Slave Narrative of Jim Threat

Person Interviewed: Jim Threat
Place of Birth: Talidiga County, Alabama
Date of Birth: September 1851

We all sung dat song and had a lot of fun singing it but it was true jest the same. Dat was one of the things dat the niggers dreaded most, was a patteroller. Slaves would have a little party all the niggers would gather at one of the cabins and lock the door so the patterollers couldn’t git in. When the party was over and they started home the patterollers would stop them and demand their passes. Woe to the nigger that didn’t have one! I guess they was all right in some cases but they over-done it I can tell you. I recollects that down in the neighborhood jest below us we was all the time hearing about the patterollers beating some nigger. Finally the slaves got tired of it and decided to do something about it. One night they got some grape vines and twisted them together and stretched them across the road. They went down the road and waited and finally four or five patterollers come along. The nigger boys started running back up the road and by this time the Patterollers was running their horses full speed after them. Just before they got to the vines the niggers ducked out of the road and the horses run full tilt into the vines. You never saw such a spill. The horses turned “summer-sets” and one man was killed, two had their legs broke and one got a arm broke. Course these boss had to take to de woods and finally made their way to the north. Several colored folks lost their lives over it, too, but Patterollers was sorter scarce in them parts from then on. I was born in September 1851. My old Master kept a record of his slaves ages and we all knowed how old we was. I was one of twenty-two children. All of us lived to be grown ‘cept Tommy, Ivory and a little girl. Now there’s jest two of us left, my brother, who was born the first year after the surrender. He’s a preacher and lives in Parsons, Kansas. His name is Bill Threat. My mother, her brother, grandmother and auntie belonged to old man Johnnie Bowman, an Indian. He got in a tight and had to sell ’em. He sold them to Russell Allen and he made him promise not to sell them one by one but in pairs or all together. He sold grandmother and Auntie to old man Hollis Montgomery but kept mother and her brother till freedom. Russell Allen wasn’t mean to his niggers but he shore expected them to stay on the plantation and do their work. After he sold my grandmother and aunt mother and uncle Jack got awful lonesome to see them. One day Jack decided he would run off and go to see them. It was forty some-odd miles to where they lived but that didn’t seem far to him for he kept thinking about him seeing his mother. His master sent a man after him. He tied a rope around Jack’s waist and led him behind his horse all the way home. He rode so fast dat Uncle Jack had to run to keep up. When they got home they give him a whupping but he didn’t mind it much as he was too tired. I knowed another man who was purty hard for his master to handle. He was always doing something and getting whupped and he’d run away. His master was always slick enough to catch him. One day he run off and he made up his mind he was not gonna be as smart as the best of ’em. He saw a big hollow stump about eight or ten feet high and they was a small hole at the bottom. The stump was large enough around for him to git inside and set down. He wasn’t thinking of any thing else ‘cepting hiding from his master so he clum up and dropped down inside. Jest imagine how he felt when he dropped down and found four little bear cubs inside. Man, was he scared! He tried and tried to git out but couldn’t. The hole was so small and he couldn’t climb back up. There he set expecting the old bear back any minute and realizing that iffen the bear didn’t eat him he’d starve to death. Along about dark he heard the old bear coming, he looked up and she was coming down hind part first. All on a sudden he got desprit and he reach up and grab onto her and she started climbing back out. He hung on for dear life and as soon as he could he grabbed holt of the stump and he fell off on one side and the bear the other, ’twas hard to tell which was the worse scared. He ran home and took his whupping and he never did give his master no more trouble.

