Slave Narrative of Uncle Dick

Interviewer: Mamie Hanbery
Person Interviewed: Uncle Dick
Location: Christian County, Kentucky

Uncle Dick, a negro servant of one of the Hendersons, was the fiddler of the neighborhood at weddings, husking parties and dances. Dick’s presence was essential. Uncle Dick was fully aware of his own importance, and in consequence assumed a great deal of dignity in his bearing. Before setting out he always dressed himself with the greatest nicety. At the appointed time he was at the place with all the weight of his dignity upon him. Woe to the “darkies” who violated any of the laws of etiquette in his presence.

On a certain evening there was to be a grand wedding festival among the colored gentry on a farm about 6 miles from Uncle Dick’s residence. He was, of course called upon to officiate as master of ceremonies. He donned his long-tailed blue coat, having carefully polished the glittering gilt buttons; then raised his immense shirt collar, which he considered essential to his dignity, and, fiddle in hand, sallied forth alone. The younger folk had set out sometime before; but Uncle Dick was not to be hurried out of his dignity.

The narrow path led, for the greater part of the way, through a dense forest, which was as wild as when roamed by the Indians. A heavy snow lay on the ground, on which the moonbeams were shining whenever they could force a passage through the trees.

The dreary solitude of the way made no impression on the mind of Uncle Dick. He was anxiously hurrying on to reach the scene of operation, having spent a little too much time in polishing his gilt buttons.

On he dashed, heedless of the black shadows and hideous night cries of the deep forest. Wolves were howling around him; but he paid no attention to sounds so common, thinking only of the feet that were waiting his arrival to be set in motion.

Soon, however, the howling began to approach nearer than was agreeable, The wolves continued to become more and more noisy, till, to his indescribable horror, he heard them on each side of the crackling bushes.

Very soon the woods seemed to the old man to be alive with the yelling pack. Wolves are cautious about attacking human beings; they usually require some little time to work themselves up to the point. Every few moments a dark object would brush past poor old Dick’s legs with a snapping sound like that of a steel trap, while the yelling and crackling increased with terrible rapidity.

Dick new that to run would mean instant death, as the cowardly pack would all rush on him the moment he showed fear. His only chance of safety consisted in preserving the utmost coolness. A short distance before him lay some open ground; and he hoped that on reaching this they would leave him, as they do not like to make an attack in such a place.

He remembered, too, that in the middle of the open space there stood an old cabin, in which he might be able to find refuge. But now the wolves rushed at him more and more boldly, snapping in closer and closer proximity to his legs.

Snap! Snap! Nearer and nearer! Instinctively he thrust out his fiddle at them. The jarring of the strings made than leap back. Hope returned. He drew his hand violently across the strings-twang, twang! Instantly the wolves sprang back as if he had fired a gun among them.

He was now at the edge of the open space. He twanged his fiddle-the wolves recoiled. Dick rushed toward the hut with all his speed, raking the strings more violently at every jump, till they rang again.

The astonished wolves paused for a moment on the edge of the open ground, with tails between their legs. But the sight of his flying form renewed their savage instincts. With a loud burst of yells they darted after him at full speed. He reached the hut just as the jaws of the foremost wolf opened to seize him.

He rushed in, and the closing door dashed against the nose of the nearest beast. The door was too rickety to keep the enemy out; but Dick had time to push himself through the broken roof and get on top of the cabin. The wolves were now furious. Rushing into the hut, they jumped and snapped at him, so that Dick almost felt their teeth. It required the greatest activity to keep his legs out of their reach.

Notwithstanding his agonizing terror, he still clung to his fiffle. Now, in desperation, as he was kicking his feet in the air to avoid their steel like fangs, he drew his bow shrieking across the strings. The yells instantly ceased. Dick continued to make the most frightful spasms of sound, but the wolves could not long endure bad fiddling. As soon as the first surprise was over the attack was renewed more furiously than ever.

A monstrous head was now thrust up between the boards of the roof, only a few inches from Dick. He gave himself up for lost. But the excess of terror seemed to stimulate him, so that almost of their own accord his fingers began to play “Yankee-Doodle.” Instantly there was complete silence! The silence continued as long as he continued to play; but the moment he ceased the listeners again became furious, and rushed on with increased ferocity.

Uncle Dick’s pride as a fiddler was flattered. He entered for awhile completely into the spirit of the thing. But never before had he played to an audience so fond of music. They permitted no pause. His enthusiasm began to give way to cold and fatigue. He was tired to death and almost frozen.

What was to be done? There sat the listeners with tongues lolling and ears pricked up, allowing not a moments pause, but demanding an uninterrupted stream of music. Several weary hours passed, and Uncle Dick was almost exhausted.

But all this while the wedding company had been anxiously expecting their musician. Becoming at last impatient or alarmed, some of them set out in search for him. They found him on top of the hut, still sawing away for for life. The wolves were driven away and Uncle Dick was relieved from his unwilling efforts to charm listeners who got more music than they paid for.


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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