Slave Narrative of Richard Macks

Interviewer: Rogers
Person Interviewed: Richard Macks
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Place of Birth: Charles County MD
Date of Birth: 1844
Place of Residence: 541 W. Biddle St., Baltimore, Maryland
Occupation: Waiter, Coachman, Butler

Reference: Personal interview with Richard Macks, ex-slave, at his home, 541 W. Biddle St., Baltimore.

“I was born in Charles County in Southern Maryland in the year of 1844. My father’s name was William (Bill) and Mother’s Harriet Mack, both of whom were born and reared in Charles County—the county that James Wilkes Booth took refuge in after the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. I had one sister named Jenny and no brothers: let me say right here it was God’s blessing I did not. Near Bryantown, a county center prior to the Civil War as a market for tobacco, grain and market for slaves.

“In Bryantown there were several stores, two or three taverns or inns which were well known in their days for their hospitality to their guests and arrangements to house slaves. There were two inns both of which had long sheds, strongly built with cells downstairs for men and a large room above for women. At night the slave traders would bring their charges to the inns, pay for their meals, which were served on a long table in the shed, then afterwards, they were locked up for the night.

“I lived with my mother, father and sister in a log cabin built of log and mud, having two rooms; one with a dirt floor and the other above, each room having two windows, but no glass. On a large farm or plantation owned by an old maid by the name of Sally McPherson on McPherson Farm.

“As a small boy and later on, until I was emancipated, I worked on the farm doing farm work, principally in the tobacco fields and in the woods cutting timber and firewood. I slept on a home-made bed or bunk, while my mother and sister slept in a bed made by father on which they had a mattress made by themselves and filled with straw, while dad slept on a bench beside the bed and that he used in the day as a work bench, mending shoes for the slaves and others. I have seen mother going to the fields each day like other slaves to do her part of the farming. I being considered as one of the household employees, my work was both in the field and around the stable, giving me an opportunity to meet people some of whom gave me a few pennies. By this method I earned some money which I gave to my mother. I once found a gold dollar, that was the first dollar I ever had in my life.

“We had nothing to eat but corn bread baked in ashes, fat back and vegetables raised on the farm; no ham or any other choice meats; and fish we caught out of the creeks and streams.

“My father had some very fine dogs; we hunted coons, rabbits and opossum. Our best dog was named Ruler, he would take your hat off. If my father said: ‘Ruler, take his hat off!’, he would jump up and grab your hat.

“We had a section of the farm that the slaves were allowed to farm for themselves, my mistress would let them raise extra food for their own use at nights. My father was the colored overseer, he had charge of the entire plantation and continued until he was too old to work, then mother’s brother took it over, his name was Caleb.

“When I was a boy, I saw slaves going through and to Bryansville town. Some would be chained, some handcuffed, and others not. These slaves were bought up from time to time to be auctioned off or sold at Bryantown, to go to other farms, in Maryland, or shipped south.

“The slave traders would buy young and able farm men and well-developed young girls with fine physiques to barter and sell. They would bring them to the taverns where there would be the buyers and traders, display them and offer them for sale. At one of these gatherings a colored girl, a mulatto of fine stature and good looks, was put on sale. She was of high spirits and determined disposition. At night she was taken by the trader to his room to satisfy his bestial nature. She could not be coerced or forced by him [TR: ‘by him’ lined out] so she was attacked by him. In the struggle she grabbed a knife and with it, she sterilized[HW:?] him and from the result of injury he died the next day. She was charged with murder. Gen. Butler, hearing of it, sent troops to Charles County to protect her, they brought her to Baltimore, later she was taken to Washington where she was set free. She married a Government employe, reared a family of 3 children, one is a doctor practicing medicine in Baltimore and the other a retired school teacher, you know him well if I were to tell you who the doctor is. This attack was the result of being goodlooking, for which many a poor girl in Charles County paid the price. There are several cases I could mention, but they are distasteful to me.

“A certain slave would not permit this owner to whip him, who with overseer and several others overpowered the slave, tied him, put him across a hogshead and whipped him severely for three mornings in succession. Some one notified the magistrate at Bryantown of the brutality. He interfered in the treatment of this slave, threatening punishment. He was untied, he ran away, was caught by the constable, returned to his owner, melted sealing wax was poured over his back on the wounds inflicted by him, when whipping, the slave ran away again and never was caught.

“There was a doctor in the neighborhood who bought a girl and installed her on the place for his own use, his wife hearing of it severely beat her. One day her little child was playing in the yard. It fell head down in a post hole filled with water and drowned. His wife left him; afterward she said it was an affliction put on her husband for his sins.

“During hot weather we wore thin woolen clothes, the material being made on the farm from the wool of our sheep, in the winter we wore thicker clothes made on the farm by slaves, and for shoes our measures were taken of each slave with a stick, they were brought to Baltimore by the old mistress at the beginning of each season, if she or the one who did the measuring got the shoe too short or too small you had to wear it or go barefooted.

“We were never taught to read or write by white people.

“We had to go to the white church, sit in the rear, many times on the floor or stand up. We had a colored preacher, he would walk 10 miles, then walk back. I was not a member of church. We had no baptising, we were christened by the white preacher.

“We had a graveyard on the place. Whites were buried inside of railing and the slaves on the outside. The members of the white family had tombstones, the colored had headstones and cedar post to show where they were buried.

“In Charles County and in fact all of Southern Maryland tobacco was raised on a large scale. Men, women and children had to work hard to produce the required crops. The slaves did the work and they were driven at full speed sometimes by the owners and others by both owner and overseers. The slaves would run away from the farms whenever they had a chance, some were returned and others getting away. This made it very profitable to white men and constables to capture the runaways. This caused trouble between the colored people and whites, especially the free people, as some of them would be taken for slaves. I had heard of several killings resulting from fights at night.

“One time a slave ran away and was seen by a colored man, who was hunting, sitting on a log eating some food late in the night. He had a corn knife with him. When his master attempted to hit him with a whip, he retaliated with the knife, splitting the man’s breast open, from which he died. The slave escaped and was never captured. The white cappers or patrollers in all of the counties of Southern Maryland scoured the swamps, rivers and fields without success.

“Let me explain to you very plain without prejudice one way or the other, I have had many opportunities, a chance to watch white men and women in my long career, colored women have many hard battles to fight to protect themselves from assault by employers, white male servants or by white men, many times not being able to protect, in fear of losing their positions. Then on the other hand they were subjected to many impositions by the women of the household through woman’s jealousy.

“I remember well when President Buchanan was elected, I was a large boy. I came to Baltimore when General Grant was elected, worked in a livery stable for three years, three years with Dr. Owens as a waiter and coachman, 3 years with Mr. Thomas Winanson Baltimore Street as a butler, 3 years with Mr. Oscar Stillman of Boston, then 11 years with Mr. Robert Garrett on Mt. Vernon Place as head butler, after which I entered the catering business and continued until about twelve years ago. In my career I have had the opportunity to come in contact with the best white people and the most cultured class in Maryland and those visiting Baltimore. This class is about gone, now we have a new group, lacking the refinement, the culture and taste of those that have gone by.

“When I was a small boy I used to run races with other boys, play marbles and have jumping contests.

“At nights the slaves would go from one cabin to the other, talk, dance or play the fiddle or sing. Christmas everybody had holidays, our mistress never gave presents. Saturdays were half-day holidays unless planting and harvest times, then we worked all day.

“When the slaves took sick or some woman gave birth to a child, herbs, salves, home liniments were used or a midwife or old mama was the attendant, unless severe sickness Miss McPherson would send for the white doctor, that was very seldom.”


Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007.

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