Slave Narrative of Jennie Small

Interviewer: Rev. Edward Knox
Person Interviewed: Jennie Small
Location: Ohio
Place of Birth: Pocohontas County, Virginia
Age: 80+

INTERVIEW OF EX-SLAVE FROM VIRGINIA Reported by Rev. Edward Knox Jun. 9, 1937

Topic: Ex-slaves Guernsey County, District #2

JENNIE SMALL Ex-slave, over 80 years of age

I was born in Pocahontas County, Virginia in the drab and awful surroundings of slavery. The whipping post and cruelty in general made an indelible impression in my mind. I can see my older brothers in their tow-shirts that fell knee-length which was sometimes their only garment, toiling laborously under a cruel lash as the burning sun beamed down upon their backs.

Pappy McNeal (we called the master Pappy) was cruel and mean. Nothing was too hard, too sharp, or too heavy to throw at an unfortunate slave. I was very much afraid of him; I think as much for my brothers’ sakes as for my own. Sometimes in his fits of anger, I was afraid he might kill someone. However, one happy spot in my heart was for his son-in-law who told us: “Do not call Mr. McNeal the master, no one is your master but God, call Mr. McNeal, mister.” I have always had a tender spot in my heart for him.

There are all types of farm work to do and also some repair work about the barns and carriages. It was one of these carriages my brother was repairing when the Yankees came, but I am getting ahead of my story.

I was a favorite of my master. I had a much better sleeping quarters than my brothers. Their cots were made of straw or corn husks. Money was very rare but we were all well-fed and kept. We wore tow-shirts which were knee-length, and no shoes. Of course, some of the master’s favorites had some kind of footwear.

There were many slaves on our plantation. I never saw any of them auctioned off or put in chains. Our master’s way of punishment was the use of the whipping post. When we received cuts from the whip he put soft soap and salt into our wounds to prevent scars. He did not teach us any reading or writing; we had no special way of learning; we picked up what little we knew.

When we were ill on our plantation, Dr. Wallace, a relative of Master McNeal, took care of us. We were always taught to fear the Yankees. One day I was playing in the yard of our master, with the master’s little boy. Some Yankee Soldiers came up and we hid, of course, because we had been taught to fear the soldiers. One Yankee soldier discovered me, however, and took me on his knee and told me that they were our friends end not our enemies; they were here to help us. After that I loved them instead of fearing them. When we received our freedom, our master was very sorry, because we had always done all their work, and hard labor.

McNeal, Small,

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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