Slave Narrative of Marshal Butler

Interviewer: Joseph E. Jaffee
Person Interviewed: Marshal Butler
Location: Georgia
Age: 88
Date of Birth: December 25

Slavery Days And After

I’se Marshal Butler, [HW: 88] years old and was born on December 25. I knows it was Christmas Day for I was a gift to my folks. Anyhow, I’se the only niggah that knows exactly how old he be. I disremembers the year but you white folks can figure et out.

My mammy was Harriet Butler and my pappy was John Butler and we all was raised in Washington-Wilkes.

Mammy was a Frank Collar niggah and her man was of the tribe of Ben Butler, some miles down de road. Et was one of dem trial marriages—they’se tried so hard to see each other but old Ben Butler says two passes a week war enuff to see my mammy on de Collar plantation. When de war was completed pappy came home to us. We wuz a family of ten—four females called Sally, Liza, Ellen and Lottie and six strong bucks called Charlie, Elisha, Marshal, Jack, Heywood and little Johnnie, [TR: ‘cuz he war’ marked out] de baby.

De Collar plantation wuz big and I don’t know de size of it. Et must have been big for dere war [HW: 250] niggahs aching to go to work—I guess they mus’ have been aching after de work wuz done. Marse Frank bossed the place hisself—dere war no overseers. We raised cotton, corn, wheat and everything we un’s et. Dere war no market to bring de goods to. Marse Frank wuz like a foodal lord of back history as my good for nothing grandson would say—he is the one with book-larning from Atlanta. Waste of time filling up a nigger’s head with dat trash—what that boy needs is muscle-ology—jes’ look at my head and hands.

My mammy was maid in de Collar’s home and she had many fine dresses—some of them were give to her by her missus. Pappy war a field nigger for ole Ben Butler and I worked in the field when I wuz knee high to a grasshopper. We uns et our breakfast while et war dark and we trooped to the fields at sun-up, carrying our lunch wid us. Nothing fancy but jes’ good rib-sticking victuals. We come in from the fields at sun-down and dere were a good meal awaiting us in de slave quarters. My good Master give out rations every second Monday and all day Monday wuz taken to separate the wheat from the chaff—that is—I mean the victuals had to be organized to be marched off to de proper depository.

Before we uns et we took care of our mules. I had a mule named George—I know my mule—he was a good mule.

“Yes, I hollow at the mule, and the
mule would not gee, this mornin’.
Yes, I hollow at the mule, and the
mule would not gee.
An’ I hit him across the head with
the single-tree, so soon.”

Yes, Boss-man I remembers my mule.

Marse Frank gave mammy four acres of ground to till for herself and us childrens. We raised cotton—yes-sah! one bale of it and lots of garden truck. Our boss-man give us Saturday as a holiday to work our four acres.

All the niggers worked hard—de cotton pickers had to pick 200 pounds of cotton a day and if a nigger didn’t, Marse Frank would take de nigger to the barn and beat him with a switch. He would tell de nigger to hollow loud as he could and de nigger would do so. Then the old Mistress would come in and say! “What are you doing Frank?” “Beating a nigger” would be his answer. “You let him alone, he is my nigger” and both Marse Frank and de whipped nigger would come out of the barn. We all loved Marse and the Mistress. No, we wuz never whipped for stealing—we never stole anything in dose days—much.

We sure froliked Saturday nights. Dat wuz our day to howl and we howled. Our gals sure could dance and when we wuz thirsty we had lemonade and whiskey. No sah! we never mixed [HW: no] whiskey with [HW: no] water.—Dem dat wanted lemonade got it—de gals all liked it. Niggers never got drunk those days—we wuz scared of the “Paddle-Rollers.” Um-m-h and swell music. A fiddle and a tin can and one nigger would beat his hand on the can and another nigger would beat the strings on the [HW: fiddle] [TR: ‘can’ marked out.] with broom straws. It wuz almos’ like a banjo. I remembers we sung “Little Liza Jane” and “Green Grows the Willow Tree”. De frolik broke up in de morning—about two o’clock—and we all scattered to which ever way we wuz going.

We put on clean clothes on Sunday and go to church. We went to de white church. Us niggars sat on one side and de white folks sat on the other. We wuz baptized in de church—de “pool-room” wuz right in de church.

If we went visiting we had to have a pass. If nigger went out without a pass de “Paddle-Rollers” would get him. De white folks were the “Paddle-Rollers” and had masks on their faces. They looked like niggers wid de devil in dere eyes. They used no paddles—nothing but straps—wid de belt buckle fastened on.

