Slave Narrative of Margaret E. Dickens

Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Margaret E. Dickens
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina (1115 E. Lenoir St.)
Date of Birth: June 5th, 1861

My name is Margaret E. Dickens and I was born on the 5th of June 1861. My mother wuz free born; her name wuz Mary Ann Hews, but my mother wuz colored. I don’t remember anything about Marster and Missus. My father was named Henry Byrd. Here is some of father’s writing. My mother’s father was dark. He had no protection. If he did any work for a white man and the white man didn’t like it, he could take him up and whup him. My father was like a stray dog.

My name was Margaret E. Byrd before I got married. Here is some of father’s writing–“Margaret Elvira Byrd the daughter of Henry and Mary Ann Byrd was born on the 5th June 1861.” My grandfather, my mother’s father was a cabinet maker. He made coffins and tables and furniture. If he made one, and it didn’t suit the man he would beat him and kick him around and let him go. Dis was told to me. My father was a carpenter. He built houses.

I can read and write. My father could read and write. My mother could read, but couldn’t write very much.

I have heerd my mother say when she heerd the Yankees were commin’ she had a brand new counterpane, my father owned a place before he married my mother, the counterpane was a woolen woven counterpane. She took it off and hid it. The Yankees took anything they wanted, but failed to find it. We were living in Raleigh, at the time, on the very premises we are living on now. The old house has been torn down, but some of the wood is in this very house. I kin show you part of the old house now. My mother used to pass this place when she wuz a girl and she told me she never expected to live here. She was twenty years younger than my father. My mother, she lived here most of the time except twenty-four years she lived in the North. She died in 1916. My father bought the land in 1848 from a man named Henry Morgan. Here is the deed.[6]

When we left Raleigh, and went North we first stopped in Cambridge, Mass. This was with my first husband. His name was Samuel E. Reynolds. He was a preacher. He had a church and preached there. The East winds were so strong and cold we couldn’t stan’ it. It was too cold for us. We then went to Providence, R. I. From there to Elmira, N. Y. From there we went to Brooklyn, N. Y. He preached in the State of New York; we finally came back South, and he died right here in this house. I like the North very well, but there is nothing like home, the South. Another thing I don’t have so many white kin folks up North. I don’t like to be called Auntie by anyone, unless they admit bein’ kin to me. I was not a fool when I went to the North, and it made no change in me. I was raised to respect everybody and I tries to keep it up. Some things in the North are all right, I like them, but I like the South better. Yes, I guess I like the South better. I was married to Charles W. Dickens in 1920. He is my second husband.

I inherited this place from my father Henry Byrd. I like well water. There is my well, right out here in the yard. This well was dug here when they were building the first house here. I believe in havin’ your own home, so I have held on to my home, and I am goin’ to try to keep holdin’ on to it.

[Footnote 6: An interesting feature of the deed is the fact that Henry Morgan made his mark while Henry Byrd’s signature is his own.]

Byrd, Dickens, Hews, Reynolds,

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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