Slave Narrative of Lucinda Vann

Lucinda Vann, born between 92 and 100+ years old, recounts her life on the Vann plantation in Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, where she was born to enslaved parents in the master’s bedroom during an emergency. Raised in the Vann household, Lucinda describes a plantation managed by wealthy Cherokee owners Jim and Jennie Vann, boasting decent conditions for slaves, who were well-fed, finely dressed, and participated in plantation festivities. Lucinda had a favored horse, Black Hock, gifted by Missus Jennie, with earnings saved for her. Post-war, Lucinda, reflecting on the social inequalities, elected to join the Catholic church and later attempted to flee to Mexico during turmoil, only to return to a depleted plantation. The narrative captures a blend of personal triumphs amid the harsh realities of slavery, retaining a deeply ingrained cultural heritage and the complexities of identity and belonging in post-Civil War America.

Place of Birth: Webbers Falls, Oklahoma
Age: 92-100+

Yes, Sa. My name’s Lucinda Vann, I’ve been married twice but, that don’t make no difference. Indians wouldn’t allow their slaves to take their husband’s name.

Oh, Lord, no. I don’t know how old I is; some folks say I’se ninety-two and some say I must be a hundred. I’se born across the river in the plantation of old Jim Vann in Webbers Falls, I’se born right in my marster and missus bed. Yes I was. You see, I’se one of them sudden cases. My mother, Betsy Vann, worked in the big house for the missus. She was weavin’ when the case came up so quick, missus Jennie put her on her own bed and took care of her.

Master Jim and Missus Jennie was good to their slaves. Yes, Lord, yes. My missus name was Doublehead before she married Jim Vann. They was Cherokee Indians. They had a big, big plantation down by the river and they was rich. Had sacks and sacks of money. There was five hundred slaves on that plantation and nobody ever lacked for nothin’. Everybody had fine clothes, everybody had plenty to eat. Lord, yes, suer. Now I’se just old forgotten woman. Sometimes if I eat my bread this mornin’ none this evenin’.

Seneca Chism was my father. He was a slave on the Chism plantation, but came to Vann’s all the time on account of the horses. He had charge of all Marster Chism’s and Marster Vann’s race horses. He and Marster took race horses down the river, away off and they’d come back with sacks of money that them horses won in the races. My mother died when I’se small and my father married Delia Vann. Because I’se so little, Missus Jennie took me into the Big House and raised me. Somehow or other they all took a liking to me, all through the family. I slept in a slidin’ bed. Didn’t you never see one of them slidin’ beds? Well, I’ll tell you; you pull it out from the wall something like a shelf.

Marster had a little race horse called “Black Hock”. She was all jet black, exceptin’ three white feet and her stump of a tail. Black Hock was awful attached to the kitchen. She’d come up and put her nose on you just like this – nibble, nibble, nibble. Sometimes she pull my hair. That meant she want a biscuit with a little butter on it. One day Missus Jennie say to Marster Jim, she says,”Mr. Vann, you come here. Do you know what I am going to do? I’m goin give Lucy this black mare. Every dollar she make on the track, I give it to Lucy. She won me lot’s of money, Black Hock did and I kept it in the Savings Bank at Tahlequah.

My mother, grandmother, aunt Maria and cousin Clara, all worked in the big house. My mother was seamstress. She bossed all the other colored women and see they sew it right. They spun the cotton, and wool, weaved it and made cloth. After it was wove they dyed it all colors, blue, brown, purple, red, yellow. It took lots of clothes for all them slaves. My grandmother, Clarinda Vann, bossed the kitchen and the washin’ and turned the key to the big bank. That was sort of vault, where all the family valuables was kept. Exceptin’ master and mistress, couldn’t nobody put things in there but her. When they wanted something put away they say, “Clarinda, come put this in the vault”. She turned the key to the commissary too. That was where all the food was kept.

All the slaves lived in a log house. The married folks lived in little houses and there was big, long houses for all the single men. The young, single girls lived with the old folks in another big, long, house. The slaves who worked in the big house was the first class. Next, came the carpenters, yard men, blacksmiths, race-horse men, steamboat men and like that. The low-class work in the fields. Marster Jim and Missus Jennie wouldn’t let his house slaves go with no common dress out. They never sent us anywhere with a cotton dress. They wanted everybody know we was Marster Vann’s slaves. He wanted people to know he was able to dress his slaves in fine clothes. We had fine satin dresses, great big combs for our hair, great big gold locket, double earrings, we never wore cotton except when we worked. We had bonnets that had long silk tassels for ties. When we wanted to go anywhere we always got a horse, we never walked. Everything was fine, Lord, have mercy on me, yes.

