Slave Narrative of Josephine Ann Barnett

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Location: De Valls Bluff, Arkansas
Age: 75 or 80

“I do not knows my exact age. I judge I somewhere between 75 and 80 years old. I was born close to Germantown, Tennessee. We belong, that is my mother, to Phillip McNeill and Sally McNeill. My mother was a milker. He had a whole heap of hogs, cattle and stock. That not all my mother done. She plowed. Children done the churnin’.

“The way it all come bout I was the onliest chile my mother had. Him and Miss Sallie left her to help gather the crop and they brought me in the buggy wid them. I set on a little box in the foot of the buggy. It had a white umbrella stretched over it. Great big umbrella run in between them. It was fastened to the buggy seat. When we got to Memphis they loaded the buggy on the ship. I had a fine time coming. When we got to Bucks Landing we rode to his place in the buggy. It is 13 miles from here (De Valls Bluff). In the fall nearly all his slaves come out here. Then when my mother come on. I never seen my papa after I left back home [TR: Crossed out: (near Germantown)]. My father belong to Boston Hack. He wouldn’t sell and Mr. McNeill wouldn’t sell and that how it come.

“I muster been five or six years old when I come out here to Arkansas. My grandma was a midwife. She was already out here. She had to come with the first crowd cause some women was expecting. I tell you it sho was squally times. This country was wild. It was different from Tennessee or close to Germantown where we come from. None of the slaves liked it but they was brought.

“The war come on direckly after we got here. Several families had the slaves drove off to Texas to save them. Keep em from following the Yankee soldiers right here at the Bluff off. I remember seein’ them come up to the gate. My mother and two aunts went. His son and some more men drove em. After freedom them what left childern come back. I stayed with my grandma while they gone. I fed the chickens, shelled corn, churned, swept. I done any little turns they sent me to do.

“One thing I remember happened when they had scrimmage close—it mighter been the one on Long Prairie—they brought a young boy shot through his lung to Mr. Phillip McNeill’s house. He was a stranger. He died. I felt so sorry for him. He was right young. He belong to the Southern army. The Southern army nearly made his place their headquarters.

“Another thing I remember was a agent was going through the country settin’ fire to all the cotton. Mr. McNeill had his cotton—all our crop we made. That man set it afire. It burned more than a week big. He burned some left at the gin not Mr. McNeill’s. It was fun to us children but I know my grandma cried and all the balance of the slaves. Cause they got some Christmas money and clothes too when the cotton was sold.

“The slaves hated the Yankees. They treated them mean. They was having a big time. They didn’t like the slaves. They steal from the slaves too. Some poor folks didn’t have slaves.

“After freedom my mother come back after me and we come here to De Valls Bluff and I been here ever since. The Yankee soldiers had built shacks and they left them. They would do. Some was one room, log, boxed and all sorts. They give us a little to eat to keep us from starvin’. It sho was a little bit too. My mother got work about.

“The first schoolhouse was a colored school. We had two rooms and two teachers sent down from the North to teach us. If they had a white school I didn’t know it. They had one later on. I was bout grown. Mr. Proctor and Miss Rice was the first teachers. We laughed bout em. They was rough looking, didn’t look like white folks down here we’d been used to. They thought they sho was smart. Another teacher come down here was Mr. Abner. White folks wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with em. We learned. They learned us the ABC’s and to write. I can read. I learned a heap of it since I got grown just trying. They gimme a start.

“Times is hard in a way. Prices so high. I never had a hard time in my life. I get $40 a month. It is cause my husband was a soldier here at De Valls Bluff.

“I do not vote. I ain’t goiner vote.

“I don’t know what to think of the young generation. They are on the road to ruin seems like. I speakln’ of the real young folks. They do like they see the white girls and boys doin’. I don’t know what to become of em. The women outer stay at home and let the men take care of em. The women seems like taking all the jobs. The colored folks cookin’ and making the living for their men folks. It ain’t right—to me. But I don’t care how they do. Things ain’t got fixed since that last war.” (World War).


Barnett, Hack, McNeill,

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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