Slave Narrative of Susan Snow

Interviewer: William B. Allison
Person Interviewed: Susan Snow
Location: Meridian, Mississippi
Place of Birth: Wilcox County, Alabama
Date of Birth: 1850
Age: 87

“Aunt Sue” Snow, a rather small and profusely wrinkled 87-year-old ex-slave, lives in the Negro quarters of the South Side in Meridian.

In spite of her wild escapades, her reputation for honesty and reliability is high and she carries and exhibits with pride numerous letters attesting that fact.

She often finds it necessary to stand and act the story she is telling. Her memory is amazing and she turns with equal readiness to copious quotations from the Scripture and other pious observations to amusing but wholly unprintable anecdotes of her somewhat lurid past.

“I was born in Wilcox County, Alabama, in 1850. W.J. Snow was my old marster. He bought my ma from a man named Jerry Casey. Venus was her name, but dey mos’ly called her ‘Venie.’

“I’s workin’ now for one o’ my old folks. I can’t work much—jus’ carries things to ‘er an’ such. She’s my old mistis’ own daughter an’ she’s got gran’chillun grown an’ married. All de chillun dat’s livin’ is older’n me.

“When her pa bought my mammy, I was a baby. Her pa owned a heap o’ Niggers. I’s de only one still hangin’ aroun’.

“My ma was a black African an’ she sho’ was wild an’ mean. She was so mean to me I couldn’ b’lieve she was my mammy. Dey couldn’ whup her widout tyin’ her up firs’. Sometimes my marster would wait ’til de nex’ day to git somebody to he’p tie her up, den he’d forgit to whup ‘er. Dey used to say she was a cunger an’ dey was all scared of ‘er. But my ma was scared o’ cungers, too.

“All de Niggers on de place was born in de fam’ly an’ was kin, ‘cept my ma. She tol’ me how dey brought her from Africa. You know, like we say ‘President’ in dis country, well dey call him ‘Chief’ in Africa. Seem like de Chief made ‘rangements wid some men an’ dey had a big goober grabbin’ for de young folks. Dey stole my ma an’ some more an’ brung ’em to dis country.

“I don’t ‘member nothin’ ’bout havin’ no pa. You know, honey, in dem days husbands an’ wives didn’ b’long to de same folks. My ma say her husband was so mean dat after us lef’ Alabama she didn’ want to marry no more.

“A man didn’ git to see his wife ‘cept twict a week. Dat was Wednesday an’ Satu’d’y night.

“De women had to walk a chalk line. I never hear’d tell o’ wives runnin’ ‘roun’ wid other men in dem days.

“I was raised in Jasper County. Marster bought lan’ from ever’body ‘roun’ ’til he had a big plantation. He had Niggers, horses, mules, cows, hogs, an’ chickens. He was a rich man, den.

“Ever’ Nigger had a house o’ his own. My ma never would have no board floor like de res’ of’ em, on’ count she was a African—only dirt. (Dey say she was 108 year old when she died.)

“Us went to church wid de white folks if us wanted to. Dey didn’ make us. I didn’ go much, ’cause I didn’ have ‘ligion, den. Us didn’ have no schoolin’. Us could go to school wid de white chillun if us wanted to, but didn’ nobody teach us. I’s educated, but I aint educated in de books. I’s educated by de licks an’ bumps I got.

“My white folks was good people an’ didn’ whup nobody, ‘less dey needed it. Some o’ de Niggers was sho’ ‘nough bad. Dey used to take de marster’s horses out at night an’ ride ’em down. One Nigger, Sam, got dat mad at a mule for grabbin’ at cotton he cut his tongue out. Course, Marster whupped him, but when he went to look for ‘im ’bout a hour after, he foun’ ‘im soun’ asleep. Said he ought to kill ‘im, but he didn’.

“When we was sick dey had a doctor for us jus’ like dey done for deyse’ves. Dey called ‘im in to ‘scribe for us. I was snake-bit when I was eight year old. Dey used to be a medicine named ‘lobelia.’ De doctor give me dat an’ whiskey. My ma carried me up to de Big House ever’ mornin’ an’ lef’ me, an’ carried me home at night. Old Mis’ ‘ud watch over me in de day time.

