Slave Narrative of Reverend Squire Dowd

Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Rev. Squire Dowd
Location: 202 Battle Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: April 3, 1855

[HW: language not negro, very senternous & interesting.] [TR: The above comment is crossed out.]

Reverend Squire Dowd 202 Battle Street Raleigh, N. C.

My name is Squire Dowd, and I was born April 3, 1855. My mother’s name was Jennie Dowd. My father’s name was Elias Kennedy. My mother died in Georgia at the age of 70, and my father died in Moore County at the age of 82. I attended his funeral. My sister and her husband had carried my mother to Georgia, when my sister’s husband went there to work in turpentine. My mother’s husband was dead. She had married a man named Stewart. You could hardly keep up with your father during slavery time. It was a hard thing to do. There were few legal marriages. When a young man from one plantation courted a young girl on the plantation, the master married them, sometimes hardly knowing what he was saying.

My master was General W. D. Dowd. He lived three miles from Carthage, in Moore County, North Carolina. He owned fifty slaves. The conditions were good. I had only ten years’ experience, but it was a good experience. No man is fool enough to buy slaves to kill. I have never known a real slave owner to abuse his slaves. The abuse was done by patterollers and overseers.

I have a conservative view of slavery. I taught school for four years and I have been in the ministry fifty years. I was ordained a Christian minister in 1885. I lived in Moore County until 1889, then I moved to Raleigh. I have feeling. I don’t like for people to have a feeling that slaves are no more than dogs; I don’t like that. It causes people to have the wrong idea of slavery. Here is John Bectom, a well, healthy friend of mine, 75 years of age. If we had been treated as some folks say, these big, healthy niggers would not be walking about in the South now. The great Negro leaders we have now would never have come out of it.

The places we lived in were called cabins. The Negroes who were thrifty had nice well-kept homes; and it is thus now. The thrifty of the colored race live well; the others who are indolent live in hovels which smell foul and are filthy.

Prayer meetings were held at night in the cabins of the slaves. On Sunday we went to the white folk’s church. We sat in a barred-off place, in the back of the church or in a gallery.

We had a big time at cornshuckings. We had plenty of good things to eat, and plenty of whiskey and brandy to drink. These shuckings were held at night. We had a good time, and I never saw a fight at a cornshucking in life. If we could catch the master after the shucking was over, we put him in a chair, we darkies, and toted him around and hollered, carried him into the parlor, set him down, and combed his hair. We only called the old master “master”. We called his wife “missus.” When the white children grew up we called them Mars. John, Miss Mary, etc.

We had some money. We made baskets. On moonlight nights and holidays we cleared land; the master gave us what we made on the land. We had money.

The darkies also stole for deserters during the war. They paid us for it. I ate what I stole, such as sugar. I was not big enough to steal for the deserters. I was a house boy. I stole honey. I did not know I was free until five years after the war. I could not realize I was free. Many of us stayed right on. If we had not been ruined right after the war by carpetbaggers our race would have been, well,–better up by this time, because they turned us against our masters, when our masters had everything and we had nothing. The Freedmen’s Bureau helped us some, but we finally had to go back to the plantation in order to live.

We got election days, Christmas, New Year, etc., as holidays. When we were slaves we had a week or more Christmas. The holidays lasted from Christmas Eve to after New Years. Sometimes we got passes. If our master would not give them to us, the white boys we played with would give us one. We played cat, jumping, wrestling and marbles. We played for fun; we did not play for money. There were 500 acres on the plantation. We hunted a lot, and the fur of the animals we caught we sold and had the money. We were allowed to raise a few chickens and pigs, which we sold if we wanted to.

The white folks rode to church and the darkies walked, as many of the poor white folks did. We looked upon the poor white folks as our equals. They mixed with us and helped us to envy our masters. They looked upon our masters as we did.

Negro women having children by the masters was common. My relatives on my mother’s side, who were Kellys are mixed blooded. They are partly white. We, the darkies and many of the whites hate that a situation like this exists. It is enough to say that seeing is believing. There were many and are now mixed blooded people among the race.

I was well clothed. Our clothes were made in looms. Shoes were made on the plantation. Distilleries were also located on the plantation. When they told me I was free, I did not notice it. I did not realize it till many years after when a man made a speech at Carthage, telling us we were free.

I did not like the Yankees. We were afraid of them. We had to be educated to love the Yankees, and to know that they freed us and were our friends. I feel that Abraham Lincoln was a father to us. We consider him thus because he freed us. The Freedmen’s Bureau and carpet baggers caused us to envy our masters and the white folks. The Ku Klux Klan, when we pushed our rights, came in between us, and we did not know what to do. The Ku Klux were after the carpet baggers and the Negroes who followed them.

It was understood that white people were not to teach Negroes during slavery, but many of the whites taught the Negroes. The children of the white folks made us study. I could read and write when the war was up. They made me study books, generally a blue-back spelling book as punishment for mean things I done. My Missus, a young lady about 16 years old taught a Sunday School class of colored boys and girls. This Sunday School was held at a different time of day from the white folks. Sometimes old men and old women were in these classes. I remember once they asked Uncle Ben Pearson who was meekest man, ‘Moses’ he replied. ‘Who was the wisest man?’ ‘Soloman’, ‘Who was the strongest man?’ was then asked him. To this he said ‘They say Bill Medlin is the strongest, but Tom Shaw give him his hands full.’ They were men of the community. Medlin was white, Shaw was colored.

I do not like the way they have messed up our songs with classical music. I like the songs, ‘Roll Jordan Roll’, ‘Old Ship of Zion’, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’. Classical singers ruin them, though.

There was no use of our going to town of Saturday afternoon to buy our rations, so we worked Saturday afternoons. When we got sick the doctors treated us. Dr. J. D. Shaw, Dr. Bruce, and Dr. Turner. They were the first doctors I ever heard any tell of. They treated both whites and darkies on my master’s plantation.

I married a Matthews, Anna Matthews, August 1881. We have one daughter. Her name is Ella. She married George Cheatam of Henderson, N. C. A magistrate married us, Mr. Pitt Cameron. It was just a quiet wedding on Saturday night with about one-half dozen of my friends present.

My idea of life is to forget the bad and live for the good there is in it. This is my motto.

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

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