Slave Narrative of Uncle Willis Williams

Interviewer: Genevieve W. Chandler
Person Interviewed: Willis Williams
Location: Conway, South Carolina

“When wuz I born? Born in August. When I wuz born been August. I wuz a man grown pulling boxes, (turpentine boxes) when the shake wuz. I know the very night the shake come——on a Wednesday night. I wuz on door step loosing my shoe string. There wuz more religion then than they is now. Praying and prayer meeting for a month. Everybody tend meeting.

“I been with the Yankee. I kin tell you bout the Yankee. They come home there to Rock Creek when the war wuz breaking up and carried me to Fayetteville. (N.C.) Kept me with ’em till Johnson surrendered in Raleigh,——then they kept me in Goldsboro and took me on to Petersburg. After everything over they give me free transportation back home. Free on train back to Fayetteville. They had put all the Yankee clothes on me,——all the blue shirt, blue coat and bumps on the shoulder,—and when they start me home took all the Yankee clothes way from me. Put gray clothes on me and sent me back. I member they took me up in a way-up-yonder building—to Richmond. Couldn’t tell you the depth of it. Man on the ground looked like boy.

“The man I belonged to been Mass John A. Williams. (Born on the Cape Fear.) I goes by Mass John name—Williams. His sons been John, James, Charlie, Wallis, William, James. James come home from army sick. Had the mumps; thirty days furlough.

“Member when the Yankees come. Been Sunday morning. Ride up to the gate on horses. Old Boss happened to come out and walk to the lot. I happened to be at gate. They took his watch out his pocket, his pistol—had it girded to him—and took all he whiskey and catch chickens and guinea and take them all. Then they gone in the lot and took two breeding mares and hitch them in wagon and loaded wagon full o’ corn. Then they took the two carriage horses and hitched to carriage, and gone to smoke-house, and fill that carriage full of all Mass John sides of meat and ham and shoulders. I been following and watching to see what all they going to take, and a soldier looked at me and say,

“‘Come on little Nigger! Wanter go?’

“And I done like another fool! I rode off behind the two brood mares, on the corn, and where they rested that night, I rested right there.

“It was mighty cold up there. I suffered a heap in the cold fore I got back home. They give me a horse,—saddled and bridled,—and a little bayonet gun. Put me on that horse to drive cattle. Tell me to take all I see. Didn’t except nobody cattle. Night come put ’em in pasture—put ’em in anybody field—on the oats, rye, wheat.

“Sometimes rain sho fall.—Had to tend that bunch of cattle rain or no rain. Didn’t kill one beef and stop! (Kill) FOUR beeves a day. Go out git the hog and kill ’em. Skin ’em. Didn’t scald ’em and clean ’em like we do. Just eat the ham. Rest throw way. Gone to Wilmington, Fayetteville, Rookfish and Beaver Creek.

“General Sherman? Has I hear bout him? I SEEN him! He had a big name but he warn’t such a big man; he was a little spare made man. I member now when I seed him the last time. He had two matched horses going down to Petersburg. Six guards riding by the side of his turnout. Oh my God, what clothes he had on! He was dressed down in finest uniform.

“When I leave the Yankee they give me $35.00 in money. I been so fool had never seen no green back. Throwed it away eating crackers and peanuts. And I bought some brogan shoes. If I’d a helt on to that, I’d a been some body today.

“I members it was Sunday morning that General Johnson throwed up his hand at Raleigh. Done with the war!

“Before Freedom I have a good enough time. Just lay round the house and wait on my boss. When Freedom come and I did have to get out and work it most kill me!

“After Freedom my mother wash for family to Beaver Creek. And after Freedom my father went to working on shares. Old Maas John called ’em up and tell ’em,

“‘You free, Asa. You free, Lewis. You free, Handy. You free, Wash. You can do as you please. You have to fadge for yourself now.’

“Mass John Williams had four hundred slaves. He was a man had the colored people. He didn’t work all on his own plantation. He’d hire out his people to work turpentine.——Put ’em out for so much a year. He’d give ’em blanket, suit, coat, pants. First of the year come, Boss would collect wages for all he hire out.

“That there my second wife. You know how a man is. How many wife I had? Two or three. Lemme see! (Looking at present wife) You is one! You the last one! Fust one been Jinny Lind. Next one been Mary Dickson. And Caressa Pyatt been one! And there been another one! I forgot that woman name! Got it in my mouth and can’t call it! I’ll call the name of them others I take up with in a little while! One was Caline; one was Tissue; (Tisha?) I take them a little while and if they didn’t do to suit me, I put ’em out! Some I didn’t stay with long nuff to find out they name! Jinny Lind sister was Tissue. Jinny Lind gone, try her sister. Just a ‘make out’. If they didn’t do to suit me, I’d give ’em the devil and put ’em out.

“Don’t know bout beating woman. Some say that bout,

‘Woman, dog, cypress knee
more you beat’em the better they be!’
“But some woman, the more you beat ’em the worse the devil gets in ’em. Get so they won’t ‘GEE’ nor ‘HAW’.
“When I was house boy for old Mass John, waiting on white people, that was the best and easiest time I ever had. Ever Satdy drive Mass John to Fayetteville. Ever Satdy they’d think that store belong to me! I’d eat lumps of brown sugar out the barrel, candy, crackers. Did as I please then; NOW do as I kin!

“‘Ways of woman and ways of snake deeper than the sea!’ I take that to mean——mighty few can tell by the trail of a snake whether its coming or going——

“I hear story bout the rabbit and the fox—all them old things—Some times my mind franzy. Been break up too much! Break two ribs to the lumber mill. Jump out a cart one day and run a ten penny nail through my foot. That lay me up two months. Some mean people ketch me up by that tree yonder with a car and that lay me up sixty-five days. They pick me up for dead that time. All that make my mind get franzy sometimes. Come and go—Come and go.”

Dickson, Lind, Pyatt, Williams,

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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