Slave Narrative of Henry Clay Moorman

Interviewer: William R. Mays
Person Interviewed: Henry Clay Moorman
Location: Franklin, Indiana
Place of Birth: Breckenridge County, Kentucky
Date of Birth: Oct. 1, 1854
Place of Residence: 427 W. King St., Franklin, Ind.

William R. Mays District 4 Johnson County


Henry Clay Moorman has resided in Franklin 34 years, he was born Oct. 1, 1854 in slavery on the Moorman plantation in Breckenridge County, Kentucky.

Mr. Moorman relates his own personal experiences as well as those handed down from his mother. He was a boy about 12 years old when freedom was declared. His father’s name was Dorah Moorman who was a cooper by trade, and had a wife and seven children. They belonged to James Moorman, who owned about 20 slaves, he was kind to his slaves and never whipped any of them. These slaves loved their master and was as loyal to him as his own family.

Mr. Moorman says that when a boy he did small jobs around the plantation such as tobacco planting and going to the mill. One day he was placed upon a horse with a sack of grain containing about two bushels, after the sack of grain was balanced upon the back of the horse he was started to the mill which was a distance of about five miles, when about half the distance of the journey the sack of grain became unbalanced and fell from the horse being too small to lift the sack of grain he could only cry over the misfortune. There he was, powerless to do any thing about it. After about two hours there was a white man riding by and seeing the predicament he was in kindly lifted the sack up on the horse and after ascertaining his master’s name bade him to continue to the mill. It was the custom at the mill that each await their turn, and do their own grinding. After the miller had taken his toll, he returned to his master and told of his experience. Thereafter precautions were taken so he would not again have the same experience.

The slave owners had so poisoned the minds of the slaves, they were in constant fear of the soldiers. One day when the slaves were alone at the plantation they sighted the Union soldiers approaching, they all went to the woods and hid in the bushes. The smaller children were covered with leaves. There they remained all night, as the soldiers (about 200 in number) camped all night in the horse lot. These soldiers were very orderly; however, they appropriated for their own use all the food they could find.

The slave owners would hide all their silverware and other articles of worth under the mattresses that were in the negro cabins for safe keeping.

There were three white children in the master’s family. Wickliff, the oldest boy and Bob was the second child in age. The younger child, a girl, was named Sally and was about the same age as the subject of this article. Both children, being babies about the same age, the black mother served as a wet nurse for the white child, sometimes both the black child and the white child were upon the black mammies lap which frequently was the cause of battles between the two babies.

Some of the white mistresses acted as midwife for the black mothers.

There were two graveyards on the plantation, one for the white folks and one for the blacks. There is no knowledge of any deaths among the white folks during the time he lived on the plantation. One of this black boys’ sisters married just before slavery was abolished. He remembers this wedding. In connection with the marriages of the slaves in slavery days, it is recalled that slaves seldom married among themselves on the same plantation but instead the unions were made by some negro boy from some other plantation courting a negro girl on a distant plantation. As was the custom in slavery days the black boy would have to get the consent of three people before he was allowed to enter upon wedlock; first, he would get the consent of the negro girls’ mother, then he would get the consent of his own master as well as the black girl’s master. This required time and diplomacy. When all had given their consent the marriage would take place usually on Saturday night, when a great time was had with slaves coming from other plantations with a generous supply of fried chicken, hams, cakes and pies a great feast and a good time generally with music and dancing. The new husband had to return to his own master after the wedding but it was understood by all that the new husband could visit his wife every Saturday night and stay until Monday morning. He would return every Monday to his master and work as usual indefinitely unless by chance one or the other of the two masters would buy the husband or wife, in such event they would live together as man and wife. Unless this purchase did occur it was the rule in slavery days that any children born to the slave wife would be the property of the girl’s master.

When the required consent could not be had from all parties concerned it sometimes caused friction and instances have occured when attempts at elopement was made causing no end of trouble. This condition was very rare, as in most all cases of this kind the masters were quite willing for this marriage and would encourage the young couple. It is remembered that there were no illegitimate children born on the Moorman plantation.

The slaves would have their parties and dances. Slaves would gather from various plantations and these parties would sometimes last all night. It was customary for the slaves to get passes from their masters permitting them to attend, but sometimes passes were not given for reasons. In line with these parties it is remembered that there existed at that time what was known as the Paddle-Rollers, these so called Paddy-Rollers was made up of a bunch of white boys who would sneak up on these defenseless negroes unawares late in the night and demand that all show their passes. Those that could not show passes were whipped, both the negro boys and girls alike. The loyalty of these poor black boys was shown when they would volunteer to take an extra flogging to protect their girl friends. The Paddy-Rollers were a mean bunch of white boys who reviled in this shameful practice.

After slavery was abolished, this colored slave family remained on the same plantation for one year. They left the plantation via Cloverport by boat for Evansville, Ind., where they remained until the subject of this sketch removed to Franklin, Ind. in 1903 where he took pastorate with the African Methodist Episcopal Church where he served for 12 years. He is now a retired minister residing at 427 W. King St.


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

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