Slave Narrative of Tom W. Woods

Person Interviewed: Tom W. Woods
Location: Alderson, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Florence, Alabama
Age: 83

Lady, if de nigger hadn’t been set free dis country wouldn’t ever been what it is now! Poor white folks wouldn’t never had a chance. De slave holders had most of de money and de land and dey wouldn’t let de poor white folks have a chance to own any land or anything else to speak of. Dese white folks wasn’t much better off dan we was. Dey had to work hard and dey had to worry ’bout food, clothes and shelter and we didn’t. Lots of slave owners wouldn’t allow den on deir farms among deir slaves without orders from de overseer. I don’t know why, unless he was afraid dey would stir up discontent among de niggers. Dere was lots of “underground railroading” and I rekon dat was what Old Master and others was afraid of. Us darkies was taught dat poor white folks didn’t amount to much, Course we knowed dey was white and we was black and dey was to be respected for dat, but dat was about all. White folks as well as niggers profited by Emancipation. Lincoln was a friend to all poor white folks as well as black ones and if he could a’ lived things would a’been different for ever’body. Dis has been a good old world to live in. I always been able to make a purty good living and de only trouble I ever had has been sickness and death. I’ve had a sight of dat kind of trouble. I’ve outlived two wives and eight children. I had 13 brothers and sisters and I was de oldest, and I’m de only one left. I sits here at night by myself and gits to wondering what de good Lord is sparing me for. I reckon it’s for some good ream, and I’d like to live to be a hundred if he wants me to. I’m not tired of living yet! I was born in Florence, Alabama. My father’s name was Thomas Woods and my mammy was Frances Foster. Mammy belonged to Wash Foster and father was owned by Moses Woods, who lived on an adjoining plantation. He worked for his Master ever’ day but spent each night wid us. He walked ’bout a mile to his work ever’ day. Master Wash was a poor man when he married Miss Sarah Watkins of Richmond, Virginia. Her father was as rich as cream, he owned 7 plantations and 200 slaves to each plantation. When Master Wash and Miss Sarah got married her father give her 50 slaves. Ever’body said Miss Mary jest married Master Wash because he was a purty boy, and he sure was a fine looking man. He was good and kind to all his slaves when he was sober, but he was awful crabbed and cross when he was drunk, and he was drunk most of de time. He was hard to please and sometimes he would whip de slaves. I remember seeing Master Wash whup two men once. He give ’em 200 lashes. Miss Sarah was de best woman in de world. It takes a good woman to live wid a drunkard. Two of the men ran away one time and was gone till dey got tired of staying away. Master Wash wouldn’t let anyone hunt ’em. When dey finally come home he had dem strapped in stocks and den deir bodies bared to de waist and he sure did ply de lash. I guess he whupped ’em harder dan he would if he hadn’t been so full of whisky. He never did sell any of his slaves. He kept the 50 dat Miss Sarah’s father give ’em and deir increase. He bought some ever’ time dey had a sale. He owned two plantations and dey was about a hundred slaves on each one. Him and his family lived in town. Me and a boy named John was sized and put to work when we was about nine or ten years old. We was so bad dey had to put us to work as dey couldn’t do any thing else with us. We’d chase de pigs and ride de calves and to punish us dey made us tote water to de hands. Dey was so many hands to water dat it kept us busy running back and forth with de water. De next year dey put me to plowing and him to hoeing. We made regular hands from den on. If we had behaved ourselves we wouldn’t a ‘had to go to work till we was fourteen or fifteen anyway. Slave owners was awful good to deir nigger chaps for dey wanted ’em to grow up to be strong man and women. Dey was about thirty children on our plantation. Two women looked after us and took care of us till our parents come in from de field. Dey cooked for us and always gave us our supper and sent us home to our parents for de night. Our food was placed on a long table in a trough. Each child had a spoon and four of us eat out of one trough. Our food at night was mostly milk and bread. At noon we had vegetables. bread, meat and milk. He gave us more and better food than he did his field hands. He said he didn’t want none of us to be stunted in our growing. He bought our shoes for us but cloth for our clothes was spun and wove right there on de farm. In summer us boys wore long tailed shirts and no pants. I’ve plowed dat way a many a day. We was glad to see it git warm in de spring so we could go barefooted and go wid out our pants. Our overseers lived near de quarters and every morning about four o’clock dey’d blow a horn to wake us up. We knowed it meant to git up and start de day. We was in de field by de time we could see. We always fed our teams at night. We’d give ’em enough to keep ’em eating all night so we wouldn’t have to feed ’em in de morning. Master Wash Foster and his family lived in de finest house in Florence, AL It was a fine, large two-story house, painted white as nearly all de houses was in dem days. Dere was big gallery in front and back and a fine lawn wid big cedar and chestnut trees all ’round de house. He had a fine carriage and a pair of spanking bays dat cost him $500 apiece. Old Monroe was his coachman and dey made a grand sight. Monroe kept de nickel plated harness and carriage trimmings shining and de team was brushed slick and clean and dey sure stepped out. We lived on de plantation about eight miles from town and we liked for de family to come out to de farm. Dey was four children, Wash, Jack, Sarah and Sally and dey always played with us. When dey come we always had a regular feast as dey children would eat wid us children. Dey had dishes though to eat out of. After dinner we would run and play Peep Squirrel. I think dey call it hide-and-seek now. My mother was a regular field hand till Miss Sarah decided to take her into town to take care of her children. Dey all called her Frank instead of Frances. I used to get to go to town to visit my mother and we’d have glorious times I tell you. We’d go out and gather hickory nuts, hazel nuts, pignuts, and walnuts. We’d all set around de fire and eat nuts and tell ghost tales ever’ night. Master Wash raised lots of apples too, and we had all that we wanted of dem to eat.

I saw lots of Yankee soldiers. Sherman and Grant’s armies marched by our house and camped at DeCatur, AL It took dem three days to pass. We wasn’t afraid of dem. In the second year of de war some Yankee soldiers come through and gathered up all de slaves and took us to Athens. AL, and put us on a Government farm. We stayed dere till de end of de war. My father died jest before dey took us away. My mother and us children were on de farm together and dey treated us all might good. We had plenty of good food and clothes. Master Wash came to see us while we was on de Government farm. He was left in a bad shape and we was all sorry for him. A lot of his hands went back to him after de Surrender but we never did. Mother married another man named Goodloe and we all went to Arkansas, near Little Rock. Dis was his former home. I was about nineteen or twenty years old at this time. I never sent to school. My wife taught me how to read de Bible but I never learned to write. I have good eyesight. I guess dat is cause I never put dem out reading and going to moving picture shows. When any of my family was sick I always sent for de doctor. We had a few of our own home remedies dat we used also. We boiled poke root and bathed in it for a cure for rheumatism. A tea made from may apples was used for a physic.

Foster, Goodloe, 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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