Genealogy Trails


A Folk History of Slavery in the United States
From Interviews with Former Slaves

Slave Narratives


This is written from an interview with each of the following: George W. Arnold, Professor W.S. Best of the Lincoln High School and Samuel Bell, all of Evansville, Indiana.

George W. Arnold was born April 7, 1861, in Bedford County, Tennessee. He was the property of Oliver P. Arnold, who owned a large farm or plantation in Bedford county. His mother was a native of Rome, Georgia, where she remained until twelve years of age, when she was sold at auction.

Oliver Arnold bought her, and he also purchased her three brothers and one uncle. The four negroes were taken along with other slaves from Georgia to Tennessee where they were put to work on the Arnold plantation.

On this plantation George W. Arnold was born and the child was allowed to live in a cabin with his relatives and declares that he never heard one of them speak an unkind word about Master Oliver Arnold or any member of his family. "Happiness and contentment and a reasonable amount of food and clothes seemed to be all we needed," said the now white-haired man.

Only a limited memory of Civil War days is retained by the old man but the few events recalled are vividly described by him. "Mother, my young brother, my sister and I were walking along one day. I don't remember where we had started but we passed under the fort at Wartrace. A battle was in progress and a large cannon was fired above us and we watched the huge ball sail through the air and saw the smoke of the cannon pass over our heads. We poor children were almost scared to death but our mother held us close to her and tried to comfort us. The next morning, after, we were safely at home ... we were proud we had seen that much of the great battle and our mother told us the war was to give us freedom."

"Did your family rejoice when they were set free?" was the natural question to ask Uncle George.

"I cannot say that they were happy, as it broke up a lot of real friendships and scattered many families. Mother had a great many pretty quilts and a lot of bedding. After the negroes were set free, Mars. Arnold told us we could all go and make ourselves homes, so we started out, each of the grown persons loaded with great bundles of bedding, clothing and personal belongings. We walked all the way to Wartrace to try to find a home and some way to make a living."

George W. Arnold remembers seeing many soldiers going to the pike road on their way to Murfreesboro. "Long lines of tired men passed through Guy's Gap on their way to Murfreesboro," said he. "Older people said that they were sent out to pick up the dead from the battle fields after the bloody battle of Stone's river that had lately been fought at Murfreesboro. They took their comrades to bury them at the Union Cemetery near the town of Murfreesboro."

"Wartrace was a very nice place to make our home. It was located on the Nashville and Chattanooga and St. Louis railroad, just fifty-one miles from Nashville not many miles from our old home. Mother found work and we got along very well but as soon as we children were old enough to work, she went back to her old home in Georgia where a few years later she died. I believe she lived to be seventy-five or seventy six years of age, but I never saw her after she went back to Georgia."

"My first work was done on a farm (there are many fine farms in Tennessee) and although farm labor was not very profitable we were always fed wherever we worked and got some wages. Then I got a job on the railroad. Our car was side tracked at a place called Silver Springs," said Uncle George, "and right at that place came trouble that took the happiness out of my life forever." Here the story teller paused to collect his thoughts and conquer the nervous twitching of his lips. "It was like this: Three of us boys worked together. We were like three brothers, always sharing our fortunes with each other. We should never have done it, but we had made a habit of sending to Nashville after each payday and having a keg of Holland rum sent in by freight. This liquor was handed out among our friends and sometimes we drank too much and were unfit for work for a day or two. Our boss was a big strong Irishman, red haired and friendly. He always got drunk with us and all would become sober enough to soon return to our tasks."

"The time I'm telling you about, we had all been invited to a candy pulling in town and could hardly wait till time to go, as all the young people of the valley would be there to pull candy, talk, play games and eat the goodies served to us. The accursed keg of Holland rum had been brought in that morning and my chum John Sims had been drinking too much. About that time our Boss came up and said, 'John, it is time for you to get the supper ready!' John was our cook and our meals were served on the caboose where we lived wherever we were side tracked."

"All the time Johny was preparing the food he was drinking the rum. When we went in he had many drinks inside of him and a quart bottle filled to take to the candy pull. 'Hurry up boys and let's finish up and go' he said impatiently. 'Don't take him' said the other boy, 'Dont you see he is drunk?' So I put my arms about his shoulders and tried to tell him he had better sleep a while before we started. The poor boy was a breed. His mother was almost white and his father was a thoroughbred Indian and the son had a most aggravating temper. He made me no answer but running his hand into his pocket, he drew out his knife and with one thrust, cut a deep gash in my neck. A terrible fight followed. I remember being knocked over and my head stricking something. I reached out my hand and discovered it was the ax. With this awful weapon I struck my friend, my more than brother. The thud of the ax brought me to my senses as our blood mingled. We were both almost mortally wounded. The boss came in and tried to do something for our relief but John said, 'Oh, George? what an awful thing we have done? We have never said a cross word to each other and now, look at us both.'"

"I watched poor John walk away, darkness was falling but early in the morning my boss and I followed a trail of blood down by the side of the tracks. From there he had turned into the woods. We could follow him no further. We went to all the nearby towns and villages but we found no person who had ever seen him. We supposed he had died in the woods and watched for the buzzards, thinking thay would lead us to his body but he was never seen again."

