Slave Narrative of James Lucas

Person Interviewed: James Lucas
Location: Natchez Mississippi
Place of Residence: Natchez, Adams County MS
Date of Birth: October 11, 1833

James Lucas, ex-slave of Jefferson Davis, lives at Natchez, Adams County. Uncle Jim is small, wrinkled, and slightly stooped. His woolly hair is white, and his eyes very bright. He wears a small grizzled mustache. He is always clean and neatly dressed.

“Miss, you can count up for yo’se’f. I was born on October 11, 1833. My young Marster give me my age when he heired de prope’ty of his uncle, Marse W.B. Withers. He was a-goin’ through de papers an’ a-burnin’ some of ’em when he foun’ de one ’bout me. Den he says, ‘Jim, dissen’s ’bout you. It gives yo’ birthday.’

“I recollec’ a heap’ bout slav’ry-times, but I’s all by myse’f now. All o’ my frien’s has lef’ me. Even Marse Fleming has passed on. He was a little boy when I was a grown man.

“I was born in a cotton fiel’ in cotton pickin’ time, an’ de wimmins fixed my mammy up so she didn’ hardly lose no time at all. My mammy sho’ was healthy. Her name was Silvey an’ her mammy come over to dis country in a big ship. Somebody give her de name o’ Betty, but twant her right name. Folks couldn’ un’erstan’ a word she say. It was some sort o’ gibberish dey called gulluh-talk, an’ it soun’ dat funny. My pappy was Bill Lucas.

“When I was a little chap I used to wear coarse lowell-cloth shirts on de week-a-days. Dey was long an’ had big collars. When de seams ripped de hide would show through. When I got big enough to wait ‘roun’ at de Big House an’ go to town, I wore clean rough clo’es. De pants was white linsey-woolsey an’ de shirts was rough white cotton what was wove at de plantation. In de winter de sewin’ wimmins made us heavy clothes an’ knit wool socks for us. De wimmins wore linsey-woolsey dresses an’ long leggin’s lak de sojers wear. Dis was a long narrow wool cloth an’ it wropt ‘roun’ an’ ‘roun’ dey legs an’ fas’n at de top wid a string.

“I never went to no church, but on Sund’ys a white man would preach an’ pray wid us an’ when he’d git through us went on ’bout us own business.

“At Chris’mus de Marster give de slaves a heap o’ fresh meat an’ whiskey for treats. But you better not git drunk. No-sir-ree! Den on Chris’mus Eve dey was a big dance an’ de white folks would come an’ see de one what dance de bes’. Marster an’ Mistis laugh fit to kill at de capers us cut. Den sometimes dey had big weddin’s an’ de young white ladies dressed de brides up lak dey was white. Sometimes dey sont to N’awleans for a big cake. De preacher married’ em wid de same testimony[FN: ceremony] dey use now. Den ever’body’d have a little drink an’ some cake. It sho’ was larrupin'[FN: very good][HW:?]. Den ever’body’d git right. Us could dance near ’bout all night. De old-time fiddlers played fas’ music an’ us all clapped han’s an’ tromped an’ sway’d in time to de music. Us sho’ made de rafters ring.

“Us slaves didn’ pay no ‘tention to who owned us, leastways de young ones didn’. I was raised by a marster what owned a heap o’ lan’s. Lemme see, dey is called Artonish, Lockdale, an’ Lockleaven. Dey is plantations ‘long de river in Wilkinson County, where I was raised. Dey is all ‘long together.

“I’s sho’ my firs’ marster was Marse Jim Stamps an’ his wife was Miss Lucindy. She was nice an’ sof’-goin’. Us was glad when she stayed on de plantation.

“Nex’ thing I knowed us all b’longed to Marse Withers. He was from de nawth an’ he didn’ have no wife. (Marsters wid-out wives was de debbil. I knows a-plenty what I oughtn’ tell to ladies. Twant de marsters whut was so mean. Twas dem po’ white trash overseers an’ agents. Dey was mean; dey was meaner dan bulldogs. Yes’m, wives made a big diffe’nce. Dey was kin’ an’ went ’bout mongst de slaves a-lookin’ after ’em. Dey give out food an’ clo’es an’ shoes. Dey doctered de little babies.) When things went wrong de wimmins was all de time puttin’ me up to tellin’ de Mistis. Marse D.D. Withers was my young marster. He was a little man, but ever’body stepped when he come ‘roun’.

“Don’ rightly know how it come ’bout. Lemme see! De bes’ I ‘member my nex’ Marster was Pres’dent Jefferson Davis hisse’f. Only he warnt no pres’dent den. He was jus’ a tall quiet gent’man wid a pretty young wife what he married in Natchez. Her name was Miss Varina Howell, an’ he sho’ let her have her way. I spec I’s de only one livin’ whose eyes ever seed ’em bofe. I talked wid her when dey come in de big steamboat. ‘Fore us got to de big house, I tol’ her all ’bout de goins’-on on de plantations. She was a fine lady. When I was a boy ’bout thirteen years old dey took me up de country toward Vicksburg to a place call Briarsfield. It mus’-a been named for her old home in Natchez what was called ‘de Briars.’ I didn’ b’long to Marse Jeff no great while, but I aint never fo’git de look of ‘im. He was always calm lak an’ savin’ on his words. His wife was jus’ de other way. She talked more dan a-plenty.

