Slave Narrative of Celia Henderson

Interviewer: Miriam Logan
Person Interviewed: Celia Henderson
Location: Ohio
Place of Birth: Hardin County, Kentucky
Date of Birth: 1849
Age: 88

Miriam Logan Lebanon, Ohio

MRS. CELIA HENDERSON, aged 88 Born Hardin County, Kentucky in 1849 (drawing of Celia Henderson) [TR: no drawing found]

“Mah mammy were Julia Dittoe, an pappy, he were name Willis Dittoe. Dey live at Louieville till mammy were sold fo’ her marster’s debt. She were a powerful good cook, mammy were-an she were sol’ fo to pay dat debt.”

“She tuk us four chillen ‘long wid her, an pappy an th’ others staid back in Louieville. Dey tuk us all on a boat de Big Ribber-evah heah ob de big ribber? Mississippi its name-but we calls it de big ribber.”

“Natchez on de hill-dats whaah de tuk us to. Nactchez-on-de-hill dis side of N’ Or’leans. Mammy she have eleven chillen. No ’em, don’t ‘member all dem names no mo’. No ’em, nevah see pappy no moah. Im ‘member mammy cryin’ goin’ down on de boat, and us chillen a cryin’ too, but de place we got us was a nice place, nicer den what we left. Family ‘o name of GROHAGEN it was dat got us. Yas’em dey was nice to mammy fo’ she was a fine cook, mammy wus. A fine cook!”

“Me? Go’Long! I ain’t no sech cook as my mammy was. But mah boy, he were a fine cook. I ain’t nothin’ of a cook. Yas’em, I cook fo Mis Gallagher, an fo 4 o’ de sheriffs here, up at de jail. But de fancy cookin’ I ain’t much on, no’em I ain’t. But mah boy an mammy now, dey was fine! Mah boy cook at hotels and wealthy homes in Louieville ’til he died.”

“Dey was cotton down dere in Natchez, but no tobacco like up here. No ’em, I nevah wuk in cotton fields. I he’p mammy tote water, hunt chips, hunt pigs, get things outa de col’ house. Dat way, I guess I went to wuk when I wuz about 7 or 8 yeahs ol’. Chillen is sma’t now, an dey hafto be taught to wuk, but dem days us culled chillen wuk; an we had a good time wukin’ fo dey wernt no shows, no playthings lak dey have now to takey up day time, no’em.”

“Nevah no church fo’ culled people does I ‘member in Natchez. One time dey was a drouth, an de water we hauls from way ovah to de rivah. Now dat wuz down right wuk, a haulin dat water. Dey wuz an ol’ man, he were powerful in prayer, an gather de darkies unda a big tree, an we all kneels down whilse he pray fo de po’ beastes what needs good clean water fo to drink. Dat wuz a putty sight, dat church meetin’ under de big tree. I alus member dat, an how, dat day he foun a spring wid he ol’ cane, jes’ like a miracle after prayer. It were a putty sight to see mah cows an all de cattle a trottin’ fo dat water. De mens dey dug out a round pond fo’ de water to run up into outa de spring, an it wuz good watah dat wudn’t make de beastes sick, an we-all was sho’ happy.'”

“Yes’em, I’se de only one of mammy’s chillen livin’. She had 11 chillen. Mah gran’na on pappy’s side, she live to be one hundred an ten yeah’s ol’ powerful ol’ ev’y body say, an she were part Indian, gran’ma were, an dat made her live to be ol’.

“Me? I had two husband an three chillen. Mah firs’ husban die an lef’ me wid three little chillens, an mah secon’ husban’, he die ’bout six yeahs ago. Ah cum heah to Lebanon about forty yeahs ago, because mah mammy were heah, an she wanted me to come. When ah wuz little, we live nine yeahs in Natchez on de hill. Den when de wah were ovah Mammy she want to go back to Louieville fo her folks wuz all theah. Ah live in Louieville til ah cum to Lebanon. All ah ‘members bout de close o’de wah, wuz dat white folks wuz broke up an po’ down dere at Natchez; and de fus time ah hears de EMANICAPTION read out dey was a lot o’ prancin ‘roun, an a big time.”

“Ah seen soldiers in blue down there in Natchez on de hill, oncet ah seen dem cumin down de road when ah were drivin mah cows up de road. Ah wuz scared sho, an’ ah hid in de bushes side o’ de road til dey went by, don’ member dat mah cows was much scared though.” Mammy say ‘bettah hide when you sees sojers a-marchin by, so dat time a whole line o dem cum along and I hide.”

“Down dere mammy done her cookin’ outa doors, wid a big oven. Yo gits yo fiah goin’ jes so under de oven, den you shovels some fiah up on top de oven fo to get you bakin jes right. Dey wuz big black kettles wid hooks an dey run up an down like on pulleys ovah de oven stove. Den dere wuz de col’house. No ‘lectric ice box lak now, but a house under groun’ wheah things wuz kept jest as col’ as a ice box. No’em don’t ‘member jes how it were fix inside.”

“Yas’em we comes back to Louieville. Yes’em mah chillen goes to school, lak ah nevah did. Culled teachers in de culled school. Yes’em mah chillen went far as dey could take ’em.”

