Slave Narrative of Rev. Wamble

Interviewer: Archie Koritz
Person Interviewed: Rev. Wamble
Location: Gary, Indiana
Place of Birth: Monroe County, Mississippi,
Date of Birth: 1859
Place of Residence: 1827 Madison Street, Gary, Indiana
Occupation: Wagon-maker

Archie Koritz, Field Worker Federal Writers’ Project Porter County-District #1 Valparaiso, Indiana

EX-SLAVES REV. WAMBLE 1827 Madison Street Gary, Indiana [TR: above ‘Wamble’ in handwriting is ‘Womble’]

Rev. Wamble was born a slave in Monroe County, Mississippi, in 1859. The Westbrook family owned many slaves in charge of over-seers who managed the farm, on which there were usually two hundred or more slaves. One of the Westbrook daughters married a Mr. Wamble, a wagon-maker. The Westbrook family gave the newly-weds two slaves, as did the Wamble family. One of the two slaves coming from the Westbrook family was Rev. Wamble’s grandfather. It seems that the slaves took the name of their master, hence Rev. Wamble’s grandfather was named Wamble.

Families owning only a few slaves and in moderate circumstances usually treated their slaves kindly since like a farmer with only a few horses, it was to their best interest to see that their slaves were well provided for. The slaves were valuable, and there was no funds to buy others, whereas the large slave owners were wealthy and one slave more or less made little difference. The Reverend’s father and his brothers were children of original African slaves and were of the same age as the Wamble boys and grew up together. The Reverend’s grandfather was manager of the farm and the three Wamble boys worked under him the same as the slaves. Mr. Wamble never permitted any of his slaves to be whipped, nor were they mistreated.

Mr. Westbrook was a deacon in the Methodist Church and had two slave over-seers to manage the farm and the slaves. He was very severe with his slaves and none were ever permitted to leave the farm. If they did leave the farm and were found outside, they were arrested and whipped. Then Westbrook was notified and one of the over-seers would come and take the slave home where he would again be whipped. The slave was tied to a cedar tree or post and lashed with a snake whip.

Rev. Wamble’s mother was a Deerbrook [HW: Westbrook] slave and when the Reverend was two years of age, his mother died from a miscarriage caused by a whipping. When the women slaves were in an advanced stage of pregnancy they were made to lie face down in a specially dug depression in the ground and were whipped. Otherwise they were treated like the men. Their arms were tied around a cedar tree or post, and they were lashed.

Since the Reverend appeared to be a promising slave, both the Westbrooks and the Wambles wanted him, much like one would want a valuable colt today. Since the Reverend’s grandmother was a Westbrook and the Wambles treated the slaves much better, she wanted him to become a Wamble. She hid the child in a shed, what would probably be a poor dog-house today, and fed the child during the night time.

During this period of his life the Reverend remembers what happened to one of the Westbrook slaves who had run away. One evening he came to the Wamble home and asked for some supper. Wamble took the slave into his home and after feeding him, placed a log chain which was hanging above the fire-place, around the slave’s waist, left him to sleep on a bench in front of the fire-place. The next morning after the slave was given breakfast by the Wambles, Westbrook, his son and over-seer appeared. Rev. Wamble in his hide-out remembers being awakened by the sound of the slave being whipped and the moaning of the slave. After the whipping, the slave was turned loose. After he had gone about a mile through the bottom-land toward the river, Westbrook turned his hounds loose on the slave’s tracks. The hounds treed the slave before he had gone another mile, much like a dog would tree a cat.

The Westbrooks pulled the slave down from the tree and the dogs slashed his foot. The slave was then whipped and long ropes placed around him. He was driven back to the Wamble place with whips where he was once again whipped. They [TR: Then?] they drove him two miles to the Westbrook place where he was whipped once more. Whatever became of the slave, whether he died or recovered, is unknown. One unusual feature of this story is that Westbrook who permitted his slaves to be whipped, was a church deacon, whereas Wamble, who never attended church, never whipped or mistreated his slaves.

The Reverend states that in the community where he resided the slaves were well treated except for the whippings they received. They were well-fed, and if injured or sick, were attended by a doctor on the same principal that a person would care for an injured horse or sick cow. The slaves were valuable, and it was to the best interest of the owner to see that they were able to work.

In case of slaves having children, the children became the property of the mother’s owner. If the south had won the war, Wamble would have been a Westbrook since his mother was a Westbrook slave, and if it lost, he would go to live with his father and take the name of his father, a Wamble slave. So until the war was over he was hid out much like a small child would bring a stray dog home and hide it somewhere for fear that if his parents discovered it, it would be taken away.

