Slave Narrative of Prince Johnson

Interviewer: Mrs. Carrie Campbell
Person Interviewed: Prince Johnson
Location: Clarksdale, Mississippi

“Yes mam, I sho’ can tell you all ’bout it ’cause I was dere when it all happened. My gran’pa, Peter, gran’ma, Millie, my pa, John, an’ my ma, Frances, all come from Alabama to Yazoo County to live in de Love fam’ly. Dey names was Dennis when day come, but, after de custom o’ dem days, dey took de name of Love from dey new owner. Me an’ all o’ my brothers an’ sisters was born right dere. Dey was eleven head o’ us. I was de oldes’. Den come Harry, John, William, Henry, Phillis, Polly, Nellie, Virginny, Millie, an’ de baby, Ella.

“Us all lived in de quarters an’ de beds was home made. Dey had wooden legs wid canvas stretched ‘crost ’em. I can’t ‘member so much ’bout de quarters ’cause ’bout dat time de young miss married Colonel Johnson an’ moved to dis place in Carroll County. She carried wid her over one hund’ed head o’ darkies.

“Den us names was changed from Love to Johnson. My new marster was sure a fine gent’man. He lived in a big two-story white house dat had big white posts in front. De flowers all’ roun’ it jus’ set it off.

“Marster took me for de house boy. Den I sho’ carried my head high. He’d say to me, ‘Prince does you know who you is named for?’ An’ I’d say to him, ‘Yes sir. Prince Albert.’ An’ den he’d say to me, ‘Well, always carry yo’se’f lak he did.’ To dis good day I holds myse’f lak Marster said.

“On certain days o’ de week one o’ de old men on de place took us house servants to de fiel’ to learn us to work. Us was brought up to know how to do anything dat come to han’. Marster would let us work at odd times for outsiders an’ us could use de money for anything us pleased. My gran’ma sol’ ‘nough corn to buy her two feather beds.

“Us always had plenty t’eat. De old folks done de cookin’ for all de fiel’ han’s, ‘cept on Sund’y when ever’ fam’ly cooked for dey ownse’fs. Old Mis’ ‘ud come over ever’ Sund’y mornin’ wid sugar an’ white flour. Us ‘ud mos’ ingen’ally have fish, rabbits, ‘possums, or coons. Lord, chil’! Dem ‘possums was good eatin’. I can tas’ ’em now.

“Folks dese days don’t know nothin’ ’bout good eatin’. My marster had a great big garden for ever’body an’ I aint never seen such ‘taters as growed in dat garden. Dey was so sweet de sugar ‘ud bus’ right th’ough de peelin’ when you roasted ’em in de ashes.

“Old Aunt Emily cooked for all de chillun on de place. Ha’f a hour by de sun, dey was all called in to supper. Dey had pot likker an’ ash cake an’ such things as would make ’em grow.

“Chillun den didn’ know nothin’ ’bout all de fancy ailments what chillun have now. Dey run an’ played all day in dey shirt tails in de summer time. When winter come dey had good warm clo’es[FN: clothes] same as us older ones.

“One day Marster’s chillun an’ de cullud chillun slipped off to de orchard. Dey was jus’ a-eatin’ green apples fas’ as dey could when ‘long come de master, hisse’f. He lined ’em all up, black an’ white alike, an’ cut a keen switch. Twant a one in dat line dat didn’ git a few licks. Den he called de old doctor woman an’ made ‘er give ’em ever’ one a dose o’ medicine. Dey didn’ a one of’ em git sick.

“Marster an’ Old Mis’ had five chillun. Dey is all dead an’ gone now, an’ I’s still here. One o’ his sons was a Supreme Judge ‘fore he died.

“My folks was sho’ quality. Marster bought all de little places ‘roun’ us so he wouldn’ have no po’ white trash neighbors. Yes sir! He owned ’bout thirty-five hund’ed acres an’ at leas’ a hund’ed an’ fifty slaves.

“Ever’ mornin’ ’bout fo’ ‘clock us could hear dat horn blow for us to git up an’ go to de fiel’. Us always quit work ‘fore de sun went down an’ never worked at night. De overseer was a white man. His name was Josh Neighbors, but de driver was a cullud man, ‘Old Man Henry.’ He wasn’t ‘lowed to mistreat noboby. If he got too uppity dey’d call his han’, right now. De rule was, if a Nigger wouldn’ work he mus’ be sol’. ‘Nother rule on dat place was dat if a man got dissati’fied, he was to go to de marster an’ ask him to put ‘im in his pocket.’ Dat meant he wanted to be sol’ an’ de money he brought put in de marster’s pocket. I aint never known o’ but two askin’ to be ‘put in de pocket.’ Both of ’em was sol’.

