Slave Narrative of John White

Person Interviewed: John White
Location: Sand Springs, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: April 10, 1816
Age: 121
Occupation: Yard Worker

Of all my Mammy’s children I am the first born and the longest living. The others all gone to join Mammy. She was named Mary White, the same name as her Mistress, the wife of my first master, James White. About my paopy. I never hear his name and I never see him, not even when I was the least child around the old Master’s place ‘way back there in Georgia more’n one-hundred twenty years ago! Mammy try to make it clear to me about my daddy. She married like the most of the slaves in then days. He was a slave on another plantation. One day he come for to borrow something from Master White. He sees a likely looking gal, and the way it work out that gal was to be my Mammy. After that he got a paper saying it was all right for his to be off his own plantation. He come a’courting over to Master Whites. After a while he talks with the Master. Says he wants to marry the gal, Mary. The Master says it’s all right if it’s all right with Mary and the other white folks. He finds out it is and they makes ready for the wedding. Mary says a preacher wedding is the best but Master say he can marry them just as good. There wasn’t no Bible, just an old Almanac. Master White read something out of that. That’s all and they was married. The wedding was over! Every night he gets a leave paper from his Master and come over to be with his wife, Mary. The next morning he leaves her to work in the fields. Then one night Mammy says he don’t come home. The next night is the same, and the next. From then on Mammy don’t see him no more, never find out what happen to my pappy. When I was born Mammy named me John, John White. She tells me I was the blackest ‘white’ boy she over see! I stays with her till I was eleven year old. The Master wrote down in the book when I was born. April 10, 1816, and I know it’s right. Mammy told me so, and Master told me when I was eleven and he sold me to Sarah Davenport. Mistress Sarah lived in Texas. Master White always selling and trading to folks all over the country. I hates to leave on account of Mammy and the good way Master White fared the slaves, they was good people. Mammy cry but I has to go just the same. The tears are on my face a long time after the leaving. I was hoping all the time to see Mammy again, but that’s the last time. We travels and travels on the stage coach. Once we cross the Big River (Mississippi) on the boat and pick up with the horses on the other side. A new outfit and we rides some more. Seems like we going to wear out all the horses before we gets to the place. The Davenport plantation was way north of Linden, Texas, up in the Red River country. That’s where I stayed for thirty-eight year. There I was drug through the hackles by the meanest master that ever lived. The Mistress was the best white woman I over knew but Master Presley used his whip all the time, reason or no reason, and I got scars to remember by! I remembers the house. A heavy log house with a gallery clear across the front. The kitchen was back of the house. I work in there and I live in there. It wasn’t built so good as the Master’s house. The cold winds in the winter go through the cracks between the legs like the walls was somewheres else, and I shivers with the misery all the time. The cooking got to be my job. The washing too. Washday come around and I fills the tub with clothes. Puts the tub on my head and walks half a mile to the spring where I washes the clothes. Sometimes I run out of soap. Then I make ash soap right by the spring. I learns to be careful about streaks in the clothes. I learns by the bull whip. One day the Master finds a soapy streak in his shirt. Then he finds me. The Military Road goes by the place and the Master drives me down the road and ties me to a tree. First he tears off the old shirt and them he throws the bull whip to me. When he is tired of beating me more torture is a-coming. The salt water cure. It don’t cure nothing but that’s what the white folks called it. “Here’s at you.” the Master say, and slap the salt water inte the bleeding outs. “Here’s at you!” The blisters burst every time he slap me with the brine. Then I was loosened to stagger back into the kitchen. The Mistress couldn’t do nothing about it ‘cept to lay on the grease thick, with a kind word to help stop the misery. Ration time was Saturday night. Every slave get enough fat pork, corn meal and such to last out the week. I reckon the Master figure it to the last bite because they was no leavings over. Most likely the shortage catch them! Sometimes they’d borrow, sometimes I’d slip somethings from out the kitchen. The single women folks was bed that way. I favors them with something extra from the kitchen. Then they favors me, at night when the over-sear thinks everybody asleep in they own places! I was always back to my kitchen bed long before the overseer give the get-up-knock. I hear the knock, he hear me answer. Then he blew the horn and about the lend call, are you up, and everybody know it was four o’clock and pour out of the cabins ready for the chores. Sometimes the white folks go around the slave quarters for the night. Not on the Davenport plantation, but some others close around. The slaves talked about it amongst themselves. After a while they’d be a new baby. Yellow. When the child got old enough for chore work the master would sell him (or her). No difference was it his own flesh and blood, if the price was right! I traffic with lots of the women, but never marries. Not even when I was free after the war. I sees too many married troubles to mess up with such doings! Sometimes the master sent me alone to the grinding mill. Load in the yellow corn, hitch in the oxen, I was ready to go. I gets me fixed up with a pass and takes to the road. That was the trip I like best. On the way was a still. Off in the bresh. If the still was lonely I stop, not on the way to but on the way back. Mighty good whiskey, too! Maybe I drinks too much, then I was sorry. Not that I swipe the whiskey, just sorry because I gets sick! Then I figures a woods camp meeting will steady me up and I goes. The preacher meet me and want to know how is my feelings. I says I is low with the misery and