Slave Narrative of Young Winston Davis

Ancestry US

Interviewer: Rachel Davis
Person Interviewed: Young Winston Davis
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Age: 62
Occupation: Preacher

Young Winston Davis states that he was born in Ozark, Alabama, June 28, 1855 on the plantation of Charles Davis who owned about seven hundred slaves and was considered very wealthy. Kindness and consideration for his slaves, made them love him. Reverend Davis was rather young during his years in slavery but when he was asked to tell something about the days of slavery, replied: “I remember many things about slavery, but know they will not come to me now; anyway, I’ll tell what I can think of.”

He tells of the use of iron pots, fireplaces with rods used to hold the pots above the fire for cooking peas, rice, vegetables, meats, etc.; the homemade coffee from meal, spring and well water, tanning rawhide for leather, spinning of thread from cotton and the weaving looms.

“There was no difference,” he states, “in the treatment of men and women for work; my parents worked very hard and women did some jobs that we would think them crazy for trying now; why my mother helped build a railroad before she was married to my father. My mother’s first husband was sold away from her; shucks, some of the masters didn’t care how they treated husbands, wives, parents and children; any of them might be separated from the other. A good price for a ‘nigger’ was $1500 on down and if one was what was called a stallion (healthy), able to get plenty children he would bring about $2500.

“They had what was called legal money–I did have some of it but guess it was burned when I lost my house by fire a few years ago.

“Now, my master had three boys and two girls; his wife, Elizabeth, was about like the ordinary missus; Master Davis was good, but positive; he didn’t allow other whites to bother his slaves.

“When the war came, his two boys went first, finally Master Davis went; he and one son never returned.

“The Yankees killed cows, etc., as they went along but did not destroy any property ’round where I was.

“We had preachers and doctors, but no schools; the white preachers told us to obey and would read the Bible (which we could not understand) and told us not to steal eggs. Most of the doctors used herbs from the woods and “Aunt Jane” and “Uncle Bob” were known for using “Samson’s Snake Root,” “Devil’s shoe-string” for stomach troubles and “low-bud Myrtle” for fevers; that’s good now, chili, if you can get it.

“The ‘nigger’ didn’t have a chance to git in politics during slavery, but after Emancipation, he went immediately into the Republican Party; a few into the Democratic Party; there were many other parties, too.

“The religions were Methodist and Baptist; my master was Baptist and that’s what I am; we could attend church but dare not try to get any education, less we punished with straps.

“There are many things I remember just like it was yesterday- the general punishment was with straps – some of the slaves suffered terribly on the plantations; if the master was poor and had few slaves he was mean–the more wealthy or more slaves he had, the better he was. In some cases it was the general law that made some of the masters as they were; as, the law required them to have an overseer or foreman (he was called “boss man”) by the ‘niggers’ and usually came from the lower or poorer classes of whites; he didn’t like ‘niggers’ usually, and took authority to do as he pleased with them at times. Some plantations preferred and did have ‘nigger riders’ that were next to the overseer or foreman, but they were liked better than the foreman and in many instances were treated like foremen but the law would not let them be called “foremen.” Some of the masters stood between the ‘nigger riders’ and foremen and some cases, the ‘nigger’ was really boss.

“The punishments, as I said were cruel – some masters would hang the slaves up by both thumbs so that their toes just touched the floor, women and men, alike. Many slaves ran away; others were forced by their treatment to do all kinds of mean things. Some slaves would dig deep holes along the route of the “Patrollers” and their horses would fall in sometimes breaking the leg of the horse, arm or leg of the rider; some slaves took advantage of the protection their masters would give them with the overseer or other plantation owners, would do their devilment and “fly” to their masters who did not allow a man from another plantation to bother his slaves. I have known pregnant women to go ten miles to help do some devilment. My mother was a very strong woman (as I told you she helped build a railroad), and felt that she could whip any ordinary man, would not get a passport unless she felt like it; once when caught on another plantation without a passport, she had all of us with her, made all of the children run, but wouldn’t run herself – somehow she went upstream, one of the men’s horse’s legs was broken and she told him “come and get me” but she knew the master allowed no one to come on his place to punish his slaves.

“My father was a blacksmith and made the chains used for stocks, (like handcuffs), used on legs and hands. The slaves were forced to lay flat on their backs and were chained down to the board made for that purpose; they were left there for hours, sometimes through rain and cold; he might ‘holler’ and groan but that did not always get him released.

“The Race became badly mixed then; some Negro women were forced into association, some were beaten almost to death because they refused. The Negro men dare not bother or even speak to some of their women.

“In one instance an owner of a plantation threatened a Negro rider’s sweetheart; she told him and he went crying to this owner who in turned threatened him and probably did hit the woman; straight to his master this sweetheart went and when he finished his story, his master immediately took his team and drove to the other plantation–drove so fast that one of his horses’ dropped dead; when the owner came out he leveled his double barrel shot-gun at him and shot him dead. No, suh; some masters did not allow you to bother their slaves.

“A peculiar case was that of Old Jim who lived on another plantation was left to look out for the fires and do other chores around the house while ‘marster’ was at war. A bad rumor spread, and do you know those mean devils, overseers of nearby plantations came out and got her dug a deep hole, and despite her cries, buried her up to her neck–nothing was left out but her head and hair. A crowd of young ‘nigger boys’ saw it all and I was one among the crowd that helped dig her out.

“Oh, there’s a lots more I know but just cant get it together. My mother’s name was Caroline and my father Patrick; all took the name of Davis from our master. There were thirteen children – I am the only one alive.”

Mr. Davis appears well preserved for his age; he has most of his teeth and is slightly gray; his health seems to be good, although he is a cripple and uses a cane for walking always; this condition he believes is the result of an attack of rheumatism. He is a preacher and has pastored in Alabama, Texas and Florida. He has had several years of training in public schools and under ministers. He has lived in Jacksonville since 1918 coming here from Waycross, Georgia.

He was married for the first and only time during his 62 years of life to Mrs. Lizzie P. Brown, November 19, 1935. There are no children. He gives no reason for remaining single, but his reason for marrying was “to give some lady the privilege and see how it feels to be called husband.”

Brown, Davis,

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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