ wife. Nobody ‘posed on me, No, Sir! I car’ied water to Marse Bob’s sto’ close by an’ he would allus give me candy by de double han’full, an’ as many juice harps as I wanted. De bes’ thing I ever did eat was dat candy. Marster was good to his only stray nigger.

“Slave niggers didn’t fare wid no gardens ‘cept de big garden up at de Big House, when fiel’ han’s was called to wuk out hers (old Miss). All de niggers had a sight of good things to eat from dat garden an’ smoke house.

“I kin see old Lady Sally now, cookin’ for us niggers, an’ Ruth cooked in de white folk’s kitchen. Ruth an’ old Man Pleas’ an’ old Lady Susan was give to Marse Bob when he mar’ied an’ come to Sandford, Alabamy.

“No, dere wa’nt no jails, but a guard house. When niggers did wrong, dey was oft’n sent dere, but mos’ allus dey was jes whupped when too lazy to wuk, an’ when dey would steal.

“Our clo’es was all wove and made on de plan’ation. Our ever’day ones, we called ‘hick’ry strips.’ We had a’ plen’y er good uns. We was fitted out an’ out each season, an’ had two pairs of shoes, an’ all de snuff an’ ‘bacco we wanted every month.

“No, not any weddin’s. It was kinder dis way. Dere was a good nigger man an’ a good nigger woman, an’ the Marster would say, ‘I knows you both good niggers an’ I wants you to be man an’ wife dis year an’ raise little niggers; den I won’t have to buy’ em.’

“Marse Bob lived in a big white house wid six rooms. He had a cou’t house an’ a block whar he hired out niggers, jes like mules an’ cows.

“How many slaves did us have? Les’ see. Dere was old Lady Sally an’ her six chullun an’ old Jake, her husban’, de ox driver, fer de boss. Den dere was old Starlin’, Rose, his wife an’ fo’ chullun. Some of dem was mixed blood by de oberseer. I sees ’em right now. I knowed de oberseer was nothin’ but po’ white trash, jes a tramp. Den dere was me an’ Katherin. Old Lady Sally cooked for de oberseers, seven miles ‘way frum de Big House.

“Ever’body was woke up at fo’ o’clock by a bugle blowed mos’ly by a nigger, an’ was at dey work by sun-up. Den dey quits at sunset. I sho’ seed bad niggers whupped as many times as dere is leaves on dat groun’. Not Marse Bob’s niggers, but our neighbors. We was called ‘free,’ ’cause Marse Bob treated us so good. The whuppin’ was done by de oberseer or driver, who would say as he put de whup to de back, ‘Pray sir, pray sir!’

“I seed slaves sol’ oft’ener dan you got fingers an’ toes. You know I tol’ you dere was a sellin’ block close to our sto’. Den plen’y niggers had to be chained to a tree or post ’cause he would run ‘way an’ wouldn’ wuk.

“Dey would track de runways wid dogs an’ sometimes a white scal’wag or slacker wud be kotched dodgin’ duty. I seed as many deserters as I see corn stalks ober in dat fiel’. Dey would hide out in day time an’ steal at night.

“No’m I didn’ learn to read an’ write but my folks teached me to be honest an’ min’ Old Miss an’ Granny. Dey didn’ want us to learn how to go to de free country.

“We had a neighborhood chu’ch an bofe black an’ white went to it. Dere was a white preacher an’ sometimes a nigger preacher would sit in de pulpit wid him. De slaves set on one side of de aisle an’ white folks on de other. I allus liked preacher Williams Odem, an’ his brudder Daniel, de ‘Slidin’ Elder’.[FN: back slider] Dey come frum Ohio. Marse Bob Allen was head steward. I’ members lots of my fav’rite songs. Some of dem was, Am I born to Die, Alas and Did my Savior Bleed, an’ Must I to de Judgment be Brought. The preacher would say ‘Pull down de line and let de spirit be a witnes, workin’ fer faith in de future frum on high.’

“I seed de patyrollers every week. If de niggers didn’ get a pass in han’ right frum one plan’ation to ‘nother, dem patyrollers would git you. Dey would be six an’ twelve in a drove, an’ day would git you if you didn’ have dat piece of paper. No sun could go down on a pass. Dere was no trouble twixt niggers den.

“We lay down an’ res’ at night in de week time. Niggers in slav’ry time riz up in de Quarters, you could hear ’em for miles. Den da cornshucking tuk place. Den we would have singin’. When one foun’ a red ear of corn, dey would take a drink of whiskey frum de jug an’ cup. We’d get through’ bout ten o’clock. De men did’n care if dey worked all night, fer we had the ‘Heav’nly Banners'[FN: women and whiskey] by us[HW:?].

“Sometimes we worked on Sat’day a’ternoon, owin’ to de crops; but women all knocked off on Sat’day a’ternoon. On Sat’day night, we mos’ly had fun, playin’ an drinking whiskey an’ beer—no time to fool ‘roun’ in de week time.

