Slave Narrative of Charity Austin

Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Charity Austin
Location: 507 South Bloodworth Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: July 27, 1852
Place of Birth: Granville County NC

I wus borned in the year 1852, July 27. I wus born in Granville County, sold to a slave speculator at ten years old and carried to Southwest, Georgia. I belonged to Samuel Howard. His daughter took me to Kinston, North Carolina and I stayed there until I wus sold. She married a man named Bill Brown, and her name wus Julia Howard Brown. My father wus named Paul Howard and my mother wus named Chollie Howard. My old missus wus named Polly Howard.

John Richard Keine from Danville, Virginia bought me and sent me to a plantation in Georgia. We only had a white overseer there. He and his wife and children lived on the plantation. We had slave quarters there. Slaves were bought up and sent there in chains. Some were chained to each other by the legs, some by the arms. They called the leg chains shackles. I have lived a hard life. I have seen mothers sold away from their babies and other children, and they cryin’ when she left. I have seen husbands sold from their wives, and wives sold from their husbands.

Abraham Lincoln came through once, but none of us knew who he wus. He wus just the raggedest man you ever saw. The white children and me saw him out at the railroad. We were settin’ and waitin’ to see him. He said he wus huntin’ his people; and dat he had lost all he had. Dey give him somethin’ to eat and tobacco to chew, and he went on. Soon we heard he wus in de White House then we knew who it wus come through. We knowed den it wus Abraham Lincoln.

We children stole eggs and sold ’em durin’ slavery. Some of de white men bought ’em. They were Irishmen and they would not tell on us. Their names were Mulligan, Flanagan and Dugan. They wore good clothes and were funny mens. They called guns flutes.

Boss tole us Abraham Lincoln wus dead and we were still slaves. Our boss man bought black cloth and made us wear it for mourning for Abraham Lincoln and tole us that there would not be freedom. We stayed there another year after freedom. A lot o’ de niggers knowed nothin’ ‘cept what missus and marster tole us. What dey said wus just de same as de Lawd had spoken to us.

Just after de surrender a nigger woman who wus bad, wus choppin’ cotton at out plantation in Georgie. John Woodfox wus de main overseer and his son-in-law wus a overseer. Dey had a colored man who dey called a nigger driver. De nigger driver tole de overseer de woman wus bad. De overseer came to her, snatched de hoe from her and hit her. The blow killed her. He was reported to de Freedman’s Bureau. Dey came, whupped de overseer and put him in jail. Dey decided not to kill him, but made him furnish de children of de dead woman so much to live on. Dere wus a hundred or more niggers in de field when this murder happened.

We finally found out we were free and left. Dey let me stay with Miss Julia Brown. I was hired to her. She lived in Dooley County, Georgia. I next worked with Mrs. Dunbar after staying with Mrs. Brown four years. Her name wus Mrs. Winnie Dunbar and she moved to Columbia, South Carolina takin’ me with her. I stayed with her about four years. This wus the end of my maiden life. I married Isaac Austin of Richmond County, Georgia. He wus a native of Warrenton County and he brought me from his home in Richmond County, Georgia to Warrenton and then from Warrenton to Raleigh. I had two brothers and thirteen sisters. I did general house work, and helped raise children during slavery, and right after de war. Then you had to depend on yourself to do for children. You had to doctor and care for them yourself. You just had to depend on yourself.

Dey had 320 acres o’ cleared fields in Georgia and then de rice fields, I just don’t know how many acres. I have seen jails for slaves. Dey had a basement for a jail in Georgia and a guard at de holes in it.

No, No! you better not be caught tryin’ to do somethin’ wid a book. Dey would teach you wid a stick or switch. De slaves had secret prayer meetin’s wid pots turned down to kill de soun’ o’ de singin’. We sang a song, ‘I am glad salvation’s free.’ Once dey heard us, nex’ mornin’ dey took us and tore our backs to pieces. Dey would say, ‘Are you free? What were you singin’ about freedom?’ While de niggers were bein’ whupped they said, ‘Pray, marster, pray.’

The doctor came to see us sometimes when we were sick, but not after. People just had to do their own doctorin’. Sometimes a man would take his patient, and sit by de road where de doctor travelled, and when he come along he would see him. De doctor rode in a sully drawn by a horse. He had a route, one doctor to two territories.

When de white folks were preparing to go to de war they had big dinners and speakin’. Dey tole what dey were goin’ to do to Sherman and Grant. A lot of such men as Grant and Sherman and Lincoln came through de South in rags and were at some o’ dese meetings, an’ et de dinners. When de white folks foun’ it out, dere wus some sick folks. Sometimes we got two days Christmas and two days July. When de nigger wus freed dey didn’t know where to go and what to do. It wus hard, but it has been hard since. From what de white folks, marster and missus tole us we thought Lincoln wus terrible. By what mother and father tole me I thought he wus all right. I think Roosevelt wus put in by God to do the right things.

Austin, Howard, Keine,

Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007.

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