Slave Narrative of Mary Frances Webb

Location: McAlester, Oklahoma
Age: 92 (deceased)
Occupation: Field Hand

Mary Frances Webb, grand daughter of Sarah Vest, aged 92, (deceased) McAlester, Okla.

I’ve heard my grandmother tell a lot of her experiences during slavery. She remembered things well as she was a grown woman at the time of the war of the Rebellion. Her home was at Sedalia, Mo., and her owner was Baxter West, a prominent farmer and politician. He was very kind and good to his slaves. He provided them with plenty of food and good clothes. He would go to town and buy six or eight bolts of cloth at a time and the women could pick out two dresses apiece off it. These would be their dresses for dressing up. They wove the cloth for their everyday clothes. The men wore jeans suits in winter. He bought shoes for all his slaves, young and old. He had about twenty slaves counting the children. My grandmother was a field hand. She plowed and hoed the crops in the summer and spring, and in the winter she saved and cut cord wood just like a man. She said it didn’t hurt her as she was as strong as an ox. She could spin and weave and sew. She helped make all the cloth for their clothes and in the spring one of the jobs for the women was to weave hats for the men. They used oat-strew, grass, and cane which had been split and dried and soaked in hot water until it was pliant, and they wove it into hats. The women wore a cloth tied around their head. They didn’t have many matches so they always kept a log heap burning to keep a fire. It was a common thing for a neighbor to come in to borrow a coal of fire as their fire had died out. On wash days all the neighbors would send several of their women to the creek to do the family wash. They all had a regular picnic of it as they would wash and spread the clothes on the bushes and low branches of the tress to dry. They would get to spend the day together. They had no tubs or wash boards. They had a large flat block of wood and a wooden paddle. They’d spread the wet garment on the block, spread soap on it and paddle the garment till it was clean. They would rinse the clothes in the creek. Their soap was made from lye, dripped from ashes, and meat scraps. The slaves had no lamps in their cabins. In winter they would pile wood on the fire in their fireplace and have the light from the fire. The colored men went with their master to the army. They made regular soldiers and endured the same hardships that the white soldiers did. They told of one battle when so many men were killed that a little stream seemed to be running pure blood as the water was so bloody. After the war the slaves returned home with their masters and some of the older ones stayed on with them and helped them to rebuild their farms. None of them seemed to think it strange that they had been fighting on the wrong side in the army as they were following their white folks. Those who stayed with their old master were taught to read and write and were taught to handle their own business and to help themselves in every way possible to take their place in life.


Vest, Webb, West,

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

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