Slave Narrative of Fanny Cannady

Interviewer: Travis Jordan
Person Interviewed: Fanny Cannady
Location: Durham County, North Carolina
Age: 79

I don’ ‘member much ’bout de sojers an’ de fightin’ in de war kaze I wuzn’ much more den six years ole at de surrender, but I do ‘member how Marse Jordan Moss shot Leonard Allen, one of his slaves. I ain’t never forgot dat.

My mammy an’ pappy, Silo an’ Fanny Moss belonged to Marse Jordan an’ Mis’ Sally Moss. Dey had ’bout three hundred niggahs an’ mos’ of dem worked in de cotton fields.

Marse Jordan wuz hard on his niggahs. He worked dem over time an’ didn’ give den enough to eat. Dey didn’ have good clothes neither an’ dey shoes wuz made out of wood. He had ’bout a dozen niggahs dat didn’ do nothin’ else but make wooden shoes for de slaves. De chillun didn’ have no shoes a tall; dey went barefooted in de snow an’ ice same as ‘twuz summer time. I never had no shoes on my feets ‘twell I wuz pas’ ten years ole, an’ dat wuz after de Yankees done set us free.

I wuz skeered of Marse Jordan, an’ all of de grown niggahs wuz too ‘cept Leonard an’ Burrus Allen. Dem niggahs wuzn’ skeered of nothin’. If de debil hese’f had come an’ shook er stick at dem dey’d hit him back. Leonard wuz er big black buck niggah; he wuz de bigges niggah I ever seed, an’ Burrus wuz near ’bout as big, an’ dey ‘spized Marse Jordan wus’n pizen.

I wuz sort of skeered of Mis’ Polly too. When Marse Jordan wuzn’ ‘roun’ she wuz sweet an’ kind, but when he wuz ‘roun’, she wuz er yes, suh, yes, suh, woman. Everythin’ he tole her to do she done. He made her slap Marmy one time kaze when she passed his coffee she spilled some in de saucer. Mis’ Sally hit Mammy easy, but Marse Jordan say: ‘Hit her, Sally, hit de black bitch like she ‘zerve to be hit.’ Den Mis’ Sally draw back her hand an’ hit Mammy in de face, pow, den she went back to her place at de table an’ play like she eatin’ her breakfas’. Den when Marse Jordan leave she come in de kitchen an’ put her arms ‘roun’ Mammy an’ cry, an’ Mammy pat her on de back an’ she cry too. I loved Mis’ Sally when Marse Jordan wuzn’ ‘roun’.

Marse Jordan’s two sons went to de war; dey went all dressed up in dey fightin’ clothes. Young Marse Jordan wuz jus’ like Mis’ Sally but Marse Gregory wuz like Marse Jordan, even to de bully way he walk. Young Marse Jordan never come back from de war, but ‘twould take more den er bullet to kill Marse Gregory; he too mean to die anyhow kaze de debil didn’ want him an’ de Lawd wouldn’ have him.

One day Marse Gregory come home on er furlo’. He think he look pretty wid his sword clankin’ an’ his boots shinin’. He wuz er colonel, lootenent er somethin’. He wuz struttin’ ‘roun’ de yard showin’ off, when Leonard Allen say under his breath, ‘Look at dat God damn sojer. He fightin’ to keep us niggahs from bein’ free.’

‘Bout dat time Marse Jordan come up. He look at Leonard an’ say: ‘What yo’ mumblin’ ’bout?’

Dat big Leonard wuzn’ skeered. He say, I say, ‘Look at dat God damn sojer. He fightin’ to keep us niggahs from bein’ free.’

Marse Jordan’s face begun to swell. It turned so red dat de blood near ’bout bust out. He turned to Pappy an’ tole him to go an’ bring him dis shot gun. When Pappy come back Mis’ Sally come wid him. De tears wuz streamin’ down her face. She run up to Marse Jordan an’ caught his arm. Ole Marse flung her off an’ took de gun from Pappy. He leveled it on Leonard an’ tole him to pull his shirt open. Leonard opened his shirt an’ stood dare big as er black giant sneerin’ at Ole Marse.

