Slave Narrative of Sylvia Watkins

Person Interviewed: Sylvia Watkins
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Place of Birth: Bedford County TN
Age: 91
Place of Residence: 411 14th Avenue N., Nashville, Tennessee

I’se said ter be 91 y’ars ole. I wuz young w’en de War wuz goin’ on. I wuz bawn in Bedford County. Mah mammy wuz named Mariah. She had six chillun by mah daddy en three by her fust husband.

Mah missis wuz named Emily Hatchet en de young missises wuz Mittie en Bettie, dey wuz twins. We had good clothes ter w’ar en w’en we went ter de table hit wuz loaded wid good food en we could set down en eat our stomachs full. Oh Lawd I wish dem days wuz now so I’d hab sum good food. Ob course, we had ter wuk in de fiel’s en mek w’at we et.

Wen we’d finish our day’s wuk our missis would let us go out en play hide en seek, Puss in de corner, en diff’ent games.

Mah mammy wuz sold in Virginia w’en she wuz a gurl. She sezs ‘bou 60 ob em wuz put in de road en druv down ‘yer by a slave trader, lak a bunch ob cattle. Mah mammy en two ob mah sistahs wuz put on a block, sold en carried ter Alabama. We neber ‘yeard fum dem nomo’, en dunno whar dey ez.

I wuz willed ter mah young missis w’en she ma’ried. I wuz young en, ob course, she whuped me, but she wasn’t mean ter me. I needed eve’y whupin’ she eber gib me, cause I wuz allus fightin’. Mah missis allus called me her lettle nig.

Mah daddy could only see mah mammy Wednesday en Saturday nites, en ef’n he kum wid’out a pass de pat-rollers would whup ‘im er run ‘im ’til his tongue hung out. On dem nites we would sit up en look fer daddy en lots ob times he wuz out ob bref cose he had run so much.

Mah white folks had a loom en we wove our own clothes. I wuz nuss en house girl en l’arned how ter sew en nit. Mah young missis wuz blind ‘fore she died. I useter visit her once a Ye’r en she’d load me down wid things ter tek home, a linsey petticoat, ham bones, cracklins en diff’ent things. She died 18 years ago almos’ a 100 ye’r ole.

De white folks wouldn’t let de slaves hab a book er papah fer fear dey’d l’arn sumpin’, en ef dey wan’ed ter pray dey’d tu’n a kettle down at dere cabin do’er. I member yearin’ mah mammy pray “Oh Father op’n up de do’ers en sho us lite.” I’d look up ter de ceiling ter see ef he wuz gonna op’n up sumpin’; silly, silly me, thinkin’ such. I’s ‘longs ter de Missionary Baptist chuch but I don’t git ter go very off’n.

I wuz tole ‘fore freedum dat de slaves would git a mule, land en a new suit, but our missis didn’t gib us a thing. She promis’ me, mah br’rer, en three sistahs ef’n we would stay wid her a ye’r, en he’p her mek a crop she would gib us sump’in ter start us a crop on w’en we lef’ her.

Mah daddy’s marster wus named Bob Rankin, he gib mah daddy a hog, sum chickens, let him hab a cow ter milk en land ter raise a crop on. He wan’ed mah daddy ter git us tergedder ter he’p daddy raise a crop but since mah missis had promised us so much, daddy let us stay wid her a ye’r. On de nite mah daddy kum fer us, mah missis sezs I’ve not got nuthin ter gib you, fer I won’t hab nobody ter do nuthin fer me. We went wid our daddy. We lived dere on Marster Rankin’s farm fer ye’rs in fact so long we tho’t de place ‘longed ter mah daddy. We had a house wid big cracks in hit, had a big fier place, a big pot dat hong on de fier en a skillet dat we cooked corn bread in. Had a hill ob taters under de house, would raise up a plank, rake down in de dirt git taters, put dem in de fier ter roast. We had meat ter eat in de middle ob de day but none at mawnin’ er nite. We got one pair ob shoes a ye’r, dey had brass on de toes. I uster git out en shine de toes ob mine, we called hit gol’ on our shoes. We wuked in de fiel’ wid mah daddy, en I know how ter do eberting dere ez ter do in a fiel’ ‘cept plow, I wuz allus ter slender ter hold a plow. We had grease lamps. A thing lak a goose neck wid platted rag wick in hit. Would put grease in hit.

Durin’ slavery ef one marster had a big boy en ‘nuther had a big gal da marsters made dem libe tergedder. Ef’n de ‘oman didn’t hab any chilluns, she wuz put on de block en sold en ‘nuther ‘oman bought. You see dey raised de chilluns ter mek money on jes lak we raise pigs ter sell.

Mah mammy tole me ’bout de sta’rs fallin’ en den I se’ed de second fallin’ ob sta’rs. Dey didn’t hit de groun’ lak de fust did. I member de comet hit had a long tail. I lef’ mah daddy en kum ter Nashville wid missis Nellie Rankin, (daddy’s young missus) in 1882; hab bin ‘yer eber since. I’se dun house wuk fer a lot ob peeples. Kep house fer a ‘oman in Belle Meade fer 14 ye’rs. Now I’se aint able ter do nothin. I’se bin ma’ried twice. Ma’ried Jimm Ferguson, libed wid ‘im 20 ye’ars he d’ed. Two ye’ars later I mar’ed George Watkins, lived wid him 8 ye’ars; two ye’ars ago he died. I’se neber had any chilluns. I kep wan’in ter ‘dopt a lettle gal, de fust husban’ wouldn’t do hit. ‘Bout 5-1/2 ye’ars ago de second husban’ George kum in wid a tiny baby, sezs ‘yer ez a boy baby I ‘dopted. I sezs dat ez you own baby cose hits jes like yer. He denied hit, but eben now de boy ez e’zackly lak George. He’s six ye’rs ole en gwine ter school. I’se got mah hands full tryin’ ter raise ‘im ‘lone. W’en George died he had a small inshorance policy. I paid mah taxes, I owns dis home, en bought mahself three hogs. I sold two en kilt one. Den I got three mor’ jes’ a short time ago. Sum kind ob zeeze got among dem en dey all d’ed.

Yas I’se voted four er five times, but neber had any frens in office. I don’ think dis white-black mar’iage should be ‘lowed. Dey should be whupped wid a bull whup.

As far as I know de ex-slaves hab wuked at diff’ent kins ob jobs en now sum I know ez in de po-house, sum git’ in relief order en urthers ez lak mahself, hab dere homes en gettin’ ‘long bes’ dey kin. I needs milk en cod liver oil fer dis lettle boy but can’t buy it.

I dunno nothin’ ’bout slave uprisin’s. De songs I member ez:

“All Gawds Chilluns up Yonder.”
“I want ter Shout Salvation.”
“Down by de River Side.”

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

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