Slave Narrative of Jesse Rice

Interviewer: Caldwell Sims
Person Interviewed: Jesse Rice
Date of Interview: January 8, 1938
Location: Gaffney, South Carolina

Stories From Ex-Slaves

“My people tells me a lot about when I was a lil’ wee boy. I has a clear mind and I allus has had one. My folks did not talk up people’s age like folks do dese days. Every place dat I be now, ‘specially round dese government folks, first thing dat dey wants to know is your name. Well, dat is quite natu’al, but de very next question is how old you is. I don’t know, why it is, but dey sho do dat. As my folks never talked age, it never worried me till jes’ here of late. So dey says to me dat last week I give one age to de man, and now I gives another. Soon I see’d dat and I had to rest my mind on dat as well as de mind of de government folks. So I settled it at 80 years old. Dat gives me respect from everybody dat I sees. Den it is de truth, too, kaise I come along wid everybody dat is done gone and died now. De few white folks what I was contemperment (contemporary) wid, ‘lows dat I is 80 and dey is dat, too.

“You know dat I does ‘member when dat Sherman man went through here wid dem awful mens he had. Dey ‘lowed dat dey was gwine to Charlotte to git back to Columbia. I never is heard of sech befo’ or since. We lived at old man Jerry Moss’s in Yorkville, way back den. Yes sir, everyone said Yorkville, den, but dey ain’t never called Gaffney like dat. Stories goes round ’bout Sherman shooting folks. Some say dat he shot a big rock off’n de State House in Columbia. My Ma and my Pa, Henry and Charity Rice, hid me wid dem when Sherman come along. Us never see’d him, Lawd God no, us never wanted to see him.

“Folks allus crying hard times dese days, ain’t no hard times now like it was atter Sherman went through Yorkville. My ma and pa give me ash cake and ‘simmon beer to eat for days atter dat. White folks never had no mo’, not till a new crop was grow’d. Dat year de seasons was good and gardens done well. Till den us nearly starved and we never had no easy time gitting garden seed to plant, neither.

“Yes sir, if I’s handy to locust I makes locust beer; den if I’s handy to ‘simmons, why den I makes ‘simmon beer. Now it’s jes’ for to pass de time dat us does dat. But gwine back to de war; den it was for necessity. Dese young’uns now don’t know what hard times is. Dey all has bread and meat and coffee, no matter how poor dey is. If dey had to live for days and weeks on ash cake and ‘simmon beer, as us did den, and work and wait on a crop wid nothing but dat in deir bellies; den dey could grumble hard times. I allus tells ’em to shut up when dey starts anything like dat around me.

“When dat crop come along, we sho did fall in and save all us could for de next year. Every kind of seed and pod dat grow’d we saved and dried for next spring or fall planting. Atter folks is once had deir belly aching and growling for victuals, dey ain’t never gwine to throw no rations and things away no mo’. Young folks is powerful wasteful, but if something come along to break up deir good time like it did to us when dat man Sherman held everything up, dey sho will take heed, and dey won’t grumble ’bout it neither, cause dey won’t have no time to grumble.

“Things passes over quicker sometimes dan we figures out dat dey will. Everything, no matter how good it be or how hard, passes over. Dey jes’ does like dat. So dem Yankees went on somewhars, I never know’d whar, and everything round Yorkville was powerful relieved. Den de Confederate soldiers started coming across Broad River. Befo’ dey got home, word had done got round dat our folks had surrendered; but dem Yankees never fit (fought) us out—dey starved us out. If things had been equal us would a-been fighting dem till dis day, dat us sho would. I can still see dem soldiers of ours coming across Broad River, all dirty, filthy, and lousy. Dey was most starved, and so poor and lanky. And deir hosses was in de same fix. Men and hosses had know’d plenty till dat Sherman come along, but most of dem never know’d plenty no more. De men got over it better dan de hosses. Women folks cared for de men. Dey brewed tea from sage leaves, sassafras root and other herb teas. Nobody never had no money to fetch no medicine from de towns wid, so dey made liniments and salves from de things dat grow’d around about in de woods and gardens.

