Slave Narrative of Mom Jessie Sparrow

Interviewer: Annie Ruth Davis
Person Interviewed: Jessie Sparrow
Date of Interview: September 1937
Location: Marion, South Carolina
Age: 83

“No, honey, dere ain’ not a soul live here but me. Man stay in dat other room dere just to be a little bit of company for me when night come. He ain’ not a speck of kin to me, not a speck. Oh, he pay me a little somethin, but it not much. Mostly, I does want him for protection like. Ain’ got but just dis one room for myself cause dat part out dere does be just like out in de yard. Dis Miss Mary Watson house en she tell me stay on here dat de house ain’ worth no fixin. Don’ know how long I be here. No, honey, I ain’ got no property only just myself. Ain’ got not a bit. Ain’ got nothin, child. I can’ do no work dese days but dat little bit of washin dat Miss Betty have en dat ain’ nothin to depend on. Just try to do a little somethin to help myself along. Nothin worth to speak bout though.”

“Miss Betty say we bout one age. My daddy belonged to Miss Betty father en dat how-come she know dere ain’ much difference in us age. My mammy was de house ‘oman on old man Sam Stevenson plantation en dat whe’ I was born. When we was freed, I was a little small girl en my daddy moved us up here in town right over dere on de Gibson place. Fore den, when he have a mind to see us, he had to come cross de swamp dere to old man Sam Stevenson place en dat de reason he move us. He say it take too much pains to keep dat gwine back en forth. I remembers I finished growin right up here in dis town over dere on de Gibson place. My mammy have task to cook dere en my daddy been de butler man, but I was small den. Can’ recollect much bout it. Reckon I wouldn’ hardly know de place whe’ I was born if I go back dere now. De old man Sam Stevenson had nice house, but it burn down long time back. Dey tell me dat de first court de peoples in Marion did ever know bout meet right dere on dat same spot. Coase I don’ know nothin bout it, but dat what I hear dem say.”

“My Massa had a big plantation, honey, a big plantation wid heap of colored people house. I remember dey call up dat way from de house on de hill en all de servants house set up dere. So I hear my mammy say she know bout some white folks dat didn’ half feed dey colored people en didn’ half clothe dem in de winter neither, but our white folks always treat us mighty good. Put shoes on all us feet in de winter en give us abundance of ration all de time.”

“Honey, I hear dem talkin bout dat war, but I can’ tell you nothin bout dat. I recollects I see dem Yankees when dey come through my Massa plantation en took his best carriage horse. Had two of dem big black carriage horses dat was match horses en dem Yankees carry one of dem away wid dem. I hear dem say de white folks would bury dey silver en money in pots en barrels to hide dem from de Yankees. Oh, dem fiddlin Yankees ax nobody nothin. Just go in de house en take dat what dey wanted. Go right in de house en plunder round en take de peoples best things. Wouldn’ take no common things. Wasn’ right, but dey done it. I hear talk dat a man plowed up a chest or somethin another de other day full of money, so dey tells me. I hear plenty peoples plow up all kind of things dese days in old fields dat ain’ been broke up or throwed out for years. I hear so, but I know I ain’ never found none though.”

“I sho been here when dat shake come here, child. I been married ever since I was a grown ‘oman en I was stayin right over yonder in dat house dere. My son Henry was de baby on me lap den en he tell me de other day dat he was bout 50 now. It come like a wind right from dat way. Some people tell me de ground was just a shakin en a mixin up, but I don’ know how de ground was doin cause I never go on it. I hear de lumberation comin or dat what I calls it en it come long en hit de side of de house so hard dat all de dishes was just a rattlin. Every time de earth commence shakin, dem dish start jinglin. It come bout de early part of de night. I didn’ know what to think it was till somebody come dere en say it been a earthquake. Say de ground was just a workin up. I tell you I ain’ know what it was to be scared of, but dere been de old Ark (boarding house) standin cross de street den en dem people was scared most to death. Dey thought it was de Jedgment comin on. Reckon I would been scared worser den I was, but I didn’ get on de ground. No, honey, I reckon de house dat was standin up in dat day en time was substantial like en it didn’ worry none of dem.”

“Is you seen Maggie Black any more? She been right sick, but she better now. Yes, she been right puny. Don’ know what ail her.”

“Honey, what can you tell me bout dat white man dat been shoot up bout Mullins de other day. I hear people talk bout a man been shot by another man, but I ain’ know nothin more den dat. Ain’ hear none of de details only as dey tell me dey catch de man dat got away next Dillon tryin to get back home. I tell you it a bad place up dere in Mullins durin dis tobacco time. Dey tell me dere be such a stir up dat people be rob en shoot all bout dere. Dat de reason I stay back here whe’ ain’ nobody to worry me. Some of dem be seekin for you when you sleep en den another time dey get you when you gwine long de road. I don’ like so much fuss en rousin en mix up round me. Dat de reason I does stay here by myself.”

“De people just livin too fast dis day en time, honey. You know some of dese people, I mean my race, dey got a little bit of education en ain’ got no manners. I tell dem if dey ain’ got no manners, dey ain’ got nothin cause manners carries people whe’ a dollar won’ carry you. Dis education don’ do everybody no good. It get some of dem standin on de top of dey heads. Dat what it done to dem. Coase dey say everybody chillun got to go to school dis year en dat a good thing cause dere be so many runnin round makin mischief when dey ain’ in school. I used to tell my chillun I buy dey book en satchel en keep plenty meat en bread for dem to eat en dey portion been to go dere en get dey learnin. If dey get whippin at school, I tell dem go back en get more. Didn’ never entice dem to stay home.”

“All I know bout Abraham Lincoln was dat he Abraham Lincoln en he de one cause freedom. I recollect dey used to sing song bout him, but I done forget it now. Say dey hung Abraham Lincoln on de sour apple tree or old Jeff Davis or somethin like dat. Honey, dat all I know. Can’ recollect nothin more den dat bout it.”

“Child, dis a pretty bad time de people got dese days, I tell you. Coase I thankful don’ nobody worry me. All treats me nice, both white en black, what knows me. I be gwine down de street en folks come out de courthouse en say, ‘Ain dat Mom Jessie? Mom Jessie, don’ you remember me?’ I say, ‘I know your favor, but I can’ call your name.’ Dey tell me en laugh en let me lone. It just like dis, child, I puts my trust in de Lord en I lives mighty peaceful like. I ain’ got a enemy in de world cause everybody speaks appreciatively of me. Dere somebody bringin me somethin to eat all de time en I don’ be studyin bout it neither. First one en den de other bring me a plate en somethin another. Don’ want me to do no cookin. Say I might fall in de fire. Honey, de lady come by here de other day en tell me I gwine get de old ‘oman money pretty soon now dat dere been so much talk bout. I be thankful when it get here too, child, cause I wants to get first one thing en de other to do some fixin up bout my house.”

“Well, honey, I tired now cause I ain’ much today nohow. Can’ recollect nothin else dis mornin. Don’ know what you want to hear bout all dem things for nohow.”

Sparrow, Stevenson,

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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