Slave Narrative of Silas Smith

Interviewer: Caldwell Sims
Person Interviewed: Silas Smith
Date of Interview: November 12, 1937
Location: Gaffney, South Carolina

“Lawsey, honey chile, how does I know jes’ when I was born. All sech as dat don’t mean nothing to us old slave time darkies. De mis’tus say, ‘Silas, you sho was thirteen years old when dat ‘Federate War wound up! Dat’s all I knows and dat’s what I goes by. De white folks is worrying ’bout my age being in sech and sech a year and all de like of dat. No sech as dat don’t worry Silas, kaise he sho don’t give it no mind, dat I doesn’t.

“Mis’tus call us all to set down on de side steps wid our hats in our hands. She read dat paper. When she git through, us still sets, kaise no writing never aggrevated us niggers way back dar. She wait a few minutes; den she ‘low: ‘It means dat you all is free, jes’ as free as I is.’ ‘Dumpling Pie’ jumped up and started crying. We all looked at him, kaise he was a fat lazy thing dat laid around like dumplings a-laying over kraut, and we axed him what he was crying for. He say, ‘I ain’t gwine to be no free nigger, kaise dat brings in de Issue, and I wants to keep my ma and pa, and what is I’m gwine to do widout Marse Dusey?’

“Dat woke us up. Didn’t narry nigger on dat entire plantation know what to do widout his marster. It was de awfulest feeling dat everything in dem quarters laid down wid dat night, de new feeling dat day was free and never had no marster to tell dem what to do. You felt jes’ like you had done strayed off a-fishing and got lost. It sho won’t no fun to be free, kaise we never had nothing.

“Next morning Mis’tus low, ‘Silas, I wants you to keep on being my house boy.’ Dat sound de best to me of any news dat I had got. She hired me and I jes’ kept on den as I had been gwine befo’. De quarters broke up, kaise Marse Dusey couldn’t keep all dem niggers, so Mis’tus low’d. Marse was at de war and Mis’tus took things on.

“Dat left only a few in de quarter. In de meantime, carpetbaggers and scalawags had put devilment in some of dem ig’nant niggers and dey thought dat if dey leave, de U.S. gwine to give dem a plantation atter de war had ceased, and plenty mules to make dem rich, like quality white folks. So by dat time dey was a-raring to git moved off. But I stay on wid Miss Sallie, as I called her den.

“One dark, rainy cold day a stranger come riding up on a po’ hoss and fetched a note of sorrow. Marse Dusey had done died somewhars, and Mis’tus was widowed to de ground. I stayed on, and in a year she died. Mr. Thomas Smith of Hickory Grove is de onliest chile living of my mis’tus, and he is 71 years old.

“Atter Mis’tus died, I went to live wid my pa on Mr. ‘Baby’ John Smith’s place. He had been my pa’s marster. Way back den it was so many John Smiths. ‘Pears like it was mo’ den dan now. Dat why dey call Mis’tus’ husband ‘John Dusey’. Each John had a frill to his name so dat folks could keep dem straight in deir minds whenever dey would speak of dem. Mis’tus sho was good to me. I ‘members her chilluns’ names well; Misses Aurita and Amenta. Miss Amenta married Mr. Sam Jeffries. Miss Rachael, Mis’tus other daughter, married Mr. John Morrow. Her ‘Baby’ John married a lady whose name I jes’ disremembers, anyway dey had a son called ‘Jeff’. He lived between Hickory Grove and Broad River. All dese Smiths which I gives you renumeration of is de Hickory Grove Smiths. You jes’ has to keep dem straight yet.”

Dusey, Smith,

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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