Slave Narrative of Clay Smith of Hannibal, Missouri

Clay (Carrie) Smith, now living at 612 Butler Street, Hannibal, Missouri, was born in slavery shortly before the Civil War on the farm of Joe Maupin about five miles west of Hannibal. Her present residence on Butler Street is part of the way up the hill overlooking Mark Twain Avenue (formerly Palmyra Avenue) and facing Cardiff Hill. Her mother’s home was on Palmyra Avenue. Her mother’s name was Luckett. Following is Clay’s story as she told it:

“I was borned right here in Marion County. Dere was ten of us children in de family. We belonged to Joe Maupin and Sarah Ann Maupin. We called Mrs. Maupin ‘Miss Spatsie’. Mother was brought here by de Maupins from Virginia. Father was born near New London in Ralls County. He belonged to de preacher priest. He was one of dose hardshelled, ironsides Baptists. Father run away to Illinois during de war and we ain’t never saw him again.

“Three of my sisters was bound out to de Maupin children when dey was married and dey done moved somewhere in Monroe County. I knowed of only one slave in our family dat was sold, and dat was my Aunt Harriet. She was sold on de block down on Fourth Street right here in Hannibal. I was only five or six years old den.

“After de war my mother worked for Mr. Maupin for three years. Mother bought a house on Palmyra Avenue here in Hannibal den, and Mr. Maupin would help mother to make de payments by giving her work.

“Dere was only a few houses down on Palmyra Avenue den. Old Mrs. Vail had a hotel, or tavern dey called it in dem days, over across de street. Beyond de hill (Cardiff Hill) was all woods and we could see bears and deers and tigers over dere. (Of course this is untrue. That was Mark Twain’s playground years before.)

“Dey didn’t raise children den like dey does now. Dey don’t mind at all now. When we was across de street and didn’t mind we got a whippin’ so dat we would fall over in de brush and when we come home we got another whippin’,– we always got two whippins. Nowadays de youngsters runs ’round all over de town and dey don’t pay no mind to nobody.

“Over on dat hill was a pes’ house where dey took people with smallpox. Dey died thick and dey hauled ’em away at night. Dey carried torches and hauled ’em in wagons. When dey took someone by to the pes’ house, old Man Cogner would go ahead and holler, ‘Small-pox! We would all run and hide ’cause we was scared. Dat was five or six years after we moved here.

“Dera was no houses ’round here den, but now I look out and see what de Lord has done. De bible say de new would take place of de old and things would be changed.

“I worked in de old hotel down dere ‘cross from de depot. It was de Hetrens Hotel den, for about fourteen years, and den I worked for de Claytons for about thirteen years. I can’t do nothin’ now, ’cause I is too old. I gets a small pension. Dis is my house, but dey is a mortgage on it and dey might come and take it away from me. I belongs to de Baptist Church on Center Street, but I don’t go very often no more. My brother lives with me. He is dat one-legged man you sees in de City Park most of de time. He gets a pension, too. My oldest brother died last week. He was blind.”

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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