Yes sah! I got paddled. Et happened dis way. I’se left home one Thursday to see a gal on the Palmer plantation—five miles away. Some gal! No, I didn’t get a pass—de boss was so busy! Everything was fine until my return trip. I wuz two miles out an’ three miles to go. There come de “Paddle-Rollers” I wuz not scared—only I couldn’t move. They give me thirty licks—I ran the rest of the way home. There was belt buckles all over me. I ate my victuals off de porch railing. Some gal! Um-m-h. Was worth that paddlin’ to see that gal—would do it over again to see Mary de next night.

“O Jane! love me lak you useter,
O Jane! chew me lak you useter,
Ev’y time I figger, my heart gits bigger,
Sorry, sorry, can’t be yo’ piper any mo”.

Um-m-mh—Some gal!

We Niggers were a healthy lot. If we wuz really sick Marse Frank would send for Doctor Fielding Ficklin of Washington. If jus’ a small cold de nigger would go to de woods and git catnip and roots and sich things. If tummy ache—dere was de Castor oil—de white folks say children cry for it—I done my cryin’ afterwards. For sore throat dere was alum. Everybody made their own soap—if hand was burned would use soap as a poultice and place it on hand. Soap was made out of grease, potash and water and boiled in a big iron pot. If yo’ cut your finger use kerozene wid a rag around it. Turpentine was for sprains and bad cuts. For constipation use tea made from sheep droppings and if away from home de speed of de feet do not match de speed of this remedy.

No, boss, I’se not superstitious and I’se believe in no signs. I jes’ carry a rabbits’ foot for luck. But I do believe the screeching of an owl is a sign of death. I found et to be true. I had an Uncle named Haywood. He stayed at my house and was sick for a month but wasn’t so bad off. One night uncle had a relapse and dat same night a screech owl come along and sat on de top of de house and he—I mean the owl,—”whooed” three times and next morning uncle got “worser” and at eleven o’clock he died.

I does believe in signs. When de rooster crows in the house it is sign of a stranger coming. If foot itches you is going to walk on strange land. If cow lows at house at night death will be ’round de house in short time. If sweeping out ashes at night dat is bad luck for you is sweeping out your best friend. Remember, your closest friend is your worst enemy.

If you want to go a courtin’—et would take a week or so to get your gal. Sometimes some fool nigger would bring a gal a present—like “pulled-candy” and sich like. I had no time for sich foolishness. You would pop the question to boss man to see if he was willing for you to marry de gal. There was no minister or boss man to marry you—no limitations at all. Boss man would jes say: “Don’t forget to bring me a little one or two for next year” De Boss man would fix a cottage for two and dere you was established for life.

“If you want to go a courtin’, I sho’ you where to go,
Right down yonder in de house below,
Clothes all dirty an’ ain’t got no broom,
Ole dirty clothes all hangin’ in de room.
Ask’d me to table, thought I’d take a seat,
First thing I saw was big chunk o’meat.
Big as my head, hard as a maul,
ash-cake, corn bread, bran an’ all.”

Marse Frank had plenty of visitors to see him and his three gals was excuse for anyone for miles around to come trompin’ in. He enterained mostly on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I remembers them nights for what was left over from de feasts the niggers would eat.

Dr. Fielding Ficklen [TR: earlier, ‘Ficklin’], Bill Pope, Judge Reese,—General Robert Toombs and Alexander Stephens from Crawfordville—all would come to Marse Franks’ big house.

General Robert Toombs lived in Washington and had a big plantation ’bout a mile from de city. He was a farmer and very rich. De General wuz a big man—’bout six feet tall—heavy and had a full face. Always had unlighted cigar in his mouth. He was the first man I saw who smoked ten cent cigars. Niggers used to run to get “the stumps” and the lucky nigger who got the “stump” could even sell it for a dime to the other niggers for after all—wasn’t it General Toombs’ cigar? The General never wore expensive clothes and always carried a crooked-handled walking stick. I’se never heard him say “niggah”, never heard him cuss. He always helped us niggars—gave gave us nickles and dimes at times.

Alexander Stephens wuz crippled. He was a little fellow—slim, dark hair and blue eyes. Always used a rolling chair. Marse Frank would see him at least once a month.

I’se saw a red cloud in de west in 1860. I knew war was brewing. Marse Frank went to war. My uncle was his man and went to war with him—Uncle brought him back after the battle at Gettsburg—wounded. He died later. We all loved him. My mistress and her boys ran de plantation.

The blue-coats came to our place in ’62 and 63. They took everythin’ that was not red-hot or nailed down. The war made no changes—we did the same work and had plenty to eat. The war was now over. We didn’t know we wuz free until a year later. I’se stayed on with Marse Frank’s boys for twenty years. I’se did the same work fo $35 to $40 a year with rations thrown in.

I lived so long because I tells no lies, I never spent more than fifty cents for a doctor in my life. I believe in whiskey and that kept me going. And let me tell you—I’se always going to be a nigger till I die.

Butler, Collar,

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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