Slave Narrative of Jane Arrington

Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Jane Arrington
Location: 301 Fowle Street, Raleigh, North Carolina
Date of Birth: December 18, 1852
Age: 84

I ort to be able to tell sumpin cause I wus twelve years old when dey had de surrender right up here in Raleigh. If I live to see dis coming December I will be eighty five years old. I was born on the 18th of December 1852.

I belonged to Jackson May of Nash County. I wus born on de plantation near Tar River. Jackson May never married until I wus of a great big girl. He owned a lot of slaves; dere were eighty on de plantation before de surrender. He married Miss Becky Wilder, sister of Sam Wilder. De Wilders lived on a jining plantation to where I wus borned.

Jackson May had so many niggers he let Billy Williams who had a plantation nearby have part of ’em. Marster Jackson he raised my father and bought my mother. My mother wus named Louisa May, and my father wus named Louis May. My mother had six chilluns, four boys and two girls. The boys were Richard, Farro, Caeser, and Fenner. De girls Rose and Jane. Jane, dats me.

We lived in log houses with stick an’ dirt chimleys. They called ’em the slave houses. We had chicken feather beds to sleep on an’ de houses wus good warm comfortable log houses. We had plenty of cover an’ feather pillows.

My grandmother on my mother’s side told me a lot of stories ’bout haints and how people run from ’em. Dey told me ’bout slaves dat had been killed by dere marster’s coming back and worryin’ ’em. Ole Missus Penny Williams, before Jackson May bought mother, treated some of de slaves mighty bad. She died an’ den come back an’ nearly scared de slaves to death. Grandmother told all we chillun she seed her an’ knowed her after she been dead an’ come back.

John May a slave wus beat to death by Bill Stone an’ Oliver May. Oliver May wus Junius May’s son. Junius May wus Jackson May’s Uncle. John May come back an’ wurried both of ’em. Dey could hardly sleep arter dat. Dey said dey could hear him hollerin’ an’ groanin’ most all de time. Dese white men would groan in dere sleep an’ tell John to go away. Dey would say, ‘Go way John, please go away’. De other slaves wus afraid of ’em cause de ghost of John wurried ’em so bad.

I wurked on de farm, cuttin’ corn stalks and tendin’ to cattle in slavery time. Sometimes I swept de yards. I never got any money for my work and we didn’t have any patches. My brothers caught possums, coons and sich things an’ we cooked ’em in our houses. We had no parties but we had quiltin’s. We went to the white folks church, Peach Tree Church, six miles from de plantation an’ Poplar Springs Church seven miles away. Both were missionary Baptist Churches.

There were no overseers on Jackson May’s plantation. He wouldn’t have nary one. Billy Williams didn’t have none. Dey had colored slave foremen.

After wurkin’ all day dere wus a task of cotton to be picked an’ spun by ’em. Dis wus two onces of cotton. Some of de slaves run away from Bill Williams when Marster Jackson May let him have ’em to work. Dey run away an’ come home. Aunt Chaney runned away an’ mother run away. Marster Jackson May kept ’em hid cause he say dey wus not treated right. He wouldn’t let ’em have ’em back no more.

I never saw a grown slave whupped or in chains and I never saw a slave sold. Jackson May would not sell a slave. He didn’t think it right. He kept ’em together. He had eighty head. He would let other white people have ’em to wurk for ’em sometimes, but he would not sell none of ’em.

If dey caught a slave wid a book you knowed it meant a whuppin’, but de white chillun teached slaves secretey sometimes. Ole man Jake Rice a slave who belonged to John Rice in Nash County wus teached by ole John Rice’s son till he had a purty good mount of larnin’.

We did not have prayer meeting at marster’s plantation or anywhur. Marster would not allow dat.

When I wus a child we played de games of three handed reels, ‘Old Gray Goose’, ‘All Little Gal, All Little Gal, All Little Gal remember me’. We took hold of hands an’ run round as we sang dis song.

We sang ‘Old Dan Tucker’. Git outen de way, ole Dan Tucker, Sixteen Hosses in one stable, one jumped out an’ skined his nable an’ so on.

Dr. Mann and Dr. Sid Harris and Dr. Fee Mann and Dr. Mathias looked arter us when we wus sick. Mother and de other grown folks raised herbs dat dey give us too. Chillun took a lot of salts.

Jackson May wus too rich to go to de war. Billy Williams didn’t go, too rich too, I reckons. I remember when dey said niggers had to be free. De papers said if dey could not be freedom by good men dere would be freedom by blood. Dey fighted an’ kept on fightin’ a long time. Den de Yankees come. [HW correction: New paragraph] I heard dem beat de drum. Marster tole us we wus free but mother an’ father stayed on with Marster. He promised ’em sumptin, but he give ’em nothin’. When de crop wus housed dey left.

Father and mother went to Hench Stallings plantation and stayed there one year. Then they went to Jim Webbs farm. I don’t remember how long they stayed there but round two years. They moved about an’ about among the white folks till they died. They never owned any property. They been dead ’bout thirty years.

I married Sidney Arrington. He has been dead six years las’ September.

I am unable to do any kind of work. My arm is mighty weak.

I know slavery wus a bad thing. I don’t have to think anything about it. Abraham Lincoln wus the first of us bein’ free, I think he wus a man of God. I think Roosevelt is all right man. I belongs to the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Arrington, Jackson, May,

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.

1 thought on “Slave Narrative of Jane Arrington”

  1. Barbara Glamser

    I saw the show, Who Do You Think You Are”. This is one of Pharrell Williams’ ancestors.

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