Slave Narrative of Charlie Robinson

Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Charlie Robinson
Location: Winnsboro, South Carolina
Age: 87

Ex-Slave 87 Years Old

Charlie Robinson lives nine miles northwest of Winnsboro, S.C., on lands of Mr. R.W. Lemmon. There is one other occupant in the four-room house, John Giles, a share cropper. The house has two fireplaces, the brick chimney being constructed in the center of the two main rooms. The other two rooms are shed rooms. Charlie ekes out a living as a day laborer on the farm.

“They been tellin’ me to come to de social circle and see ’bout my pension but I never is got dere. It been so hot, I hate to hotfoot it nine miles to Winnsboro and huff dat same distance back on a hot summer day.

“Glad you come out here but sorry of de day, ’cause it is a Friday and all de jay-birds go to see de devil dat day of de week. It’s a bad day to begin a garment, or quilt or start de lye hopper or ‘simmon beer keg or just anything important to yourself on dat day. Dere is just one good Friday in de year and de others is given over to de devil, his imps, and de jay-birds. Does I believe all dat? I believes it ‘nough not to patch dese old breeches ’til tomorrow and not start my ‘simmon beer, when de frost fall on them dis fall, on a Friday.

“You wants me to set down so you can ask me sumpin’? I’ll do dat! Of course I will! (He proceeded to do so—wiping his nose on his sleeve and sprawling down on the doorsill). My pappy name George, black George they call him in slavery time, ’cause dere was a small yallow slave on de place, named George. My mammy name Ca’line. My pappy b’long to de McNeals and my mammy b’long to Marse Joe Beard. His wife was my mistress. Her name Miss Gracie. ‘Nitials? Dat sumpin’ not in my lingo, Boss. You want to know what my pappy’s old marster name? Seem to me they call him Marse Gene, though it been so long I done forgot. When my marster went to de war him got a ball through his leg. Bad treatment of dat leg give him a limp for de balance of his days. White folks call him ‘Hoppin’ Joe Beard’ and sometime ‘Lopin’ Joe’.

“Marster and mistress have two chillun. I play marbles wid them and make mud pies. Deir names was Marse Willie and Miss Rhoda.

“My brudders and sisters was Jeff, Roland, Jane and Fannie. All dead ‘cept Fannie. Her marry a big, long nigger name Saul Griffin. Last I heard of them, they was livin’ in Columbia, S.C.

“I start workin’ in de field de second year of de war, 1862. It sho’ made me hungry. I ‘members now, how I’d git a big tin cupful of pot liquor from de greens, crumble corn bread in it at dinner time and ‘joy it as de bestest part of de dinner. Us no suffer for sumpin’ to eat. I go all summer in my shirt-tail and in de winter I have to do de best I can, widout any shoes. Ever since then, I just lak to go barefooted as you sees me now.

“My pappy git a pass and come to see mammy every Saturday night. My marster had just four slave houses on de place. ‘Spect him have ’bout eight women, dat men come from other places to see and marry them and have chillun. I doesn’t ‘member nary one of de women havin’ a husband livin’ wid her every night.

“Who do de plowin’? Women and boys do de plowin’. Had good ‘nough houses, though they was made of logs, ‘cup and saddled’ at both ends, and covered wid white oak board shingles. Had stick and mud chimneys.

“De Yankees made a clean sweep of everything, hosses, mules, cows, hogs, meat and ‘lasses. Got so mad when they couldn’t find any salt, they burn up everything. Pull Marse Joe’s beard, just ’cause him name Beard. De one dat do dat was just a smart aleck and de cap’n of de crowd shame him and make him slink ‘way, out de house.

“When freedom come, Marse Joe stay one year, then leave. Sell out and move to Walhalla and us move to pappy on de McNeal place. Dat year us all jined de church, Union Church. I now b’longs to New Hope Methodist Church. Us nex’ move to Mr. Bill Crawford’s place. Mr. Crawford got to be school commissioner on de ‘publican ticket and white folks call him scalawag. Him have pappy and all de colored folks go to de ‘lection box and vote. Ku Klux come dere one night and whip every nigger man they could lay deir hands on. Things quiet down then but us no more go to de ‘lection box and vote.

“‘Bout dis time thoughts of de gals got in my head and feets at de same time. I was buyin’ a biled shirt and celluloid collar, in Mr. Sailing Wolf’s store, one Saturday, and in walked Ceily Johnson. I commence to court her right then and dere, befo’ I ever git inside dat shirt and collar. Her have dark skin and was good to look at, I tell you. I de-sash-shay ’bout dat gal, lak a chicken rooster spread his wing ’round a pretty black pullet, ’til I wear out her indifference and her make me happy by marryin’ me. Her was too good lookin’ and too bad doin’, though, for me. She left by de light of de moon when us was livin’ on de Cummings place, ‘bove town. Excuse me now, dat’s still a fresh subject of torment to me. Let’s talk ’bout chances of gittin’ dat pension, when I can git another clean white shirt, lay ’round de white folks again, and git dis belly full of pot liquor.”

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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