Slave Narrative of Sarah C. Colbert

Interviewer: Anna Pritchett
Person Interviewed: Sarah Colbert
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Place of Birth: Allen County, Kentucky
Date of Birth: 1855
Place of Residence: 1505 North Capitol Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana

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

FOLKLORE MRS. SARAH COLBERT-EX-SLAVE 1505 North Capitol Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana

Mrs. Sarah Carpenter Colbert was born in Allen County, Kentucky in 1855. She was owned by Leige Carpenter, a farmer.

Her father, Isaac Carpenter was the grandson of his master, Leige Carpenter, who was very kind to him. Isaac worked on the farm until the old master’s death. He was then sold to Jim McFarland in Frankfort Kentucky. Jim’s wife was very mean to the slaves, whipped them regularly every morning to start the day right.

One morning after a severe beating, Isaac met an old slave, who asked him why he let his mistress beat him so much. Isaac laughed and asked him what he could do about it. The old man told him if he would bite her foot, the next time she knocked him down, she would stop beating him and perhaps sell him.

The next morning he was getting his regular beating, he willingly fell to the floor, grabbed his mistress’ foot, bit her very hard. She tried very hard to pull away from him, he held on still biting, she ran around in the room, Isaac still holding on. Finally, she stopped beating him and never attempted to strike him again.

The next week he was put on the block, being a very good worker and a very strong man, the bids were high.

His young master, Leige Jr., outbid everyone and bought him for $1200.00.

His young mistress was very mean to him. He went again to his old friend for advice. This time he told him to get some yellow dust, sprinkle it around in his mistress’ room and if possible, got some in her shoes. This he did and in a short time he was sold again to Johnson Carpenter in the same county. He was not really treated any better there. By this time he was very tired of being mistreated. He remembered his old master telling him to never let anyone be mean to him. He ran away to his old mistress, told her of his many hardships, and told her what the old master had told him, so she sent him back. At the next sale she bought him, and he lived there until slavery was abolished.

Her grandfather, Bat Carpenter, was an ambitious slave; he dug ore and bought his freedom, then bought his wife by paying $50.00 a year to her master for her. She continued to work on the farm of her own master for a very small wage.

Bat’s wife, Matilda, lived on the farm not far from him, he was allowed to visit her every Sunday. One Sunday, it looked like rain, his master told him to gather in the oats, he refused to do this and was beaten with a raw hide. He was so angry, he went to one of the witch-crafters for a charm so he could fix his old master.

The witch doctor told him to get five new nails, as there were five members in his master’s family, walk to the barn, then walk backwards a few steps, pound one nail in the ground, giving each nail the name of each member of the family, starting with the master, then the mistress, and so on through the family. Each time one nail was pounded down in the ground, walk backwards and nail the next one in until all were pounded deep in the ground. He did as instructed and was never beaten again.

Jane Garmen was the village witch. She disturbed the slaves with her cat. Always at milking time the cat would appear, and at night would go from one cabin to another, putting out the grease lamps with his paw. No matter how they tried to kill the cat, it just could not be done.

An old witch doctor told them to melt a dime, form a bullet with the silver, and shoot the cat. He said a lead bullet would never kill a bewitched animal. The silver bullet fixed the cat.

Jane also bewitched the chickens. They were dying so fast anything they did seemed useless. Finally a big fire was built and the dead chickens thrown into the fire, that burned the charm, and no more chickens died.

Interviewer’s Comment

Mrs. Colbert lives with her daughter in a very comfortable home. She seems very happy and was glad to talk of her early days. How she would laugh when telling of the experiences of her family.

She has reared a large family of her own, and feels very proud of them.

Submitted December 1, 1937 Indianapolis, Indiana

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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