“Medicin? My ol’ mammy were great fo herb doctorin’ an I holds by dat too a good deal, yas’em. Now-a-days you gets a rusty nail in yo foot an has lockjaw. But ah member mammy-she put soot mix wid bacon fryin’s on mah foot when ah run a big nail inter it, an mah foot get well as nice!”

“Long time ago ah cum heah to see mammy, Ah got a terrible misery. Ah wuz asleep a dreamin bout it, an a sayin, “Mammy yo reckon axel grease goin’ to he’p it?” Den ah wake up an go to her wheahs she’s sleepin an say it.

“What fo axel grease gointo hep?-an I tol her, an she say:-

“Axel grease put on hot, wid red flannel goin’to tak it away chile.”

Ah were an ol’ woman mahse’f den-bout fifty, but mammy she climb outa bed an go out in de yard where deys an ol’ wagon, an she scrapes dat axel off, an heat it up an put it on wid red flannel. Den ah got easy! Ah sho was thankful when dat grease an flannel got to wukin on me!

“You try it sometime when you gets one o’ dem col’ miseries in de winter time. But go ‘long! Folks is too sma’t nowadays to use dem good ol’ medicines. Dey jes’ calls de Doctor an he come an cut ’em wide open fo de ‘pendycitus-he sho do! Yas’em ah has de doctor, ef ah needs him. Ah has de rheumatism, no pain-ah jes gets stiffer, an’ stiffer right along.”

Mah sight sho am poor now. Ah cain’t wuk no mo. Ah done ironin aftah ah quit cookin-washin an ironin, ah likes a nice wash an iron the bes fo wuk. But lasyear mah eyes done give out on me, an dey tell me not to worry dey gointo give me a pension. De man goes to a heap o’ wuk to get dem papers fix jes right.”

“Yes ’em, I’se de on’y one o’ mammy’s chillen livin. Mah, gran’ma on pappy’s side, she live to be one hundred and ten yeah’s ol-powerful ol eve’ybody say. She were part Indian, gran’ ma were, an dat made her to be ol.”

“Yes’em, mos’ I evah earn were five dollars a week. Ah gets twenty dollars now, an pays eight dollars fo rent. We is got no mo’-ah figgers-a wukin fo ourself den what we’d have wuz we slaves, fo dey gives you a log house, an clothes, an yo eats all yo want to, an when you buys things, maybe you doesn’t make enough to git you what you needs, wukin sun-up to sun down. No’ em ‘course ah isn’t wukin now when you gits be de hour-wukin people does now; but ah don’t know nothin ‘but that way o’doin.”

“We weahs cotton cloths when ah were young, jes plain weave it were; no collar nor cuffs, n’ belt like store clothes. Den men’s jes have a kinda clothes like … well, like a chemise, den some pantaloons wid a string run through at de knees. Bare feet-yes’em, no shoes. Nevah need no coat down to Natchez, no’em.”

“When we comes back to Louieville on de boat, we sleeps in de straw on de flo’ o’ de boat. It gits colder ‘n colder! Come big chunks ol ice down de river. De sky am dark, an hit col’ an spit snow. Ah wish ah were back dere in Natchez dat time after de war were ovah! Yes’em, ah members dat much.”

“Ah wuk along wid mammy til ah were married, den ah gits on by mahsef. Manny she come heah to Lebanon wid de Suttons-she married Sam. Sutton’s pappy. Yes ’em dey wuz about 12 o’de fambly cum heah, an ah come to see mammy,… den ah gits me wuk, an ah stays.

“Cookin’? Yes’em, way meat is so high now, ah likes groundhog. Ground hog is good eatin. A peddler was by wid groun’ hog fo ten cents apiece. Ground hog is good as fried chicken any day. You cleans de hog, an boils it in salt water til its tender. Den you makes flour gravy, puts it on after de water am drain off; you puts it in de oven wif de lid on an bakes hit a nice brown. No ’em, don’ like fish so well, nor coon, nor possum, dey is too greasy. Likes chicken, groundhog an pork.” Wid de wild meat you wants plain boiled potatoes, yes’em Irish potatoes, sho enough, ah heard o’ eatin skunk, and muskrat, but ah ain’t cookin em. But ah tells you dat groun’ hog is good eatin.

“Ah were Baptized by a white minister in Louieville, an’ ah been a Baptist fo’ sixty yeahs now. Yes’em dey is plenty o’ colored churches in Louisville now, but when I were young, de white folks has to see to it dat we is Baptised an knows Bible verses an’ hymns. Dere want no smart culled preachers like Reverend Williams … an dey ain’t so many now.”

“Up to Xenia is de culled school, an dey is mo’s smart culled folks, ol’ ones too-dat could give you-all a real story if you finds dem. But me, ah cain’t read, nor write, and don’t member’s nuthin fo de War no good.”

Celia is very black as to complexion; tall spare; has small grey eyes. In three long interviews she has tried very hard to remember for us from her youth and back through the years; it seems to trouble her that she cannot remember more. Samuel Sutton’s father married her mother. Neither she or Samuel had the kind of a story to tell that I was expecting to hear from what little I know about colored people. I may have tried to get them on the songs and amusements of their youth too often, but it seems that most that they knew was work; did not sing or have a very good time. Of course I thought they would say that slavery was terrible, but was surprised there too. Colored people here are used to having white people come for them to work as they have no telephones, and most white people only hire colored help by the day or as needed. Celia and Samuel, old age pensioners, were very apoligetic because they are no longer able to work.

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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