"For two years I never sat down to look inside a book nor to eat my food that John Sims was not beside me. He haunted my pillow and went beside me night and day. His blood was on my hands, his presence haunted me beyond endurance. What could I do? How could I escape this awful presence? An old friend told me to put water between myself and the place where the awful scene occurred. So, I quit working on the railroad and started working on the river. People believed at that time that the ghost of a person you had wronged would not cross water to haunt you."

Life on the river was diverting. Things were constantly happening and George Arnold put aside some of his unhappiness by engaging in river activities.

"My first job on the river was as a roust-about on the Bolliver H Cook a stern wheel packet which carried freight and passengers from Nashville, Tennessee to Evansville, Indiana. I worked a round trip on her and then went from Nashville to Cairo, Illinois on the B.S. Rhea. I soon decided to go to Cairo and take a place on the Eldarado, a St. Louis and Cincinnati packet which crused from Cairo to Cincinnati. On that boat I worked as a roust-about for nearly three years."

"What did the roust-about have to do?" asked a neighbor lad who had come into the room. "The roust-about is no better than the mate that rules him. If the mate is kindly disposed the roust-about has an easy enough life. The negroes had only a few years of freedom and resented cruelty. If the mate became too mean, a regular fight would follow and perhaps several roust-abouts would be hurt before it was finished."

Uncle George said that food was always plentiful on the boats. Passengers and freight were crowded together on the decks. At night there would be singing and dancing and fiddle music. "We roust-abouts would get together and shoot craps, dance or play cards until the call came to shuffle freight, then we would all get busy and the mate's voice giving orders could be heard for a long distance."

"In spite of these few pleasures, the life of a roust-about is the life of a dog. I do not recall any unkindnesses of slavery days. I was too young to realize what it was all about, but it could never have equalled the cruelty shown the laborer on the river boats by cruel mates and overseers."

Another superstition advanced itself in the story of a boat, told by Uncle George Arnold. The story follows: "When I was a roust-about on the Gold Dust we were sailing out from New Orleans and as soon as we got well out on the broad stream the rats commenced jumping over board. 'See these rats' said an old river man, 'This boat will never make a return trip!'"

"At every port some of our crew left the boat but the mate and the captain said they were all fools and begged us to stay. So a few of us stayed to do the necessary work but the rats kept leaving as fast as they could."

"When the boat was nearing Hickman, Kentucky, we smelled fire, and by the time we were in the harbor passengers were being held to keep them from jumping overboard. Then the Captain told us boys to jump into the water and save ourselves. Two of us launched a bale of cotton overboard and jumped onto it. As we paddled away we had to often go under to put out the fires as our clothing would blaze up under the flying brands that fell upon our bodies."

"The burning boat was docked at Hickman. The passengers were put ashore but none of the freight was saved, and from a nearby willow thicket my matey and I watched the Gold Dust burn to the water's edge."

"Always heed the warnings of nature," said Uncle George, "If you see rats leaving a ship or a house prepare for a fire."

George W. Arnold said that Evansville was quite a nice place and a steamboat port even in the early days of his boating experiences and he decided to make his home here. He located in the town in 1880. "The Court House was located at Third and Main streets. Street cars were mule drawn and people thought it great fun to ride them." He recalls the first shovel full of dirt being lifted when the new Courthouse was being erected, and when it was finished two white men finishing the slate roof, fell to their death in the Court House yard.

George W. Arnold procured a job as porter in a wholesale feed store on May 10, 1880. John Hubbard and Company did business at the place, at this place he worked thirty seven years. F.W. Griese, former mayor of Evansville has often befriended the negro man and is ready to speak a kindly word in his praise. But the face of John Sims still presents itself when George Arnold is alone. "Never do anything to hurt any other person," says he, "The hurt always comes back to you."

George Arnold was married to an Evansville Woman, but two years ago he became a widower when death claimed his mate. He is now lonely, but were it not for a keg of Holland gin his old age would be spent in peace and happiness. "Beware of strong drink," said Uncle George, "It causes trouble."

Ex-Slave Stories

District #5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel



This paper was prepared after several interviews had been obtained with the subject of this sketch.

Dr. George Washingtin [TR: Washington] Buckner, tall, lean, whitehaired, genial and alert, answered the call of his door bell. Although anxious to oblige the writer and willing to grant an interview, the life of a city doctor is filled with anxious solicitation for others and he is always expecting a summons to the bedside of a patient or a professional interview has been slated.

Dr. Buckner is no exception and our interviews were often disturbed by the jingle of the door bell or a telephone call.

Dr. Buckner's conversation lead in ever widening circles, away from the topic under discussion when the events of his own life were discussed, but he is a fluent speaker and a student of psychology. Psychology as that philosophy relates to the mental and bodily tendencies of the African race has long since become one of the major subjects with which this unusual man struggles. "Why is the negro?" is one of his deepest concerns.

Dr. Buckner's first recollections center within a slave cabin in Kentucky. The cabin was the home of his step-father, his invalid mother and several children. The cabin was of the crudest construction, its only windows being merely holes in the cabin wall with crude bark shutters arranged to keep out snow and rain. The furnishings of this home consisted of a wood bedstead upon which a rough straw bed and patchwork quilts provided meager comforts for the invalid mother. A straw bed that could be pushed under the bed-stead through the day was pulled into the middle of the cabin at night and the wearied children were put to bed by the impatient step-father.