Den Mis’ Sally run up again an’ stood ‘tween dat gun an’ Leonard.

Ole Marse yell to pappy an’ tole him to take dat woman out of de way, but nobody ain’t moved to touch Mis’ Sally, an’ she didn’ move neither, she jus’ stood dare facin’ Ole Marse. Den Ole Marse let down de gun. He reached over an’ slapped Mis’ Sally down, den picked up de gun an’ shot er hole in Leonard’s ches’ big as yo’ fis’. Den he took up Mis’ Sally an’ toted her in de house. But I wuz so skeered dat I run an’ hid in de stable loft, an’ even wid my eyes shut I could see Leonard layin’ on de groun’ wid dat bloody hole in his ches’ an’ dat sneer on his black mouf.

After dat Leonard’s brother Burrus hated Ole Marse wus’ er snake, den one night he run away. Mammy say he run away to keep from killin’ Ole Marse. Anyhow, when Ole Marse foun’ he wuz gone, he took er bunch of niggahs an’ set out to find him. All day long dey tromped de woods, den when night come dey lit fat pine to’ches an’ kept lookin’, but dey couldn’ find Burrus. De nex’ day Ole Marse went down to de county jail an’ got de blood houn’s. He brung home er great passel of dem yelpin’ an’ pullin’ at de ropes, but when he turned dem loose dey didn’ find Burrus, kaze he done grease de bottom of his feets wid snuff an’ hog lard so de dogs couldn’ smell de trail. Ole Marse den tole all de niggahs dat if anybody housed an’ fed Burrus on de sly, dat he goin’ to shoot dem like he done shot Leonard. Den he went every day an’ searched de cabins; he even looked under de houses.

One day in ’bout er week Mis’ Sally wuz feedin’ de chickens when she heard somethin’ in de polk berry bushes behin’ de hen house. She didn’ go ‘roun’ de house but she went inside house an’ looked through de crack. Dare wuz Burrus layin’ down in de bushes. He wuz near ’bout starved kaze he hadn’ had nothin’ to eat since he done run away.

Mis’ Sally whisper an’ tole him to lay still, dat she goin’ to slip him somethin’ to eat. She went back to de house an’ made up some more cawn meal dough for de chickens, an’ under de dough she put some bread an’ meat. When she went ‘cross de yard she met Marse Jordan. He took de pan of dough an’ say he goin’ to feed de chickens. My mammy say dat Mis’ Sally ain’t showed no skeer, she jus’ smile at Ole Marse an’ pat his arm, den while she talk she take de pan an’ go on to de chicken house, but Ole Marse he go too. When dey got to de hen house Ole Marse puppy begun sniffin’ ‘roun’. Soon he sta’ted to bark; he cut up such er fuss dat Ole Marse went to see what wuz wrong. Den he foun’ Burrus layin’ in de polk bushes.

Ole Marse drag Burrus out an’ drove him to de house. When Mis’ Sally seed him take out his plaited whip, she run up stairs an’ jump in de bed an’ stuff er pillow over her head.

Dey took Burrus to de whippin’ post. Dey strip off his shirt, den dey put his head an’ hands through de holes in de top, an’ tied his feets to de bottom, den, Ole Marse took de whip. Dat lash hiss like col’ water on er red hot iron when it come through de air, an’ every time it hit Burrus it lef’ er streak of blood. Time Ole Marse finish, Burrus’ back look like er piece of raw beef.

Dey laid Burrus face down on er plank den dey poured turpentine in all dem cut places. It burned like fire but dat niggah didn’ know nothin’ ’bout it kaze he done passed out from pain. But, all his life dat black man toted dem scares on his back.

When de war ended Mis’ Sally come to Mammy an’ say: ‘Fanny, I’s sho glad yo’s free. Yo’ can go now an’ yo’ won’ ever have to be er slave no more.’

But Mammy, she ain’t had no notion of leavin’ Mis’ Sally. She put her arms’ roun’ her an’ call her Baby, an’ tell her she goin’ to stay wid her long as she live. An’ she did stay wid her. Me an’ Mammy bof stayed Mis’ Sally ‘twell she died.

Cannady, Moss,

Durham County NC,

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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