The big house was made of log and stone and had big, mud fireplaces. They had fine furniture that Marster Vann had brought home in a steamboat from far away. And dishes, they had rows and rows of china dishes; big blue platters that would hold a whole turkey. Everybody had plenty to eat and plenty to throw away. The commissary was full of everything good to eat. Brown sugar, molasses, flour, corn-meal, dried beans, peas, fruits, butter, lard, was all kept in big wooden hogsheads; look something like a tub. There was lots of preserves. Everything was kept covered and every hogshead had a lock. Every morning the slaves would run to the commissary and get what they wanted for that day. They could have anything they wanted. When they get it they take it back to their cabin.

Clarinda Vann and my aunt Maria turned the keys to the vault and commissary. Couldn’t nobody go in there, less they turn the key. We had a smoke-house full of hams and bacon. Oh, they was good. Lord, have mercy, I’ll say they was. And we had corn bread and cakes baked every day. Single girls waited on the tables in the big house. There was a big dinner bell in the yard. When mealtime come, someone ring that bell, and all the slaves know it’s time to eat and stop their work. In summer when it was hot, the slaves would sit in the shade evenin’s and make wooden spoons out of maple. They’d sell ’em to folks at picnics and barbeques. Everybody had a good time on old Jim Vann’s plantation. After supper the colored folks would get together and talk, and sing, and dance. Someone maybe would be playin’ a fiddle or a banjo. Everybody was happy. Marster never whipped no one. No fusses, no bad words, no nuthin’ like that. We had our time to go to bed and our time to get up in the morning. We had to get up early and comb our hair first thing. All the colored folks lined up and the overseer he tell them what they must do that day. There was big parties and dances. In winter white folks danced in the parlor of the big house; in summer they danced on a platform under a great big brush arbor. There was seats all around for folks to watch them dance. Sometimes just the white folks danced; sometimes just the black folks. There was music, fine music. The colored folks did most of the fiddlin’. Someone rattled the bones. There was a bugler and someone called the dances. When marster Jim and missus Jennie went away the slaves would have a big dance in the arbor. When the white folks danced, the slaves would all sit or stand around and watch. They’d clap their hands and holler. Everybody have good time. Lord yes, su-er.

When they gave a party in the big house, everything was fine. Women came in satin dresses, all dressed up, big combs in their hair, lots of rings and bracelets. The cooks would bake hams, turkey, cakes and pies and there’d be lots to eat and lots of whiskey for the men folks. I’d like to go where we used to have picnics down below Webbers Falls. Everybody went – white folks, colored folks. There’d be races and people would have things what they was sellin’, like moccasins and beads. They’d bring whole wagon loads of hams, chickens, cake and pie. The cooks would bring big iron pots and cook things right there. There was great big wooden scaffolds. They put white cloths on the shelves and laid the food on it. People just go and help themselves, till they couldn’t eat no mo! Everybody goin’ on, races, gamblin’, drinkin’, eatin’, dancin’, but it as all behavior, everything all right. Yes, Lord, it was, have mercy on me, yes. I remember when the steamboats went up and down the river. Yes, Lord, yes.

Sometimes there was high waters that spoiled the current and the steamboats couldn’t run. Sometimes we got a ride on one, cause we belonged to old Jim Vann. He’d take us and enjoy us, you know. He wouldn’t take us way off, but just for a ride. He tell us for we start, what we must say and what to do. He used to take us to where Hyde Park is and we’d all go fishin’. We take a big pot to fry fish in and we’d all eat till we nearly bust. Lord, Yes. Christmas lasted whole month. After we got our presents we go way anywhere and visit colored folks on other plantations. In one month you have to get back. You know just what day you have to be back too. Marster had a big Christmas tree, oh, great big tree, put on the porch. There’d be a whole wagon-load of things come and be put on the tree. Hams, cakes, pies, dresses, beads, everything. Christmas morning marster and missus come out on the porch and all the colored folks gather around. Someone call our names and everybody get a present. They get something they need too. Everybody laugh and was happy. Then we all have big dinner, white folks in the big house, colored folks in their cabins. People all a visitin’. I go to this house, you come to my house. Everybody, white folks and colored folks, havin’ good time. Yes, my dear Lord, yes.