The parents were slaves and served a master not wealthy enough to provide adaquately for their comforts. The mother had become invalidate through the task of bearing children each year and being deprived of medical and surgical attention.

The master, Mr. Buckner, along with several of his relatives had purchased a large tract of land in Green County, Kentucky and by a custom or tradition as Dr. Buckner remembers; land owners that owned no slaves were considered "Po' White Trash" and were scarcely recognized as citizens within the state of Kentucky.

Another tradition prevailed, that slave children should be presented to the master's young sons and daughters and become their special property even in childhood. Adherring to that tradition the child, George Washington Buckner became the slave of young "Mars" Dickie Buckner, and although the two children were nearly the same age the little mulatto boy was obedient to the wishes of the little master. Indeed, the slave child cared for the Caucasian boy's clothing, polished his boots, put away his toys and was his playmate and companion as well as his slave.

Sickness and suffering and even death visits alike the just and the unjust, and the loving sympathetic slave boy witnessed the suffering and death of his little white friend. Then grief took possession of the little slave, he could not bear the sight of little Dick's toys nor books not [TR: nor?] clothing. He recalls one harrowing experience after the death of little Dick Buckner. George's grandmother was a housekeeper and kitchen maid for the white family. She was in the kitchen one late afternoon preparing the evening meal. The master had taken his family for a visit in the neighborhood and the mulatto child sat on the veranda and recalled pleasanter days. A sudden desire seized him to look into the bed room where little Mars Dickie had lain in the bed. The evening shadows had fallen, exagerated by the influence of trees, and vines, and when he placed his pale face near the window pane he thought it was the face of little Dickie looking out at him. His nerves gave away and he ran around the house screaming to his grandmother that he had seen Dickie's ghost. The old colored woman was sympathetic, dried his tears, then with tears coursing down her own cheeks she went about her duties. George firmly believed he had seen a ghost and never really convinced himself against the idea until he had reached the years of manhood. He remembers how the story reached the ears of the other slaves and they were terrorized at the suggestion of a ghost being in the master's home. "That is the way superstitions always started" said the Doctor, "Some nervous persons received a wrong impression and there were always others ready to embrace the error."

Dr. Buckner remembers that when a young daughter of his master married, his sister was given to her for a bridal gift and went away from her own mother to live in the young mistress' new home. "It always filled us with sorrow when we were separated either by circumstances of marriage or death. Although we were not properly housed, properly nourished nor properly clothed we loved each other and loved our cabin homes and were unhappy when compelled to part."

"There are many beautiful spots near the Green River and our home was situated near Greensburgh, the county seat of Dreen [TR: Green?] County." The area occupied by Mr. Buckner and his relatives is located near the river and the meanderings of the stream almost formed a peninsula covered with rich soil. Buckner's hill relieved the landscape and clear springs bubled through crevices affording much water for household use and near those springs white and negro children met to enjoy themselves.

"Forty years after I left Greensburg I went back to visit the springs and try to meet my old friends. The friends had passed away, only a few merchants and salespeople remembered my ancestors."

A story told by Dr. Buckner relates an evening at the beginning of the Civil War. "I had heard my parents talk of the war but it did not seem real to me until one night when mother came to the pallet where we slept and called to us to 'Get up and tell our uncles good-bye.' Then four startled little children arose. Mother was standing in the room with a candle or a sort of torch made from grease drippings and old pieces of cloth, (these rude candles were in common use and afforded but poor light) and there stood her four brothers, Jacob, John, Bill, and Isaac all with the light of adventure shining upon their mulatto countenances. They were starting away to fight for their liberties and we were greatly impressed."

Dr. Buckner stated that officials thought Jacob entirely too aged to enter the service as he had a few scattered white hairs but he remembers he was brawny and unafraid. Isaac was too young but the other two uncles were accepted. One never returned because he was killed in battle but one fought throughout the war and was never wounded. He remembers how the white men were indignant because the negroes were allowed to enlist and how Mars Stanton Buckner was forced to hide out in the woods for many months because he had met slave Frank Buckner and had tried to kill him. Frank returned to Greensburg, forgave his master and procurred a paper stating that he was at fault, after which Stanton returned to active service. "Yes, the road has been long. Memory brings back those days and the love of my mother is still real to me, God bless her!"

Relating to the value of an education Dr. Buckner hopes every Caucassian and Afro-American youth and maiden will strive to attain great heights. His first efforts to procure knowledge consisted of reciting A.B.S.s [TR: A.B.C.s?] from the McGuffy's [HW: ?] Blue backed speller with his unlettered sister for a teacher. In later years he attended a school conducted by the Freemen's Association. He bought a grammar from a white school boy and studied it at home. When sixteen years of age he was employed to teach negro children and grieves to recall how limited his ability was bound to have been. "When a father considers sending his son or daughter to school, today, he orders catalogues, consults his friends and considers the location and surroundings and the advice of those who have patronized the different schools. He finally decides upon the school that promises the boy or girl the most attractive and comfortable surroundings. When I taught the African children I boarded with an old man whose cabin was filled with his own family. I climbed a ladder leading from the cabin into a dark uncomfortable loft where a comfort and a straw bed were my only conveniences."