“My young marster tol’ me dat when I got to be ten year old, I’d have a snake coiled up on my liver. Dat scared me mos’ to death ’til I was past ten year old.

“Dey made all de Niggers’ clo’es[FN: clothes] on de place. Homespun, dey called it. Dey had spinnin’ wheels an’ cards an’ looms at de Big House. All de women spinned in de winter time.

“I never knowed what it was to wear more dan one garment, ’til I was mos’ grown. I never had a pair o’ shoes o’ my own. Old Mis’ let me wear her’n sometimes. Dey had shoes for de old folks, but not for de chillun.

“I got more whuppin’s dan any other Nigger on de place, ’cause I was mean like my mammy. Always a-fightin’ an’ scratchin’ wid white an’ black. I was so bad Marster made me go look at de Niggers dey hung to see what dey done to a Nigger dat harm a white man.

“I’s gwine tell dis story on myse’f. De white chillun was a-singin’ dis song:

‘Jeff Davis, long an’ slim,
Whupped old Abe wid a hick’ry limb.

Jeff Davis is a wise man, Lincoln is a fool,
Jeff Davis rides a gray, an’ Lincoln rides a mule.’

I was mad anyway, so I hopped up an’ sung dis one:

‘Old Gen’l Pope had a shot gun,
Filled it full o’ gum,
Killed ’em as dey come.

Called a Union band,
Make de Rebels un’erstan’
To leave de lan’,
Submit to Abraham.’

“Old Mis’ was a-standin’ right b’hin’ me. She grabbed up de broom an’ laid it on me. She made me submit. I caught de feathers, don’t you forgit it.

“I didn’ know it was wrong. I’d hear’d de Niggers sing it an’ I didn’ know dey was a-singin’ in dey sleeves. I didn’ know nothin’ ’bout Abe Lincoln, but I hear’d he was a-tryin’ to free de Niggers an’ my mammy say she want to be free.

“De young folks used to make up a heap o’ songs, den. Dey’d decompose[FN: compose] dey own songs an’ sing’ em. I never will forgit one song dey sung when dey buried anybody. It made Old Marster, Mistis, an’ all of’ em cry. Us chillun cried, too. It went like dis:

‘My mother prayed in de wilderness,
In de wilderness,
In de wilderness.
My mother prayed in de wilderness.
An’ den I’m a-goin’ home.


Den I’m a-goin’ home,
Den I’m a-goin’ home.

We’ll all make ready, Lawd,
An’ den I’m a-goin’ home.

She plead her cause in de wilderness,
In de wilderness,
In de wilderness.
She plead her cause in de wilderness.
An’ den I’m a-goin’ home.’

(Repeat chorus)

“Old Aunt Hannah fell to my marster from his daddy. She had twelve chillun a-workin’ on de place. De oldes’ was named Adam an’ de littlest was named Eve. She had two twins what was named Rachel an’ Leah. Dey nussed my mistis’ two twins. Dey kep’ one a-nussin’ mos’ all de time.

“My ma was de cause o’ my marster a-firin’ all de overseers. (Dey blamed ever’thing on her ’cause she was de only bought Nigger.) Marster say she was a valuable Nigger, but she was so mean he was afraid dey’d kill her. He say, ‘She’ll work widout no watchin’ an’ overseers aint nothin’, nohow.’

“Dey was a white man—I aint lyin’—I know him an’ I seen him. He had Nigger houn’s an’ he made money a-huntin’ runaway Niggers. His own Niggers kilt ‘im. Dey hung ’em for it. Two was his Niggers an’ one b’long to somebody else.

“My young marster used to work in de fiel’ wid us. He’d boss de Niggers. Dey called ‘im Bud, but us all called ‘im ‘Babe.’ Honey, I sho’ did love dat boy.

