Slave Narrative of Rias Body

Interviewer: J. R. Jones
Date of Interview: July 24, 1936
Person Interviewed: Rias Body
Place of birth: Harris County, near Waverly Hall, Georgia
Date of birth: April 9, 1846
Present residence: 1419-24th Street, Columbus, Georgia

Rias Body was born the slave property of Mr. Ben Body, a Harris County planter. He states that he was about fifteen years old when the Civil War started and, many years ago, his old time white folks told him that April 9, 1846, was the date of his birth.

The “patarolers,” according to “Uncle” Rias, were always quite active in ante-bellum days. The regular patrol consisted of six men who rode nightly, different planters and overseers taking turns about to do patrol duty in each militia district in the County.

All slaves were required to procure passes from their owners or their plantation overseers before they could go visiting or leave their home premises. If the “patarolers” caught a “Nigger” without a pass, they whipped him and sent him home. Sometimes, however, if the “Nigger” didn’t run and told a straight story, he was let off with a lecture and a warning. Slave children, though early taught to make themselves useful, had lots of time for playing and frolicking with the white children.

Rias was a great hand to go seining with a certain clique of white boys, who always gave him a generous or better than equal share of the fish caught.

At Christmas, every slave on the Body plantation received a present. The Negro children received candy, raisins and “nigger-toes”, balls, marbles, etc.

As for food, the slaves had, with the exception of “fancy trimmins”, about the same food that the whites ate. No darky in Harris County that he ever heard of ever went hungry or suffered for clothes until after freedom.

Every Saturday was a wash day. The clothes and bed linen of all Whites and Blacks went into wash every Saturday. And “Niggers”, whether they liked it or not, had to “scrub” themselves every Saturday night.

The usual laundry and toilet soap was a homemade lye product, some of it a soft-solid, and some as liquid as water. The latter was stored in jugs and demijohns. Either would “fetch the dirt, or take the hide off”; in short, when applied “with rag and water, something had to come”.

Many of the Body slaves had wives and husbands living on other plantations and belonging to other planters. As a courtesy to the principals of such matrimonial alliances, their owners furnished the men passes permitting them to visit their wives once or twice a week. Children born to such unions were the property of the wife’s owner; the father’s owner had no claim to them whatsoever.

“Uncle” Rias used to frequently come to Columbus with his master before the war, where he often saw “Niggers oxioned off” at the old slave mart which was located at what is now 1225 Broadway. Negroes to be offered for sale were driven to Columbus in droves—like cattle—by “Nawthon speckulatahs”. And prospective buyers would visit the “block” accompanied by doctors, who would feel of, thump, and examine the “Nigger” to see if sound. A young or middle-aged Negro man, specially or even well trained in some trade or out-of-the-ordinary line of work, often sold for from $2000.00 to $4000.00 in gold. Women and “runty Nigger men” commanded a price of from $600.00 up, each. A good “breedin oman”, though, says “Uncle” Rias, would sometimes sell for as high as $1200.00.

Rias Body had twelve brothers, eight of whom were “big buck Niggers,” and older than himself. The planters and “patarolers” accorded these “big Niggers” unusual privileges—to the end that he estimates that they “wuz de daddies uv least a hunnert head o’ chillun in Harris County before de war broke out.” Some of these children were “scattered” over a wide area.

Sin, according to Rias Body, who voices the sentiment of the great majority of aged Negroes, is that, or everything, which one does and says “not in the name of the Master”. The holy command, “Whatever ye do, do it in My name,” is subjected to some very unorthodox interpretations by many members of the colored race. Indeed, by their peculiar interpretation of this command, it is established that “two clean sheets can’t smut”, which means that a devout man and woman may indulge in the primal passion without committing sin.

The old man rather boasts of the fact that he received a number of whippings when a slave: says he now knows that he deserved them, “an thout ’em”, he would have no doubt “been hung ‘fore he wuz thutty years ole.”

Among the very old slaves whom he knew as a boy were quite a few whom the Negroes looked up to, respected, and feared as witches, wizzards, and magic-workers. These either brought their “learnin” with them from Africa or absorbed it from their immediate African forebears. Mentally, these people wern’t brilliant, but highly sensitized, and Rias gave “all sich” as wide a berth as opportunity permitted him, though he knows “dat dey had secret doins an carrying-ons”. In truth, had the Southern Whites not curbed the mumbo-jumboism of his people, he is of the opinion that it would not now be safe to step “out his doe at night”.

Incidentally, Rias Body is more fond of rabbit than any other meat “in de wurrul”, and says that he could—if he were able to get them—eat three rabbits a day, 365 days in the year, and two for breakfast on Christmas morning. He also states that pork, though killed in the hottest of July weather, will not spoil if it is packed down in shucked corn-on-the-cob. This he learned in slavery days when, as a “run-away”, he “knocked a shoat in the head” one summer and tried it—proving it.


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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