Slave Narrative of Moses Smith

I was born in New Orleans, but don’t remember anything about that place for I was sold to Master Jack Dunn when a little boy and moved to Paris, Texas. Master Jack and his wife, Suda, owned four pretty big farms around Paris and he was kept busy all the time going around to each of them, with me going along sometimes on a horse beside him. He’d be gone for a week at a time, come home and get some home cooking, clean up and be gone again. There was twelve slave families on the farm where I lived and the overseers was three. More families on the other places, how many I don’t know, but the old master was well fixed with slaves and money, too. My father was Isom Smith. He lived on a different farm than mother and us children. Her name was Laura and my brother’s name was Max; my sister was Rochelle. We lived in a log cabin just like all the other houses on the farm. It was two rooms, one a kitchen, but they both had fireplaces made of mud, grass and sticks, and the biggest piece of furniture was the wooden bed put together with wooden pegs. Father worked out for extra money and every Saturday night he come over and give each of us children a nickel. That went for the old fashioned kind of horehound candy what we could get in town, or if the sweet tooth wasn’t craving for it, we’d get a little can of sardines. Before I got big enough to work in the fields the mistress would say for me to stay about the big house with her, but Master Jack say, “No, wife, get his sister. Swiger (that was my pet name in them long days), he’s going with me.” But lots of times they would let me sleep on the floor at the foot of Miss Julie’s (Dunn’s daughter) bed. Sometimes I would do pranks around the big house and when the mistress chase me I’d run home and crawl under the bed, telling my mother not let Mistress Suda get me. Pretty soon the mistress come to the door. “Where is Swiger?” She’d ask my mother. “He’s there under the bed!” Then I’d answer from under the bed: “If you whip me one lick I won’t stay with you no more.” But I knew all the time she wasn’t going to whip, because both the mistress and master was good to all the colored folks. The mistress laughed and say, “Come on out from under the bed and I’ll give you a gun.” She did, too, a wooden gun that I played with for a long time. She was always giving me things when I was little. When I growed up a little more they give me so many rows of cotton to hoe or pick. I work my own rows and they timed me so I had to hurry and get the work done, and when they send me off the farm to do a chore they time me on that. Sometimes I would take the axe and split rails for fence making. There was always something to do around the place. I even have helped with the spinning and weaving. Mother spin her colored thread and make caps and cotton clothes for us. She sewed the pants by hand and maybe make a coat to go with the pants; that made a pretty nice suit. One time the master go away on a trip and left me behind. I’d been hearing about slaves running away and it seemed like a mighty good time for me to get away. I just walked off like I was going some place to cut wood. Didn’t cut no wood just kept on going and going and hiding out until I got to Louisiana, whereabout I don’t know, but long before I got safe away I was wishing to be back with the master and get full of them good baked sweet potatoes! And then I got to thinking about how mean Maw was, how hard she’d whip me and I just kept agoing. One time she put a sack over my head, tying it with my arms inside and whipped to the hollow. God, she did whip! She was so mean the master would send her away on other farms for a while, but she always come back, promising to do good. That was what I was running away from more than the master. Down there in Louisiana I hid out until after the war was over and then went to work for old Doctor Thomas. Just sort of cleaned up his office and around his home. He was a good man. I never been married like folks do nowadays. There was an Egyptian woman who had a pretty young girl and she give me the girl to live with. The girl was named Lula and we had three children. About the war I know nothing, except I heard the folks talking about, but never seen any fighting or battles. We was too far from the ruckus, I reckon.

Dunn, Smith,

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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