Slave Narrative of Anthony Dawson

Person Interviewed: Anthony Dawson
Location: 1008 E. Owen St., Tulsa, Oklahoma
Age: 105

“Run nigger, run,
De Patteroll git you!
Run nigger, run,
De Patteroll come!

“Watch nigger, Watch-
De Patteroll trick you!
Watch nigger, watch,
He got a big gun!”

Dat one of the songs de slaves all knowed, and de children down on de “twenty acres” used to sing it when dey playing in de moonlight ’round de cabins in de quarters. Sometime I wonder iffen de white folks didn’t make dat song up so us niggers would keep in line.

None of my old Master’s boys tried to git away ‘cepting two. and dey met up wid evil, both of ’em.

One of dem niggers was fotching a bull-tongue from a piece of new ground way at de back of de plantation, and bringing it to my pappy to git it sharped. My pappy was de blacksmith.

Dis boy got out in de big road to walk in de soft send, and long come a wagon wid a white overseer and five, six, niggers going somewhar, Dey stopped and told dat boy to git in and ride. Dat was de last anybody seem him.

Dat overseer and another one was cotched after awhile, and showed up to be underground railroaders. Dey would take a bunch of niggers into town for some excuse, and on de way jest pick up a extra nigger and show him whar to go to git on de “railroad system.” When de runaway niggers got to de North dey had to go in de army, and dat boy from our place got killed. He was a good boy, but dey jest talked him into it. Dem railroaders was honest, and dey didn’t take no presents, but de patrollers was low white trash!

We all knowed dat if a patroller jest rode right by and didn’t say nothing dat he was doing his honest job, but iffen he stopped his hoss and talked to a nigger he was after some kind of trade.

Dat other black boy was hoeing cotton way in de back of de field and de patroller rid up and down de big road, saying nothing to nobody.

De next day another white man was on de job, and long in de evening a man come by and axed de niggers about de fishing and hunting! Dat black boy seen he was de same man what was riding de day befo’ and he knowed it was a underground trick. But he didn’t see all de trick, bless God!

We found out afterwards dat he told his mammy about it. She worked at de big house and she stole something for him to give dat low white trash I reckon, ’cause de next day he played sick along in de evening and de black overlooker he was my uncle, sent him back to de quarters.

He never did git there, but when dey started de hunt dey found him about a mile away in de woods wid his head shot off, and old Master sold his mammy to a trader right away. He never whipped his grown niggers.

Dat was de way it worked. Dey was all kinds of white folks jest like dey is now. One man in Sesesh clothes would shoot you if you tried to run away. Maybe another Sesesh would help slip you out to the underground and say “God bless you poor black devil” and some of dem dat was poor would help you if you could bring ’em sumpin you stole, lak a silver dish or spoons or a couple big hams. I couldn’t blame them poor white folks, wid the men in the war and the women and children hongry. The niggers didn’t belong to them nohow, and they had to live somehow. But now and then they was a devil on earth, walking in the sight of God end spreading iniquity before him. He was de low-down Sesesh dat would take what a poor runaway nigger had to give for his chance to git away, and den give him ‘structions dat would lead him right into de hands of de patrollers and git him caught or shot!

Yes, dat’s de way it was. Devils and good people walking in de road at de same time, and nobody could tell one from t’other.

I remember about de trickery so good ’cause I was “grown and out” at that time. When I was a little boy I was a house boy, ’cause my mammy was the house woman, but when the war broke I already been sent to the fields and mammy was still at de house.

I was born on July 25, 1852. I know, ’cause old Master keep de book on his slaves jest like on his own family. He was a good man, and old Mistress was de best woman in de world!

De plantation had more than 500 acres and most was in cotton and tobacco. But we raised corn and oats, and lots of cattle and horses, and plenty of sheep for wool.

I was born on the plantation, soon after my pappy and mammy was brought to it. I don’t remember whether they was bought or come from my Mistress’s father. He was mighty rich and had several hundred niggers. When she was married he give her 40 niggers. One of them was my pappy’s brother. His name was John, and he was my master’s overlooker.

We called a white man boss the “overseer”, but a nigger was a over-looker. John could read and write and figger, and old Master didn’t have no white overseer.

