Slave Narrative of Rev. W. B. Allen

Interviewer: J. R. Jones
Person Interviewed: Rev. W. B. Allen
Interviewed: June 29, 1937
Location: Columbus, Georgia
Residence: 425-Second Ave, Columbus, Georgia
[JUL 28 1937]

[TR: Original index refers to “Allen, Rev. W.B. (Uncle Wash)”; however, this informant is different from the previous informant, Washington Allen, interviewed on Dec. 18, 1936. The previous interview for Rev. Allen that is mentioned below is not found in this volume.]

In a second interview, the submission of which was voluntarily sought by himself, this very interesting specimen of a rapidly vanishing type expressed a desire to amend his previous interview (of May 10, 1937) to incorporate the following facts:

“For a number of years before freedom, my father bought his time from his master and traveled about over Russell County (Alabama) as a journeyman blacksmith, doing work for various planters and making good money—as money went in those days—on the side. At the close of the war, however, though he had a trunk full of Confederate money, all of his good money was gone.

Father could neither read nor write, but had a good head for figures and was very pious. His life had a wonderful influence upon me, though I was originally worldly—that is, I drank and cussed, but haven’t touched a drop of spirits in forty years and quit cussing before I entered the ministry in 1879.

I learned to pray when very young and kept it up even in my unsaved days. My white master’s folks knew me to be a praying boy, and asked me—in 1865—when the South was about whipped and General Wilson was headed our way—to pray to God to hold the Yankees back. Of course, I didn’t have any love for any Yankees—and haven’t now, for that matter—but I told my white folks straight-from-the-shoulder that I could not pray along those lines. I told them flat-footedly that, while I loved them and would do any reasonable praying for them, I could not pray against my conscience: that I not only wanted to be free, but that I wanted to see all the Negroes freed!

I then told them that God was using the Yankees to scourge the slave-holders just as He had, centuries before, used heathens and outcasts to chastise His chosen people—the Children of Israel.”

(Here it is to be noted that, for a slave boy of between approximately 15 and 17 years of age, remarkable familiarity with the Old Testament was displayed.)

The Parson then entered into a mild tirade against Yankees, saying:

“The only time the Northern people ever helped the Nigger was when they freed him. They are not friends of the Negro and many a time, from my pulpit, have I warned Niggers about going North. No, sir, the colored man doesn’t belong in the North—-has no business up there, and you may tell the world that the Reverend W.B. Allen makes no bones about saying that! He also says that, if it wasn’t for the influence of the white race in the South, the Negro race would revert to savagery within a year! Why, if they knew for dead certain that there was not a policeman or officer of the law in Columbus tonight, the good Lord only knows what they’d do tonight”!

When the good Parson had delivered himself as quoted, he was asked a few questions, the answers to which—as shall follow—disclose their nature.

“The lowest down Whites of slavery days were the average overseers. A few were gentlemen, one must admit, but the regular run of them were trash—commoner than the ‘poor white trash’—and, if possible, their children were worse than their daddies. The name, ‘overseer’, was a synonym for ‘slave driver’, ‘cruelty’, ‘brutishness’. No, sir, a Nigger may be humble and refuse to talk outside of his race—because he’s afraid to, but you can’t fool him about a white man!

And you couldn’t fool him when he was a slave! He knows a white man for what he is, and he knew him the same way in slavery times.”

Concerning the punishment of slaves, the Reverend said:

“I never heard or knew of a slave being tried in court for any thing. I never knew of a slave being guilty of any crime more serious than taking something or violating plantation rules. And the only punishment that I ever heard or knew of being administered slaves was whipping.

I have personally known a few slaves that were beaten to death for one or more of the following offenses:

Leaving home without a pass,

Talking back to—’sassing’—a white person,

Hitting another Negro,

Fussing, fighting, and rukkussing in the quarters,


Loitering on their work,

Taking things—the Whites called it stealing.

Plantation rules forbade a slave to:

Own a firearm,

Leave home without a pass,

Sell or buy anything without his master’s consent,

Marry without his owner’s consent,

Have a light in his cabin after a certain hour at night,

Attend any secret meeting,

Harbor or [HW: in] any manner assist a runaway slave,

Abuse a farm animal,

Mistreat a member of his family, and do

A great many other things.”

When asked if he had ever heard slaves plot an insurrection, the Parson answered in the negative.

When asked if he had personal knowledge of an instance of a slave offering resistance to corporal punishment, the Reverend shook his head, but said:

“Sometimes a stripped Nigger would say some hard things to the white man with the strap in his hand, though he knew that he (the Negro) would pay for it dearly, for when a slave showed spirit that way the master or overseer laid the lash on all the harder.”

When asked how the women took their whippings, he said:

“They usually screamed and prayed, though a few never made a sound.”

The Parson has had two wives and five children. Both wives and three of his children are dead. He is also now superannuated, but occasionally does a “little preaching”, having only recently been down to Montezuma, Georgia, on a special call to deliver a message to the Methodist flock there.


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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Access Genealogy

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Scroll to Top