“Some went to chu’ch an’ some went fishin’ on Sunday. On Chris’mas we had a time—all kinds eatin’—wimmen got new dresses—men tobacco—had stuff to las’ ’til Summer. Niggers had good times in mos’ ways in slav’ry time. July 4th, we would wash up an’ have a good time. We hallowed dat day wid de white folks. Dere was a barbecue; big table set down in bottoms. Dere was niggers strollin’ ‘roun’ like ants. We was havin’ a time now. White folks too. When a slave died, dere was a to-do over dat, hollerin’ an’ singin’. More fuss dan a little—’Well, sich a one has passed out an we gwine to de grave to ‘tend de fun’ral; we will talk about Sister Sallie.’ De niggers would be jumpin’ as high as a cow er mule.

“A song we used to sing was”

[HW: Sang]

‘Come on Chariot an’ Take Her Home, Take Her Home,
Here Come Chariot, les’ ride,
Come on les’ ride, Come on les’ ride.’

“Yessum we believed ha’nts would be at de grave yard. I didn’ pay no’ tention to dem tho’, for I know de evil spirit is dere. Iffen you don’t believe it, let one of ’em slap you. I ain’t seed one, but I’se heard ’em. I seed someone, dey said was a ghos’, but it got ‘way quick.

“When we got sick de doctor come at once, and Mistiss was right dere to see we was cared fer. A doctor lived on our place. If you grunt he was right dere. We had castor oil an’ pills an’ turpentine an’ quinine when needful, an’ herbs was used. I can fin’ dat stuff now what we used when I was a boy.

[HW: Superstition]

“Some of us wore brass rings on our fingers to keep off croup. Really good—good now. See mine?

“Yessum I knows all ’bout when Yankees come. Dey got us out’er de swamp. I was layin’ down by a white oak tree ‘sleep, an’ when I woke up an’ looked up an’ saw nothin’ but blue, blue, I said, ‘Yonder is my Boss’s fine male hoss, Alfred. He ‘tended dat horse hisself.’ He took it to heart, an’ he didn’ live long afte’ de Blue Coats took Alfred.

“Peace was declared to us fust in January in Alabamy, but not in Miss’sippi ’til Grant come back, May 8th.

“I ain’t seen my boss since dem Yankees took me ‘way. I was seven miles down in de swamp when I was tuk. I wouldn’ of tol’ him goodbye. I jes wouldn’ of lef’ him. No sir, I couldn’ have lef’ my good boss. He tol’ me dem Yankees was comin’ to take me off. I never wanted to see him ’cause I would have went back ’cause he pertected me an’ loved me.

“Like dis week, I lef’ de crowd. One day, Cap’in Bob McDaniel came by, an’ asked me if I wanted to mek fires an’ wuk ’round de house. I said, ‘I’d like to see de town whar you want me to go, an’ den I come to West Point. It wa’nt nothin’ but cotton rows—lot of old shabby shanties, with jes one brick sto’, an’ it b’longed to Ben Robertson, an’ I hope[FN: helped] build all de sto’es in West Point since den.

“I seed de KuKlux. We would be workin’. Dem people would be in de fiel’, an’ must get home ‘fo dark an’ shet de door. Dey wo’ three cornered white hats with de eyes way up high. Dey skeered de breeches off’n me. First ones I got tangled up wid was right down here by de cemetery. Dey just wanted to scare you. Night riders was de same thing. I was one of de fellers what broke ’em up.

“Old man Toleson was de head leader of de Negroes. Tryin’ to get Negroes to go ‘gainst our white people. I spec’ he was a two faced Yankee or carpetbagger.

“We had clubs all ’round West Point. Cap’in Shattuck out about Palo Alto said to us niggers one day, ‘Stop your foolishness—go live among your white folks an’ behave. Have sense an’ be good citizens.’ His advice was good an’ we soon broke up our clubs.

“I ain’t been to no school ‘cept Sunday School since Surrender. A good white man I worked with taught me ‘nough to spell ‘comprestibility’ and ‘compastibility.’ I had good ‘membrance an’ I could have learned what white folks taught me, an’ dey sees dey manners in me.

“I mar’ied when I was turnin’ 19, an’ my wife, 15. I mar’ied at big Methodist Chu’ch in Needmore. Same old chu’ch is dere now. I hope build it in 1865. Aunt Emaline Robertson an’ Vincent Petty an’ Van McCanley started a school in de northeast part of town two years afte’ de War.

“Emaline was Mr. Ben Robertson’s cook, an’ her darter, Callie, was his housekeeper, an’ George an’ Walter was mechanics. George became a school teacher.

“Abraham Lincoln worked by ‘pinions of de Bible. He got his meanin’s from de Bible. ‘Every man should live under his own vine and fig tree.’ Dis was Abraham’s commandments. Dis is where Lincoln started, ‘no one should work for another.’

“Jefferson Davis wanted po’ man to work for rich man. He was wrong in one ‘pinion, an’ right in t’other. He tried to take care of his Nation. In one instance, Lincoln was destroying us.

“I j’ined the church to do better an’ to be with Christians an’ serve Christ. Dis I learned by ‘sociation an’ harmonious livin’ with black an’ white, old an’ young, an’ to give justice to all.

“Be fust work I did after de War was for Mr. Bob McDaniel who lived near Waverly on de Tombigbee River. Yes ma’am, I knowed de Lees, an’ de Joiners, but on de river den an’ long afte’, an’ worked for ’em lots in Clay County.”

Allen, Bussey, Robertson,

Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007.

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