Slave Narrative of John W. H. Barnett

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Location: Marianna, Arkansas
Age: 81

“I was born at Clinton Parish, Louisiana. I’m eighty-one years old. My parents and four children was sold and left six children behind. They kept the oldest children. In that way I was sold but never alone. Our family was divided and that brought grief to my parents. We was sold on a block at New Orleans. J.J. Gambol (Gamble?) in north Louisiana bought us. After freedom I seen all but one of our family. I don’t recollect why that was.

“For three weeks steady after the surrender people was passing from the War and for two years off and on somebody come along going home. Some rode and some had a cane or stick walking. Mother was cooking a pot of shoulder meat. Them blue soldiers come by and et it up. I didn’t get any I know that. They cleaned us out. Father was born at Eastern Shore, Maryland. He was about half Indian. Mother’s mother was a squaw. I’m more Indian than Negro. Father said it was a white man’s war. He didn’t go to war. Mother was very dark. He spoke a broken tongue.

“We worked on after freedom for the man we was owned by. We worked crops and patches. I didn’t see much difference then. I see a big change come out of it. We had to work. The work didn’t slacken a bit. I never owned land but my father owned eighty acres in Drew County. I don’t know what become of it. I worked on the railroad section, laid crossties, worked in stave mills. I farmed a whole lot all along. I hauled and cut wood.

“I get ten dollars and I sells sassafras and little things along to help out. My wife died. My two sons left just before the World War. I never hear from them. I married since then.

“Present times—I can’t figure it out. Seems like a stampede. Not much work to do. If I was young I reckon I could find something to do.

“Present generation—Seem like they are more united. The old ones have to teach the young ones what to do. They don’t listen all the time. The times is strange. People’s children don’t do them much good now seems like. They waste most all they make some way. They don’t make it regular like we did farming. The work wasn’t regular farming but Saturday was ration day and we got that.”

Barnett, Gamble, Gambol,

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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