Slave Narrative of Josephine Stewart

Interviewer: W. W. Dixon
Person Interviewed: Josephine Stewart
Location: Blackstock, South Carolina
Place of Birth: Blackstock, South Carolina
Date of Birth: May, 1853
Age: 85

Phinie Stewart, as she is known in the community where she lives, is a small, black negress, who shows her age in appearance and movements. She lives with Robert Wood, a hundred yards back of the Presbyterian Church manse at Blackstock, S.C. Robert Wood married Phinie’s niece, who is now deceased. Phinie has no property, and depends entirely on the charity of Robert Wood for her support.

“Does you know where de old Bell House is, about a mile de other side of Blackstock, on de Chester road? Yes? Well, dere is where I was borned, in May, 1853.

“I doesn’t know who my pappy was. You know in them times folks wasn’t particular ’bout marriage licenses and de preacher tying de knot and all dat kind of thing. But I does know mammy’s name. Her name was Celie. Dese eyes of mine is dim but I can see her now, stooping over de wash tub and washing de white folks’ clothes every Monday and Tuesday.

“Us belonged to Marster Charlie Bell and his lady, Miss Maggie Bell, our mistress in them slavery days. Does I ‘member who Miss Maggie was befo’ her married Marster Charlie? Sure I does. Mistress was a daughter of Miss Anne Jane Neil, who lived to be a hundred and five years old, and its writ on her tombstone in Concord Cemetery. I ‘spect you has seen it, ain’t you? Old Miss Anne Neil was a Irish lady, born in Ireland across de ocean. She had a silver snuff box; I seen it. She’d take snuff out dat box, rub it up her nose and say: ‘De Prince of Whales (Wales) give me dis box befo’ I come to dis country, and I was presented to his ma, Queen Victoria, by de Duke of Wellington on my sixteenth birthday.’ Old Miss Anne Neil claims she was born over dere de very night of de battle of Waterloo. And she would go on and ‘low dat when de duke took her by de hand and led her up to de queen, him say: ‘Your Majesty, dis young lady was born on de night of our great victory at Waterloo.’

“My young mistress was named Miss Margaret. She married Marse Wade Brice. I was give to them when I was ’bout five years old and I went along with them to Woodward, S.C. My mammy was give to them, too, at de same time. Us lived in Marse Wade’s quarter, to de east of de white folks’ house. Dere was a row of log houses, ’bout ten I think. Mammy and me lived in one dat had two rooms. De chimney was made of sticks and mud, but de floor was a good plank floor. De bed was a wood bedstead wid a wheat straw tick. Dere was no windows to de house, so it was warm in de winter time and blue blazing hot in de summer time.

“My white folks was mighty good to us; they fed us well. Us had wooden shoes and no clothes a-tall in de summer, ‘cept a one-piece slip on. My mistress die ’bout a year after her marry, and then Marster Wade marry Miss Tilda Watson, a perfect angel, if dere ever was one on dis red earth. She take a liking to me right at de jump, on first sight. I nussed all her chillun. They was Walter, Ida, Dickey, Lunsford, Wade, Mike, and Wilson. Then I nussed some of her grandchillun. Mr. Brice Waters in Columbia is one of them grandchillun.

“Marse Wade went off to de war and got shot in de hip, but he jined de calvary (cavalry) soon after and was away when de Yankees come through. De Yankees burned and stole everything on de place. They took off all de sheep, mules, and cows; killed all de hogs; cotch all de chickens, ducks and geese; and shot de turkeys and tied them to deir saddles as they left. De gin-house made de biggest blaze I ever has seen. Dere was short rations for all de white folks and niggers after dat day.

“In 1870 I was still dere wid Marse Wade and Miss Tilda, when de devil come along in de shape, form, and fashion of a man. He was name Simon Halleg. I was young then, and a fool, when I married dat no ‘count nigger. Us had two chillun, a boy, Allen, and a girl, Louise. Louise sickened and died befo’ she was grown. Allen married and had one child, but him and de child are dead. My husband run away and left us.

“About de time of de great cyclone, Miss Tatt Nicholson, a cousin of Miss Tilda, come down and took me to Chester, to be a maid at de Nicholson Hotel. I liked de work, but I got many a scare while I was dere. In them days every hotel had a bar where they would mix whiskey and lemons. Men could just walk up, put deir foots on de brass rail of de bar counter and order what they want, and pay fifteen cents a drink. Sometimes they would play cards all night in de bar. One night an old gent stopped his wagon, dat had four bales of cotton on it, befo’ de hotel. He come in to get a drink, saw a game going on and took a hand. Befo’ bed time he had lost all his money and de four bales of cotton outside.

“No, I didn’t work in slavery times. Chillun didn’t have to work. De only thing I ‘members doing was minding de flies off de table wid a brush made out of peacock tail-feathers.

“All de slaves had to go to church at Concord twice every month and learn de Shorter Catechism. I has one of them books now, dat I used seventy-five years ago. Want to see it? (She exhibits catechism printed in 1840 for slaves.)

“I left de hotel and come back to Miss Tilda Brice. I married Jacob Stewart then, and he was a good man. Us had no chillun. He been gone to glory eight years, bless God.

“Yes, sir, I ‘members de earthquake. It set a heap of people to praying dat night. Even de cows and chickens got excited. I thought de end of de world had come. I jined de Red Hill Baptist Church then, but my membership is now at de Cross Roads Baptist Church. Brother Wright, de pastor, comes to see me, as I’m too feeble to gallivant so far to church.

“Dis house b’longs to Joe Rice. My nephew rents from him and is good enough, though a poor man, to take care of me.

“Please do all you can to get de good President, de Governor, or somebody to hasten up my old age pension dat I’m praying for.”

Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007.

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