Slave Narrative of Harriet Ann Daves

Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Harriet Ann Daves
Location: 601 E. Cabarrus Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: June 6, 1856

My full name is Harriet Ann Daves, I like to be called Harriet Ann. If my mother called me when she was living, I didn’t want to answer her unless she called me Harriet Ann. I was born June 6, 1856. Milton Waddell, my mother’s marster was my father, and he never denied me to anybody.

My mother was a slave but she was white. I do not know who my mother’s father was. My mother was Mary Collins. She said that her father was an Indian. My mother’s mother was Mary Jane Collins, and she was white–maybe part Indian. My grandfather was old man William D. Waddell, a white man. I was born in Virginia near Orange Courthouse. The Waddells moved to Lexington, Missouri, after I was born. I guess some of the family would not like it if they knew I was telling this. We had good food and a nice place to live. I was nothing but a child, but I know, and remember that I was treated kindly. I remember the surrender very well. When the surrender came my grandfather came to mother and told her: ‘Well, you are as free as I am.’ That was William D. Waddell. He was one of the big shots among the white folks.

My white grandmother wanted mother to give me to her entirely. She said she had more right to me than my Indian grandmother that she had plenty to educate and care for me. My mother would not give me to her, and she cried. My mother gave me to my Indian grandmother. I later went back to my mother.

While we were in Missouri some of my father’s people, a white girl, sent for me to come up to the great house. I had long curls and was considered pretty. The girl remarked, ‘Such a pretty child’ and kissed me. She afterwards made a remark to which my father who was there, my white father, took exception telling her I was his child and that I was as good as she was. I remember this incident very distinctly.

My mother had two children by the same white man, my father. The other was a girl. She died in California. My father never married. He loved my mother, and he said if he could not marry Mary he did not want to marry. Father said he did not want any other woman. My father was good to me. He would give me anything I asked him for. Mother would make me ask him for things for her. She said it was no harm for me to ask him for things for her which she could not get unless I asked him for them. When the surrender came my mother told my father she was tired of living that kind of a life, that if she could not be his legal wife she wouldn’t be anything to him, so she left and went to Levenworth, Kansas. She died there in 1935. I do not know where my father is, living or dead, or what became of him.

I can read and write well. They did not teach us to read and write in slavery days. I went to a school opened by the Yankees after the surrender.

I went with my mother to Levenworth, Kansas. She sent me to school in Flat, Nebraska. I met my husband there. My first husband was Elisha Williams; I ran away from school in Flat, and married him. He brought me to Raleigh. He was born and raised in Wake County. We lived together about a year when he died July 1st, 1872. There was one child born to us which died in infancy.

I married the second time Rufus H. Daves in 1875. He was practically a white man. He wouldn’t even pass for a mulatto. He used to belong to the Haywoods. He died in 1931 in Raleigh.

I think Abraham Lincoln was a fine, conscientious man; my mother worshipped him, but he turned us out without anything to eat or live on. I don’t think Mr. Roosevelt is either hot or cold–just a normal man.

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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