The living quarters of the slaves were made of logs covered with mud, and the roof was covered with coarse boards upon which dirt about a foot in depth was placed. There were no floors except dirt or the bare ground. The furniture consisted of a small stove and the beds were two boards extending from two walls, the extending ends resting on a peg driven into the ground. This would make a one-legged bed. The two boards were covered across ways with more boards and the slaves slept on these boards or upon the dirt floor. There were no blankets provided for them. For food the slaves received plenty of meat, potatoes, and whatever could be raised. If the master had plenty to eat, so did the slaves, but if food was not plentiful for the master, the slaves had less to eat.

Only one of the three Wamble boys joined the southern army. Until the war was over, the other two boys who refused to go to war hid out in the surrounding woods and hills. The only time the Reverend’s father left the farm was to attend his master Billy, when he was in a hospital recovering from wounds received in battle.

Wamble was a wagon-maker, and he made two or three wagons which usually took about six months. Then he hitched teams to them and went north to Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas and kept going until he had sold the wagons and teams, keeping one wagon and team, with which to return home. Some times the master would be gone for a period of nine to twelve months. During his absence the Reverend’s grandfather was in charge of the farm.

The grandmother of Rev. Wamble was a full-blooded African negro, brought to this country as a slave at seventeen years of age. She was a very large and strong woman and was often hired out to do a man’s work. Slaves were forbidden to have papers in their possession and since they were forbidden to read papers, hardly any slaves could read or write. There never was any occasion or need to do these things. It was not known that the Reverend’s grandmother could read and write until after the Civil War. The Reverend remembers his grandmother bringing an old newspaper to his hide-out during the Civil War, late at night, after the Wamble family had retired, and making a candle from fried meat grease and a cord string, which made a very tiny light. She placed some old blankets over the walls so that no light could be seen through the cracks in the hut. She would then place the paper as near as possible to the light, without burning it, and read the paper. It was never discovered where or how she learned to read and write.

If a young, good-looking, husky negro was trustworthy, the family would make him the driver of the family carriage. They would dress him in the best clothes obtainable and with a silk-finished beaver skin hat. The driver sat on a seat on the top and towards the front of the carriage. He was compelled to stay on this seat when waiting for any of the family that he might be driving, regardless of the weather or the length of time that he had to wait.

The mail was carried in the same kind of vehicle with negro drivers. In each town there was a certain rack at which this mail carriage would stop in each village or wherever the designated stop was made. Upon nearing the rack and coming to a stop, the driver would blow a bugle call which could be heard for miles around, and people hearing this bugle would come and get their mail. The Reverend remembers that several of these drivers froze to death during the cold weather, and that in the winter, many times the horses on the mail carriage upon coming to this rack would stop, and the driver would be sitting frozen to death in his seat.

Men would take him down, carefully saving the silk beaver-skin hat for some other driver.

Since the slaves had no votes, they had no interest in politics when they became free and knew nothing about political conditions other than that after the Civil War they were free and had a vote. As a boy the Reverend remembers seeing the white and black soldiers marching on election day.

The politicians would always tell the negroes what was good for them and making it appear that it was for their best interest, and they should vote for him, always giving them the desert first and making them think that they were on the level no matter what the meal might be or what hardships they were causing the negro to suffer. On one instance after the negroes were forbidden to vote they marched in a body to the polls and demanded a Democratic ballot and were then permitted to vote.

Rev. Wamble was twenty-seven years of age before he saw and read his first newspaper. He lived with the Wambles for twenty years after the war, when his father then in partnership with another man, purchased forty acres of land. He attended his first school for a period of two months only in 1871. In 1872 the government built a school on his father’s farm and it was taught by a missionary. The school term was for a period of three months each year. The Reverend attended this school for seven years.

In 1880 he married the first time. His first wife died in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1888. By this marriage there were four children. On February 1, 1892, the Reverend with his two surviving children all entered school at a college in Little Rock, Arkansas. One of his daughters died in the third year of her school year, but the other graduated from the Normal School and was a teacher for several years. At the present time she is married to a minister in Louisiana and is the mother of ten children and is a nurse. The three oldest children have degrees and the others are expected to do the same.

The Reverend married his second wife in 1894. She died in 1907. By this marriage nine children were born.

The Reverend has been in the ministry for thirty-seven years. Seeing the need of making more money, two of his sons came to Gary, Indiana, to work in 1924. Now both are working in the post-office. Two years later he came to Gary for the same reason and after working two years in the coke plant, was laid off due to the depression. The youngest daughter of the Reverend by his second marriage graduated from a college in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and is now teaching in New York City.

Although the Reverend is advanced in years, he is quite active and healthy. He says he has a small pension and is just waiting until it is time to pass on to the next world. He has six children and seventeen grandchildren living.

As the Reverend remembered the south, none of the white people worked at manual labor, but usually sat under a shade tree. They were usually clerks, bookkeepers or tradesmen.

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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