Slave Narrative of Betty Foreman Chessier

Person Interviewed: Betty Foreman Chessier
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: July 11, 1843
Age: 94

I was born July 11, 1843 in Raleigh, N. C. My mother was named Melinda Manley, the slave of Governor Manley of North Carolina, and my father was named Arnold Foreman, slave of Bob and John Foreman, two young masters. They come over from Arkansas to visit my master and my pappy and mammy met and got married, ‘though my pappy only seen my mammy in the summer when his masters come to visit our master and dey took him right back. I had three sisters and two brothers and none of dem was my whole brothers and sisters. I stayed in the Big House all the time, but my sisters and brothers was gived to the master’s sons and daughters whey dey got married and dey was told to send back for some more when dem died. I didn’t never stay with my mammy doing of slavery. I stayed in the Big House. I slept under the dining room table with three other darkies. The flo’ was well carpeted. Don’t remembah my grandmammy and grandpappy, but my master was they master.

I waited on the table, kept flies off’n my mistress and went for the mail. Never made no money, but dey did give the slaves money at Christmas time. I never had over two dresses. One was calico and one gingham. I had such underclothes as dey wore then.

Master Manley and Mistress had six sons an’ six darters. Dey raised dem all till dey was grown too. Dey lived in a great big house ‘cross from the mansion, right in town before Master was ‘lected Governor, den dey all moved in dat mansion.

Plantation folks had barbecues and “lay crop feasts” and invited the city darkies out. When I first come here I couldn’t understand the folks here, ’cause dey didn’t quit work on Easter Monday. That is some day in North Carolina even today. I doesn’t remember any play songs, ’cause I was almost in prison. I couldn’t play with any of the darkies and I doesn’t remember playing in my life when I was a little girl and when I got grown I didn’t want to. I wasn’t hongry, I wasn’t naked and I got only five licks from the white folks in my life. Dey was for being such a big forgitful girl. I saw ’em sell niggers once. The only pusson I ever seen whipped at dat whipping post was a white man.

I never got no learning; dey kept us from dat, but you know some of dem darkies learnt anyhow. We had church in the heart of town or in the basement of some old building. I went to the ‘piscopal church most all the time, till I got to be a Baptist.

The slaves run away to the North ’cause dey wanted to be free. Some of my family run away sometime and dey didn’t catch ’em neither. The patrollers sho’ watched the streets. But when dey caught any of master’s niggers without passes, dey jest locked him up in the guard house and master come down in the mawnin’ and git ’em out, but dem patrollers better not whip one.

I know when the War commenced and ended. Master Manley sent me from the Big House to the office about a mile away. Jest as I got to the office door, three men rid up in blue uniforms and said, “Dinah, do you have any milk in there?” I was sent down to the office for some beans for to cook dinner, but dem men most nigh scared me to death. They never did go in dat office, but jest rid off on horseback about a quarter a mile and seem lak right now. Yankees fell out of the very sky, ’cause hundeds and hundeds was everywhere you could look to save your life. Old Mistress sent one of her grandchillun to tell me to come on, and one of the Yankees told dat child, “You tell your grandmother she ain’t coming now and never will come back there as a slave.” Master was setting on the mansion porch. Dem Yankees come up on de porch, go down in cellar and didn’t tech one blessed thing. Old Mistress took heart trouble, ’cause dem Yankees whipped white folks going and coming.

I laid in my bed a many night scared to death of Klu Klux Klan. Dey would come to your house and ask for a drink and no more want a drink than nothing.

After the war, I went to mammy and my step-pappy. She done married again, so I left and went to Warrington and Halifax, North Carolina, jest for a little while nursing some white chillun. I stayed in Raleigh, where I was born till 7 years ago, when I come to Oklahoma to live with my only living child. I am the mother of 4 chillun and 11 grandchillun.

When I got married I jumped a broomstick. To git unmarried, all you had to do was to jump backwards over the same broomstick.

Lincoln and Booker T. Washington was two of the finest men ever lived. Don’t think nothing of Jeff Davis, ’cause he was a traitor. Freedom for us was the best thing ever happened. Prayer is best thing in the world. Everybody ought to pray, ’cause prayer got us out of slavery.

Chessier, Foreman, Manley,

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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