Slave Narrative of Jane Smith

Interviewer: F. S. DuPre
Person Interviewed: Jane Smith
Location: Spartanburg, South Carolina
Age: 80

“Aunt” Jane Smith, 80 years old, says that she was only eight years old when the war ended, and that her recollections are very meagre as to conditions during slavery.

Her mother belonged to John Snoddy, who owned a farm a few miles west of Spartanburg. Her father was owned by Dr. Miller of a nearby plantation. She stated that she was old enought to rock the cradle for the white babies during slavery.

She stated that she could remember seeing some of the slaves being whipped on their bare backs with a plaited hickory stick, or thong. She never received any whippings. She said that a man once cut at her with his thong, but that she escaped the blow by dodging.

She said she remembered seeing a small child with a piece of bread in its hand when a hog entered the house and in snatching at the bread, caught the child’s hand near the thumb with its tusks. When running off, the hog carried the child with it, dragging it along into the field. All the other children and some men ran after the hog and caught it. The other colored children were whipped, but by staying in the house and watching the babies, keeping them safe from other pigs which had also entered the house, she was not whipped.

Aunt Jane said that when the Yankee soldiers came to the house, they were just as thick as the “fingers on her hands.” She held up her hands for inspection to illustrate how thick the soldiers stood in the ranks. She said they did not take anything, but that they crawled under the house to get the hen eggs. One soldier, she said, came to the house and asked if there were any horses on the farm. A colored woman told him that there were no horses on the place, but just at that time, one of the horses in a nearby stable neighed, and the soldier threatened the woman’s life for lying to him. She says she doesn’t remember whether the soldier took the horses but thinks that he did.

The soldiers told the colored people that they free, but she said that didn’t signify much to her mind. Some time afterwards, she said her father came and carried her and her mother to his master’s place. Later, she came to Spartanburg and got a job as a cook and washerwoman.

When asked if she knew anything about conjuring, she stated that she had heard of it but didn’t know anything about it. When asked if she had ever seen a ghost, she said, “No, but I heard one once.” She said that one night after her master had killed “hisself” in the barn with a pistol, she heard the doors being shut, the windows being slammed, and the chairs rocking on the front porch all by themselves. She declared that the wind was not blowing and that a “ghost was doing all dem things.”

She stated that she had been married twice; had reared a houseful of children; had adopted some and reared them, but that she didn’t have anybody to work for her now but “him,” referring to her husband who was sitting on a trunk.

Miller, Smith, Snoddy,

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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