“Dey had jails in dem days, but dey was built for white folks. No cullud person was ever put in one of ’em ’til after de war. Us didn’ know nothin’ ’bout dem things.

“Course, Old Mis’ knowed ’bout ’em, ’cause she knowed ever’thing. I recollec’ she tol’ me one day dat she had learnin’ in five diffe’ent languages.

“None o’ us didn’ have no learnin’ atall. Dat is us didn’ have no book learnin’. Twant no teachers or anything lak dat, but us sho’ was taught to be Christians. Ever’thing on dat place was a blue stockin’ Presbyterian. When Sund’y come us dressed all clean an’ nice an’ went to church. Us went to de white folks’ church an’ set in de gal’ry.

“Us had a fine preacher. His name was Gober. He could sho’ give out de words o’ wisdom. Us didn’ have big baptisins lak was had on a heap o’ places, ’cause Presbyterians don’t go down under de water lak de Baptis’ do. If one o’ de slaves died he was sho’ give a gran’ Christian fun’al. All o’ us mourners was on han’. Services was conducted by de white preacher.

“Old Mis’ wouldn’ stan’ for no such things as voodoo an’ ha’nts. When she ‘spected[FN: inspected] us once a week, you better not have no charm ‘roun’ yo’ neck, neither. She wouldn’ even ‘low[FN: allow] us wear a bag o’ asfittidy[FN: asafetida]. Mos’ folks b’lieved dat would keep off sickness. She called such as dat superstition. She say us was ‘lightened Christian Presbyterians, an’ as such us mus’ conduc’ ourse’fs.

“Nobody worked after dinner on Satu’d’y. Us took dat time to scrub up an’ clean de houses so as to be ready for ‘spection Sund’y mornin’. Some Satu’d’y nights us had dances. De same old fiddler played for us dat played for de white folks. An’ he sho’ could play. When he got dat old fiddle out you couldn’ keep yo’ foots still.

“Christ’mus was de time o’ all times on dat old plantation. Dey don’t have no such as dat now. Ever’ chil’ brought a stockin’ up to de Big House to be filled. Dey all wanted one o’ de mistis’ stockin’s, ’cause now she weighed nigh on to three hund’ed pounds. Candy an’ presents was put in piles for ever’ one. When dey names was called dey walked up an’ got it. Us didn’ work on New Year’s Day. Us could go to town or anywhere us wanted to.

“De mos’ fun was de corn shuckin’. Dey was two captains an’ each one picked de ones he wanted on his side. Den de shuckin’ started. You can’t make mention o’ nothin good dat us didn’ have t’eat after de shuckin’. I still studies’ bout dem days now.

“Dey was big parties at de white folks’ house, me, all dressed up wid taller[FN: tallow] on my face to make it shine, a-servin’ de gues’es[FN: guests].

“One time, jus’ when ever’thing was a-goin’ fine, a sad thing happened. My young mistis, de one named for her ma, ups an’ runs off wid de son o’ de Irish ditch digger an’ marries ‘im. She wouldn’ a-done it if dey’d a-let ‘r marry de man she wanted. Dey didn’ think he was good ‘nough for her. So jus’ to spite’ em, she married de ditch digger’s son.

“Old Mis’ wouldn’ have nothin’ more to do wid ‘er, same as if she warnt her own chil’. But I’d go over to see ‘er an’ carry milk an’ things out o’ de garden.

“It was pitiful to see my little miss poor. When I couldn’ stan’ it no longer I walks right up to Old Mis’ an’ I says, ‘Old Mis’, does you know Miss Farrell aint got no cow.’ She jus’ act lak she aint hear’d me, an’ put her lips together dat tight. I couldn’ do nothin’ but walk off an’ leave her. Pretty soon she called, ‘Prince!’ I says, ‘Yes mam.’ She says, ‘Seein’ you is so concerned ’bout Miss Farrell not havin’ no cow, you better take one to ‘er.’ I foun’ de rope an’ carried de bes’ cow in de lot to Miss Farrell.

