Slave Narrative of Dan Smith

Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Dan Smith
Location: Winnsboro, South Carolina
Place of Birth: Richland County SC
Date of Birth: January 11, 1862
Age: 75
Occupation: Construction

Dan Smith lives in one room, rent free, of a three-room frame house, the property of his son-in-law, Jim Cason. It is situated on the southeast corner of Garden and Palmer streets in the town of Winnsboro, S.C. He is tall, thin and toothless, with watery eyes and a pained expression of weariness on his face. He is slow and deliberate in movements. He still works, and has just finished a day’s work mixing mortar in the construction of a brick store building for Mr. Lauderdale. His boss says: ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ There is nothing organically wrong with Dan but he appears, in human anatomy, as Doctor Holmes’s One Horse Shay must have looked the day before its final collapse.

“You been here once befo’ and now here you is again. You say you wanna git additions? Well, I’s told you dat I was born in Richland County, a slave of Marse John Lever and on his plantation, January de 11th day, 1862, when de war was gwine on. How I know? ‘Cause my mammy and pappy told me so. They call my pappy Bob and my mammy Mary. Strange as it seem, my mistress name Mary, just de same as my mammy, tho’ marster wasn’t name Bob, lak pappy. Him name Marster John and de young marster, an only child, was name Marse Jim. You better stop right dere ’til I tell you pappy no b’long to de Levers. Him b’long to de Smiths. Him name Bob Smith, after freedom. Dat’s how come I be dis day, Dan Smith. You ketch de p’int? Well dats de way it was.

“Befo’ pappy take a shine to mammy in slavery time, her got mixed up wid one of old Marse Burrell Cook’s niggers and had a boy baby. He was as black as long-leaf pine tar. Her name him George Washington Cook but all him git called by, was Wash Cook. My full brudders was Jim, Wesley, and Joe. All of them dead and gone long ago.

“Us chillun slept on de floor. Mammy had some kind of ‘traption or other, ‘ginst de wall of de log house us live in, for her and de baby child to git in at night. Us have plenty to eat, sich as: peas, ‘tatoes, corn bread, ‘lasses, buttermilk, turnips, collards and fat meat.

“De only thing I ‘member ’bout my mistress is: One day her come down to de house and see my brudder Joe sucking his thumb. Mammy tell her, her can’t make him quit it. Mistress go back to de big house and come runnin’ back with quinine. Her rub Joe’s thumbs wid dat quinine and tell mammy to do dat once or twice a day. You ought to see dat baby’s face de first time and heard him squall! It sho’ stopped him sucking his thumbs!

“Clothes? Didn’t need no clothes in de summer time but a shirt. In de winter, us just stood ’bout de fire. I’m talkin’ ’bout us chillun, don’t ‘member ’bout old folks.

“Master and Mistress lived in a big white house, two stories high, tall brick chimneys at de gable ends, and wide front and back piazzas de full length of de dwelling. Us chillun had no shoes. Mammy had two pair all de time but they had wooden bottoms. Dere was no white overseers ’round, but patarollers (patrollers) ketched my pappy once, in de house, jerk him out and whup him, while mammy and us chillun yell and cry and beg them to stop.

“When de Yankees come, mammy hide us chillun under her bed ‘traption. They act mighty nice to her, so she say.

“What kinda work mammy do? Her was one of de weavers. Heard her tell ’bout how they make de thread and de cloth. They had spinnin’ wheels. Person turn de wheel wid de hand and walk back’ards and for’ards, drawing out de thread. Dis kind of thread, her say, was rough. Later they got a thing de spinners operate wid deir foots, settin’ by de wheel and workin’ it wid deir foots, sorta lak a sewing machine is run. Her ‘low de thread dat come to her in de weave-room from dis kind of spinnin’ was smoother and more finer than de other kind. After de yarn was spin, it was reeled off de spools into hanks and then took to de warper. Then she woofed it, warped it, and loomed it into cloth. Her make four yards in a day.

“After freedom, pappy come and take mammy and all us chillun to a farm on Cedar Creek, in dis county, Fairfield. I works dere ’til 1872, I thinks. I gits concerned ’bout dis time wid two things, jinin’ wid de Lord, and jinin’ wid de woman. De fust was easy. All I had to do was go to de Methodis’ revival, shout a little, and jine up befo’ de preacher. I just had to be convicted and convinced, but mind you, I was de one to be convinced, de other was not so easy. De Lord was easy to find and quick to take me, but de gal was hard to find and was slow to take me, ’cause she was de one to be convinced dis time, you see.

“I looks all ’round Cedar Creek. De ones I could git, I wouldn’t have, and de ones I would have I couldn’t git. So dere it was. I mounts old Betsy, dat was pappy’s mule, one Sunday and come to Winnsboro. I spied a gal at church, ’bout de color of a ripe pumpkin after de big frosts done fall on it, hair black as a crow and meshed up and crinkled as a cucker burr. Just lookin’ at her made my mouth water. Me and old Betsy raise de dust and keep de road hot from Cedar Creek to Winnsboro dat summer and fall, and when us sell de last bale of cotton, I buys me a suit of clothes, a new hat, a pair of boots, a new shirt, bottle Hoyt’s cologne and rigs myself out and goes ’round and ask her to marry me. Her name Ida Benjamin. Did her fall for me right away? Did her take me on fust profession and confession lak de Lord did? No sir-ree bob! Her say: ‘I got to go to school some more, I’s too young. Got to see papa and mama ’bout it. Wait ’til you come nex’ time and I’ll tell you.’ I was confused then, I gits up, gives her de cologne bottle, and mounts old Betsy, spurs her in de side, gallops, and cusses all de way back to Cedar Creek. I confess to mammy. Her laugh and say: ‘Dan, you knows nothin’ ’bout women and gals. Why it’s mighty plain she gonna say yes, nex’ time.’ Just lak her say, Ida did, and us got married de end of de nex’ school term, in May.

“Us had ten chillun. Dan, name for me, is at Concord, N.C. Oscar is in Concord, N.C. Lucinda marry a Haltiwanger and is comfortable in Baltimore, Md. Aurelia marry a Williams and is in Baltimore. Henrietta marry a Sawney and is in Charlotte, N.C. Lilly marry Jim Cason and live right in Winnsboro, in de house I have a room in.

“I got lots of gran’childs, too many to mention, They take after dere grandma, lak to go to school and read de Bible and go to church and Sunday School.

“Whut I have on my mind now is a pension. When a man git seventy-five years old, (I hear folks talk ’round me) dat man should not be ‘lowed to work on de Supreme Court, him should be give a pension of $15,000.00 and made to stop work. Him may have chillun dat can support him, all de same, dat jedge gits his pension. Then in de name of goodness, why don’t they make me quit mixing mortar when I is seventy-five years old and give me $240.00 a year? Sauce for de fat goose Supreme Court Jedge, oughta be sauce for de mortar mixer poor gander, I ‘low. It look lak jestice for de rich jedge and mix more mortar for poor Dan.”

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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