The Missing Man

The Missing Man:

“In 1860 Mr. Jess Stevens owned a negro slave, and his wife. Jess Williams, who lived in the north end of the county, bought the old slave, but did not buy his wife.

“One day one of Jess William’s boys went to Edward Stevens and an argument followed, causing Mr. Stevens to shoot him in the arm. Later Jess Williams took the old negro and went to the field where Edward Stevens and the boy were planting corn. They hid behind a tree and the negro was given the gun and was told to shoot when Stevens came down the road by them.

“He came by slowly covering corn but the negro did not shoot. Williams said, “Why didn’t you shoot?” and the negro replied, “Massie, I just didn’t have da heart.” Williams said, “If you don’t shoot next time, I’m going to shoot you.” When Stevens started by the negro shot and killed him, tearing his hoe handle into splinters.

One day a salesman, who rode a fine horse and had a beautiful saddle came to Princeton and later went to the Williams home. Several days later his people got anxious about him, and after checking up they found that he was last seen going into the Williams home. Several days later his people found his hat floating upon a pond near the house, and a few weeks later one of the Williams boys came to town riding the saddle that the salesman had ridden a few months before.

The old negro slave went to Mr. Stevens to visit his wife, and while he and Mr. Stevens were in the field a spy was hidden in the ambush listening to the conversation about the salesman. When the old slave returned home he was tied to the tail of a young mule, which was turned loose in a new ground and was dragged, bruised and almost killed. Edward Williams, son of Jess Williams, found the old slave and cut him loose. His father and brother found it out and started out to hunt him, intending to kill him, but he managed to dodge them.

Mr. Jess Stevens was walking along a path the next morning and heard a mournful groan, and after looking for awhile found the old slave. The worms had eaten his face[HW:?] and he was almost dead. The people brought him to the courthouse and began ringing the bell to let the people know that some injustice had been done. When one became tired another took his place. The bell rang both night and day until most of the citizens of the county came to see what was wrong. A number of men went in daytime, without mask or disguise, to the Williams home and hung Jess Williams. They intended to hang the two boys but they got away.

Stevens, Williams,

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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