Slave Narrative of Joanna Draper

Person Interviewed: Joanna Draper
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Hazelhurst Mississippi
Age: 83

Most folks can’t remember many things happened to ’em when they only eight years old, but one of my biggest tribulations come about dat time and I never will forget it! That was when I was took away from my own mammy and pappy and sent off and bound out to another man, way off two-three hundred miles away from whar I live. And dat’s the last time I ever see either one of them, or any my own kinfolks!

Whar I was born was at Hazelhurst. Mississippi. Jest a little piece east of Hazelhurst, close to the Pearl River, and that place was a kind of new plantation what my Master, Dr. Alexander, bought when he moved into Mississippi from up in Virginia awhile before the war.

They said my mammy brings me down to Mississippi, and I was born jest right after she got there. My mammy’s name was Margaret, and she was born under the Ramson’s, back in Tennessee. She belonged to Dave Ramson, and his pappy had come to Tennessee to settle on war land, and he had knowed Dr. Alexander’s people back in Virginia too. My pappy’s name was Addison. end he always belonged to Dr. Alexander. Old doctor bought my mammy ’cause my pappy liked her. Old doctor live in Tennessee a little while before he go on down in Mississippi.

Old doctor’s wife named Dinah, and she sho’ was a good woman, but I don’t remember about old doctor much. He was away all the time, it seem like.

When I is about six year old they take me into the Big House to learn to be a house woman, and they show me how to cook and clean up and take care of babies. That Big House wasn’t very fine, but it was mighty big and cool, and made out of logs with a big hall, but it didn’t have no long gallery like most the houses around there had.

They was lots of big trees in the yard, and most the ground was new ground ’round that place, ’cause the old Doctor jest started to done farming on it when I was took away, but he had some more places not so far away. over towards the river that was old ground and made big crops for him. I went to one of the places one time, but they wasn’t nobody on ’em but niggers and a white overseer. I don’t know how many niggers old Doctor had, but Master John Deeson say he had about a hundred.

At old Doctor’s house I didn’t have to work very hard. Jest had to help the cooks and peel the potatoes and pick the guineas and chickens and do things like that. Sometime I had to watch the baby. He was a little boy, and they would bring him into the kitchen for me to watch. I had to git up way before daylight and make the fire in the kitchen fireplace and bring in some fresh water, and go get the milk what been down in the spring all night, and do things like that until breakfast ready. Old Master and old Mistress come in the big hall to eat in the summer, and I stand behind them and shoo off the flies.

Old doctor didn’t have no spinning and weaving niggers ’cause he say they don’t do enough work and he buy all the cloth he use for everybody’s clothes. He can do that ’cause he had lots of money. He was big rich, and he keep a whole lot of hard money in the house all the time, but none of the slaves know it but me. Sometimes I would have the baby in the Mistress’ room and she would go git three or four big wood boxes full of hard money for us to play with. I would make fences out of the money all across the floor, to keep the baby satisfied, and when he go to sleep I would put the money back in the boxes. I never did know how much they is, but a whole lot.

Even after the war start old Doctor have that money, and he would exchange money for people. Sometimes he would go out and be gone a long tine, and come back with a lot more money he got from somewhar.

Right at the first they made him a high officer in the war and he done doctoring somewhar at a hospital most of the time. But he could go on both sides of the war, and sometime he would come in at night and bring old Mistress pretty little things, and I heard him tell her he got then in the North.

One day I was fanning him and I asked him is he been to the North and he kick out at me and tell to shut up my black mouth, and it nearly scared me to death the way he look at me! Nearly every time he been gone and come in and tell Mistress he been in the North he have a lot more hard money to put away in them bores, too!

One evening long come a man and eat supper at the house and stay all night. He was a nice mannered man, and I like to wait on him. The next morning I hear him ask old Doctor what is my name, and old Doctor start in to try to sell me to that man. The man say he can’t buy me ’cause old Doctor say he want a thousand dollars, and then old Doctor say he will bind me out to him.

I run away from the house and went out to the cabin whar my mammy and peppy was, but they tell me to go on back to the Big House ’cause maybe I am just scared. But about that time old Doctor and the man come and old Doctor make me go with the man. We go in his buggy a long ways off to the South, and after he stop two or three night at peoples houses and put me out to stay with the niggers he come to his own house. I ask him how far it is back home and he say about a hundred miles or more. and laugh, and ask me if I know how far that is.

I wants to know if I can go back to my mammy some time, and he say “Sho’, of course you can, some of these times. You don’t belong to me, cause I’se jest your boss and not your master.”

He live in a big old house, but he aint farming none of the land. Jest as soon as he git home he go off again, and sometimes he only come in at night for a little while.

His wife’s name was Kate and his name was Mr. John. I was there about a week before I found out they name was Deeson. They had two children, a girl about my size name Joanna like me, and a little baby boy name Johnny. One day Mistress Kate tell me I the only nigger they got. I been thinking maybe they had some somewhar on a plantation, but she say they aint got no plantation and they aint been at that place very long either.

