Slave Narrative of Edna Boysaw

Interviewer: Walter R. Harris
Person Interviewed: Edna Boysaw
Location: Brazil, Indiana
Age: (about) 87

Special Assignment Walter R. Harris District #3 Clay County


Mrs. Boysaw has been a citizen of this community about sixty-five years. She resides on a small farm, two miles east of Brazil on what is known as the Pinkley Street Road. This has been her home for the past forty years. Her youngest son and the son of one of her daughters lives with her. She is still very active, doing her housework and other chores about the farm. She is very intelligent and according to statements made by other citizens has always been a respected citizen in the community, as also has her entire family. She is the mother of twelve children. Mrs. Boysaw has always been an active church worker, spending much time in missionary work for the colored people. Her work was so outstanding that she has been often called upon to speak, not only in the colored churches, but also in white churches, where she was always well received. Many of the most prominent people of the community number Mrs. Boysaw as one of their friends and her home is visited almost daily by citizens in all walks of life. Her many acts of kindness towards her neighbors and friends have endeared her to the people of Brazil, and because of her long residence in the community, she is looked upon as one of the pioneers.

Mrs. Boysaw’s husband has been dead for thirty-five years. Her children are located in various cities throughout the country. She has a daughter who is a talented singer, and has appeared on programs with her daughter in many churches. She is not certain about her age, but according to her memory of events, she is about eighty-seven.

Her story as told to the writer follows:

“When the Civil War ended, I was living near Richmond, Virginia. I am not sure just how old I was, but I was a big, flat-footed woman, and had worked as a slave on a plantation. My master was a good one, but many of them were not. In a way, we were happy and contented, working from sun up to sun down. But when Lincoln freed us, we rejoiced, yet we knew we had to seek employment now and make our own way. Wages were low. You worked from morning until night for a dollar, but we did not complain. About 1870 a Mr. Masten, who was a coal operator, came to Richmond seeking laborers for his mines in Clay County. He told us that men could make four to five dollars a day working in the mines, going to work at seven and quitting at 3:30 each day. That sounded like a Paradise to our men folks. Big money and you could get rich in little time. But he did not tell all, because he wanted the men folk to come with him to Indiana. Three or four hundred came with Mr. Masten. They were brought in box cars. Mr. Masten paid their transportation, but was to keep it out of their wages. My husband was in that bunch, and the women folk stayed behind until their men could earn enough for their transportation to Indiana.”

“When they arrived about four miles east of Brazil, or what was known as Harmony, the train was stopped and a crowd of white miners ordered them not to come any nearer Brazil. Then the trouble began. Our men did not know of the labor trouble, as they were not told of that part. Here they were fifteen hundred miles from home, no money. It was terrible. Many walked back to Virginia. Some went on foot to Illinois. Mr. Masten took some of them South of Brazil about three miles, where he had a number of company houses, and they tried to work in his mine there. But many were shot at from the bushes and killed. Guards were placed about the mine by the owner, but still there was trouble all the time. The men did not make what Mr. Masten told them they could make, yet they had to stay for they had no place to go. After about six months, my husband who had been working in that mine, fell into the shaft and was injured. He was unable to work for over a year. I came with my two children to take care of him. We had only a little furniture, slept in what was called box beds. I walked to Brazil each morning and worked at whatever I could get to do. Often did three washings a day and then walked home each evening, a distance of two miles, and got a dollar a day.

“Many of the white folks I worked for were well to do and often I would ask the Mistress for small amounts of food which they would throw out if left over from a meal. They did not know what a hard time we were having, but they told me to take home any of such food that I cared to. I was sure glad to get it, for it helped to feed our family. Often the white folks would give me other articles which I appreciated. I managed in this way to get the children enough to eat and later when my husband was able to work, we got along very well, and were thankful. After the strike was settled, things were better. My husband was not afraid to go out after dark. But the coal operators did not treat the colored folks very good. We had to trade at the Company store and often pay a big price for it. But I worked hard and am still alive today, while all the others are gone, who lived around here about that time. There has sure been a change in the country. The country was almost a wilderness, and where my home is today, there were very few roads, just what we called a pig path through the woods. We used lots of corn meal, cooked beans and raised all the food we could during them days. But we had many white friends and sure was thankful for them. Here I am, and still thankful for the many friends I have.”


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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