Slave Narrative of Chaney Mayer

Interviewer: Anna Pritchett
Person Interviewed: Belle Butler
Location: Indiana

Federal Writers’ Project of the W.P.A. District #6 Marion County Anna Pritchett 1200 Kentucky Avenue

FOLKLORE MRS. BELLE BUTLER-DAUGHTER [of Chaney Mayer] 829 North Capitol Avenue

Interviewer’s Comment

Belle Butler, the daughter of Chaney Mayer, tells of the hardships her mother endured during her days of slavery.


Chaney was owned by Jesse Coffer, “a mean old devil.” He would whip his slaves for the slightest misdemeanor, and many times for nothing at all-just enjoyed seeing them suffer. Many a time Jesse would whip a slave, throw him down, and gouge his eyes out. Such a cruel act!

Chaney’s sister was also a slave on the Coffer plantation. One day their master decided to whip them both. After whipping them very hard, he started to throw them down, to go after their eyes. Chaney grabbed one of his hands, her sister grabbed his other hand, each girl bit a finger entirely off of each hand of their master. This, of course, hurt him so very bad he had to stop their punishment and never attempted to whip them again. He told them he would surely put them in his pocket (sell them) if they ever dared to try *anthing like that again in life.

Not so long after their fight, Chaney was given to a daughter of their master, and her sister was given to another daughter and taken to Passaic County, N.C.

On the next farm to the Coffer farm, the overseers would tie the slaves to the joists by their thumbs, whip them unmercifully, then salt their backs to make them very sore.

When a slave slowed down on his corn hoeing, no matter if he were sick, or just very tired, he would get many lashes and a salted back.

One woman left the plantation without a pass. The overseer caught her and whipped her to death.

No slave was ever allowed to look at a book, for fear he might learn to read. One day the old mistress caught a slave boy with a book, she cursed him and asked him what he meant, and what he thought he could do with a book. She said he looked like a black dog with a breast pin on, and forbade him to ever look into a book again.

All slaves on the Coffer plantation were treated in a most inhuman manner, scarcely having enough to eat, unless they would steal it, running the risk of being caught and receiving a severe beating for the theft.

Interviewer’s Comment

Mrs. Butler lives with her daughters, has worked very hard in “her days.”

She has had to give up almost everything in the last few years, because her eyesight has failed. However, she is very cheerful and enjoys telling the “tales” her mother would tell her.

Submitted December 28, 1937 Indianapolis, Indiana

Butler, Coffer, Mayer,

Passaic County NC,

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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