Slave Narrative of Robert R. Grinstead

Person Interviewed: Robert R. Grinstead
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Place of Birth: Lawrence County, Mississippi
Date of Birth: Feb. 17, 1857
Age: 80

I was born in Lawrence County, Mississippi, February 17, 1857. My father’s name is Elias Grinstead, a German, and my mother’s name is Ann Greenstead after that of her master. I am a son by my mother and her Master. I have four other half brother: William (Bill) oldest, Albert, Silas, and John.

I was only eight years of age at freedom and for that reason I was too young to work and on account of being the son of my Master’s I received no hard treatment and did little or no work. Yet, I wore the same clothing as did the rest of the slaves: a shirt of lowell for summer and shirt and trousers for winter and no shoes. I could walk through a briar patch in my bare feet without sticking one in the bottom of my feet as they were so hard and resistant.

I was the only child of my Master as he had no wife. When the war broke out he went to the war and left the plantation in charge of his overseer and his two sisters. As the overseers were hard for them to get along with they were oftener without an overseer as with one, and therefore they used one of the Negroes as overseer for the most of the time.

Across the river was another large plantation and slave owner by the name of Master Wilson. We called him Master too, for he was a close friend and neighbor to our Mistresses. There was one Negro man slave who decided to not work after Master went to the war and the white overseer was fired and the Negro overseer was acting as overseer, so my Mistress gave him a note to take across the river to Master Wilson. The note was an order to whip this Negro and as he couldn’t read he didn’t know what the note contained until after Master Wilson read it and gave orders to his men to tie him for his whipping. After this, the whipping was so severe that they never had any more trouble in making this Negro slave work and they never had to send him back again to Master Wilson to be whipped. The fun part of this above incidence was the Negro carried his own note and went alone to be whipped and didn’t know it ’til the lashes was being put on him.

My Master’s plantation was about 2 miles long and 1 1/2 mile wide and he owned between 30 or 40 slaves. The Negro overseer would wake up the slaves and have them in the field before they could see how to work each morning and as they would go to work so soon their breakfast was carried to the field to them. One morning the breakfast was taken to the field and the slaves were hoeing cotton and among them was a lad about 15 years of ago who could not hoe as fast as the older slaves and the breakfast was sat at the end of the rows and as they would hoe out to the end they would eat, and if you would be late hoeing to the end the first to ge to the end would began eating and eat everything. So, this 15 year old lad in order to get out to eat before everything was gone did not hoe his row good and the overseer, who was white at this time, whipped him so severely that he could not eat nor work that day.

The Negroes went to church with the white people and joined their church. The church was Baptist in denomination, and they milt a pen in the church in which the Negroes sat, and when they would take sacrament the Negroes would be served after the whites were through and one of the Negro group would pass it around to the others within the pen.

As there were no dances held on the plantation the Negroes would oftimes slip off and go at nights to a nearby dance or peanut parching or rice suppers at nights after work. Some of the slaves would be allowed to make for themselves rice patches which they would gather and save for the dances. To prepare this rice for cooking after harvested they would burn a trough into a log, they called mortar and with a large wooden mallet they called possel, and which they would pound upon the rice until hulled and ready for cooking. This rice would be boiled with just salt and water and eaten as a great feast with delight.

During slavery some of the Negro slaves would kill snakes and skin them and wear these snake skins to prevent being voodooed they said. When some of the slaves would take sick and the home remedies would fail to cure them our Mistress would allow one of the Negro men slaves to go to the white doctor and get some medicine for the patient. The doctor would ask questions as to the actions of the patient and from said description would send medicine without ever going to see the patient and his medicine would always cure the patient of his disease if consulted in time.

After the news came that brought our freedom a white union officer with 20 trained Negro soldiers visited the plantations and saw that the Negroes received their freedom. He would put on a demonstration with his Negro soldiers by having them line up and then at a command they would all rush forward and stand their guns up together on the stock end without a one falling and get back into line and upon another command they would rush forward and each get his gun again without allowing one to fall and again reline up.

When I was large enough to pay attention to my color and to that of the other slaves I wondered to myself why I was not black like the rest of the slaves and concluded to myself that I would when I got grown like they were as I knew not then that I was the son of my Master.

During the war and as the men and our Master all went to the war the Negroes or a Negro would have to go to the Mistress’ homes each morning and start fires and never, did I ever hear of a rape case under such close conditions as Negroes going into the bed rooms each morning of the white mistress to start fires.

My first wife was name Tracy Smith. As I had been free for over 12 years. We had ordinary marriage ceremony. I have 11 grown children, 15 or 20 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

I think Abraham Lincoln was a fine old gentlemen and as to Jeff Davis I don’t think he was what he should have been, and as to Booker T. Washington I think his idea of educating or training Negroes as servants to serve the white race appealed more to the white race than the Negroes.

My viewpoint as, to slavery is that it was as much detrimental to the white race as it was to the Negroes, as one elevated ones minds too highly, and the other degraded ones mind too lowly.

Grinstead, Smith,

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

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