Master’s name was Levi Dawson, and his plantation was 18 miles east of Greenville, North Carolina. It was a beautiful place, with all the fences around the Big House and along the front made-out of barked poles, rider style, and all whitewashed.

The Big House set back from the big road about a quarter of a mile. It was only one story, but it had lots of rooms.

There was four rooms in a bunch on one side and four in a bunch on the other, with a wide hall in between. They was made of square adzed logs, all weatherboarded on the outside and planked up and plastered on the inside. Then they was a long gallery clean across the front with big pillars made out of bricks and plastered over. They called it the passage ’cause it didn’t have no floor excepting bricks, and a buggy could drive right under it. Mostly it was used to set under and talk and play cards and drink the best whiskey old Master could buy.

Back in behind the big house was the kitchen, and the smokehouse in another place made of plank, and all was whitewashed and painted white all the time.

Old Mistress was named Miss Susie and she was born an Isley. She brought 40 niggers from her pappy as a present, and Master Levi jest had 4 or 5, but he had got all his land from his pappy. She had the niggers and he had the land. That’s the way it was, and that’s the way it stayed! She never let him punish one of her niggers and he never asked her about buying or selling land. Her pappy was richer than his pappy, and she was sure quality!

My pappy’s name was Anthony, and mammy’s name was Chanie. He was the blacksmith and fixed the wagons, but he couldn’t read and figger like uncle John. Mammy was the heed house woman but didn’t know any letters either.

They was both black like me. Old man Isley, where they come from, had lots of niggers, but I don’t think they was off the boat.

You can set the letters up and I can’t tell them, but you can’t fool me with the figgers, ‘less they are mighty big numbers.

Master Levi had three sons and no daughters. The oldest son was Simeon. He was in the Sesesh army. The other two boys was too young. I can’t remember their names. They was a lot younger and I was grown and out befo’ they got big.

Old Master was a fine Christian but he like his juleps anyways. He let us niggers have preachings and prayers, and would give us a parole to go 10 or 15 miles to a camp meeting and stay two or three days with nobody but Uncle John to stand for us. Mostly we had white preachers, but-when we had a black preacher that was Heaven.

We didn’t have no voodoo women nor conjure folks at our 20 acres, We all knowed about the Word and the unseen Son of God and we didn’t put no stock in conjure.

Course we had luck charms and good and bad signs, but everybody got den things even nowadays. My boy had a white officer in the Big War and he tells me that man had a li’l old doll tied around his wrist on a gold chain.

We used herbs and roots for common ailments, like sassafras, and boneset and peach tree poultices and coon root tea, but when a nigger got bad sick Old Master sent for a white doctor. I remember that old doctor. He lived in Greenville and he had to come 16 miles in a buggy.

When he give some nigger medicine he would be afraid the nigger was like lots of them that believed in conjure, and he would say, “If you don’t take that medicine like I tell you and I have to come back here to see you I going to break your dem black neck next time I come out here!”

When it was bad weather sometime the black boy sent after him had to carry a lantern to show him the way back. If that nigger on his mule got to fur ahead so old doctor couldn’t see de light he sho’ catch de devil from that old doctor and from old Master, too. less’n he was one of old Missy’s house niggers, and them old Master jest grumble to satisfy the doctor.

Down in the quarters we had the spinning house, where the old woman card the wool and run the loom. They made double weave for the winter time. and all the white folks and slaves had good clothes and good food.

Master made us all eat all we could hold. He would come to the smokehouse and look in and say, “You niggers ain’t cutting down that smoke side and that souse lak you ought to! You made dat meat and you got to help eat it up!”

Never no work on Sunday ‘cepting the regular chores. The over looker made everybody clean up and wash de children up and after the praying we had games. Antsy over and marbles and “I Spy” and de likes of that. Some times de boys would go down in de woods and git a possum. I love possum and sweet taters, but de coon meat more delicate and de hair don’t stink up de meat.

I wasn’t at the quarters much as a boy. I was at the big house with my mammy, and I had to swing the fly bresh over my old Mistress when she was sewing or eating or taking her nap. Sometime I would keep the flies off’n old Master, and when I would get tired and let the bresh slap his neck he would kick at me and cuss me, but he never did reach me. He had a way of keeping us little niggers scared to death and never hurting nobody.

