Slave Narrative of Thomas McMillan

Interviewer: Bishop & Isleman
Person Interviewed: Thomas McMillan
Location: Steubenville, Ohio
Place of Birth: Monroe County, Alabama
Place of Residence: 909 Morris Ave., Steubenville, Ohio

WPA in Ohio Federal Writers’ Project Bishop & Isleman Reporter: Bishop July 7, 1937

Topic: Ex-Slaves. Jefferson County, District #5 [HW: Steubenville]

THOMAS McMILLAN, Ex-Slave (Does not know age)

I was borned in Monroe County, Alabam. I do not know de date. My father’s name was Dave McMillan and my mothers name was Minda. Dey cum from Old Virginny and he was sold from der. We lived in a log house. De beds hed ropes instead of slats and de chillun slept on de floor.

Dey put us out in de garden to pick out weeds from de potatoes. We did not get any money. We eat bread, syrup and potatoes. It wuz cooked in pots and some was made in fire, like ash cakes. We hed possum lots of times and rabbit and squirrel. When dey go fishin’ we hed fish to eat. I liked most anything they gave us to eat.

In de summer we wore white shirt and pants and de same in de winter. We wore brogans in de winter too.

De Massa name wuz John and his wife died before I know her. He hed a boy named John. He lived in a big house. He done de overseeing himself.

He hed lots of acres in his plantation and he hed a big gang of slaves. He hed a man to go and call de slaves up at 4 o’clock every morning. He was good to his slaves and did not work them so late at night. I heard some of de slaves on other plantations being punished, but our boss take good care of us.

Our Massa learn some of us to read and write, but some of de udder massas did not.

We hed church under a arbor. De preacher read de bible and he told us what to do to be saved. I ‘member he lined us up on Jordan’s bank and we sung behind him.

De partrollers watch de slaves who were out at night. If dey have a pass dey were alright. If not dey would get into it. De patrollers whip dem and carry dem home.

On Saturday afternoon dey wash de clothes and stay around. On Sunday dey go to church. On Christmas day we did not work and dey make a nice meal for us. We sometimes shuck corn at night. We pick cotton plenty.

When we were chillun me other brudders and five sisters played marbles together.

I saw de blue jackets, dat’s what we called de Yankee soldiers. When we heard of our freedom we hated it because we did not know what it was for and did not know where to go. De massa say we could stay as long as we pleased.

De Yankee soldier asked my father what dey wuz all doing around der and that dey were free. But we did not know where to go. We stayed on wid de massa for a long time after de war wuz over.

De Klu Klux Klan wuz pretty rough to us and dey whip us. Der was no school for us colored people.

I wuz nearly 20 when I first took up with my first woman and lived with her 20 years den I marry my present wife. I married her in Alabama and Elder Worthy wuz de preacher. We had seven chillun, all grandchillun are dead. I don’t know where dey all are at excepting me daughter in Steubenville and she is a widow. She been keepin’ rooms and wash a little for her living.

I didn’t hear much bout de politics but I think Abraham Lincoln done pretty well. I reckon Jefferson Davis did the best he knowed how. Booker T. Washington, I nebber seen him, but he wuz a great man.

Religion is all right; can’t find no fault with religion. I think all of us ought to be religious because the dear Lord died for us all. Dis world would be a better place if we all were religious.

Word Picture of MR. MCMILLAN

Thomas McMillan, 909 Morris Ave., Steubenville, Ohio. He lives with his wife, Toby who is over 50 years old. He makes his living using a hand cart to collect junk. He is 5’6″ tall and weighs 155 pounds. His beard is gray and hair white and close cropped. He attends Mt. Zion Baptist Church and lives his religion. He is able to read a little and takes pleasure in reading the bible and newspaper.

He has seven children. He has not heard of them for several years except one daughter who lives in Steubenville and is a widow.

His home is a three room shack and his landlord lets him stay there rent free. The houses in the general surrounding are in a run down condition.


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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