Slave Narrative of John Brown

Last Updated on August 26, 2012 by

Person Interviewed: John Brown
Location: West Tulsa, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Taloga County, Alabama
Age: 87 (about)

Most of the folks have themselves a regular birthday but this old colored can just pick out any of the days during the year one day just about as good as another.

I been around a long time but I don’t know when I got here. That’s the truth. Nearest I figures it the year was 1850 the month don’t make no difference nohow.

But I know the borning was down in Taloga County, Alabama, near the county seat town. Miss Abby was with my Marry that day. She was the wife of Master John Brown. She was with all the slave women every time a baby was born, or when a plague of misery hit the folks she knew what to do and what kind of medicine to chase off the aches and pains. God bless her! She sure loved us Negroes.

Most of the time there was mere’n three hundred slaves on the plantation. The oldest ones come right from Africa. My Grandmother was one of them. A savage in Africa – a slave in America. Mammy told it to me. Over there all the natives dressed naked and lived on fruits and nuts. Never see many white mens.

One day a big ship stopped off the shore and the natives hid in the brush along the beach. Grandmother was there. The ship men sent a little boat to the shore and scattered bright things and trinkets on the beach. The natives were curious. Grandmother said everybody made a rush for them things soon as the boat left. The trinkets was fewer than the peoples. Next day the white folks scatter some more. There was another scramble. The natives was feeling less scared, and the next day some of them walked up the gangplank to get things off the plank and off the deck.

The deck was covered with things like they’d found on the beach. Two-three hundred natives on the ship when they feel it move. They rush to the side but the plank was gone. Just dropped in the water when the ship moved away.

Folks on the beach started to crying and shouting. The ones on the boat was wild with fear. Grandmother was one of them who got fooled, and she say the last thing seen of that place was the natives running up and down the beach waving their arms and shouting like they was mad. The boat men come up from below where they had been hiding and drive the slaves down in the bottom and keep them quiet with the whips and clubs.

The slaves was landed at Charleston. The town folks was mighty mad ’cause the blacks was driven through the streets without any clothes, and drove off the boat men after the slaves was sold on the market. Most of that load was sold to the Brown plantation in Alabama. Grandmother was one of the bunch.

The Browns taught them to work. Made clothes for them. For a long time the natives didn’t like the clothes and try to shake them off. There was three Brown boys, John, Charley and Henry. Nephews of old Lady Hyatt who was the real owner of the plantation, but the boys run the place. The old lady she lived in the town. Come out in the spring and fall to see how is the plantation doing.

She was a fine woman. The Brown boys and their wives was just as good. Wouldn’t let nobody mistreat the slaves. Whippings was few and nobody get the whip ‘less he need it bad. They teach the young ones how to read and write; say it was good for the Negroes to know about such things.

Sunday was a great day around the plantation. The fields was forgotten, the light chores was hurried through and everybody got ready for the church meeting.

It was out of the doors, in the yard fronting the big log where the Browns all lived. Master John’s wife would start the meeting with a prayer and then would come the singing. The old timey songs.

The white folks on the next plantation would lick their slaves for trying to do like we did. No praying there, and no singing.

The Master gave out the week’s supply on Saturday. Plenty of hams, lean bacon, flour, corn meal, coffee and more’n enough for the week. Nobody go hungry on that place! During the growing season all the slaves have a garden spot all their own. Three thousand acres on that place plenty of room for gardens and field crops.

Even during the war foods was plentiful. One time the Yankee soldiers visit the place. The white folks gone and I talks with them. Asks me lots of questions got any meats got any potatoes got any this some of that but I just shake my head and they don’t look around.

The old cook fixes them up though. She fry all the eggs on the place, skillet the ham and pan the biscuits! Them soldiers fill up and leave the house friendly as anybody I ever see!

The Browns wasn’t bothered with the Ku Klux Klan either. The Negroes minded their own business just like before they was free.

I stayed on the plantation ’til the last Brown die. Then I come to Oklahoma and works on the railroad ’til I was too old to hustle the grips and packages. Now I just sits thinking how much better off would I be on the old plantation.

Homesick! Just homesick for that Alabama farm like it was in them good old times!


Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007-2024. The WPA Slave Narratives must be used with care. There is, of course, the problem of confusion in memory resulting from (73+ years) of the participants. In addition, inexperienced interviewers sometimes pursued question lines related to their own interests and perspectives and attempted to capture the colloquialism of the informant's speech. The interviews provide fascinating insight and surprisingly candid information, however.

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