Slave Narrative of Al Rosboro

Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Al Rosboro
Location: Woodward, South Carolina
Age: 90

Ex-Slave 90 Years Old

Al Rosboro, with his second wife, Julia, a daughter, and six small grandchildren, lives in a three-room frame house, three hundred yards east of the Southern Railway track and US #21, about two miles south of Woodward, S.C., in Fairfield County. Mr. Brice gives the plot of ground, four acres with the house, to Al, rent free. A white man, Mr. W.L. Harvey does the ploughing of the patches for him. Al has cataracts on his eyes and can do no work. Since this story was written he has received his first old age pension check of eight dollars from the Social Welfare Board in Columbia, S.C.

“Does I know what a nonagenarian is? No seh, what dat? Old folks? Well, dats a mighty long name and I been here a mighty long time. Glad you say it’s a honor and a privilege by de mercy of de Lord. I’s thankful! You wants to know where I was born and who my white folks then?

“I was born just one and a half mile b’low White Oak, S.C., on de old Marse Billie Brice place. My pappy b’long to old Miss Jennie Rosboro, but mammy b’long to Marse William Brice. Her name Ann. My old mistress name Mary, daughter of de Simontons, on Dumpers Creek.

“You wants de fust thing I ‘members, then travel ‘long de years ’til I come to settin’ right here in dis chair. Well, reckon us git through today? Take a powerful sight of dat pencil to put it all down.

“Let me see. Fust thing I ‘members well, was a big crowd wid picks and shovels, a buildin’ de railroad track right out de other side of de big road in front of old marster’s house. De same railroad dat is dere today. When de fust engine come through, puffin’ and tootin’, lak to scare ‘most everybody to death. People got use to it but de mules and bosses of old marster seem lak they never did. A train of cars a movin’ ‘long is still de grandest sight to my eyes in de world. Excite me more now than greyhound busses, or airplanes in de sky ever do.

“I nex’ ‘members my young misses and young marsters. Dere was Marse John; he was kilt in de war. Marse Jim, dat went to de war, come back, marry, and live right here in Winnsboro. Marse Jim got a grandson dat am in de army a sailin’ air-ships. Then dere was Marse William; he moved off. One of de gals marry a Robertson, I can’t ‘member her name, tho’ I help her to make mud pies many a day and put them on de chicken coop, in de sun, to dry. Her had two dolls; deir names was Dorcas and Priscilla. When de pies got dry, she’d take them under de big oak tree, fetch out de dolls and talk a whole lot of child mother talk ’bout de pies, to de Dorcas and Priscilla rag dolls. It was big fun for her tho’ and I can hear her laugh right now lak she did when she mince ’round over them dolls and pies. Dere was some poor folks livin’ close by and she’d send me over to ‘vite deir chillun over to play wid her. They was name Marshall. Say they come from Virginny and was kin to de highest judge in de land. They was poor but they was proud. Mistress felt sorry for them but they wouldn’t ‘cept any help from her.

“Well, when I git twelve years old, marster give me to his son, Marse Calvin, and give Marse Calvin a plantation dat his son, Homer, live on now. I ‘member now old marster’s overseer comin’ to de field; his name was McElduff. Him say: ‘Al, Marse William say come to de house’. I goes dere on de run. When I git dere, him ‘low: ‘Calvin, I wants you to take Al, I give him to you. Al, you take good care of your young marster’. I always did and if Marse Calvin was livin’ he’d tell you de same.

“I forgit to tell you one thing dat happen down dere befo’ I left. Dere was a powerful rich family down dere name Cockrell; I forgits de fust name. Him brudder tho’, was sheriff and live in Winnsboro. Dere was a rich Mobley family dat live jinin’ him, two miles sunrise side of him. One day de Cockrell cows got out and played thunder wid Mr. Mobley’s corn. Mr. Mobley kilt two of de cows. Dat made de Cockrells mad. They too proud to go to law ’bout it; they just bide deir time. One day Marse Ed Mobley’s mules got out, come gallopin’ ’round and stop in de Cockrell wheat field. Him take his rifle and kill two of them mules. Dat made Mr. Mobley mad but him too proud to go to law ’bout it. De Mobley’s just bide deir time. ‘Lection come ’round for sheriff nex’ summer. No Cockrell was ‘lected sheriff dat time. You ask Mr. Hugh Wylie ’bout dat nex’ time him come to de Boro. Him tell you all ’bout it.

“Dat call to my mind another big man, dat live ‘bove White Oak then, Marse Gregg Cameron. He was powerful rich, wid many slaves. Him lak to bar-room and drink. Him come by marster’s house one day, fell off his hoss and de hoss gallop on up de road. Dat was de fust drunk man I ever see. Marster didn’t know what to do; him come into de house and ask Mistress Mary. Him tell her him didn’t want to scandal de chillun. She say: ‘What would de good Samaritan do?’ Old marster go back, fetch dat groanin’, cussin’, old man and put him to bed, bathe his head, make Sam, de driver, hitch up de buggy, make West go wid him, and take Marse Gregg home. I never see or hear tell of dat white man anymore, ’til one day after freedom when I come down here to Robinson’s Circus. Him drop dead dat day at de parade, when de steam piano come ‘long a tootin’. ‘Spect de ‘citement, steam, and tootin’, was too much for him.

“Niggers never learn to read and write. It was ‘ginst de law. White folks fear they would write deir passes and git ‘way to de free states.

“Us slaves ‘tend Concord Church, tho’ Marse Calvin jine de Seceders and ‘tend New Hope. Why us go to Concord? ‘Cause it too far to walk to New Hope and not too far to walk to Concord. Us have not ‘nough mules for all to ride, and then de mules need a rest. I now b’longs to Bethany Presbyterian Church at White Oak. Yes sah, I thinks everybody ought to jine de church for it’s de railroad train to git to hebben on.

“Marse Calvin went to de war. Him got shot thru de hand. Yankees come and burn up everything him have. Wheeler’s men just as bad.

“After freedom I got mannish. Wid not a drop of blood in me but de pure African, I sets out to find a mate of de pure breed. ‘Bout de onliest place I could find one of dis hatchin’, was de Gaillard quarter. I marry Gabrielle. Live fust years at de Walt Brice McCullough place, then move to de Vinson place, then to de preacher Erwin place. Dat was a fine preacher, him pastor for Concord. Him lak to swap hosses. When him come down out de pulpit him looks ’round, see a hoss him lak, soon as not him go home to dinner wid de owner of dat hoss. After dinner him say: ‘If it wasn’t de Sabbath, how would you trade dat hoss for my hoss?’ More words pass between them, just supposin’ all de time it was Monday. Then Mr. Erwin ride back dere nex’ day and come back wid de hoss him took a fancy for.

“Mr. Erwin move when he git a call to Texas. I moves to de Bob Sinonton place. From dere I goes to de Jim Brice place, now owned by young Marse James Brice. I been dere 32 years. Gabrielle and me generate thirteen chillun, full blooded natural born Africans, seven boys and six gals. Then Gabrielle die and I marry Julia Jenkins. Us have five chillun, one boy and four gals. I’s done a heap for my country. I wants Mr. Roosevelt to hear ’bout dat; then maybe him make de country do sumpin’ for me.”

Brice, Jenkins, Rosboro,

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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