“When de war come dey used to tease him an’ say, ‘Bud, why don’t you go to de war?’ Dey laughed an’ teased ‘im when he went. But twant no laughin’ when he come home on a furlough an’ went back. Dey was cryin’ den. An’ well dey mought[FN: might] cry, ’cause he never come back no more’. He was kilt in de war.

“Endurin’ de war, de white folks made dey clo’es same as de Niggers. Old Mis’ made dye an’ dyed de thread. She made pretty cloth.

“My ma was de firs’ to leave de plantation after de surrender. All de other Niggers had a contrac’ to stay, but she didn’. She went to Newton County an’ hired out. She never wanted to stay in one place, nohow. If she had a crop ha’f made an’ somebody made her mad, she’d up an’ leave it an’ go some’r’s else.

“You know, dey was mighty strict, ’bout den, wid cullud folks, an’ white people, too. De Kloo Kluxes was out nights. I hear’d tell ’bout ’em whuppin’ people. But dey never bothered me.

“Dey was speakers gwine aroun’, tellin’ de Niggers what dey was gwine a-git. Dey never got nothin’ to my knowledge, ‘cept de gov’ment let ’em homestead lan’. My ma homesteaded a place close to Enterprise, Scott County, but she got mad an’ lef’ it like she always done.

“She was a-gittin’ long in years afore she got ‘ligion. (She was good to me after dat.) She couldn’ learn de Lawd’s Prayer, but she used to pray, ‘Our Father, which are in Heaven; Hallowed be Thy name. Thy mercy, Lawd, You’ve showed to others; That mercy show to me. Amen.’ She went to res’ in it, too.

“I went to Enterprise, den to Meridian, nussin’ (wet-nussin’ when I could) an’ workin’ out. I never worked in de fiel’, if I could he’p it. (Old Mis’ hired me out as a nuss firs’ when I was eight year old.)

“When I come to Meridian, I cut loose. I’s tellin’ de truf! I’s a woman, but I’s a prodigal. I used to be a old drunkard. My white folks kep’ tellin’ me if I got locked up one more time dey wouldn’ pay my fine. But dey done it ag’in an’ ag’in.

“De Niggers called me ‘Devil.’ I was a devil ’til I got ‘ligion. I warnt baptized ’til 1887. Den I foun’ peace. I had a vision. I tol’ it to a white lady an’ she say, ‘Susie, dat’s ‘ligion a-callin’ you.’ (But you know, honey, white folks’ ‘ligion aint like Niggers’ ‘ligion. I know a woman dat couldn’ ‘member de Lawd’s Prayer, an’ she got ‘ligion out o’ prayin’, ‘January, February, March’.) I didn’ join de church ’til 1891, after I had a secon’ vision. I’s a member in good standin’ now. I done put all my badness b’hin’ me, ‘cept my temper. I even got dat under more control.

“I didn’ used to be scared o’ cunjers. I’s scared now, ’cause I had it done to me. I want to bed well an’ healthy an’ de nex’ nornin’ I couldn’ git up atall. I’s tellin de truf. A cullud man done it. He was a crippled man, an’ mean as he could be. I was good to him, too. He tol’ me’ bout it, hisse’f:

“‘He went to de graveyard an’ got some o’ de meanes’ dirt he could fin’ (I don’t know how he knowed which was de meanes’ grave) an’ put it under my doorsill.’ He sho’ fix’ me. I ask him how come he done it to me an’ I been so good to him. He smile kinda tickle-lak an’ say, ‘It’s a good thing you was good to me, ’cause, if you hadn’ a-been you’d a-been dead an’ in yo’ grave by now.’

“I aint got nary soul what’s kin to me dat I knows of. I don’t want none of ’em comin’ to me now an’ a-sayin’, ‘Don’t you ‘member yo’ own cousin?’ My white folks he’p me when I needs it.

“Dese young folks. Shucks! Chile, dey’s worse’n what I was, only dey’s more slyer. Dat’s all.

“I’s glad I’se got ‘ligion, ’cause when I dies I’s gwine to de ‘Good Place.'”

Casey, Snow,

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

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