“Shortly after dat I lef’ wid Old Marster to go to North Carolina. Jus’ ‘fore de war come on, my marster called me to’ im an’ tol’ me he was a-goin’ to take me to North Carolina to his brother for safe keepin’. Right den I knowed somethin’ was wrong. I was a-wishin’ from de bottom o’ my heart dat de Yankees ‘ud stay out o’ us business an’ not git us all ‘sturbed in de min’.

“Things went on at his brother’s place ’bout lak dey done at home. I stayed dere all four years o’ de war. I couldn’ leave ’cause de men folks all went to de war an’ I had to stay an’ pertec’ de women folks.

“De day peace was declared wagon loads o’ people rode all th’ough de place a-tellin’ us ’bout bein’ free. De old Colonel was killed in battle an’ his wife had died. De young marster called us in an’ said it was all true, dat us was free as he was, an’ us could leave whenever us got ready. He said his money warnt no good anymore an’ he dida’ have no other to pay us wid.

“I can’t recollec’ if he got new money an’ paid us or not, but I do ‘member ever’ las’ one o’ us stayed.

“I never lef’ dat place’ til my young marster, Mr. Jim Johnson, de one dat was de Supreme Judge, come for me. He was a-livin’ in South Carolina den. He took us all home wid ‘im. Us got dere in time to vote for Gov’nor Wade Hamilton. Us put ‘im in office, too. De firs’ thing I done was join de Democrat Club an’ hoped[FN: helped] ’em run all o’ de scalawags away from de place. My young marster had always tol’ me to live for my country an’ had seen ‘nought of dat war to know jus’ what was a-goin’ on.

“I’se seen many a patrol in my lifetime, but dey dassent come on us place. Now de Kloo Kluxes[FN: Ku Kluxes] was diff’ent. I rid[FN: rode] wid’ em many a time. ‘Twas de only way in dem days to keep order.

“When I was ’bout twenty-two year old, I married Clara Breaden. I had two chilluns by her, Diana an’ Davis. My secon’ wife’s name was Annie Bet Woods. I had six chillun by her: Mary, Ella, John D., Claud William, an’ Prince, Jr. Three boys an’ two gals is still livin’. I lives wid my daughter, Claud, what is farmin’ a place ’bout five miles from Clarksdale. I has’ bout fifteen head o’ gran’chillun an’ ever’ las’ one of ’em’s farmers.

“Things is all peaceful now, but de worl’ was sho’ stirred up when Abraham Lincoln was ‘lected. I ‘member well when dey killed ‘im. Us had a song’ bout ‘im dat went lak dis:

‘Jefferson Davis rode de milk white steed,
Lincoln rode de mule.
Jeff Davis was a mighty fine man,
An’ Lincoln was a fool.’

“One o’ de little gals was a-singin’ dat song one day an’ she mixed dem names up. She had it dat Marse Davis was de fool. I’se laughed ’bout dat many a time. When Mistis finished wid’ er she had sho’ broke her from suckin’ eggs.

“I knows all ’bout what slave uprisin’s is, but never in my life has I seen anything lak dat. Never! Never! Where I was brought up de white man knowed his place an’ de Nigger knowed his’n[FN: his]. Both of’ em stayed in dey place. We aint never had no lynchin’s, neither.

“I know all ’bout Booker T. Washington. He come to de state o’ Mississippi once an’ hel’ a meetin’ in Jackson. He made a gran’ talk. He made mention ’bout puttin’ money in de bank. Lots o’ darkies made ‘membrance o’ dat an’ done it. He tol’ us de firs’ thing us had to learn was to work an’ dat all de schoolin’ in de worl’ wouldn’ mean nothin’ if us didn’ have no mother wit[FN: energy & common sense]. It’s a pity us aint got more folks lak him to guide us now dat us aint got no marster an’ mistis to learn us.

“I’s a Nigger what has been prosperous. I made a-plenty cotton an’ I teached my chillun to be good blue stockin’ Presbyterians. All ‘roun’ de country I was knowed an’ ever’body b’lieved in me.

“Maybe things is better lak dey is today. Mos’ folks says so anyway. But if Old Marster were a-livin’ I’d be better off. I know dat to be so.

“I can hear ‘im say to me new, ‘Prince Albert, who is you named for? Well den hol’ yo’ head high so folks can see you is quality.'”

Breaden, Johnson, Love, Woods,

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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