Slave Narrative of Martha Richardson

Interviewer: Stiles M. Scruggs
Person Interviewed: Martha Richardson
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
Place of Residence: 924 Senate Street, Columbia, SC
Date of Birth: 1860

Martha Richardson, who tells this story, lives at 924 Senate Street, Columbia, S.C. Her father was an Indian and her mother a mulatto. She was born in Columbia in 1860 and was five years old, when General W.T. Sherman’s Federal troops captured and burned the city in 1865.

“When I gits big ‘nough to pick up chips for de cook stove, we was livin’ in de rear of Daniel Gardner’s home, on Main Street, and my mammy was workin’ as one of de cooks at de Columbia Hotel. De hotel was run by Master Lowrance, where de Lorick & Lowrance store is now.

“My daddy, like de general run of Indians, love to hunt but de game not bring much cash in. My mammy often give him some change (money) and he not work much but he always good to mammy and she love him and not fuss at him, much. I soon learn dat if it had not been for mammy, we wouldn’t a had much to eat and wear. We go ‘long lak dat for a good while and my mammy have friends ‘nough dat she seldom had to ask for a job.

“De game was so scarce dat my daddy sometimes make a little money a showin’ people how to make Indian medicine, dat was good for many complaints, how to cover deir houses, and how to kill deir hogs, ‘cordin’ to de moon. He tell us many times ’bout de great Catawba Indians, who make all deir own medicines and kill bears and dress in deir skins, after feastin’ on deir flesh. He was a good talker.

“You know, I sees so much ‘skimpin’, to make ends meet at home, as we go ‘long dis way, dat I has never married. My mammy tell me: ‘Honey, you a pretty child. You grow up and marry a fine, lovin’ man lak your daddy, and be happy.’ I kinda smile but I thinks a lot. If my daddy had worked and saved lak my mammy, we would be ‘way head of what we is, and my brudders say so, too. But we fond of our daddy, he so good lookin’ and all.

“What de most ‘citin’ thing I ever see? Well, I think de Red Shirt campaign was. You never see so much talkin’, fightin’, and fussin’ as dat. You know de Yankees was still here and they not ‘fraid, and de Hampton folks was not ‘fraid, so it was a case of knock down and drag out most of de time, it seem to me. Long at de end, dere was two governors; one was in de Wallace House and one in de Capitol. Men went ’bout town wid deir guns.

“Mammy keep busy cookin’, nussin’, and washin’, and us chillun help. You know I had two brudders older than me and a little baby brudder ’bout a year old, when my mammy rent a small farm from Master Greenfield, down at de end of Calhoun Street, near de Broad River. We plant cotton. I was then eleven years old and my brudder was twelve and thirteen. My mammy help us plant it befo’ she go to work at de hotel.

“She was home washin’, one day, when my brudders and me was choppin’ cotton. We chop ’til ’bout eleven o’clock dat mornin’ and we say: ‘When we gits out de rows to de big oak tree we’ll sit down and rest.’ We chillun lak each other and we joke and work fast ’til we comes to de end of de rows and in de shade of de big oak. Then we sets down, dat is, my oldest brudder and me, ’cause my young brudder was a little behind us in his choppin’. As he near de finish, his hoe hit somethin’ hard and it ring. Ha rake de dirt ‘way and keep diggin’, light lak.

“What you doin’, brudder?’ I say. He say: ‘Tryin’ to find out what dis is. It seem to be a pot lid.’ Then we jump up and go to him and all of us grabble dirt ‘way and sho’ ‘nough it was a pot lid and it was on a pot. We digs it out, thinkin’ it would be a good thing to take home. It was so heavy, it take us all to lift it out.

“It was no sooner out than we takes off de lid and we is sho’ s’prised at what we see. Big silver dollars lay all over de top. We takes two of them and drops them together and they ring just lak we hear them ring on de counters. Then we grabble in de pot for more. De silver went down ’bout two inches deep. Twenty dollar gold pieces run down ’bout four inches or so and de whole bottom was full of big bundles of twenty dollar greenbacks.

“We walks up to de house feelin’ pretty big and my oldest brudder was singin’:

‘Hawk and buzzard went to law,
Hawk come back wid a broken jaw.’

“Mammy say widout lookin’ at us: ‘What you all comin’ to dinner so soon for?’ Then she looked up and see de pot and say: ‘Land sakes, what you all got?’ Then we puts de big pot down in de middle of de floor and takes off de lid, and mammy say: ‘Oh! Let’s see what we has!’ She begin to empty de pot and to count de money. She tell us to watch de door and see dat nobody got in, ’cause she not at home!

“She say de money ‘mount to $5,700, and she swear us not to say nothin’ ’bout findin’ it. She would see what she could find out ’bout it. Weeks after dat, she tell us a big white friend tell her he hear a friend of his buried some money and went to war widout tellin’ anybody where it was. Maybe he was killed and dat all we ever hear.

“My mammy kept it and we all work on just de same and she buy these two lots on Senate Street. She build de two-story house here at 924, where you sittin’ now, and de cottage nex’ door. She always had rent money comin’ in ever since. By and by she die, after my Indian pappy go ‘way and never come back. Then all de chillun die, ‘ceptin’ me.

“I am so happy dat I is able to spend my old days in a sort of ease, after strugglin’ most of my young life and gittin’ no learnin’ at school, dat I sometimes sing my mammy’s old song, runnin’ somethin’ lak dis:

‘Possum up de simmon tree
Sparrow on de ground
‘Possum throw de ‘simmons down
Sparrow shake them ’round’.”

Gardner, Richardson,

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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