Leaving Greensburg the young mulatto made his way to Indianapolis where he became acquainted with the first educated Negro he had ever met. The Negro was Robert Bruce Bagby, then principal of the only school for Negroes in Indianapolis. "The same old building is standing there today that housed Bagby's institution then," he declares.

Dr. Buckner recalls that when he left Bagby's school he was so low financially he had to procure a position in a private residence as house boy. This position was followed by many jobs of serving tables at hotels and eating houses, of any and all kinds. While engaged in that work he met Colonel Albert Johnson and his lovely wife, both natives of Arkansas and he remembers their congratulations when they learned that he was striving for an education. They advised his entering an educational institution at Terre Haute. His desire had been to enter that institution of Normal Training but felt doubtful of succeeding in the advanced courses taught because his advantages had been so limited, but Mrs. Johnson told him that "God gives his talents to the different species and he would love and protect the negro boy."

After studying several years at the Terre Haute State Normal George W. Buckner felt assured that he was reasonably prepared to teach the negro youths and accepted the professorship of schools at Vincennes, Washington and other Indiana Villages. "I was interested in the young people and anxious for their advancement but the suffering endured by my invalid mother, who had passed into the great beyond, and the memory of little Master Dickie's lingering illness and untimely death would not desert my consciousness. I determined to take up the study of medical practice and surgery which I did."

Dr. Buckner graduated from the Indiana Electic Medical College in 1890. His services were needed at Indianapolis so he practiced medicine in that city for a year, then located at Evansville where he has enjoyed an ever increasing popularity on account of his sympathetic attitude among his people.

"When I came to Evansville," says Dr. Buckner, "there were seventy white physicians practicing in the area, they are now among the departed. Their task was streneous, roads were almost impossible to travel and those brave men soon sacrificed their lives for the good of suffering humanity." Dr. Buckner described several of the old doctors as "Striding [TR: illegible handwritten word above 'striding'] a horse and setting out through all kinds of weather."

Dr. Buckner is a veritable encyclopedia of negro lore. He stops at many points during an interview to relate stories he has gleaned here and there. He has forgotten where he first heard this one or that one but it helps to illustrate a point. One he heard near the end of the war follows, and although it has recently been retold it holds the interest of the listener. "Andrew Jackson owned an old negro slave, who stayed on at the old home when his beloved master went into politics, became an American soldier and statesman and finally the 7th president of the United States. The good slave still remained through the several years of the quiet uneventful last years of his master and witnessed his death, which occurred at his home near Nashville, Tennessee. After the master had been placed under the sod, Uncle Sammy was seen each day visiting Jackson's grave.

"Do you think President Jackson is in heaven?" an acquaintance asked Uncle Sammy.

"If-n he wanted to go dar, he dar now," said the old man. "If-n Mars Andy wanted to do any thing all Hell couldn't keep him from doin' it."

Dr. Buckner believes each Negro is confident that he will take himself with all his peculiarities to the land of promise. Each physical feature and habitual idiosyncrasy will abide in his redeemed personality. Old Joe will be there in person with the wrinkle crossing the bridge of his nose and little stephen will wear his wool pulled back from his eyes and each will recognize his fellow man. "What fools we all are," declared Dr. Buckner.

Asked his views concerning the different books embraced in the Holy Bible, Dr. Buckner, who is a student of the Bible said, "I believe almost every story in the Bible is an allegory, composed to illustrate some fundemental truth that could otherwise never have been clearly presented only through the medium of an allegory."

"The most treacherous impulse of the human nature and the one to be most dreaded is jealousy." With these words the aged Negro doctor launched into the expression of his political views. "I'm a Democrat." He then explained how he voted for the man but had confidence that his chosen party possesses ability in choosing proper candidates. He is an ardent follower of Franklin D. Roosevelt and speaks of Woodrow Wilson with bated breath.

Through the influence of John W. Boehne, Sr., and the friendly advice of other influential citizens of Evansville Dr. Buckner was appointed minister to Liberia, on Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, in the year 1913. Dr. Buckner appreciated the confidence of his friends in appointing him and cherishes the experineces gained while abroad. He noted the expressions of gratitude toward cabinet members by the citizens of that African coast. One Albino youth brought an offering of luscious mangoes and desired to see the minister from the United States of America. Some natives presented palm oils. "The natives have been made to understand that the United States has given aid to Liberia in a financial way and the customs-service of the republic is temporarily administered headed by an American." "A thoroughly civilized Negro state does not exist in Liberia nor do I believe in any part of West Africa. Superstition is the interpretation of their religion, their political views are a hodgepodge of unconnected ideas. Strength over rules knowledge and jealousy crowds out almost all hope of sympathetic achievement and adjustment." Dr. Buckner recounted incidents where jealousy was apparent in the behavior of men and women of higher civilizations than the African natives. While voyaging to Spain on board a Spanish vessel, he witnessed a very refined, polite Jewish woman being reduced to tears by the taunts of a Spanish officer, on account of her nationality. "Jealousy," he said, "protrudes itself into politics, religion and prevents educational achievement."

During a political campaign I was compelled to pay a robust Negro man to follow me about my professional visits and my social evenings with my friends and family, to prevent meeting physical violence to myself or family when political factions were virtually at war within the area of Evansville. The influence of political captains had brought about the dreadful condition and ignorant Negroes responded to their political graft, without realizing who had befriended them in need."

