Slave Narrative of Essex Henry

Interviewer: Mary A. Hicks
Person Interviewed: Essex Henry
Location: 713 S. East Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
Age: 83

Ex-Slave Story

An interview with Essex Henry 83 of 713 S. East Street, Raleigh, N. C.

I wus borned five miles north of Raleigh on de Wendell Road, 83 years ago. My mammy wus Nancy an’ my pappy wus Louis. I had one sister, Mary, an’ one bruder, Louis.

We ‘longed ter Mr. Jake Mordecai, an’ we lived on his six hundert acres plantation ’bout a mile from Millbrook. Right atter de war he sold dis lan’ ter Doctor Miller an’ bought de Betsy Hinton tract at Milburnie. Mr. Jake had four or five hundert niggers hyar an’ I doan know how many at de Edgecombe County place.

De wuck wus hard den, I knows case I’se seed my little mammy dig ditches wid de best of ’em. I’se seed her split 350 rails a day many’s de time. Dat wus her po’tion you knows, an’ de mens had ter split 500. I wus too little ter do much but min’ de chickens outen de gyarden, an’ so I fared better dan most of ’em. You see Miss Tempie ‘ud see me out at de gate mornin’s as dey wus eatin’ breakfas’ on de ferander, an’ she’ud call me ter her an’ give me butter toasted lightbread or biscuits. She’d give me a heap in dat way, an’ do de rest of de slaves got hungry, I doan think dat I eber did. I know dat Miss Jenny Perry, on a neighborin’ plantation, ‘ud give my mammy food, fer us chilluns.

Mo’nin’s we sometimes ain’t had nothin’ ter eat. At dinner time de cook at de big house cooked nuff turnip salet, beans, ‘taters, er peas fer all de han’s an’ long wid a little piece of meat an’ a little hunk of co’nbread de dinner wus sont ter de slaves out in de fiel’ on a cart.

De slaves ‘ud set roun’ under de trees an’ eat an’ laugh an’ talk till de oberseer, Bob Gravie, yells at ’em ter git back ter wuck. Iffen dey doan git back right den he starts ter frailin’ lef’ an’ right.

Dar wus a few spirited slaves what won’t be whupped an’ my uncle wus one. He wus finally sold fer dis.

Hit wus different wid my gran’mother do’. De oberseer tried ter whup her an’ he can’t, so he hollers fer Mr. Jake. Mr. Jake comes an’ he can’t, so he hauls off an’ kicks granny, mashin’ her stomick in. He has her carried ter her cabin an’ three days atterward she dies wid nothin’ done fer her an’ nobody wid her.

Mr. Jake orders de coffinmaker ter make de pine box, an’ den he fergits hit. De slaves puts de coffin on de cyart hin’ de two black hosses an’ wid six or maybe seben hundert niggers follerin’ dey goes ter de Simms’ graveyard an’ buries her. All de way ter de graveyard dey sings, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot,’ ‘De Promised Lan’, ‘De Road ter Jordan,’ an’ ‘Ole Time Religion.’

Hit’s a good thing dat none of de white folkses ain’t went to de funerals case iffen dey had de niggers can’t sing deir hymns. Does you know dat dey warn’t no ‘ligion ‘lowed on dat plantation. Ole lady Betsy Holmes wus whupped time an’ ag’in fer talkin’ ‘ligion er fer singin’ hymns. We sometimes had prayermeetin’ anyhow in de cabins but we’d turn down de big pot front o’ de door ter ketch de noise.

Dey won’t gib us no pass hardly, an’ iffen we runs ‘way de patterollers will git us. Dey did let us have some dances do’ now an’ den, but not offen. Dey let us go possum huntin’ too case dat wus gittin’ something ter eat widout Mr. Jake payin’ fer hit.

Mr. Henry, Mr. Jake’s bruder an’ his Uncle Moses uster come a-visitin’ ter de house fer de day. Mr. Henry wus little wid a short leg an’ a long one, an’ he had de wust temper dat eber wus in de worl’; an’ he loved ter see slaves suffer, near ’bout much as he loved his brandy. We knowed when we seed him comin’ dat dar wus gwine ter be a whuppin’ frolic ‘fore de day wus gone.

Dar wus three niggers, John Lane, Ananias Ruffin an’ Dick Rogers what got de blame fer eber’thing what happens on de place. Fer instance Mr. Henry ‘ud look in de hawg pen an’ ‘low dat hit ‘peared dat he bruder’s stock wus growin’ less all de time. Den Mr. Jake sez dat dey done been stold.

‘Why doan you punish dem thievin’ niggers, Jake’?

Jake gits mad an’ has dese three niggers brung out, deir shirts am pulled off an’ dey am staked down on deir stomichs, an’ de oberseer gits wored out, an’ leavin’ de niggers tied, dar in de sun, dey goes ter de house ter git some brandy.

Dey more dey drinks from de white crock de better humor dey gits in. Dey laughs an’ talks an’ atter awhile dey think o’ de niggers, an’ back dey goes an’ beats ’em some more. Dis usually lasts all de day, case hit am fun ter dem.

Atter so long dey ketched Jack Ashe, a Free Issue, wid one of de pigs, an’ dey whups him twixt drinks all de day, an’ at night dey carried him ter de Raleigh jail. He wus convicted an’ sent ter Bald Head Island ter wuck on de breastworks durin’ de war an’ he ain’t neber come back.

[HW: Asterisk in margin] Dar wus a man in Raleigh what had two blood houn’s an’ he made his livin’ by ketchin’ runaway niggers. His name wus Beaver an’ he ain’t missed but onct. Pat Norwood took a long grass sythe when he runned away, an’ as de fust dog come he clipped off its tail, de second one he clipped off its ear an’ dem dawgs ain’t run him no more.

De war lasted a long time, an’ hit wus a mess. Some of Marster Jake’s [HW: Asterisk] slaves lef’ him an’ when de Yankees got ter Raleigh dey come an’ tol’ ’em ’bout de way Mr. Jake done. Well in a few days hyar comes de Yankees a-ridin’, an’ dey sez dat dey had tentions o’ hangin’ Mr. Jake on de big oak in de yard iffen he ‘uv been dar, but he ain’t. He an’ his family had flewed de coop.

Dem Yankees went in de big house an’ dey tored an’ busted up all dey pleased, dey eben throwed de clothes all ober de yard.

Dey took two big barns o’ corn an’ haul hit off an’ down Devil’s Jump on Morris Creek dey buried ever so much molasses an’ all.

At Rattlesnake Spring de Yankees fin’s whar Marster Jake’s still had been, an’ dar buried, dey fin’s five barrels o’ brandy.

Atter de war we stayed on as servants o’ Doctor Miller fer seberal years. I ‘members de only time dat I eber got drunk wus long den. De doctor an’ his frien’s wus splurgin’, an’ I went wid another nigger ter git de brandy from de cellar fer de guests. When I tasted hit, hit drunk so good, an’ so much lak sweetin water dat I drunk de pitcher full. I wus drunk three days.

I married Milly, an’ sixty years ago we moved ter town. We scuffled along till twenty-eight years ago we buyed dis shack. I hopes dat we can git de ole age pension, case we shore need hit.

Henry, Mordecai,

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

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