Slave Narrative of James Singleton

Person Interviewed: Rev. James Singleton
Location: Mississippi
Date of Birth: 1856

“My name’s James Singleton. I’se a Baptist preacher. I was born in 1856, but I doan know zactly what date. My mammy was Harr’et Thompson. Her marster was Marse Daniel Thompson over in Simpson County on Strong River at a place called Westville. My pappy, he come from South Ca’lina—Charleston—an’ was give to do old folks’ darter. His name was John Black an’ he was owned by Mr. Frank Smith over in Simpson. He was brought down frum South Ca’lina in a wagon ‘long wid lots mo’.

“Me, I was sol’ to Marse Harrison Hogg over in Simpson when I was ’bout six years old, and Marse Hogg, he turn right ‘roun’, and sol’ me an’ sister Harr’et an’ brother John nex’ day for fo’ thousan’. Two thousan’ fo’ John, ’cause he’s older an’ bigger, an’ a thousan’ fo’ Harr’et an’ me. Miss Annie an’ Marse Elbert Bell bought us.

“Marse Elbert had three mo’ sides us—makin’ six. Us slep’ on pallets on de flo’, an’ all lived in one long room made out of logs, an’ had a dirt flo’ an’ dirt chimbly. There was a big old iron pot hangin’ over de hearth, an’ us had ‘possum, greens, taters, and de lak cooked in it. Had coon sometimes, too.

“Marse Elbert, he lived in jes a plain wood house made Califo’nia style, wid a front room an’ a shed room where de boys slep’. Dey had two boys, Jettie an’ William.

“I reckin dere was ’bout a hun’erd an’ sixty acres planted in taters an’ corn, an’ dey made whiskey too. Yessum, dey had a ‘stillery[FN: distillery] hid down in de woods where dey made it.

“My mammy an’ pappy was fiel’ han’s, an’ I was mighty little to do so much. I jes minded de cow pen, made fires in de Big House, an’ swep’ de house. When I made de fires, iffen dere wa’nt any live coale lef’, we had to use a flint rock to git it sta’ted.

“Dere was a bell ringin’ every mornin’ ’bout fo’ ‘clock, fer to call de slaves tar git up an’ go to de fiel’s. Day wuked ’til sundown. Dey was fed in de white folks’ kitchen, and Cook cooked fer us jes lak she done fer de whites. De kitchen was built off a piece frum de hous’, y’know.

“Marse never did whup any of us li’l chullun. Miss Annie, she tried once to whup me ’cause I chunked rocks at her li’l chickens, but mighty little whuppin’ she done. Dere wa’nt no overseer.

“Chris’mas time, we had two or three days to play, an’ had extry food.

“I seen ‘pattyrollers’ ridin’ ’bout to keep de darkies from runnin’ ‘roun’ widout passes. I never seen ’em whup none but dey tol’ us we’d git twen’y-nine licks iffen we got caught by ’em. I seen darkies git whuppin’s on other plantations—whup ’em half a day sometimes, gen’ly when dey tried to run away.

“We didn’ have no dancin’ dat I ‘member, but had plen’y log rollin’s. Had fiddlin’, an’ all would jine in singin’ songs, lak, “Run nigger run, pattyrollers ketch you, run nigger run, it’s breakin’ days.” I still fiddle dat chune[FN: tune]. Well, you see, dey jes rolled up all de old dead logs an’ trees in a big pile, and burned it at night.

“I seen de Yankee sojers when dey passed our house but dey didn’ bother us none. None didn’ even stop in. Dey was wearin’ blue jackets an’ had gold buttons on caps an’ jackets. But when de Confed’rate sojers come along, dey stopped an’ killed a fat cow er two, an’ taken de fat hoss an’ lef’ a lean one, an’ taken ever’thing else dey seen dey wanted.

“No’m, didn’ none of de slaves run off wid dem dat I knows of, an’ de Yankees didn’ try to bother us none. Well, afte’ de War, Marse Elbert tol’ us dat we was free now, an’ pappy come an’ got us an’ taken us to live wid de cook on Mr. Elisha Bishop’s place, an’ he paid Mr. Barren Bishop to teach us. He taught us out of Webster’s Blue Back Spellin’ Book.

“My pappy, he had a stolen ejucation—’at was cause his mistress back in South Ca’Line hoped him to learn to read an’ write ‘fo he lef’ there. You see, in dem days, it was ag’inst de law fer slaves to read.

“I was glad to be free ’cause I don’t b’lieve sellin’ an’ whuppin’ peoples is right. I certainly does think religion is a good thing, ’cause I’se a Baptist preacher right now, and I live ’bout six miles from Crystal Springs. I farm too.

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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