I’ve heard ’em tell of rich Joe Vann. Don’t know much about him. He was a traveler, didn’t stay home much. Used to go up and down the river in his steamboat. He was multimillionaire and handsome. All the Vann marsters was good looking. Joe had two wives, one was named Missus Jennie. I dunno her other name. Missus Jennie lived in a big house in Webbers Falls. Don’t know where the other one lived. Sometimes Joe bring other wife to visit Missus Jennie. He would tell ’em plain before hand, “Now, no trouble”, He didn’t want ’em to imagine he give one more than he give the other. The most terrible thing that ever happened was when the Lucy Walker busted and Joe got blew up. The engineers name was Jim Vann. How did they hear about it at home? Oh, the news traveled up and down the river. It was bad, oh, it was bad. Everybody a hollerin’ and a cryin’. After the explosion someone found an arm up in a tree on the bank of the river. They brought it home and my grandmother knew it was Joe’s. She’d done his washing and knew the cuff of his sleeve. Everybody pretty near to crazy when they bring that arm home. A doctor put it in alcohol and they kept it a long time. Different friends would come and they’d show that arm. My mother saw it but the colored chillun couldn’t. marster and missus never allowed chillun to meddle in the big folks business. Don’t know what they ever did with that arm. Lord, it was terrible. Yes, Lord, yes.

I went to the missionary Baptist church where Marster and Missus went. There was a big church. The white folks go first and after they come out, the colored folks go in. I joined the Catholic church after the war. Lots of bad things have come to me, but the good Father, high up, he take care of me. We went down to the river for baptizings. The women dressed in white, if they had a white dress to wear. The preacher took his candidate into the water. Pretty soon everybody commenced a singin’ and a prayin’. Then the preacher put you under water three times. There was a house yonder where was dry clothes, blankets, everything. Soon as you come out of the water you go over there and change clothes. My uncle used to baptize ’em. When anybody die, someone sit up with them day and night till they put them in the ground. Everybody cry, everybody’d pretty nearly die. Lord have mercy on us, yes.

When the war broke out, lots of Indians mustered up and went out of the territory. They taken some of their slaves with them. My marster and missus buried their money and valuables everywhere. They didn’t go away, they stayed, but they tell us colored folks to go if we wanted to. A bunch of us who was part Indian and part colored, we got our bed clothes together, some hams and a lot of coffee and flour and started to Mexico. We had seven horses and a little buffalo we’d raised from when it’s little. We’d say, “Come on buffalo”, and it would come to us. We put all the bed clothes on its back. When night came we cut grass and put the bed clothes on top for a bed. In the morning we got up early, made a fire, and made a big pot of coffee. We didn’t suffer, we had plenty to eat. Some of us had money. I had the money Black Hock had won on the track. We got letters all the time from Indians back in the territory. They tell us what was happening and what to do. One and a half years after the war we all come back to the old plantation. There wasn’t nothing left. Marster and Missus was dead. Our marshal made us all sign up like this; who are you, where you come from, where you go to. We stayed here till everything got fixed up, then we went back to Mexico. My father was a carpenter and blacksmith as well as race-horse man and he wanted to make money. He worked in the gold mines. We made money and kept it in a sack. After everything quiet down and everything was just right, we come back to territory second time. Had to sign up all over again and tell who we was. It’s on record somewhere; old Seneca Chism and his family.

I remember Chief John Ross. He courted a girl named Sally. He was married, but that didn’t make no difference, he courted her anyhow. Some of the old chiefs names was Gopher John, John Hawk and Wild Cat. This was before the war. After the war I married Paul Alexander, but I never took his name. Indians made us keep our master’s name. I’se proud anyway of my Vann name. My husband didn’t give me nothing. Lord, no, he didn’t. I got all my money and fine clothes from the marster and the missus. Everything was cheap. One time we sold one hundred hogs on the foot. Two pounds of hog meat sold for a nickel. A whole half of ribs sold for twenty-five cents. Little hog, big hog, didn’t make no difference. After the old time rich folks die, them that had their money buried, they come back and haunt the places where it is. They’d come to the door like this, “sh….”, and go out quick again. I’ve seen ’em. My father he say, “now chillun, don’t get scart: you just be still and listen, rich folk tryin’ tell us something”. They come and call you, say so much money buried, tell you where it is, say, it’s yours, you come and get If someone they didn’t want to have it try to dig it up, money sink down, down deep in the ground where they could get it.

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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