Slave Narrative of John Fields

Interviewer: Cecil Miller
Person Interviewed: John W. Fields
Location: Lafayette, Indiana
Place of Residence: 2120 N. 20th Street, Lafayette, Indiana

Cecil Miller Dist. #3 Tipp. Co. [TR: Tippecanoe Co.]

NEGRO FOLKLORE MR. JOHN FIELDS, EX-SLAVE 2120 N. 20th St. Lafayette, Indiana

Mr. Fields says that all negro slaves were ardent believers in ghosts, supernatual powers, tokens and “signs.” The following story illustrates the point.

“A turkey gobbler had mysteriously disappeared from one of the neighboring plantations and the local slaves were accused of commeting the fowl to a boiling pot. A slave convicted of theft was punished severly. As all of the slaves denied any knowledge of the turkey’s whereabouts, they were instructed to make a search of the entire plantation.”

“On one part of the place there was a large peach orchard. At the time the trees were full of the green fruit. Under one of the trees there was a large cabinet or “safe” as they were called. One of the slaves accidently opened the safe and, Behold, there was Mr. Gobbler peacefully seated on a number of green peaches.

“The negro immediately ran back and notified his master of the discovery. The master returned to the orchard with the slave to find that the negro’s wild tale was true. A turkey gobbler sitting on a nest of green peaches. A bad omen.

“The master had a son who had been seriously injured some time before by a runaway team, and a few days after this unusual occurence with the turkey, the son died. After his death, the word of the turkey’s nesting venture and the death of the master’s son spread to this four winds, and for some time after this story was related wherever there was a public gathering with the white people or the slave population.”

All through the south a horseshoe was considered an omen of good luck. Rare indeed was the southern home that did not have one nailed over the door. This insured the household and all who entered of plesant prospects while within the home. If while in the home you should perhaps get into a violent argument, never hit the other party with a broom as it was a sure indication of bad luck. If Grandad had the rheumatics, he would be sure of relief if he carried a buckeye in his pocket.

Of all the Ten Commandments, the one broken most by the negro was: Thou Shalt Not Steal This was due mostly to the insufficent food the slaves obtained. Most of the planters expected a chicken to suddenly get heavenly aspirations once in a while, but as Mr. Fields says, “When a beautiful 250 pound hog suddenly tries to kidnap himself, the planter decided to investigate.” It occured like this:

A 250 pound hog had been fruitless. The planter was certain that the culprit was among his group of slaves, so he decided to personally conduct a quiet investigation.

One night shortly after the moon had risen in the sky, two of the negroes were seated at a table in one of the cabins talking of the experiences of the day. A knock sounded on the door. Both slaves jumped up and cautiously peeked out of the window. Lo there was the master patiently waiting for an answer. The visiting negro decided that the master must not see both of them and he asked the other to conceal him while the master was there. The other slave told him to climb into the attic and be perfectly quiet. When this was done, the tenant of the cabin answered the door.

The master strode in and gazed about the cabin. He then turned abruptly to the slave and growled, ‘Alright, where is that hog you stoled.’ ‘Massa, replied the negro, ‘I know nothing about no hog. The master was certain that the slave was lying and told him so in no uncertain terms. The terrified slave said, ‘Massa, I know nothing of any hog. I never seed him. The Good Man up above knows I never seed him. HE knows every thing and HE knows I didn’t steal him; The man in the attic by this time was aroused at the misunderstood conversation taking place below him. Disregarding all, he raised his voice and yelled, ‘He’s a liar, Massa, he knows just as much about it as I do.’

Most of the strictly negro folklore has faded into the past. The younger negro generations who have been reared and educated in the north have lost this bearing and assumed the lore of the local white population through their daily contact with the whites. The older negro natives of this section are for the most part employed as domestics and through this channel rapidly assimilated the employers viewpoint in most of his beliefs and conversations.


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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