Slave Narrative of Sarah Wilson

Person Interviewed: Sarah Wilson
Place of Birth: Summers County, Tennessee
Date of Birth: 1851
Age: 86

I was born in 1851, makes me 86 years old. I was born in Middle Tennessee, Summers County. My mother was put on a block and sold from me when I was a child. I don’t remember my father real good. Sister Martha, Sister Sallie, nor Sister Jane wasn’t sold. But my brother John was. My mother’s name is Pachel Donnahue. We lived in a log hut. The white folks lived in a frame white building sitting in a big grove yard. Old master owned a big farm. We ate molasses, bread and butter and milk in wooden bowls and crumbled our bread up in it. Old master had big smokehouses of meat. Dey ate chickens, possums and coons, and my old auntie would barbecue rabbits for de white folks. We ate ash cakes too. I washed dishes, swept de yard, and kept de yard clean wid weed brush brooms. I never earned no money. All de slaves had gardens, and chickens too. My auntie, dey let her have chickens of her own and she raised chickens, and had a chicken house and garden down in de woods. I remember in time of de war dey’d send me down in de woods to pick up chips and git wood. All de men had gone to de army. One morning and t’was cold dey sent me down in de woods and my hands got frostbitten. All de skin come off and dey had to tie my hands up in roasted turnips. Sallie she had gloves, and didn’t get frostbitten. After my old master died, Master Donnahue was his name, his old son-in-law come to take over de plantation. He was mean, but my sister whipped him. We had no nigger driver or overseer. We raised wheat, corn and vegetables, not much cotton, jest enough to spun de clothes out of. At night when we’d go to our cabins we’d pick cotton from de seeds to make our clothes. Boys and girls alike wore dem long shirts slit up de side nearly to your necks, They’d have cornshuckings sometimes all night long. You see I didn’t have no mother, no father, nobody to lead me, teach me’or tell me, and so jest lived with anybody was good enough to let me stay and done what they did. They’d have log rollings, with all de whiskey dey could drink. I remember going to church, de Methodist Church dey call it. We used to sing dis song and I sho did like it too;I went down in de valley to pray, Studying dat good old way.” I been a Christian long before most of dese young niggers was born. My other favorites are “Must Jesus bear This Cross Alone.” And “,The Consecrated Cross I’ll Bear ’til, Death Shall Set Me Free, Yea, There’s a Crown for Everyone, And There’s a Crown for Me. Yes Lawd, there sho is day a nigger killed one of his master’s shoats and he catch him and when he’d ask him, “What’s that you got there?” The nigger said, “a possum.” De master said, “Let me see.” He looked and seen it was a shoat. De nigger said, “Master it may be a shoat now, but it sho was a possum while ago when I put ‘im in dis sack.” Dey didn’t whip our folks much, but one day I saw a overseer on another place. He staked a man down with two forked sticks ‘cross his wrist nailed in de ground and beat him half to death with a hand saw ’til it drawed blisters. Den he mopped his back wid vinegar, salt and pepper. Sometimes dey’d drop dat hot rosin from pine knots on dose blisters. When de Yanks come, business took place. I remember white folks was running and hiding, gitting everything dey could from de Yanks. Dey hid dey jewelry and fine dishes and such. Dose Yanks had on big boots. Dey’d drive up, feed dey hosses from old Master’s corn, catch dey chickens, and tell old Master’s cook to cook ’em, and they’d shoot down old Master’s hogs and skin ’em. De Yanks used to make my nephew drunk, and have him sing

“I’ll be God O’Mighty
God Dammed if I don’t
Kill a nigger,
Oh Whooey boys! Oh Whooey!
Oh Whooey boys! Oh Whooey!”

I don’t remember never seeing no funerals. Jest took ’em off and buried ’em. I remember dat old Master’s son-in-law dat my sister whipped, he called hisself a doctor and he killed Aunt Clo. Give her some medicine but he didn’t know what he was doing and killed her. I married William Young and we had a pretty good wedding. Married in Crittington County Arkansas. When I left Tennessee and went to Arkansas I followed some hands. You know after de war dey immigrated niggers from one place to another. I owned a good farm in Arkansas. I came out here some 42 years ago. I have three daughters. Mattie Brockins runs a rooming house in Kansas City. Jessie Cotton, lives right up de street here. Osie Olla Anderson is working out in North town. Well I think Abraham Lincoln is more than a type a man than Moses. I believe he is a square man, believe in union that every man has a right to be a free man regardless to color. He was a republican man. Don’t know much ’bout Jeff Davis but I think Booker T. Washington was a pretty good man. He’s a right good man I guess, but he is dead ain’t he? I can remember once my auntie’s old Master tried to have her and she run off out in de woods and when he put those blood hounds or nigger hounds on her trail he catched her and hit her in de head wid something like de stick de police carry, and he knocked a hole in her head and she bled like a hog, and he made’ her have him. She told her mistress, and mistress told her to go ahead and be wid him ’cause he’s gonna kill you. And he had dem two women and she had some chillun nearly white, and master and dey all worked in de fields side by side.”

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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