Slave Narrative of Mary Wooldridge

Interviewer: Mamie Hanberry
Person Interviewed: Mary Wooldridge
Location: Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Place of Birth: Washington County, Kentucky,
Age: (about) 103
Place of Residence: Clarksville, Pike R.R. #1, Hopkinsville, Kentucky

“Mary and her twin sister were slaves born in Washington County, Kentucky, near Lexington, belonging to Bob Eaglin. When Mary was about fourteen years old she and her sister was brought to the Lexington slave market and sold and a Mr. Lewis Burns of the same County purchased her. Mary doesn’t know what became of her sister. Five or six years later she was again put on the block and sold to a Negro Trader but Mary does not remember this traders name. While here she was kept in a stockade and it was several years before she again was bought by a white man. Mr. Thomas McElroy near Lexington bought her and she remained his slave until the slaves were freed. Mary looks her age. She is a tall gaunt black Negro with white hair about one inch long and very kinky, and still she dresses as the older slave woman dressed in the past days. She wears an old bodice with a very full skirt that comes to her ankles and this skirt has very long deep pockets and when I asked her why she had such pockets in her skirt her answer was, “Wal you sees honey I jes am used ter dis dress and thar is no way foh youse to had me git shud of hit, dese pockets is powerful venient foh weh I goes inter some ones house why I turns dose pockets wrong side out and dat always brings me good luck.

Mary contends that she always wears three petticoats.

“Marse Thamos lived in a big log house wid a big plantation all around hit. He had three hundred slaves on de two plantations. Marse Thamos sho was good ter us niggers. No nigger mus whoop his stock wid a switch. “I’se heared him say many time don’t youse niggers whoop dese mules. How would you like to have me whoop you det way?” And he sho would whoop dem dem niggers if he cotched dem. Lawd have mercy who whould haw thot I’d be here all dis time. I’d thot I’d be ded and gone. All dese ole niggers try to be so uppity by jes bein raised in de house and cause dey was why dey think is Quality. Some of dese nigger gals was raised in de house but most of dem was made work ebery whar on de plantation. My Massa has his nigger gals to lay fence worms, mak fences, shuck corn, hoe corn en terbacco, wash, iron, and de missus try to teach de nigger gals to sew and knit. But shucks niggers aint got no sense nuf ter do fancy things. Sometimes I tended de chilluns.

“Yah, yah, I sho do member Abraham Lincoln. My Missus and Massa did not like Mr. Lincoln, but pshaw, all de niggers did. I member him, I seed him once, soon after I was freed.

“Pshaw, dey was hard times durin de war, my Missus and sum of de nigger gals and de chilluns hae to stay in the woods several days ter keep way from de soldiers. Dey eat all de chickens and kilt the cows and tuk de horses and we sho scairt out dar wid dem varmints roving roun.

“Nigger aint got no business being sot free, niggers still oughter be slaves. Us niggers did not hev to bother bout de victuals sor nuthin.

“Wen my Missis called us niggers gether and told us we was free I was as happy as a skinned frog but you seed I didn’t have any sense. All niggers are fools. Now she says, she did, you can all stay here en work en we will pay you foh your work, or you can work foh some body else, but I hev raised you hones, and don’t you steal, and work foh nuf money so you wont hev to steal it if youse gits hongry and haint got no money to buy vittals jus you ask de white folks foh hit and dey will giv hit to youse. Oh how I miss my Missis and Massa so much. Wish I hed dem now.

“Shucks on dese niggers and dar ways now. I lef de plantation my old Missus and Massa home and got on a steam boat on de Ohio Ribber and nursed de chillun foh de Captain and he’s wife on dat boat foh about two year. An den He, He, He, a nigger don got much sense, Miss Fannie an Mr. Harry Campbell whot paid me foh my work on de boat gives Five Dollars foh de work en I’se didn’t hev sense nuf ter know what ter do wid dis money. So I goes ter de store en buys me a cedar tub and filled hit wid candy. Miss Fannie gave me back de money foh de tub an den I ate nuf candy ter git sick and den Miss Fannie took de candy back to de store and she got my money back, she did.

“But shucks, I did not no whot ter do wid de money. Wen I lef Miss Fannie I rode to Henderson on a log raft en wen I got dar dey was a big circus and sum one was sayin, “de perade be here directly, He, He, He, I didn’t no whot dey meant, big ignorant fool dat I was and still is, en wen I seed de elephants and de uther varmints I ran like a big pop-eyed fool nigger cause I never seed such things. Dat day on de road in town I met my ole Missus McElroy en she had me ter help her wid de chilluns and tuk me ter de circus and wen I got in de tent and saw all de cages and things I was sho scairt of ebery thing till I seed dem babboons dem I felt all right and at home cause I jes knowed dey was my first cousins. I stayed in Henderson foh sometime working foh furst one and tother en den Mr. Henry Shackleford hired me en brung me to Christian County. Not long fore I was married ter Albert Wooldridge we sho had a big wedding. Zack Major a nigger preacher of de Baptist faith did de ceremony right here in Hopkinsville.

“Yes, sho I has ben a mid-wife or granny. All dese high falutin things dey is doin now in child birth is tommy-rot dey oughter hev jes grannies now. I livered more babies den most doctors sometimes de white folks had doctors but I don’t take no stock in dese doctors. De furst thing you does wen a new baby is born is ter let hit lay twenty minutes den cut de cord and dan grease a scortched rag wid lard jes hog lard en den put de belly band on den grease de baby all over. Neber wash de baby till tis over a week ole. Wen de babies had colic I’d take dirt dobber nest and make a tea, den giv did ter de baby. Sometimes If I couldn’t fin no dirt dobber nes I would git a spider web and make a tea den giv dis or else jes shake de baby by de heels. If folks would tend ter babies like dey uster why dese people now wouldn’t hev heart trouble.

“Sho I seed a ghost once, I soed Miss Annie Wooldridge after she died up here on Main St. I was jes settin on de back porch steps jes a lookin while da white folks was er eatin supper. Miss Annie allways got de eggs en I seed her dat day. She jes come thru de hen house door en hit was locked en den thru de pantry door and hit was locked en I jes called her daughter and I knowed I seed her, sho, I did, it who was Miss Annie.

“Of course dar is hanted houses. De ole Sharp house were dat er way and all de Sharps were ded but dis house were empty. You neber did see anything but I sho had heared de doors slam en de silver rattle en at night in my cabin near to hit I’d sees lights bob up en down. Any body in dis town can tell you dats so foh dey tore dis house down ter run de hants eraway.

“People don bother bout de moon much now but if dey would lissen ter de ole niters dey would always hev good crops. Now if you plant pertatoes by de dark of de moon you will always hev good crops en if you plant dem on de light of de moon den you hes all vine. Corn planted on de light de moon den you has a good crop. I’se knows cause I ken member fore de niggers wore freed you could jes plant by de moon and plant anything in God’s ground en by de moon en de crops would grow. Now dey jes buther up God’s ground en put ole stinky messy fertilizer on hit en de crops jes burn up. Nobody oughter mess wid God’s ground.

“I’se a Publican who ever heared of a Democrat nigger. Nigger neber did own enything so dey cant be Democrats en if dey vote a Democrat ticket dey is jes votin a lie. Cause no nigger neber did own slaves only the old nigger slave traders and dey werent nuthin but varmints anyway. Ye jes has to hev owned slaves to vote a Democrat ticket en den no nigger eber did own slaves er hed nothing.”

(Mary lives in Clarksville, Pike R.R. #1, Hopkinsville, Kentucky)

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

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