That little girl Joanna and me kind of take up together, and she was a mighty nice mannered little girl, too. Her mammy raised her good. Her mammy was mighty sickly all the time, and that’s the reason they bind me to do the work.

Mr. John was in some kind of business in the war too, but I never see him with no soldier clothes on but one time. One night he come in with them on, but the next morning he come to breakfast in jest his plain clothes again. Then he go off again.

I sho’ had a hard row at that house. It was old and rackety, and I had to scrub off the staircase and the floors all the time, and git the breakfast for Mistress Kate and the two children. Then I could have my own breakfast in the kitchen. Mistress Kate always get the supper, though.

Some days she go off with the two children and leave me at the house all day by myself, and I think maybe I run off, but I didn’t know whar to go.

After I been at that place two years Mr. John come home and stay. He done some kind of trading in Jackson, Mississippi, and he would be gone three or four days at a time, but I never did know what kind of trading it was.

About the time he come home to stay I seen the first Ku Klux I ever seen one night. I was going down the road in the moonlight and I heard a hog grunting out in the bushes at the side of the road. I jest walk right on and in a little ways I hear another hog in some more bushes. This time I stop and listen, and they’s another hog grunts across the road, and about that time two mens dressed up in long white skirts steps out into the road in front of me! I was so scared the goose bumps jump up all over me ’cause I didn’t know what they is! They didn’t say a word to me, but jest walked on past me and went on back the way I had come. Then I see two more mens step out of the woods and I run from that as fast as I can go!

I ast Miss Kate what they is and she say they Ku Klux, and I better not go walking off down the road any more. I seem them two, three times after that, though, but they was riding hosses them times.

I stayed at Mr. John’s place two more years, and he got so grumpy and his wife got so mean I make up my mind to run off. I bundle up my clothes in a little bundle and hide them, and then I wait until Miss Kate take the children and go off somewhere, and I light out on foot. I had me a piece of that hard money what Master Dr. Alexander had give me one time at Christmas. I had kept it all that time and nobody knowed I had it, not even Joanna. Old Doctor told me it was fifty dollars, and I thought I could live on it for a while.

I never had been away from that place, not even to another plantation in all the four years I was with the Deesons, and I didn’t know which-a-way to go, so I jest started west.

I been walking about all evening it seem like, and I come to a little town with jest a few houses. I see a nigger man and ask him whar I can git something to eat, and I say I got fifty dollars.

“What you doing wid fifty dollars, child? Where you belong at, anyhow?” He ask me, and I tell him I belong to Master John Deeson, but I is running away. I explain that I jest bound out to Mr. John, but Dr. Alexander my real master, and than that man tell me the first time I knowed it that I aint a slave no more!

That man Deeson never did tell me, and his wife never did!

Well, dat man asked me about the fifty dollars, and then I found out that it was jest fifty cents!

I can’t begin to tell about all the hard times I had working for something to eat and roaming around after that. I don’t know why I never did try to git back up around Hazelhurst and hunt up my pappy and mammy, but I reckon I was jest ignorant and didn’t know how to go about it. Anyways I never did see them no more.

In about three years or a little over I met Bryce Draper on a farm in Mississippi and we was married. His mammy had had a harder time than I had. She had five children by a man that belong to her master, Mr. Bryce and already named one of the boys, that my husband, Bryce after him, and then he take her in and sell her off away from all her children!

One was jest a little baby, and the master give it laudanum, but it didn’t die, and he sold her off and lied and said she was a young girl and didn’t have no husband, ’cause the man what bought her said he didn’t want to buy no woman and take her away from a family. That new master name was Draper.

The last year of the war Mr. Draper die, and his wife already dead, and he give all his farm to his two slaves and set them free. One of them slaves was my husband’s mammy.

Then right away the whites come and robbed the place of every thing they could haul off, and run his mammy and the other niggers off! Then she went and found her boy, that was my husband, and he live with her until she died, jest before we is married.

We lived in Mississippi a long time, and then we hear about how they better to the Negroes up in the North, and we go up to Kansas, but they ain’t no better there, and we come down to Indian Territory in the Creek Nation in 1898, jest as they getting in that Spanish War.

We leased a little farm from the Creek Nation for $15 an acre, but when they give out the allotments we had to give it up. Then we rent 100 acres from some Indians close to Wagoner, and we farm it all with my family. We had enough to do it too!

For children we had John and Joe, and Henry, and Jim and Robert and Will that was big enough to work, and then the girls big enough was Mary, Nellie, Izora, Dora, and the baby. Dora married Max Colbert. His people belonged to the Colberts that had Colbert’s crossin’ on the Red River way before the war, and he was a freedman and got allotment.

I lives with Dora now, and we is all happy, and I don’t like to talk about the days of the slavery times, ’cause they never did mean nothing to me but misery, from the time I was eight years old.

I never will forgive that white man for not telling me I was free, and not helping me to git back to my mammy and pappy! Lots of white people done that.

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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