Slave Narrative of Millie Simpkins

Person Interviewed: Millie Simpkins
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Age: 109
Place of Residence: 1004 10th Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee

“Black Mamie”

I claims I’s 109 ye’ars ole en wuz bawn neah Winchester, Tennessee. Mah marster wuz Boyd Sims en mah missis wuz Sarah Ann Ewing Sims. Mah mammy wus named Judy Ewing en mah daddy wuz Moses Stephens en he wus “free bawn.” He wuz de marster’s stable boy en followed de races. He run ‘way en nebber kum back.

Mah fust missis wuz very rich. She had two slave ‘omen ter dress her eve’y mawnin’ en I brought her breakfust ter her on a silvah waitah. She wuz ma’ied three times, her second husband wuz Joe Carter en de third wuz Judge Gork.

Mah fust missis sold me kaze I wuz stubborn. She sent me ter de “slave yard” at Nashville. De yard wuz full ob slaves. I stayed dere two weeks ‘fore marster Simpson bought me. I wuz sold ‘way fum mah husband en I nebber se’d ‘im ‘gin. I had one chile which I tuk wid me.

De slave yard wuz on Cedar Street. A Mr. Chandler would bid de slaves off, but ‘fore dey started biddin’ you had ter tek all ob yo Clothes off en roll down de hill so dey could see dat you didn’t hab no bones broken, er sores on yer. (I wouldin’ tek mine off). Ef nobody bid on you, you wuz tuk ter de slave mart en sold. I wuz sold dere. A bunch ob dem wuz sent ter Mississippi en dey had dere ankles fas’end tergedder en dey had ter walk w’iles de tradahs rid.

W’en I wuz sold ter marster Simpkins, mah second mistress made me a house slave en I wuked only at de big house en mah wuk wus ter nuss en dress de chilluns en he’ps mah missis in her dressin’.

De young slaves wuz hired out ter nuss de white chilluns. I wuz hired as nuss girl at seven y’ars ole en started cookin’ at ten. I nebber had a chance ter go ter schul.

I’m de mammy ob 14 chilluns, seven boys en seven gals. I wuz next ter de olest ob four chillun. Mah missis useter hire me out ter hotels en taverns.

Sum marsters fed dare slaves meat en sum wouldin’ let dem hab a bite. One marster we useter ‘yer ’bout would grease his slaves mouth on Sunday mawnin’, en tell dem ef any body axed ef dey had meat ter say “yes, lots ob hit”.

W’en dey got ready ter whup dem dey’d put dem down on a pit widout any clothes, stand back wid a bull whup en cut de blood out. I member de niggers would run ‘way en hide out.

De only fun de young folks had wuz w’en de ole folks had a quiltin’. W’ile de ole folks wuz wukin’ on de quilt de young ones would git in ‘nuther room, dance en hab a good time. Dey’d hab a pot turned down at de do’er ter keep de white folks fum ‘yearin’ dem. De white folks didn’t want us ter l’arn nothin’ en ef a slave picked up a lettle piece ob papah, dey would yell “put dat down you-you wan’t ter git in our business.”

De white folks wouldin’ let de slaves pray, ef dey got ter pray hit wuz w’iles walkin’ ‘hind de plow. White folks would whup de slaves ef dey ‘yeard dem sing er pray.

I wuz a big girl w’en dey build de Capitol. I played on de hill ‘fore hit wuz built en I toted blocks fum dere w’en hit wuz bein’ built. I wuz livin’ in Dickson County w’en Fort Donelson wuz tuk. I seed de fust gun boat dat kum up de Cumberland River. I wuz standin’ in de Do’er w’en I se’d hit kumin’, but hit didn’t tek me long ter git back in de back ob de house. I wuz skeered dey would shoot.

Mah marster run a fer’y en atter de gun boat kum up de riber, he got skeered en gib mah ole man de fer’y, en w’en de soldiers kum ter tek Fort Negley he set dem ‘cross de river.

A man at Ashland City dat made whisk’y would hab Mr. Simpkins bring a load ob logs up ter Ashland City en den bring a load ob whiskey down en hide hit so de Yankees would’nt git hit.

Mah marster had a fish trap at de mouth ob Harper en w’en de gun boat passed dey shot thro’ de trap.

I wuz right ‘yer w’en de Civil wah wuz gwin on, en de soldiers wuz dressed up en beatin’ de drums.

No honey we didn’t git nothin’ w’en we wuz freed. Jes druv ‘way widout nothin’ ter do wid. We got in a waggin en druv ter nuther man’s plantashun. Mah ole man made a crap dere. Sum ob de slaves might hab got sump’in but I dunno nobody dat did. I wuz skeered ter op’n mah do’er atter dark on ‘count ob Ku Klux Klan, dey wuz red hot.

I member w’en de sta’rs fell. I wuz small but de ole folks run out en looked at dem, kum back set down en cried, dey tho’t hit me’nt de worl’ wuz kumin’ ter an end.

De peeple wuz skeered w’en dey se’d de comet wid de long tail. Dey tho’t hit wuz a sign ob wah.

I’se cooked eve’y since I wuz freed. I stayed in Henry Galbles kitchen five long y’ars, en since I’se had dese strokes hit’s broke me up ’till I kin do nothin’. I ‘long ter de Methodist Church. I think de young peeples ez turrible, en dis white en black mar’iags not be ‘lowed.

De songs I member ez:

“Dark wuz de Night”.
“Good Ole Daniel”.

I’se nebber voted but I’se electioneered fer dem. Hab nebber had any frens in office.

I wuz ‘yer w’en Henry Clay en James K. Polk wuz runnin’. I wuz hired at de ole City Hotel ovuh on de river. I wuz din’in room servant dere. Mah marster would hab me sing a song fer him ’bout de Democrats. “Hooray de kuntry ez risin’; rise up en drown ole Clay en his pizen”. I guess ole Clay wuz a right good fellow but he played cards wid de niggers in de cellar.

De only thing I member ’bout de ‘structshun time wuz sum ob de whites didn’t wan’ de niggers ter vote.

I stays ‘yer wid mah daughter. Dat ez de only support I hab since I had deze strokes en bin unable ter do fer mahse’f.

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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