Slave Narrative of Annie Young Henson

Interviewer: Rogers
Person Interviewed: Annie Young Henson
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Place of Birth: Northumberland County, Virginia
Age: 86
Place of Residence: African M.E. Home, 207 Aisquith St., Baltimore, Maryland

Reference: Personal interview with Annie Young Henson, ex-slave, at African M.E. Home, 207 Aisquith St., Baltimore.

“I was born in Northumberland County, Virginia, 86 years ago. Daughter of Mina and Tom Miller. I had one brother Feelingchin and two sisters, Mary and Matilda. Owned by Doctor Pressley Nellum.

“The farm was called Traveler’s Rest. The farm so named because a man once on a dark, cold and dreary night stopped there and asked for something to eat and lodging for the night; both of which was given and welcomed by the wayfarer.

“The house being very spacious with porches on each side, situated on a high hill, with trees on the lawn giving homes to the birds and shade to the master, mistress and their guests where they could hear the chant of the lark or the melodious voices of the slaves humming some familiar tunes that suited their taste, as they worked.

“Nearby was the slave quarters and the log cabin, where we lived, built about 25 feet from the other quarter. Our cabin was separate and distinct from the others. It contained two rooms, one up and one down, with a window in each room. This cabin was about 25 feet from the kitchen of the manor house, where the cooking was done by the kitchen help for the master, mistress and their guests, and from which each slave received his or her weekly ration, about 20 pounds of food each.

“The food consisted of beef, hog meat, and lamb or mutton and of the kind of vegetables that we raised on the farm.

“My position was second nurse for the doctor’s family, or one of the inner servants of the family, not one of the field hands. In my position my clothes were made better, and better quality than the others, all made and arranged to suit the mistress’ taste. I got a few things of femine dainty that was discarded by the mistress, but no money nor did I have any to spend. During my life as a slave I was whipped only once, and that was for a lie that was told on me by the first nurse who was jealous of my looks. I slept in the mistress’ room in a bed that we pushed under the mistress’ in the day or after I arose.

“Old Master had special dogs to hunt opossum, rabbit, coons and birds, and men to go with them on the hunt. When we seined, other slave owners would send some of their slaves to join ours and we then dividing the spoils of the catch.

“We had 60 slaves on the plantation, each family housed in a cabin built by the slaves for Nellums to accommodate the families according to the number. For clothes we had good clothes, as we raised sheep, we had our own wool, out of which we weaved our cloth, we called the cloth ‘box and dice’.

“In the winter the field slaves would shell corn, cut wood and thrash wheat and take care of the stock. We had our shoes made to order by the shoe maker.

“My mistress was not as well off before she married the doctor as afterward. I was small or young during my slave days, I always heard my mistress married for money and social condition. She would tell us how she used to say before she was married, when she saw the doctor coming, ‘here comes old Dr. Nellums’. Another friend she would say ‘here comes cozen Auckney’.

“We never had any overseers on the plantation, we had an old colored man by the name of Peter Taylor. His orders was law, if you wanted to please Mistress and Master, obey old Peter.

“The farm was very large, the slaves worked from sunup to sundown, no one was harshly treated or punished. They were punished only when proven guilty of crime charged.

“Our master never sold any slaves. We had a six-room house, where the slaves entertained and had them good times at nights and on holidays. We had no jail on the plantation. We were not taught to read or write, we were never told our age.

“We went to the white church on Sunday, up in the slave gallery where the slaves worshipped sometimes. The gallery was overcrowded with ours and slaves from other plantations. My mistress told me that there was once an old colored man who attended, taking his seat up in the gallery directly over the pulpit, he had the habit of saying Amen. A member of the church said to him, ‘John, if you don’t stop hollowing Amen you can’t come to church’; he got so full of the Holy Ghost he yelled out Amen upon a venture, the congregation was so tickled with him and at his antics that they told him to come when and as often as he wanted.

“During my slave days only one slave ran away, he was my uncle, when the Yankees came to Virginia, he ran away with them. He was later captured by the sheriff and taken to the county jail. The Doctor went to the court house, after which we never heard nor saw my uncle afterwards.

“I have seen and heard white-cappers, they whipped several colored men of other plantations, just prior to the soldiers drilling to go to war.

“I remember well the day that Dr. Nellum, just as if it were yesterday, that we went to the court house to be set free. Dr. Nellum walked in front, 65 of us behind him. When we got there the sheriff asked him if they were his slaves. The Dr. said they were, but not now, after the papers were signed we all went back to the plantation. Some stayed there, others went away. I came to Baltimore and I have never been back since. I think I was about 17 or 18 years old when I came away. I worked for Mr. Marshall, a flour merchant, who lived on South Charles Street, getting $6.00 per month. I have been told by both white and colored people of Virginia who knew Dr. Nellum, he lost his mind.”

Henson, Nellum,

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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