“I b’lieves a bank sol’ us nex’ to Marse L.Q. Chambers. I ‘members him well. I was a house-servant an’ de overseer dassent hit me a lick. Marster done lay de law down. Mos’ planters lived on dey plantations jus’ a part o’ de year. Dey would go off to Saratogy an’ places up nawth. Sometimes Marse L.Q. would come down to de place wid a big wagon filled wid a thousan’ pair o’ shoes at one time. He had a nice wife. One day whilst I was a-waitin’ on de table I see old Marse lay his knife down jus’ lak he tired. Den he lean back in his chair, kinda still lak. Den I say, ‘What de matter wid Marse L.Q.?’ Den dey all jump an’ scream an’, bless de Lawd, if he warnt plumb dead.

“Slaves didn’ know what to ‘spec from freedom, but a lot of ’em hoped dey would be fed an’ kep’ by de gov’ment. Dey all had diffe’nt ways o’ thinkin’ ’bout it. Mos’ly though dey was jus’ lak me, dey didn’ know jus’ zackly what it meant. It was jus’ somp’n dat de white folks an’ slaves all de time talk ’bout. Dat’s all. Folks dat ain’ never been free don’ rightly know de feel of bein’ free. Dey don’ know de meanin’ of it. Slaves like us, what was owned by quality-folks, was sati’fied an’ didn’ sing none of dem freedom songs. I recollec’ one song dat us could sing. It went lak dis:

‘Drinkin’ o’ de wine, drinkin’ o’ de wine,
Ought-a been in heaven three-thousan’ yeahs
A-drinkin’ o’ dat wine, a-drinkin’ o’ dat wine.’

Us could shout dat one.

“I was a grown-up man wid a wife an’ two chillun when de War broke out. You see, I stayed wid de folks til ‘long cum de Yanks. Dey took me off an’ put me in de War. Firs’, dey shipped me on a gunboat an’, nex’, dey made me he’p dig a canal at Vicksburg. I was on de gunboat when it shelled de town. It was turrible, seein’ folks a-tryin’ to blow each other up. Whilst us was bull-doggin’ Vicksburg in front, a Yankee army slipped in behin’ de Rebels an’ penned ’em up. I fit[FN: fought] at Fort Pillow an’ Harrisburg an’ Pleasant Hill an’ ‘fore I was ha’f through wid it I was in Ba’timore an’ Virginny.

“I was on han’ when Gin’l Lee handed his sword to Gin’l Grant. You see, Miss, dey had him all hemmed in an’ he jus’ natchelly had to give up. I seen him stick his sword up in de groun’.

“Law! It sho’ was turrible times. Dese old eyes o’ mine seen more people crippled an’ dead. I’se even seen ’em saw off legs wid hacksaws. I tell you it aint right, Miss, what I seen. It aint right atall.

“Den I was put to buryin’ Yankee sojers. When nobody was lookin’ I stript de dead of dey money. Sometimes dey had it in a belt a-roun’ dey bodies. Soon I got a big roll o’ foldin’ money. Den I come a-trampin’ back home. My folks didn’ have no money but dat wuthless kin’. It was all dey knowed ’bout. When I grabbed some if it an’ throwed it in de blazin’ fiah, dey thought I was crazy, ’til I tol’ ’em, ‘dat aint money; it’s no ‘count!’ Den I give my daddy a greenback an’ tol’ him what it was.

“Aftah de War was over de slaves was worse off dan when dey had marsters. Some of ’em was put in stockades at Angola, Loosanna[FN: Louisiana], an’ some in de turrible corral at Natchez. Dey warnt used to de stuff de Yankees fed ’em. Dey fed’ em wasp-nes’ bread, ‘stead o’ corn-pone an’ hoe cake, an’ all such lak. Dey caught diseases an’ died by de hund’eds, jus’ lak flies. Dey had been fooled into thinkin’ it would be good times, but it was de wors’ times dey ever seen. Twant no place for ’em to go; no bed to sleep on; an’ no roof over dey heads. Dem what could git back home set out wid dey min’s made up to stay on de lan’. Mos’ of dey mistis’ took ’em back so dey wuked de lan’ ag’in. I means dem what lived to git back to dey folks was more’n glad to wuk! Dey done had a sad lesson. Some of ’em was worse’n slaves after de War.

“Dem Ku Kluxes was de debbil. De Niggers sho’ was scared of ’em, but dey was more after dem carpet-baggers dan de Niggers. I lived right in ‘mongst ’em, but I wouldn’ tell. No Ma’m! I knowed ’em, but I dasn’ talk. Sometimes dey would go right in de fiel’s an’ take folks out an’ kill ’em. Aint none of ’em lef’ now. Dey is all dead an’ gone, but dey sho’ was rabid den. I never got in no trouble wid ’em, ’cause I tended my business an’ kep’ out o’ dey way. I’d-a been kilt if I’d-a run ‘roun’ an’ done any big talkin’.