“I told you ’bout how small I was, but my brother, Jim Rice, went to Charleston and helped to make dem breastworks down dar. I has never see’d dem, but dem dat has says dat dey is still standing in good conditions. Cose de Yankees tore up all dat dey could when dey got dar.

“Lots of rail fences was made back in dem days. Folks had a ‘no fence’ law, dat meant dat everybody fenced in deir fields and let de stock run free. Hogs got wild and turkeys was already wild. Sometimes bulls had to be shot to keep dem from tearing up everything. But folks never fenced in no pasture den. Dey put a rail fence all around de fields, and in dem days de fields was never bigger dan ten or fifteen acres. Logs was plentiful, and some niggers, called ‘rail splitters’, never done nothing else but split rails to make fences.

“If I recollects right, Wade Hampton broke down fence laws in dis country. I sho heard him talk in Yorkville. Dey writ about him in de Yorkville Inquirer and dey still has dat paper over dar till now. De Red Shirts come along and got Wade Hampton in. He scared de Yankees and Carpetbaggers and all sech folks as dem away from our country. Dey went back whar dey come from, I reckon.

“De Ku Klux was de terriblest folks dat ever crossed my path. Who dey was I ain’t never know’d, but dey took Alex Leech to Black’s Ford on Bullet Creek and killed him for being a radical. It was three weeks befo’ his folks got hold of his body.

“Dr. Bell’s calves got out and did not come back for a long time. Mrs. Bell fear’d dat dey was gitting wild, so she sent de milk girl down on de creek to git dem calves. Dat girl had a time, but she found ’em and drove ’em back to de lot. De calves give her a big chase and jumped de creek near a big raft of logs dat had done washed up from freshets. All over dem logs she saw possums, musrats and buzzards a-setting around. She took her stick and drove dem all away, wid dem buzzards puking at her. When dey had left, she see’d uncle Alex laying up dar half e’t up by all dem varmints.

“She know’d dat it must be him. When she left, dem buzzards went back to deir perch. First thing dey done was to lap up deir own puke befo’ dey started on uncle Alex again. Yes sir, dat’s de way turkey buzzards does. Dey pukes on folks to keep dem away, and you can’t go near kaise it be’s so nasty; but dem buzzards don’t waste nothing. Little young buzzards looks like down till dey gits over three days old. You can go to a buzzard roost and see for yourself, but you sho better stay out’n de way of de old buzzard’s puke. Dey sets around de little ones and keeps everything off by puking.

“Pacolet used to be called Buzzard Roost, kaise in de old days dey had a rail outside de bar-room dat de drunks used to hang over and puke in a gully. De buzzards would stay in dat gully and lap up dem drunkards’ puke. One night a old man went in a drunkard’s sleep in de bar-room. De bar tender shoved him out when he got ready to close, and he rolled up against dis here rail dat I am telling you about. He ‘lowed dat next morning when he woke up, two buzzards was setting on his shirt front eating up his puke. He said, ‘You is too soon’, and grabbed one by de leg and wrung his head off. But befo’ he could git its head wrung off it had done puked his own puke back on him. He said dat was de nastiest thing he ever got into, and dat he never drunk no more liquor. Dem days is done past and gone, and it ain’t nobody hardly knows Pacolet used to be called Buzzard Roost.

“Lawd have mercy, white folks! Here I is done drapped plumb off’n my subject; but a old man’s mind will jes’ run waa’ry at times. Me and Joe, Alex’s son, went to see de officer ’bout gitting Joe’s pa buried. He ‘lowed dat Alex’s body was riddled wid bullets; so we took him and put his bones and a little rotten flesh dat dem buzzards had left, in de box we made, and fetched it to de site and buried him. Nobody ever seed Alex but me, Joe, and dat gal dat went atter dem calves. Us took shovels and throw’d his bones in de box. When we got de top nailed on, we was both sick. Now, things like dat don’t come to pass. I still thinks of de awful days and creeps runs all over me yet.

“All my brothers, sisters, mother and father is done gone. And I is looking to leave befo’ a great while. I is trying every day to git ready, Lawd. I been making ready for years. Smart mens tries to make you live on, but dey can’t git above death. Tain’t no use.”

Moss, Rice,

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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