"The negro youths are especially subject to propoganda of the four-flusher for their home influence is, to say the least, negative. Their opportunities limited, their education neglected and they are easily aroused by the meddling influence of the vote-getter and the traitor. I would to God that their eyes might be opened to the light."

Dr. Buckner's influence is mostly exhibited in the sick room, where his presence is introduced in the effort to relieve pain.

The gradual rise from slavery to prominence, the many trials encountered along the road has ripened the always sympathetic nature of Dr. Buckner into a responsive suffer among a suffering people. He has hope that proper influences and sympathetic advice will mould the plastic character of the Afro-American youths of the United States into proper citizens and that their immortal souls inherit the promised reward of the redeemed through grace.

"Receivers of emancipation from slavery and enjoyers of emancipation from sin through the sacrifice of Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ; Why should not the negroes be exalted and happy?" are the words of Dr. Buckner.

Note: G.W. Buckner was born December 1st, 1852. The negroes in Kentucky expressed it, "In fox huntin' time" one brother was born in "Simmon time", one in "Sweet tater time," and another in "Plantin' time."

?Negro lore.

Ex-Slave Stories

District #5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel

[HW: Personal Interview]

Ox-carts and flat boats, and pioneer surroundings; crowds of men and women crowding to the rails of river steamboats; gay ladies in holiday attire and gentleman in tall hats, low cut vests and silk mufflers; for the excursion boats carried the gentry of every area.

A little negro boy clung to the ragged skirts of a slave mother, both were engrossed in watching the great wheels that ploughed the Mississippi river into foaming billows. Many boats stopped at Gregery's Landing, Missouri to stow away wood, for many engines were fired with wood in the early days.

The Burns brothers operated a wood yard at the Landing and the work of cutting, hewing and piling wood for the commerce was performed by slaves of the Burns plantation.

George Taylor Burns was five years of age and helped his mother all day as she toiled in the wood yards. "The colder the weather, the more hard work we had to do," declares Uncle George.

George Taylor Burns, the child of Missouri slave parents, recalls the scenes enacted at the Burns' wood yards so long ago. He is a resident of Evansville, Indiana and his snow white hair and beard bear testimony that his days have been already long upon the earth.

Uncle George remembers the time when his infant hands reached in vain for his mother, the kind and gentle Lucy Burns: Remembers a long cold winter of snow and ice when boats were tied up to their moorings. Old master died that winter and many slaves were sold by the heirs, among them was Lucy Burns. Little George clung to his mother but strong hands tore away his clasp. Then he watched her cross a distant hill, chained to a long line of departing slaves. George never saw his parents again and although the memory of his mother is vivid he scarcely remembers his father's face. He said, "Father was black but my mother was a bright mulatto."

Nothing impressed the little boy with such unforgettable imagery as the cold which descended upon Greogery's Landing one winter. Motherless, hungry, desolate and unloved, he often cried himself to sleep at night while each day he was compelled to carry wood. One morning he failed to come when the horn was sounded to call the slaves to breakfast. "Old Missus went to the Negro quarters to see what was wrong" and "She was horrified when she found I was frozen to the bed."

She carried the small bundle of suffering humanity to the kitchen of her home and placed him near the big oven. When the warmth thawed the frozen child the toes fell from his feet. "Old Missus told me I would never be strong enough to do hard work, and she had the neighborhood shoemaker fashion shoes too short for any body's feet but mine," said Uncle George.

Uncle George doesn't remember why he left Missouri but the sister of Greene Taylor brought him to Troy, Indiana. Here she learned that she could not own a slave within the State of Indiana so she indentured the child to a flat boat captain to wash dishes and wait on the crew of workers.

George was so small of stature that the captain had a low table and stool made that he might work in comfort. George's mistress received $15,00 [TR: $15.00?] per month for the service of the boy for several years.

From working on the flat boats George became accustomed to the river and soon received employment as a cabin boy on a steam boat and from that time through out the most active days of his life George Taylor Burns was a steam-boat man. In fact he declares, "I know steamboats from wood box to stern wheel."

"The life of a riverman is a good life and interesting things happen on the river," says Uncle George.

Uncle George has been imprisoned in the big jail at New Orleans. He has seen his fellow slaves beaten into insensibility while chained to the whipping post in Congo Square at New Orleans.

He was badly treated while a slave but he has witnessed even more cruel treatment administered to his fellow slaves.

Among other exciting occurrences remembered by the old negro man when he recalls early river adventures is one in which a flat boat sunk near New Orleans. After clinging for many hours to the drifting wreckage he was rescued, half dead from exhaustion.

In memory, George Taylor Burns stands in the slave mart at New Orleans and hears the Auctioneers' hammer, for he was sold like a beast of burden by Greene Taylor, brother of his mistress. Greene Taylor, however, had to refund the money and return the slave to his mistress when his crippled feet were discovered.

"Greene Taylor was like many other people I have known. He was always ready to make life unhappy for a negro."

Uncle George, although possessing an unusual amount of intelligence and ability to learn, has a very limited education. "The Negroes were not allowed an education," he relates. "It was dangerous for any person to be caught teaching a Negro and several Negroes were put to death because they could read."