he say to join up with the Lord. I never join because he don’t talk about the Lord. Just about the Master and Mistress. How the slaves must obey around the plantation, how the white folks know what is good for the slaves. Nothing about obeying the Lord and working for him. I reckon the old preacher was worrying more about the bull whip than he was the Bible, else he say something about the Lord! But I always obeys the Lord, that’s why I is still living! The slaves would pray for to get out of bondage. Some of them say the Lord told them to run away. Get to the North. Cross the Red River. Over there would be folks to guide them to the Free State (Kansas). The Lord never tell me to run away. I never tried it, maybe, because mostly they was caught by patrollers and fetched back for a flogging, and I had whippings enough already! Before the Civil War was the fighting with Mexico. Some of the troops on they way south passed on the Military Road. Wasn’t any fighting around Linden or Jefferson during the time. They was lots of traveling on the Military Road. Most of the time you could see covered wagons pulled by mules and horses, and sometimes a crawling string of wagons with oxen on the pulling end. From up in Arkansas come the stage coach along the road. To San Antonio. The drivers bring news the Mexicans just about all killed off and the white folks say Texas was going to join the Union. The country’s going to be run different they say, but I never see no difference. Maybe, because I ain’t white folks. Wasn’t many Mexicans around the old plantation. Come and go. Lots of Indians. Cherokees and Chotaws. Living in and huts and cabin shacks. I never see them bother the whites, it was the other way around. During the Civil War, when the Red River was bank high with muddy water, the Yankee’s made a target of Jefferson. That was a small town down south of Linden. Down the river come a flat barge with cannon fastened to the deck. The Yankee soldiers stepped across the river from Jefferson and the shooting started. When the cannon want to popping the folks went arunning, hard to tell who run the fastest, the whites or the blacks! Almost the town was wiped out. Buildings was smashed and big trees out through with the cannon balls. And all the time the Yankee drums was abeating and the soldiers singing! We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree, As we go marching on! Before the Civil War everybody had money. The white folks, not the Negroes. Sometimes the master take me to the town stores. They was full of money. Cigar boxes on the counter, boxes on the shelf, all filled with money. Not the crinkley paper kind, but hard, jingley gold and silver! Not like these scares times! After the war I stay on the plantation ’til a soldier man tells me of the freedom. The master never tell us Negroes working just like before the war. That’s when I leave the first time. Slip off, saying nothing, to Jefferson. There I found some good white folks going to New Orleans. First place we go is Shreveport, by wagon. They took me because I fix up with them to do the cooking. On to the Big River (Mississippi) and boards a river steamboat for New Orleans. Lots of Negroes going down there to work on the canal. The whole town was built on logs covered with dirt. Trying to raise itself right out of the swamp. Sometimes the water get high and folks run for the hills. When I got there almost was I ready to leave. I like Texas the best. Back to Jefferson is where I go. Fiftem-twenty mile below Linden. Almost the first person I see was Master Davenport. He says, “Black rascal, you is coming with me,” And I do. He tried to keep his slaves and just laugh when I tell him about the freedom. I worked for food and quarters ’til his meanness come cropping out again. That wasn’t long and he threatened me with the whip and the back and gag. The buck and gag was maybe worse. I got to feeling that iron stick is my mouth, fastened around my head with chains, pressing hard on my tongue. I, drinking, no eating, no talking! So I slip off again. That night I goes through Linden. Crawling on my hands and knees! Keeping in the dark spots, hiding from the whites, ’til I pass the last house, them my feets hurries me to Jefferson, where I gets a ride to Arkansas. In Russelville is where I stop. There I worked around in the yards, cutting the grass, fancying the flower beds, and earned a little money for clothes and eats, with some of it spent for good whiskey. That was the reason I left Arkansas. Whiskey. The law got after me to tell where was a man’s whiskey still. I just leave so’s I won’t have to tall. But while I was making a little money in Russelville. I lose out on some big money, account some white folks beat me to it. I was out in the hills west of town, walking along the banks of a little creek, when I heard a voice. Queer like. I called out who is that talking and I hears it again. “Go to the white oak tree and you will find Ninety Thousand Dollars!” That’s what I hear. I look around, nobody in sight, but I see the tree. A big white oak tree standing taller than all the rest ’round about. Under the tree was a grave. An old grave. I scratch around but finds no money and thinks of getting some help. I done some work for a white man in town and told him about the voice. He promised to go with me. but the next day he took two white mens and dug around the tree. Then he says they was nothing to find. To this day I know better. I know wherever they’s a ghost, money is around someplace! That’s what the ghost comes back for. Somebody dies and leaves buried money. The ghost watches over it ’til it sees somebody it likes. Then ghost shows himself lets know he’s around. Sometimes the ghost tells where is the money buried, like that time at Russelville. That ain’t the only ghost I’ve seen or heard. I see one around the yard where I is living now. A woman. Some of these times she’ll tell me where the buried money is. Maybe the ghost woman thinks I is too old to dig. But I been a digging all these long years. For a bite to eat and a sleep under cover. I reckon pretty soon she’s going to tell where to dig. When she does, then old Uncle John won’t have to dig for the eats no more!

Davenport, White,

Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007.

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