Slave Narrative of Aleck Woodward

Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Aleck Woodward
Location: South Carolina
Age: 83

“You knows de Simonton place, Mr. Wood? Well, dats just where I was born back yonder befo’ de war, a slave of old Marster Johnnie Simonton. Five miles sorter south sunset side of Woodward Station where you was born, ain’t it so? My pappy was Ike Woodward, but him just call ‘Ike’ time of slavery, and my mammy was name Dinah. My brother Charlie up north, if he ain’t dead, Ike lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Two sisters: Ollie, her marry an Aiken, last counts, and she and her family in Charlotte, North Carolina; sister Mattie marry a Wilson nigger, but I don’t know where they is.

“Us lived in a four-room log house, ’bout sixteen all told. Dere was pappy and mammy (now you count them) gran’pappy, Henry Davis, Gran’mammy Kisana, Aunt Anna, and her seven chillun, and me, and my two brothers and two sisters. How many make dat? Seventeen? Well, dat’s de number piled in dere at night in de beds and on de floors. They was scandlous beds; my God, just think of my grands, old as I is now, tryin’ to sleep on them hard beds and other folks piled ‘scriminately all over de log floors! My Gran’pappy Henry was de carpenter, and old marster tell him ‘if you make your beds hard, Henry, ‘member you folks got to sleep on them.’

“I was just a little black feller, running ’round most of de time in my shirt tail, but I recollect pickin’ cotton, and piddling ’round de woodpile, fetchin’ in wood for white house and chips and kindling to fresh up de fires. Us had plenty to eat, ’cause us killed thirty-five hogs at a time, and de sausages and lights us did was a sight. Then de lard us made, and de cracklin’ bread, why, I hungers for de sight of them things right now. Us niggers didn’t get white flour bread, but de cracklin’ bread was called on our place, ‘de sweet savor of life.’

“Money? Us had eyes to see and ears to hear, but us just hear ’bout it, never even seen money.

“My marster had a fish pond, signs of it dere yet.

“My white folks attended church at Concord Presbyterian Church. Us went dere too, and us set up in de gallery. Yes, they asked us. De preacher asked us to jine in some of de hymns, especially ‘De Dyin’ Thief’ and ‘De Fountain Filled Wid Blood,’ and dat one ’bout ‘Mazing Grace How Sweet de Sound Dat Save a Wretch Like us.’

“Our young Marster Charlie went off to de war, got killed at Second Bull Run. Marster Watt went and got a leg shot off somewheres. Marster Jim went and got killed, Johnnie too, Marster Robert was not old enough to carry a gun.

“De young mistresses was Mary and Martha. Marster John, old mistress and all of them mighty good to us, especially when Christmas come and then at times of sickness. They send for de doctor and set up wid you, such tendin’ to make you love them. When de Yanks come us all plead for Marster John and family, and de house not to be burnt. De house big, had ten rooms, big plantation, run fifteen plows.

“You ask ’bout was dere any poor white folks ’round? Not many, but I ‘members old Miss Sallie Carlisle weaved and teached de slaves how it was done. Marster give her a house to live in, and a garden spot on de place, good woman. She show me how to spin and make ball thread, little as I was. Marster John had over fifty slaves, and they worked hard, sun up to sun down. It’s a wonder but I never got a whippin’.

“Did I ever see a ghost? Mr. Wood, I seen sumpin’ once mighty strange, I was gwine to see a gal Nannie, on de widow Mobley place, and had to pass ‘tween two graveyards, de white and de colored. She was de daughter of Rev. Richard Cook. When I was just ’bout de end of de white graveyard, I saw two spirits dressed in white. I run all de way to de gal’s house and sob when I got dere. I laid my head in her lap and told her ’bout de spirits and how they scared me. I still weepin’ wid fear, and she console me, rub my forehead and soothed me. When I got quiet, I asked her some day to be my wife, and dat’s de gal dat come to be years after, my wife. Us walk to church hand and hand ever afterwards, and one day Preacher Morris, white man, made us husband and wife. I ‘members de song de white folks sung dat day. ‘Hark from de tomb a doleful sound’. Don’t you think dat a wrong song to sing on a weddin’ day? ‘Joy to de World,’ was in our heart and dat tune would have been more ‘propriate, seems to me.

“Marster John give de slaves every other Saturday after dinner in busy seasons, and every Saturday evening all other weeks. Us had two doctors, Doctor Brice at first, and when he git old, us had Doctor Lurkin.

“Was glad when marster called us up and told us we was free. De Yankees made a camp on de Doctor Brice place, and foraged de country all ’round. They made me run after chickens and I had to give up my onliest blue hen dat I had. My pappy was took off by them to Raleigh, wid dat I ‘member, was de saddest day of slavery time.

“Nannie and me, under de providence of de Lord Jehovah, has had three chillun to live, and they have chillun too. I owns my own home and land enough to live on, though it is hard to make both ends meet some years.

“How I got my name, you ask dat? Well, after freedom us niggers had to come to Winnsboro and register. Us talk ’bout it by de fireside what us would lak. When us come, Marster Henry Gaillard had a big crowd of Gaillard niggers ’bout him beggin’ for names. One of them say, ‘Marster Henry, I don’t want no little name, I wants big soundin’ name.’ Marster Henry write on de paper, then he read: ‘Your name is Mendozah J. Fernandez, hope dats big enough for you.’ De little nigger dwarf seem powerful pleased and stepped to de register. De rest of us spoke to Captain Gaillard and he said no better name than Woodward, so us took dat name. Its been a kind of a ‘tection to us at times, and none of our immediate family has ever dragged it in a jail or chaingang, Bless God! and I hope us never will.”

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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