Uncle George recalls a few superstitions entertained by the rivermen. "It was bad luck for a white cat to come aboard the boat." "Horse shoes were carried for good luck." "If rats left the boat the crew was uneasy, for fear of a wreck." Uncle George has very little faith in any superstition but remembers some of the crews had.

Among other boats on which this old river man was employed are "The Atlantic" on which he was cabin boy. The "Big Gray Eagle" on which he assisted in many ways. He worked where boats were being constructed while he lived at New Albany.

Many soldiers were returned to their homes by means of flat boats and steam boats when the Civil War had ended and many recruits were sent by water during the war. Just after peace was declared George met Elizabeth Slye, a young slave girl who had just been set free. "Liza would come to see her mother who was working on a boat." "People used to come down to the landings to see boats come in," said Uncle George. George and Liza were free, they married and made New Albany their home, until 1881 when they came to Evansville.

Uncle George said the Eclipse was a beautiful boat, he remembers the lettering in gold and the bright lights and polished rails of the longest steam boat ever built in the West. Measuring 365 feet in length and Uncle George declares, "For speed she just up and hustled."

"Louisville was one of the busiest towns in the Ohio Valley," says Uncle George, but he remembers New Orleans as the market place where almost all the surplus products were marketed.

Uncle George has many friends along the water-front towns. He admires the Felker family of Tell City, Indiana. He is proud of his own race and rejoices in their opportunities. He remembers his fear of the Ku Klux, his horror of the patrol and other clans united to make life dangerous for newly emancipated Negroes.

George Taylor Burns draws no old age pension. He owns a building located at Canal and Evans Streets that houses a number of Negro families. He is glad to say his credit is good in every market in the city. Although lamed by rheumatic pains and hobbling on feet toeless from his young childhood he has led a useful life. "Don't forget I knew Pilot Tom Ballard, and Aaron Ballard on the Big Eagle in 1858," warns Uncle George. "We Negroes carried passes so we could save our skins if we were caught off the boats but we had plenty of good food on the boats."

Uncle George said the roustabouts sang gay songs while loading boats with heavy freight and provisions but on account of his crippled feet he could not be a roustabout.

Ex-Slave Stories
5th District
Vandenburgh County

Lauana Creel


This information was gained through an interview with Joseph William Carter and several of his daughters. The data was cheerfully given to the writer. Joseph William Carter has lived a long and, he declares, a happy life, although he was born and reared in bondage. His pleasing personality has always made his lot an easy one and his yoke seemed easy to wear.

Joseph William Carter was born prior to the year 1836. His mother, Malvina Gardner was a slave in the home of Mr. Gardner until a man named D.B. Smith saw her and noticing the physical perfection of the child at once purchased her from her master.

Malvina was agrieved at being compelled to leave her old home, and her lovely young mistress. Puss Gardner was fond of the little mullato girl and had taught her to be a useful member of the Gardner family; however, she was sold to Mr. Smith and was compelled to accompany him to his home.

Both the Gardner and Smith families lived near Gallatin, Tennessee, in Sumner County. The Smith plantation was situated on the Cumberland River and commanded a beautiful view of river and valley acres but Malvina was very unhappy. She did not enjoy the Smith family and longed for her old friends back in the Gardner home.

One night the little girl gathered together her few personal belongings and started back to her old home.

Afraid to travel the highway the child followed a path she knew through the forest; but alas, she found the way long and beset with perils. A number of uncivil Indians were encamped on the side of the Cumberland mountains and a number of the young braves were out hunting that night. Their stealthy approach was heard by the little fugitive girl but too late for her to make an escape. An Indian called "Buck" captured her and by all the laws of the tribe was his own property. She lived for almost a year in the teepe with Buck and during that time learned much about Indian habits.

When Malvina was missed from her new home, Mr. Smith went to the Gardner plantation to report his loss, not finding her there a wide search was made for her but the Indians kept her thoroughly concealed. Miss Puss, however, kept up the search. She knew the Indians were encamped on the mountain and believed she would find the girl with them. The Indians finally broke camp and the members of the Gardner home watched them start on their journey and Miss Puss soon discovered Malvina among the other maidens in the procession.

The men of the Gardner plantation, white and black, overtook the Indians and demanded the girl be given up to them. The Indians reluctantly gave her to them. Miss Puss Gardner took her back and Mr. Gardner paid Mr. Smith the original purchase price and Malvina was once more installed in her old home.

Malvina Gardner was not yet twelve years of age when she was captured by the Indians and was scarcely thirteen years of age when she became the mother of Joseph William, son of the uncivil Indian, "Buck". The child was born in the Gardner home and mother and child remained there. The mother was a good slave and loved the members of the Gardner family and her son and she were loved by them in return.

Puss Gardner married a Mr. Mooney and Mr. Gardner allowed her to take Joseph William to her home. The Mooney estate was situated up on the Carthridge road and some of Joseph William's most vivid memories of slavery and the curse of bondage embrace his life's span with the Mooneys.