I was born and raised near Talidiga, Alabama in Talidiga County on the Coosa river. This river is called the Talapoosa river now. We lived right on the line between Talidiga and Sinclair Counties. My father, Jim Threat, belonged to Gum Threat, and my mother, Hannah Allen was owned by Russell Allen. My grandmother’s name was Mary Swine. Old man Swine got overstocked with children and sold her along with a passel of kids to Johnnie Bowman. He sold her to Russell Allen. Dan Threat bought my father in Maryland, Va. when he was seven and brought him to Alabama. He never saw his parents again. Dan Threat kept him till his son Gum Threat was grown and married and he gave him and three other slaves to Gum for a wedding present. Iffen they ever was a devil on this earth it was Gum Threat. He jest didn’t have any regard for his slaves. He made ’em work from daylight to dark and didn’t give them any more food and clothes that they could possibly git along with. He beat them for everything they done and a lot they didn’t do so you may know they all hated him. He had one man, Charles Posey, that would take and take till he couldn’t stand it no longer and he’d run off. He run off once and Gum sent three white men to hunt him and he told them he would kill ’em iffen they didn’t catch him. Course they did all in they power and finally caught him. They brought him home. Gum Threat’s house was built on a high foundation and the gallery was high off the ground. Charles was standing by the edge of the gallery and Gum come walking out and walked up close to him and drawed back his foot with a heavy boot on it and kicked Charles under the chin. You could hear his neck pop. He fell to the ground and kicked around like he was dying. They brought him to and then Gum Threat stripped him to the waist and took him into an old building, stretched him out and fastened his feet and hands wide apart. Then he took a live coal of fire as big as your hand and laid it in the middle of his bare back. I remember seeing the scar there and it was about 1/8 of an inch deep. He always seemed to have it in for Charles after that and beat him for everything. When the war started he run off and joined the northern soldiers and was made a guard in the army. The soldiers protected him and he never did have to go back any more. My father married my mother while he was living with Dan Threat and he would git to come home every Saturday night. Gum let him keep on coming till the war started. Everbody was harder on their slaves then and Gum wouldn’t let father come home any more. One night he slipped off and come home and spent the night. He overslept the next morning and ran all the way so he would git there in time to go to work. The hands were jest starting to the field when he got there but the overseer started in to give him a whupping anyway and father bit his thumb so he called for help and strapped him down and gave him thirty lashes. To punish him they put him under a hard taskmaster. He couldn’t do all the work they set for him to do so he run away. He’d slip in to us at night and hide out in the daytime. All of Russell Allen’s niggers knowed he stayed with us for a good while. I now think old Master knowed he was staying there but he didn’t let on. Father finally decided to try to slip off to the northern soldiers and he left one night about three o’clock. He met up with Sterl Beavers, a white man. Sterl pretended that he was sorry for father and told him that if he would go home with him he would hide him till he could git away to the north. They had to cross a big creek on a footlog. Father was afraid to trust Sterl and about half-way across the creek he jumped in and stayed under water jest as long as he could. He jest let himself drift with the current of the water. When he come to the top Sterl shot at him but didn’t hit him. Father stayed out for a few days longer and he came back and give himself up and took his whupping. When they whupped a slave they made him say, “Oh, pray Master” to show that he had to be humble. Gum Threat had a brother-in-law named Alex Jordan and they was all the time gitting drunk and fighting. Once they had a fight and Gum knocked Alex down and stomped him in the face with his heavy boots. Alex never got over it but he decided that Gum was the best man so he jest bided his time. As the war come on food and clothes got powerful scarce. Gum and Alex decided they would kill off their old niggers so they wouldn’t have to take care of them any longer as they couldn’t sell them and nobody wanted old niggers. I remember one man they had in the bunch that they was going to kill was Uncle Pinkley Clinkenscales. They was all on the way to the woods where they had planned to do the killing when Alex Jordan’s gun went off and blowed the top of Gum’s head off. This broke up the killing game. I went back to my old home about seventeen years ago and I went to the spot where Gum was killed. The print of his body is still there, the place where his head struck and in fact the print of his whole body is there, no grass will grow there. He fell on a sloping place and his blood run down about two or three feet and now when it is damp and cloudy that blood will come up on the ground just like sweat. Alex Jordan died six years later. He was buried in the same graveyard that Gum Threat was buried. The graveyard was near Jordan’s house and the third night after Alex was buried two big balls of fire rose out of that graveyard and went up clean out of sight, it done this four, five times and then come down and bust on Alex Jordan’s chimney. Everybody said it was Gum and Alex fighting. I guess they’re still at it. Yassum, I’ve seen lots of spooks. Back where I was raised they hung so many deserters and spies from the army that ghosts was a common thing. Once I went to a place to dig for money. The place was guarded by two men who buried it and was killed there. Everbody was afraid to go there to dig but an old conjure woman told me to go there and iffen they