Slave Narrative of Tom Wilson

Person Interviewed: Tom Wilson
Location: Mississippi
Age: 84

“My name is Tom Wilson an’ I’se eighty fo’ years old. My mammy was name Ca’line an’ my pappy was Jeff Wilson. Us lived right out on de old Jim Wilson place, right by New Zion Chu’ch. I lives thar now—owns me a plot of groun’ an’ farms.

“Well, us b’longed to Marse Jim an’ Miss Nancy Wilson. I was born right out thar, but my mammy was brung down frum Ten’see. She come by heir to Marse Jim but ‘fo that her was sol’ for ten hun’erd dollars. My mammy was a big sportly woman an’ brung a lot er money an’ my pappy, he brung nine hun’erd. Marse Jim bought him offen de block, but I don’t know jes whar frum. I jes ‘members ’bout hearin’ him tell ’bout bein’ sol’.

“Bofe of dem was fiel’ han’s. Law, mammy could plow jes lak a man all day long; den milk twen’y head er cows afte’ she quit de fiel’ at night.

“De Big House was made out’n logs an’ reckin hit had ’bout seben er eight rooms in hit, an’ de kitchen sot a piece frum de mainest house. Thar was one brick chimbly an’ one dirt one to hit, an’ a great big wide po’ch ‘cross de front of de house. I ‘member Mis Nancy an’ white folks ‘ud set out thar of an evenin’ an’ mek us li’l cullud chullun dance an’ sing an’ cut capers fer to ‘muse ’em. Den dey had a trough, built ’bout lak a pig trough, an’ dey would mek de cook bake a gre’t big slab er co’n bread an’ put hit in de trough an’ po’ milk or lasses over hit, an’ tu’n us li’l cullud chullun loose on hit. An’ I’se tell’n y’ as much of hit went in our hair an’ eyes an’ years[FN: ears] as went in our moufs[FN: mouths].

“I reckin thar was’ bout two er three hun’erd acres in Marse Jim’s place. Us raised cotton, taters, an’ hogs. No’m, slaves didn’ have no plots er dey own. Marse Jim give us our rashins’ every week. Well, mos’ er de cullud people ‘ud cook dey victuals over de fire place in dey own houses. Us sho’ did have ‘possum an’ taters.

“My mammy wuked in de loom room at night by light of a pine knot. In de Big House dey had taller[FN: tallow] can’les ’cause I ‘member my mammy moulded ’em. No’m, de spinnin’ wheels was kep’ in de kitchen of de Big House. Hit had a dirt flo’. Us jes wo’ li’l old suits made out’n lowell cloth whut mammy wove on de loom. I doan ‘member wearin’ no shoes.

“I jes played roun’ ’bout de place an’ he’ped wid de cleanin’ up an’ dish washin’. Kinder house boy, I was.

[HW: Medicine]

“When us got sick, mammy made us pills out’n herbs. She taken May apple roots an’ boiled hit down to a syrup; den she let dat, dry out an’ rolled hit inter pills. Day sho’ was fin’ fo’ mos’ anything we might have.

“Chris’mus was a mighty glad time fo’ us. Yessum, us got extra rashins’ an’ had time off ter play an’ kick our heels. Gen’ly[FN: generally] had ’bout a week off. Tell you what Marse Jim ‘ud do when Chris’mus come ‘roun’. He’d sen’ one of da cullud mans out to git a log an’ say, ‘Now long as dis log burn, y’all kin have off’n wuk’. Co’se us’d hunt de bigges’ gum log an’ den soak hit in de stream so hit wud burn on a long time. Dey’d put hit on back er de fire an’ hit wud las’ mos’ a week.

“Couldn’ none of us read or write, an’ us wa’nt neber learned ’til afte’ us was set free. Den some went to li’l schools fer da cullud people.

“I sho’ has seen m’ mammy an’ lots mo’ git whuppins. Marse Jim, he had a strop er leather stuck in de slit end of a staff, an’ he sho’ did whup ’em layed ‘cross a barrel. Once’ m’ pappy run away an’ Marse Jim got de blood houn’s afte’ him, an’ catched him up ‘fo he could git fur, an’ dat day he lay him ‘cross de barrel, an’ whupped him frum sun up til sun down. When he quit off, m’ pappy couldn’ talk no more’n a whisper sca’cely.

“Pattyrollers, I heard of ’em allright ’cause dey sho’ would git you iffen y’ went abroad widout a pass frum Marse Jim.

“One day us li’l cullud chullun was frollicin’ out in de front yard an’ Mis’ Nancy an’ some mo’ was settin’ on de po’ch an’ all of a sudden I see somebuddy comin’ down de road an’ I says ‘Look, whut’s dat?’

“An’ white folks run to de woods an’ hid out caze dey seen hit was Calv’ry ’bout a mile long comin’ down de road. Sojer rid right up to me an’ stuck his bay’net at me an’ says, ‘Boy, whar de tater house?’ An’ I sho’ did show him whar ’twas. Dem sojers sho’ was starved. Dey take thirty tater punks, fifteen er twenty chickens, and five hams. Den dey went in de smoke house an’ grabbed off five er ten poun’s er sausage, middlln’s, and sides. Dey take ‘nough grub to load three wagons an’ take hit over to New Zion Church ’bout er mile frum us. An’ right thar dey camped that night.

“That was afte’ de Siege er Vicksburg. Marse Jim didn’ keer, but he sent us ober nex’ mo’nin’ to git de leavin’s, an’ thar was a wagon load er jes de leavin’s.

“I ‘members when us was sot free allright. ‘Twas in de middle of da winter y’ know, an’ Marse Jim was so mad ’bout hit he went off down to a li’l stream or water an’ broke de ice an’ jumped in, an’ he died ’bout two weeks afte’ of de pewmonia[FN: pneumonia].

“I was glad to git m’ freedom ’cause I got out’n frum under dem whuppins.

“Afte’ dat us bought lan’ frum de Wilsons whut was lef’ an’ I been a fa’min’ thar ever since.”


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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