One story that the aged man relates is of an encounter with an eagle and follows: "George Irish, a white boy near my own age, was the son of the miller. His father operated a sawmill on Bledsoe Creek near where it empties into the Coumberland river. George and I often went fishing together and had a good dog called Hector. Hector was as good a coon dog as there was to be found in that part of the country. That day we boys climbed up on the mill shed to watch the swans in Bledsoe Creek and we soon noticed a great big fish hawk catching the goslings. It made us mad and we decided to kill the hawk. I went back to the house and got an old flint lock rifle Mars. Mooney had let me carry when we went hunting. When I got back where George was, the big bird was still busy catching goslings. The first shot I fired broke its wing and I decided I would catch it and take it home with me. The bird put up a terrible fight, cutting me with its bill and talons. Hector came running and tried to help me but the bird cut him until his howls brought help from the field. Mr. Jacob Greene was passing along and came to us. He tore me away from the bird but I could not walk and the blood was running from my body in dozens of places. Poor old Hector, was crippled and bleeding for the bird was a big eagle and would have killed both of us if help had not come." The old negro man still shows signs of his encounter with the eagle. He said it was captured and lived about four months in captivity but its wing never healed. The body of the eagle was stuffed with wheat bran, by Greene Harris, and placed in the court yard in Sumner County. "The Civil War changed things at the Mooney plantation," said the old man. "Before the War Mr. Mooney never had been cruel to me. I was Mistress Puss's property and she would never have allowed me to be abused, but some of the other slaves endured the most cruel treatment and were worked nearly to death."

Uncle Joe's memory of slavery embraces the whole story of bondage and the helpless position held by strong bodied men and women of a hardy race, overpowered by the narrow ideals of slave owners and cruel overseerers. "When I was a little bitsy child and still lived with Mr. Gardner," said the old man, "I saw many of the slaves beaten to death. Master Gardner didn't do any of the whippin' but every few months he sent to Mississippi for negro rulers to come to the plantation and whip all the negroes that had not obeyed the overseers. A big barrel lay near the barn and that was always the whippin place." Uncle Joe remembers two or three professional slave whippers and recalls the death of two of the Mississippi whippers. He relates the story as follows: "Mars Gardner had one of the finest black smiths that I ever saw. His arms were strong, his muscles stood out on his breast and shoulders and his legs were never tired. He stood there and shoed horses and repaired tools day after day and there was no work ever made him tired."

The old negro man so vividly described the noble blacksmith that he almost appeared in person, as the story advanced. "I don't know what he had done to rile up Mars Gardner, but all of us knew that the Blacksmith was going to be flogged. When the whippers from Mississippi got to the plantation. The blacksmith worked on day and night. All day he was shoein horses and all the spare time he had he was makin a knife. When the whippers got there all of us were brought out to watch the whippin but the blacksmith, Jim Gardner did not wait to feel the lash, he jumped right into the bunch of overseers and negro whippers and knifed two whippers and one overseer to death; then stuck the sharp knife into his arm and bled to death."

Suicide seemed the only hope for this man of strength. He could not humble himself to the brutal ordeal of being beaten by the slave whippers.

"When the war started, we kept hearing about the soldiers and finally they set up their camp in the forest near us. The corn was ready to bring into the barn and the soldiers told Mr. Mooney to let the slaves gather it and put it into the barns. Some of the soldiers helped gather and crib the corn. I wanted to help but Miss Puss was afraid they would press me into service and made me hide in the cellar. There was a big keg of apple cider in the cellar and every day Miss Puss handed down a big plate of fresh ginger snaps right out of the oven, so I was well fixed." The old man remembers that after the corn was in the crib the soldiers turned in their horses to eat what had fallen to the ground.

Before the soldiers became encamped at the Mooney plantation they had camped upon a hill and some skirmishing had occurred. Uncle Joe remembers the skirmish and seeing cannon balls come over the fields. The cannon balls were chained together and the slave children would run after the missils. Sometimes the chains would cut down trees as the balls rolled through the forest.

"Do you believe in witchcraft?" was asked while interviewing the aged negro. "No" was the answer. "I had a cousin that was a full blooded Indian and a Voodoo doctor. He got me to help him with his Voodoo work. A lot of people both white and black sent for the Indian when they were sick. I told him I would do the best I could, if it would help sick people to get well. A woman was sick with rhumatism and he was going to see her. He sent me into the woods to dig up poke roots to boil. He then took the brew to the house where the sick woman lived. Had her to put both feet in a tub filled with warm water, into which he had placed the poke root brew. He told the woman she had lizards in her body and he was going to bring them out of her. He covered the woman with a heavy blanket and made her sit for a long time, possibly an hour, with her feet in the tub of poke root brew and water. He had me slip a good many lizards into the tub and when the woman removed her feet, there were the lizards. She was soon well and believed the lizards had come out of her legs. I was disgusted and would not practice with my cousin again."

"So you didn't fight in the Civil War," was asked Uncle Joe.

"Of course I did, when I got old enough I entered the service and barbacued meat until the war closed." Barbacueing had been Uncle Joe's specialty during slavery days and he followed the same profession during his service with the federal army. He was freed by the emancuapation proclamation, and soon met and married Sadie Scott, former Slave of Mr. Scott, a Tennessee planter. Sadie only lived a short time after her marriage. He later married Amy Doolins. Her father was named Carmuel. He was a blacksmith and after he was free, the countrymen were after him to take his life. He was shot nine times and finally killed himself to prevent meeting death at the hands of the clansmen.