come for me to say, “What in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost do you want back in this old sinful world?” and they would go away. Well, I got there and was onloading my tools to go to digging and here come the two men. They was average size and there wasn’t the color of blood in their faces. I was so scared that I forgot what I was supposed to say and I jest said, “What do you want?” They looked at me a minute and jest gradually disappeared. I loaded my tools in my wagon and I cleared out. I never went back there either. I am not afraid of spirits now. I’ve known some witches or conjure women, too. When I was first married I was working for a colored man helping him gather corn. His wife didn’t like me and she didn’t want me to help him. On Sunday evening she walked up to me and tapped me on the breast twice. I went to the field the next day and I had to go back home for I had the hardest chill I ever had in my life. Late that evening I had another one and it was so bad I shook the whole bed. I had one of those chills every day for a week and I knowed in my mind that she had conjured me. On Saturday I noticed an old hen feeding around my door. I picked up a piece of iron and took after her. She run around the house two or three times and then stopped and stood with her wings drooping and looked up at the top of the chimney. I hit her and knocked her about ten feet. I beat her till I was sure she was dead and I got the axe and chopped her up. To break the evil spell you have to bury a piece of de flesh, burn a piece and throw a piece into running water. I done all this. The next morning the woman come down and set awhile and made mention that some times a stray chicken comes to your house. I speak right up and I say, “Yes Ma’am, a old hen come here yesterday and I killed her and chopped her up and burned a piece, buried a piece and throwed a piece in some running water.” She say, “Oh, my goodness, what made you kill my hen?” Then she asked for a cup of coffee and my wife told her she couldn’t git nothing there, and she keep begging and say, “Please give me something.” My wife handed her a little old piece of cloth and she grabbed it and away she went home. I took a piece of pure silver and chipped or ground off some of it and put it in some whiskey and drank it. I sure broke her charm over me.

I knowed another woman a few years ago that had power of conjuring a body, and one time one of her grandsons got in jail and she give her son-in-law some dried roots and told him to go up to the jail and chew these roots and to spit all around the jail and to give some to his son so he could spit it all around inside and the jailer would let him out. They done as she told them and sure enough the jailer turned him out and he went back home with his Pa. My mother’s master, Russell Allen was a purty good man and was good to his slaves as a general rule. He expected them to stay on the plantation and to do their work. My mother’s daily task was to milk seven cows twice a day, cook all the meals for the family and weave seven yards of cloth a day. The kitchen was some distance from the house and mother and us children lived in the kitchen. Mother done all the cooking and my sisters carried the food to the dining room and waited on the table. My brother Sam had to swing the fly brush over the table to mind the flies off the food. Mother and us smaller children slept in the kitchen. The bed we slept in was called a Coosa-filley. A hole was bored in the wall and a pole run in it, a forked stake was fastened to the floor near the center of the room and the end of the pole rested in it. Another pole was placed across for the foot and one end rested in this fork and the other in a hole on the other side of the house. Split puncheons were use for slats with the flat side up. Mother wove coarse ducking for the grass or leaves to be placed in. We had a layer of cotton on the top and this made the bed softer. Some of these beds were made solid and shucks, straw, leaves were put on this and blankets spread over it. We had a good bed, warm clothes and good food. Mother made us children help her spin and weave our own clothes. I didn’t work any as my old master kind of petted me. He always called me Sharp Head. I’d go up to the big house and he would split open a biscuit and spread it with butter and give it to me. That was a treat fer we didn’t get biscuits very often. The big house was a frame house, painted slate gray and had five rooms in it. The quarters was back of the house about three hundred yards. The overseer lived close to the quarters. It was a good thing that mother belonged to Russell Allen instead of Gum Threat for he never would have let her keep her big batch of children. Master Allen always kept all the children and he had the old decrepit women to take care of the babies and small children while their mothers worked. When slave owners got in a tight and couldn’t pay their debts or wanted to raise money for something they would put one or two of their slaves and on the first Tuesday in the month they would cry them off to the highest bidder. Buyers from all over the country would be there. Some of them was just speculators who just bought and sold. Niggers sure hated to be sold and especially to speculators. They lived in constant fear that they would be sold away from their families. The block was about three feet high and had two steps leading up to it. I’ve seen old men and women, young men and women and even little children sold there. The slave would stand up and turn slowly round while the buyers inspected them. They’d even look at their teeth. The owners would tell what kind of disposition they had and the kind of work they was best at. Some times a husky young man or woman brought $1000 to $1100. During the war slave owners was mighty hard on their slaves. Bill Allen refugeed Elsie, Clarissy, Hester and Sister Phoebe to Texas and we never saw or heard of them any more. Bob Allen went to the war and as