Slave Narrative of John Beckwith

Interviewer: Mary A. Hicks
Person Interviewed: John Beckwith
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Age: 83

When The Yankees Came

An Interview with John Beckwith 83, of Cary.

I reckon dat I wuz ’bout nine years old at de surrender, but we warn’t happy an’ we stayed on dar till my parents died. My pappy wuz named Green an’ my mammy wuz named Molly, an’ we belonged ter Mr. Joe Edwards, Mr. Marion Gully, an’ Mr. Hilliard Beckwith, as de missus married all of ’em. Dar wuz twenty-one other slaves, an’ we got beat ever’ onct in a while.

When dey told us dat de Yankees wuz comin’ we wuz also told dat iffen we didn’t behave dat we’d be shot; an’ we believed it. We would’uv behaved anyhow, case we had good plank houses, good food, an’ shoes. We had Saturday an’ Sunday off an’ we wuz happy.

De missus, she raised de nigger babies so’s de mammies could wuck. I ‘members de times when she rock me ter sleep an’ put me ter bed in her own bed. I wuz happy den as I thinks back of it, until dem Yankees come.

Dey come on a Chuesday; an’ dey started by burnin’ de cotton house an’ killin’ most of de chickens an’ pigs. Way atter awhile dey fin’s de cellar an’ dey drinks brandy till dey gits wobbly in de legs. Atter dat dey comes up on de front porch an’ calls my missus. When she comes ter de do’ dey tells her dat dey am goin’ in de house ter look things over. My missus dejicts, case ole marster am away at de war, but dat doan do no good. Dey cusses her scan’lous an’ dey dares her ter speak. Dey robs de house, takin’ dere knives an’ splittin’ mattresses, pillows an’ ever’ thing open lookin’ fer valerables, an’ ole missus dasen’t open her mouth.

Dey camped dar in de grove fer two days, de officers takin’ de house an’ missus leavin’ home an’ goin’ ter de neighbor’s house. Dey make me stay dar in de house wid ’em ter tote dere brandy frum de cellar, an’ ter make ’em some mint jelup. Well, on de secon’ night dar come de wust storm I’se eber seed. De lightnin’ flash, de thunder roll, an’ de house shook an’ rattle lak a earthquake had struck it.

Dem Yankees warn’t supposed ter be superstitious, but lemmie tell yo’, dey wuz some skeered dat night; an’ I hyard a Captain say dat de witches wuz abroad. Atter awhile lightnin’ struck de Catawba tree dar at de side of de house an’ de soldiers camped round about dat way marched off ter de barns, slave cabins an’ other places whar dey wuz safter dan at dat place. De next mornin’ dem Yankees moved frum dar an’ dey ain’t come back fer nothin’.

We wuzn’t happy at de surrender an’ we cussed ole Abraham Lincoln all ober de place. We wuz told de disadvantages of not havin’ no edercation, but shucks, we doan need no book larnin’ wid ole marster ter look atter us.

My mammy an’ pappy stayed on dar de rest of dere lives, an’ I stayed till I wuz sixteen. De Ku Klux Klan got atter me den’ bout fightin’ wid a white boy. Dat night I slipped in de woods an’ de nex’ day I went ter Raleigh. I got a job dar an’ eber’ since den I’se wucked fer myself, but now I can’t wuck an’ I wish dat yo’ would apply fer my ole aged pension fer me.

I went back ter de ole plantation long as my pappy, mammy, an’ de marster an’ missus lived. Sometimes, when I gits de chanct I goes back now. Course now de slave cabins am gone, ever’ body am dead, an’ dar ain’t nothin’ familiar ‘cept de bent Catawba tree; but it ‘minds me of de happy days.

Beckwith, Edwards, Gully,

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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