I was down in the field burning bresh when I first heard the guns in the War. De fighting was de battle at Kingston. North Carolina, and it lasted four days and nights. After while bunches of Sesesh come riding by hauling wounded people in wagons, and then pretty soon big bunches of Yankees come by, but dey didn’t act like dey was trying very hard to ketch up.

Dey had de country in charge quite some time, and they had forages coming round all the time. By dat time old Master done buried his money and all de silver and de big clock, but the Yankees didn’t pear to search out dat kind of stuff. All dey ask about was did anybody find a bottle of brandy!

When de War ended up most all de niggers stay with old Master and work on de shares, until de land git divided up and sold off and the young niggers git scattered to town.

I never did have no truck wid de Ku Kluckers, but I had to step mighty high to keep out’n it! De sho’ muff Kluxes never did bother around us ’cause we minded our own business and never give no trouble.

We wouldn’t let no niggers come ’round our place talking ’bout delegates and voting, and we jest all stayed on the place. But dey was some low white trash and some devilish niggers made out like dey was Ku Klux rangin ’round de country stealing hosses and taking things. Old Master said dey wasn’t shore enough, so I reckon he knowed who the regular ones was.

These bunches that come around robbing got into our neighborhood and old Master told me I better not have my old horse at the house. ’cause if I had him they would know nobody had been there stealing and it wouldn’t do no good to hide anything ’cause they would tear up the place hunting what I had and maybe whip or kill me.

“Your old hoss aint no good, Tony, and you better kill him to make them think you already been raided on, ” old Master told me. so I led him out and knocked him in the head with an are, and then we hid all our grub and waited for the Kluckers to come most any night, but they never did come. I borrowed a hoss to use in the day and took him back home every night for about a year.

The niggers kept talking about being free, but they wasn’t free than and they ain’t now.

Putting them free jest like putting goat hair on a sheep. When it rain de goat come a running and wit in de shelter, ’cause his hair won’t shed the rain and he git cold, out de sheep ain’t got sense enough to git in the shelter but jest stand out and let it rain on him all day.

But the good Lord fix the sheep up wid a woolly jacket that turn the water off, and he don’t git cold, so he don’t have to have no brains.

De nigger during slavery was like de sheep. He couldn’t take care of hisself but his Master looked out for him and he didn’t have to use his brains. De master’s protection was like de wooly coat.

But de ‘mancipation come and take off de woolly coat and leave de nigger wid no protection and he cain’t take care of hisself either.

When de niggers was sot free lots of them got mighty uppity, and everybody wanted to be a delegate to something or other. The Yankees told us we could go down and vote in the ‘lections and our color was good enough to run for anything. Heaps of niggers believed them. You cain’t fault them for that. ’cause they didn’t have no better sense, but I knowed the black folks didn’t have no business mixing in until they knowed more.

It was a long time after the War before I went down to vote and everything quiet by that time, but I heard people talk about the fights at the schoolhouse when they had the first election.

I jest stayed on around the old place along time, and then I got on another piece of ground and farmed, not far from Greenville until 1900. Then I moved to Hearn, Texas, and stayed with my son Ed until 1903 when we moved to Sapulpa in the Creek Nation. We come to Tulsa several years ago, and I been living with him ever since.

I can’t move off my bed now, but one time I was strong as a young bull. I raised seven boys and seven girls. My boys was named Edward, Joseph, Furney, Julius, James, and William, and my girls was Luvenia, Olivia, Chanie Mamie, Rebecca and Susie.

I always been a deep Christian and depend on God and know his unseen Son, the King of Glory. I learned about Him when I was a little boy. Old Master was a good man, but on some of the plantations the masters wasn’t good men and the niggers didn’t get the Word. I never did get no reading and writing ’cause I never did go to the schools. I thought I was too big, but they had schools and the young ones went. But I could figger, and I was a good farmer, and now I bless the Lord for all his good works. Everybody don’t know it I reckon, but we all needed each other. The blacks needed the whites, and still do. There’s a difference in the color of the skin, but the souls is all white, or all black, ‘pending on the man’s life and not on his skin. The old fashioned meetings is busted up into a thousand different kinds of churches and only one God to look after them. All is confusion, but I ain’t going to worry my old head about ’em.

Dawson, Isley,

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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