Slave Narrative of Bill Williams

Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Bill Williams
Location: Winnsboro, South Carolina
Age: 82

Bill Williams lives on the Durham place, nine miles east of Winnsboro, S.C., on the warm charity of Mr. Arthur M. Owens, the present owner. He is decrepit and unable to work.

“I was born a slave of old Marster John Durham, on a plantation ’bout five miles east of Blackstock, S.C. My mistress name Margaret. Deir chillun was Miss Cynthia, Marse Johnnie, Marse Willie and Marse Charnel. I forgits de others. Then, when young Marse Johnnie marry Miss Minnie Mobley, my mammy, Kizzie, my daddy, Eph, and me was give to them. Daddy and mammy had four other chillun. They was Eph, Reuben, Winnie and Jordan. Us live in rows of log houses, a path ‘twixt de two rows. Us was close to de spring, where us got water and mammy did de white folks washin’ every week. I kep’ de fires burnin’ ’round de pots, so de water would keep boilin’. Dat’s ’bout all de work I ‘members doin’ in slavery time. Daddy was a field hand and ploughed a big red mule, name Esau. How many slaves was dere? More than I could count. In them days I couldn’t count up to a hundred. How, then, I gonna kno’ how many dere was? You have to ask somebody else. I’ll just risk sayin’ dere was big and little ones, just a little drove of them dat went to de field in cotton pickin’ time, a hollerin’ and a singin’ glory hallelujah all day long, and pick two bales a day.

“Marse Johnnie and Miss Minnie mighty good marster and mistress to deir slaves. We had good rock chimneys to our houses, plank floors, movable bedsteads, wid good wheat straw ticks, and cotton pillows. Other folks’ slaves was complainin’ ’bout dirt floors in de houses, boards to sleep on, no ticks, and rags for pillows. Us got flour bread and ‘lasses on Sunday, too, I’m here to tell you.

“They sho’ fetch dat catechism ’round on Sunday and telled you who made you, what Him make you out of, and what Him make you for. And they say dat from de crown of your head to de top of your big toe, de chief end of every finger and every toe, even to de ends of your two thumbs, was made to glorify de Lord! Missus more ‘ticular ’bout dat catechism than de marster. Her grandpa, old Marster John Mobley was a great Baptist. After de crops was laid by, every August, him visit his granddaughter. While dere, he take de slaves and dam up de branch, to make a pond for to pool de water. Then he take to de hill just ‘bove, cut down pine tops, and make a brush arbor to hold de prachin’ in. ‘Vite white preachers, Mr. Cartledge, Mr. Mellichamp or Mr. Van, to come hold a ‘vival for all de slaves in and ’round and ’bout de country. I’s seen 27 go down and come up out dat pool, a splashin’ water from deir faces, one Sunday evenin’. A terrible thing happen one time at de baptism. It was while de war was gwine on. Marse Johnnie had come back from Virginia, on a furlough for ten days. Old Marse John come to see him and fetch Rev. Mr. Cartledge wid him. People was pow’ful consarned ’bout ‘ligion ‘long ’bout dat time. Me and all de little slave boys jined dat time and dere was a little boy name Ike, a slave of old Doctor John Douglas, dat jined. Him was just ’bout my age, seven or eight years old. After him jined, him wanna back out of goin’ down into de water. Dat evenin’, after dinner, us was all dressed in a kind of white slip-over gown for de occasion. When it come Ike’s time to receive de baptism, him was led by his mammy, by de hand, to de edge of de water and his hand given to de preacher in charge, who received him. Then he commenced: ‘On de confession——’. ‘Bout dat time little Ike broke loose, run up de bank, and his mammy and all de slaves holler: ‘Ketch him! Ketch him!’ Old Marse John holler: ‘Ketch him!’ They ketch little Ike and fetch him back to old Marse John and his mammy. Marse John explain to him dat it better to have water in de nose, now, than fire in de soul forever after. Little Ike say nothin’. His mammy take his hand and lead him to de preacher de same way her did befo’. Little Ike went down into de water. Preacher take him but when little Ike got down under dat water, de preacher lose de hold and bless God, in some way little Ike got ‘twixt and ‘tween de preacher’s legs and comin’ out behind him, turnt him sommersets and climb out on de bank a runnin’. Little Ike’s mammy cry out: ‘Ketch him! Ketch him!’ Old marster say: ‘No let him go to de devil. Thank de Lord him none of our niggers anyhow. Him just one of Dr. Douglas’ Presbyterians niggers dat’s destined to hell and be damned, I reckon.”

Durham, Mobley, 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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