“I never knowed Marse Linc’um, but I heard he was a pow’ful good man. I ‘members plain as yesterd’y when he got kilt an’ how all de flags hung at ha’f mas’. De Nawth nearly went wil’ wid worryin’ an’ blamed ever’body else. Some of ’em even tried to blame de killin’ on Marse Davis. I fit wid de Yankees, but I thought a mighty heap o’ Marse Davis. He was quality.

“I guess slav’ry was wrong, but I ‘members us had some mighty good times. Some marsters was mean an’ hard but I was treated good all time. One thing I does know is dat a heap of slaves was worse off after de War. Dey suffered ’cause dey was too triflin’ to work widout a boss. Now dey is got to work or die. In dem days you worked an’ rested an’ knowed you’d be fed. In de middle of de day us rested an’ waited for de horn to blow to go back to de fiel’. Slaves didn’ have nothin’ turrible to worry ’bout if dey acted right. Dey was mean slaves de same as dey was mean marsters.

“Now-a-days folks don’ live right. In slav’ry times when you got sick a white docter was paid to git you well. Now all you gits is some no-count paten’ medicine. You is ‘fraid to go to de horspital, ’cause de docters might cut on yo’ stummick. I think slav’ry was a lot easier dan de War. Dat was de debbil’s own business. Folks what hankers for war don’ know what dey is askin’ for. Dey ain’ never seen no bloodshed. In war-times a man was no more dan a varmint.

“When my white folks tol’ us us was free, I waited. When de sojers come dey turnt us loose lak animals wid nothin’. Dey had no business to set us free lak dat. Dey gimme 160 acres of lan’, but twant no ‘count. It was in Mt. Bayou, Arkansas, an’ was low an’ swampy. Twant yo’ lan’ to keep lessen you lived on it. You had to clear it, dreen it, an’ put a house on it.

“How I gwine-a dreen an’ clear a lot o’ lan’ wid nothin’ to do it wid? Reckon somebody livin’ on my lan’ now.

“One of de rights of bein’ free was dat us could move ‘roun’ and change bosses. But I never cared nothin’ ’bout dat.

“I hear somebody say us gwine-a vote. What I wanta vote for? I don’ know nothin’ ’bout who is runnin’.

“I draws a Federal pension now. If I lives’ til nex’ year I’ll git $125 a mont’. It sho’ comes in handy. I paid $800 for my house an’, if I’d-a thought, I’d-a got one wid mo’ lan’. I don’ wan’ to plant nothin’. I do want to put a iron fence a-roun’ it an’ gild it wid silver paint. Den when I’s gone, dar it will be.

“Yes’m. I’se raised a big fambly. Dem what aint dead, some of’ em looks as old as I does. I got one gran-chil’ I loves jus’ lak my own chillun. I don’ rightly ‘member dis minute how many chillun I had, but I aint had but two wives. De firs’ one died long ’bout seventeen years ago, an’ I done what de Good Book say. It say, ‘when you goes to de graveyard to bury yo’ firs’ wife, look over de crowd an’ pick out de nex’ one.’

“Dat’s jus’ what I done. I picked Janie McCoy, ’cause she aint never been married b’fore. She’s a good cook, even if she does smoke a pipe, an’ don’ know much’ bout nothin’.

“I sho’ don’ live by no rules. I jus’ takes a little dram when ever I wants it, an’ I smokes a pipe ‘ceptin when de Mistis give me a seegar[FN: cigar]. I can’t chew tobacco on ‘count my teeth is gone. I aint been sick in bed but once in seventy years.

“I is five feet, five inches tall. I used to weigh 150 pounds, but dis old carcass o’ mine done los’ fifty pounds of meat.

“Now-a-days I has a heap of misery in my knee, so I can’t ride ‘roun’ no mo’. Durin’ de War I got a muskit ball in my hip an’ now dat my meat’s all gone, it jolts a-roun’ an’ hurts me worse. I’s still right sprightly though. I can jump dat drainage ditch in front of de house, an’ I sho’ can walk. Mos’ every day I walks to de little sto’ on Union Street. Dar I rests long enough to pass de time-o-day wid my neighbors. My eyes is still good, but I wears glasses for show an’ for seein’ close.

“De longer I lives de plainer I see dat it ain’ right to want mo’ dan you can use. De Lawd put a-plenty here for ever’body, but shucks! Us don’ pay no min’ to his teachin’. Sometimes I gits lonesome for de frien’s I used to know, ’cause aint nobody lef’ but me. I’s sho’ been lef a fur piece[FN: long way] b’hin’. De white folks say, ‘Old Jim is de las’ leaf on de tree,’ an’ I ‘spec dey’s ’bout right.”

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

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