he was so used to having somebody to wait on him he took my mother’s brother with him to be his special servant. Uncle took smallpox and died and was buried at the camp. We could hear the cannons at Talidiga. Miss ‘Lizabeth walked the floor all day with her arms folded. Her face was so sad it made you want to cry. After the battle the Yankees commenced to cross the river and we could see them and every one got just as solemn as death. They camped close to our house and the captain come up and began asking all sorts of questions. Old Master was sitting out in the yard in the shade of a big tree and the Cap’n say to him, “Are you a rebel?” Old Master say, “I am a know-nothing.” “You have some sons in the Sesesh army haven’t you?” “Yes, but they’re all twenty-one years old.” The captain and some of his men went in the house and got all the guns and took them out and broke them over a tree, then they hunted all through the house and took all the jewelry they could find. Old Master had buried a big sack full of money and they didn’t git very much money. I remember the guns they broke was a musket and an old human rifle. They then went to the barn. We had a row of six or seven cribs and they was all full of corn. The men priced up the logs and took out about three close to the bottom and then they got in and stomped the corn out till it fell all round on the ground. They turned three-hundred horses in and they et corn all night. We had a neighbor named Kelso who was terrible mean to his niggers. He had about seventy-five and all he fed them was cottonseed boiled and thickened with corn meal. This was poured into long troughs and the people ate it with wooden spoons. Most any night you could see a light in his gin house till nine o’clock and you could hear them beating some one and hear them crying, “Oh, pray Master.” Every body knowed how mean he was and several times the white men in the country went to him and tried to git him to treat them better but he kept it up. The next morning after the Yankees camped at our house the captain put me and my brother on a horse and told us to go show him where old man Kelso lived. When we got there the old man was setting in the yard in the shade and the cap’n ordered his men to go to the smokehouse and bust it open. You never saw the like of fine meat. He divided it out among the slaves. There must have been at least a thousand pounds of flour they busted the ends out of the barrels and just scattered it all over the place. Next they emptied three hogsheads of lard. There was about twenty barrels of New Orleans molasses, they split the barrels and let the syrup all spill. You never saw such a mess of flour, lard and syrup. They got on their horses and went on their way and old man Kelso didn’t say a word. Soon after this the war ended and some more Yankee soldiers came to our place and tole Russell Allen, “Your colored folks are as free as you are now so turn them loose and let them go where they please and do as they please.” About nine o’clock my father come and old man Allen called him to him and he told him, “You niggers is free now and I want you to take your family and git away from here jest as quick as you can.” Father was stumped for he didn’t know what on earth he was going to do with that big family. We had no home, no food and mighty few clothes. Old man Ramsey told father that he had an old house down in the field that needed a floor and a chimney that he could have if he would fix it up. Pappy and the older boys set in and built a chimney and we moved in on the dirt floor. We stayed there about a month when Ramsey said he needed the house so we had to move out. Our old doctor moved from the bend of the river and he let us have his house till we could find some place to live and we stayed there for three weeks. Old lady Drummonds let us build a house on her place and we lived there a long time. Pappy built a double log house and it seemed like a mansion to us. We would work for folks and take our pay in meat scraps, cornmeal, shorts and anything they was a mind to give us. Nobody had much to eat or wear and it was nearly out of the question to ever git any money. We got along better when spring came for berries were plentiful and we would go to a pine tree and peel the outside bark off and scrape the body of the tree and eat these scrapings. I dont know how much food was in this but it was good and sweet and we liked it. I’ve seen men plow for about two hours and stop their teams and go to the berry patch and eat berries. This was their breakfast, then they would go back and plow until about half-past ten and turn their teams on the grass and they would go back to the berry patch to get their dinner. We had almost no clothes just sacks with holes cut for our heads and arms. Old man Buchanan lost all his slaves and the Yankees took all his horses so he got two boys, Luther and John, to help him. He hitched them to a double plow and turned all of his ground and planted cotton. When it got big enough he put John to hoeing and Luther to pulling a single plow. He made four bales of cotton and sold it for a dollar a pound. All the boys got was what they et and a suit of clothes. I guess at that they done pretty well considering the way the rest of us got along. After the war we had the Ku Kluxers to take the place of the Patterollers. They was mighty hard on the colored folks. If a white man wanted a colored man or woman to work for him and they didn’t go the Ku Kluxers would come at night and take them out and whup them. They would ride right up in the yard to your door and have horses head inside the door. If you asked him to please not trample up your yard he’d say, “Dam your yard.” After dark all colored people went into their house and they’d talk in low whispers. Ku Kluxers was always snooping around to see if you was talking about them. Colored folks didn’t dare do that.

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

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