Slave Narrative of Cecelia Chappel

Person Interviewed: Cecelia Chappel
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Place of Birth: Marshall County, Tennessee
Age: 102
Place of Residence: 705 Allison Street, Nashville, Tenn.

“I’se bawn in Marshall County, Tennessee. I’m de olest ob ten chilluns en I’se 102 ya’rs ole. I feels lak I’se bin ‘yer longer dan dat. Mah mammy wuz brought ter Nashville en sold ter sum peeple dat tuck her ter Mississippi ter live.”

“Mah Marster en Missus wuz named Bob en Nancy Lord. Eve’y slave had ter say Missus en Marster en also ter de white babies. I still says hit, en ef I kum ter yo do’r, I nebber kums in ’till you ax me. Lots ob mah folks seze ter me dat I ez too ole fash’on en I seze I don’ keer I wuz raised wid manners en too ole ter change.”

“Our Marster gib us good food en clothes. I wuz l’arnt how ter nit, weav, sew en spin. On rainy days we wuz gib a certain ‘mount ob weavin’ ter do en had ter git hit don’. I dunno how ter read er rite. De white folks didn’ ‘low us ter l’arn nuthin’. I declar’ you bettuh not git kotch wid a papah in you han’. Ef I had half a chance lak you chilluns hab, I’d go ter bed wid mah books.”

“Our Marster ‘lowed us ter go ter chuch. I went bar’foot en had a rag tied ‘roun mah haid en mah dress kum up ter mah ‘nees. Dat preacher-man would git up dere en tell us “Now you min’ yo Marster en Missis en don’ steal fum dem.” I stayed wid mah Missis fer a long time atter I got freedum en I cried lak a fool w’en I had ter leave dem. Mah Missis seze “You ez jes as free as I ez,” but I allus had good clothes en good food en I didn’ know how I’d git dem atter I lef’ her.”

“Mah white folks wuz tight on us but, as ole as I ez, I offun think dat day nebber hit a lick dat I didn’ need. Ef’n dey hadn’ raised me right, I might hab got in meaness en bin locked up half de time, but I ain’t nebber bin ‘rested, en I’se ‘ferd ob de policemans. De fiel’ slaves wuz whup’d in de fiel’s by de oberseer en de Marster en Missis did hit at de house.”

“I tell you we had a hahd time. Mah Missis woulden’ let dem sell me. I wuz a nuss en house gal. I wuz whup’d wid a bull whup, en got cuts on mah back menny a time. I’se not shamed ter say I got skyars on mah back now fum Marster cuttin’ hit wid dat bull whup. Mah Missis also whup’d me. W’en de Missis got ready ter whup me, she would gib us sum wuk ter do, so she would kind ob git ober her mad spell ‘fore she whup’d us. Sum times she would lock us up in a dark closet en bring our food ter us. I hated bein’ locked up. Atter dey tuk me out ob de house, I wuked in de fiel’ lak de urthurs. Long ‘fore day break, we wuz standin’ in de fiel’s leanin’ on our hoes waitin’ fer daylite en waitin’ fer de horn ter blow so we would start ter wuk. Ef’n we wan’ed ter go ter any place we had ter hab a pass wid our Marster’s name on hit en ef you didn’ hab hit, you got tore ter pieces en den you Marster tore you up w’en you got home.”

“One story mah daddy useter tell us wuz ’bout a slave named Pommpy. He wuz allus prayin’ fer de good Lawd ter tek ‘im ‘way. One nite he wuz down on his ‘nees prayin’, “Good Lawd, kum en tek po Pommpy out ob his misery.” De Marster ob Pommpy ‘year’d ‘m en de Marster made a leetle noise en Pommpy seze, “Who ez dat?” En his Marster seze, “Hits de Lawd kum ter tek po Pommpy out ob his misery.” Pommpy crawl under de bed en seze, “Pommpy has bin gon’ two er three days.”

“‘Nurther story: A partridge en a fox ‘greed ter kil’ a beef. Dey kilt en skinned hit. B’fo dey divide hit de fox said, “Mah wife seze sen’ her sum beef fer soup,” so he tuck a piece ob hit en carried hit down de hill, den kum back en said mah wife wants mo’ beef fer soup. He kep dis up ’til all de beef wuz gon’ ‘cept de libber. De fox kum back en de partridge seze now lets cook dis libber en both ob us eat hit. De partridge cooked de libber, et hits part rite quick, en den fell ovuh lak hit wuz sick; de fox got skeered en said dat beef ez pizen en he ran down de hill en started bringin’ de beef back en w’en he brought hit all back, he lef’ en de partridge had all de beef.”

“Don’t member much now ’bout de Klu Klux Klan en nothin’ ’bout slave ‘risings at any place. I don’ member ’bout de sta’rs fallin’, but I did see de comet, en hit looked lak a sta’r wid a long tail; atter freedum, I nebber year’d ob no slave gettin’ land er money en I dunno nothin’ ’bout de slave mart ‘yer fer I didn’ git ter kum ter town.”

“Since freed, I hab nussed, cooked en don’ diff’unt things. I wuk’ed fer one family fifteen y’ars en didn’ miss a day. I has stayed at dis place fer de las’ five y’ars. I had a stroke en wuz in de hospit’l a long time. I cain’ git out; en ‘roun’ ‘yer in de house, I has ter walk wid a stick.”

“I ain’ nebber voted. One day sum men kum ‘yer ter tek me ter vote. I tole dem w’en I got ready ter be a man, I would put on overalls.”

“I’se a member ob de Missionary Baptist Chuch. I ain’ bin fer a long time kaze I ain’ able ter go. De ole song I members ez “Dixie Land,” en “Run Nigger Run, de Pat-a rollers Will Git You.”

“Oh Lawdy! I think sum ob is young peeple ain’ no count w’ile sum ob dem ez alright. I think each color should ma’rie his own color. Hit makes me mad ter think ’bout hit. Ef de good Lawd had wanted dat, he would hab had us all one color.”

“Fer a long time de relief gib me a quart ob milk a day, but now all I has ez w’at mah sistah Harriett gibs me. She sin’ got much wuk en sum days we don’ hab much ter eat. Ef mah Missis wuz livin’ I wouldin’ go hongry.”

Chappel, Lord,

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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