Slave Narrative of Uncle Sabe Rutledge

Interviewer: Mrs. Genevieve W. Chandler
Person Interviewed: Sabe Rutledge
Location: Burgess, South Carolina
Date of Birth: 1861
Place of Birth: Horry County SC

(Testimony given by old man born 1861, The Ark Plantation. Horry County, owned by Mr. John Tillman)

“Fust thing I realize to remember, I nuster cry to go to the old boss—old Massa—for sugar. Massa say:

“‘Martha, what Newman (he call me that) crying for?’ Ma say, ‘Wanter come to you for sugar!’

“‘Bring the boy here, Martha!’

“He gi’e me sugar.

“Boil salt? Pump! Pump! Pump it! Had a tank. Run from hill to sea. Had a platform similar to wharf. And pump on platform. Fetch good high. Go out there on platform. Force pump. My Grandmother boil salt way after Freedom. We tote water. Tote in pidgin and keeler—make out of cedar and cypress. No ‘ting to crove ’em (groove ’em) compass. Dog-wood and oak rim. Give it a lap. (This was his description, with pantomime, of the way pidgin and keelers were made by plantation carpenters)

“My Grandmother had two pots going. Boil all day and all night. Biling. Boil till he ticken (thicken) Cedar paddles stir with. Chillun eat with wooden spoons. Clay pot? Just broken piece. Indian had big camping ground on beach near the Ark. After big blow you can find big piece of pot there. I see Indian. Didn’t see wild one; see tame one.

“Indigo? Old man Lashie Tillman nuster plant indigo. Seed lak a flax. Put myrtle seed in with indigo to boil. Gather and boil for the traffic. All the big folkses plant that fore the rice. Rice come in circulation, do way with indigo. Nuster (used to) farm indigo just like we work our corn. Didn’t have nothing but ox. And the colored folks—they came next to the ox—Hill keep advancing out. Reckon you wouldn’t blieve it, but I ken cummember (Uncle Sabe stutters a bit) when all that beach been cultivate field. Must be nature for sand hill to move. Time most got too fast now for the people to live.

“Storm? Oh my Lord! Flagg Storm? Sea naturally climb right over that hill like it wasn’t nothing. Water come to King Road. Reckon it would a come further if the wind didn’t shift.

“Calls this ‘The Ridge.’ Why? I first man settle here. Oak Ridge. (It is the highest land between the Waccamaw river and the ocean.) Just name it so.

“Member the shipwreck. Two men and lady come to the Ark. Stormy time. Massa take them to town. Old anchor there now. Come a blow you kin see it. Water rise over it high tide.

“Ma tell me bout they had the to-do. Blockade at Inlet. Had ’em out to drill (The Yankees came to shore to drill.) Old man John Tillman lose all he China-a-way! (chinaware.) Every bit of his china and paints (panes of glass) out the window. Yankee gun boat sojer (soldier) to Magnolia to drill. They tack ’em (attacked ’em) to cut ’em off. When Rebs tack ’em, small boats gone back. She had to brace ’em. Shoot dem shell to brace. (Gun boat fired to frighten Rebs who were cutting Yankees off from escape) I hear old man Frank Norris—lived right beyond Vettrill Deas—I hear him (nuster come home to the Ark and trap)—I hear him say lot of ’em bog. (Ella, Agnes and Johnnie Johnson fadder been there) Bomb shell hit the hill and bury them in the sand. Had to dig out.

“Old man John Tillman my boss. Sho treat his people good. Don’t see why his folks (slaves) went to blockade (tried to escape and join Yankee gun-boats). Sho treat his colored folks good. My Grandfather, Rodrick Rutledge, driver from a boy. Time he big nuff to handle it till Freedom.

“Couldn’t marry widout consent of boss.” (Remark from Uncle Sabe’s sister, Mom Jane, who is quite acid. All her information inherited—she Freedom child) Mom Jane: “Been to devil and come back now!”

(Comparing slavery to the lower regions)
Uncle Sabe—continuing:

“Have sick house; have chillun house.” (All in this section tell great tales of the ‘chillun house.’ Sounds a lot like the nurse houses in Russia today. All the babies were in this day nursery in care of the older women, too old for field work.) “Corn. Meat—pig, beef, fish—plenty milk.” (Some cow ‘coffee cow’—that is give just enough milk for the coffee.)

“Any rice?”

Aunt Jane: (interrupting) “Pick you teet (teeth) to find the rice! Great God! Now I can buy my rice!”

Uncle Sabe: “Could plant up-land rice to Ark. (This on coast away from fresh water)

“Ash cake? Meal, salt, water. Not a grease! Not a grease! See Mudder cook it many a hundred day!”

Mom Jane: “Put it in the stove today,—nothing! Rather have it any day!”

Sabe: “Wrap it in brown paper, mostly. Cows free in woods. Alligator tail good. Snail built up just like a conch (whelk). They eat good. Worms like a conch. Bile conch. Git it out shell. Grind it sausage grinder. Little onion. Black pepper. Rather eat conch than any kind of nourishment out of salt water.”

Mom Jane: “Conjur? Wouldn’t turn a hucks bread for ’em.” (Give a crust.)

Sabe: “What God got lot out for a man he’ll get it.”

“Flat boat full up (with slaves trying to escape) gone down Waccamaw. Uncle Andrew Aunt the one got he eye shoot out (by patrollers) took ’em to camp on North Island. Never see so much a button and pin in my life! Small-pox in camp. Had to leave ’em.

“Captain Ben and Captain Tom fadder—look how he die! Looker the blood! Looker the people! Looker the blood! His boat call ‘The Bull River.’ Up and down Pee Dee river. Meet flat! Bore hole in flat and women and chillun go down! Take men off. He COME TO THIS COUNTRY. (Came down from North before Civil War) Them darnish Yankee very percruel. (Peculiar?)

“My Great-grandmother Veenia, pirate captured and took all they money in English war. (Revolution) Dem day Ladies wear bodkin fastened to long gold chain on shoulder—needle in ’em and thimble and ting. Coming down from New York to get away from English. My great grandmother little chillun. Pirate come to her Missus. Take all they money—come cut bodkin off her shoulder. Grandmother ma gone on the boat and twiss herself in Missus’ skirt. Pirate put ’em off to Wilmington. Come on down settle to Pitch Landing near Socastee. Keep on till they get to Ark.

“My Great-Grandma Veenia didn’t have a teet in her head—one hundred ten years old and could eat hard a bread as any we.”

Aunt, Rutledge, Tillman,

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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