Joseph William Carter is a cripple. In 1933 he fell and broke his right thigh-bone and since that time he has walked with a crutch. He stays up quite a lot and is always glad to welcome visitors. He possesses a noble character and is admired by his friends and neighbors. Tall, straight, lean of body, his nose is aquiline; these physical characteristics he inherited from his Indian ancesters. His gentle nature, wit, and good humor are characteristics handed to him by his mother and fostered by the gentle rearing of his southern mistress.

When Uncle Joe Carter celebrated the 100dth aniversary of his birth a large cake was presented to him, decorated with 100 candles. The party was attended by children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors. "What is your political viewpoint?" was asked the old man.

"My politics is my love for my country". "I vote for the man, not the party."

Uncle Joe's religion is the religion of decency and virtue. "I don't want to be hard in my judgement," said he, "But I wish the whole world would be decent. When I was a young man, women wore more clothes in bed than they now wear on the street."

"Papa has always been a lover of horses but he does not care for Automobiles nor aeroplanes," said a daughter of Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe has seven daughters, he says they have always been obedient and attentive to their parents. Their mother passed away seven years ago. The sons and daughters of Uncle Joe remember their grand-mother and recall stories recounted by her of her captivity among the Indians.

"Papa had no gray hairs until after mama died. His hair turned gray from grief at her loss," said Mrs. Della Smith, one of his daughters. Uncle Joe's smile reveals a set of unusually sound teeth from which only one tooth is missing.

Like all fathers and grandfathers, Uncle Joe recounts the cute deeds and funny sayings of the little children he has been associated with: how his own children with feather bedecked crowns enacted the capture of their grandmother and often played "Voo-Doo Doctor."

Uncle Joe stresses the value of work, not the enforced labor of the slave but the cheerful toil of free people. He is glad that his sons and daughters are industrious citizens and is proud they maintain clean homes for their families. He is happy because his children have never known bondage, and he respects the laws of his country and appreciates the interest that the citizens of Evansville have always showed in the negro race.

After Uncle Joe became a young man he met many Indians from the tribe that had held his mother captive. Through them he learned much about his father which his mother had never told him.

Though he was a Gardner slave and would have been Joseph Gardner, he took the name of Carter from a step father and is known as Joseph Carter.

x-Slave stories
District #5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel

312 S.E. Fifth Street, Evansville, Indiana

From an interview with James Childress and from John Bell both living at 312 S.E. Fifth Street, Evansville, Indiana.

Known as Uncle Jimmy by the many children that cluster about the aged man never tiring of his stories of "When I was chile."

"When I was a chile my daddy and mamma was slaves and I was a slave," so begins many recounted tales of the long ago.

Born at Nashville, Tennessee in the year 1860, Uncle Jimmie remembers the Civil War with the exciting events as related to his own family and the family of James Childress, his master. He remembers sorrow expressed in parting tears when "Uncle Johnie and Uncle Bob started to war." He recalls happy days when the beautiful valley of the Cumberland was abloom with wild flowers and fertile acres were carpeted with blue grass.

"A beautiful view could always be enjoyed from the hillsides and there were many pretty homes belonging to the rich citizens. Slaves kept the lawns smooth and tended the flowers for miles around Nashville, when I was a child," said Uncle Jimmie.

Uncle Jimmie Childress has no knowledge of his master's having practiced cruelty towards any slave. "We was all well fed, well clothed and lived in good cabins. I never got a cross word from Mars John in my life," he declared. "When the slaves got their freedom they rejoiced staying up many nights to sing, dance and enjoy themselves, although they still depended on old Mars John for food and bed, they felt too excited to work in the fields or care for the stock. They hated to leave their homes but Mr. Childress told them to go out and make homes for themselves."

"Mother got work as a housekeeper and kept us all together. Uncle Bob got home from the War and we lived well enough. I have lived at Evansville since 1881, have worked for a good many men and John Bell will tell you I have had only friends in the city of Evansville."

Uncle Jimmie recalls how the slaves always prayed to God for freedom and the negro preachers always preached about the day when the slaves would be no longer slaves but free and happy.

"My people loved God, they sang sacred songs, 'Swing Low Sweet Charriot' was one of the best songs they knew". Here uncle Jimmie sang a stanza of the song and said it related to God's setting the negroes free.

"The negroes at Mr. Childress' place were allowed to learn as much as they could. Several of the young men could read and write. Our master was a good man and did no harm to anybody."

James Childress is a black man, small of stature, with crisp wooly dark hair. He is glad he is not mulatto but a thorough blooded negro.

Cor. Bellemeade Ave. and Garvin St.
Evansville, Indiana, and other interested citizens

"The story of my life, I will tell to you with sincerest respect to all and love to many, although reviewing the dark trail of my childhood and early youth causes me great pain." So spoke George Fortman, an aged man and former slave, although the history of his life reveals that no Negro blood runs through his veins.

"My story necessarily begins by relating events which occurred in 1838, when hundreds of Indians were rounded up like cattle and driven away from the valley of the Wabash. It is a well known fact recorded in the histories of Indiana that the long journey from the beautiful Wabash Valley was a horrible experience for the fleeing Indians, but I have the tradition as relating to my own family, and from this enforced flight ensued the tragedy of my birth."

The aged ex-slave reviews tradition. "My two ancestors, John Hawk, a Blackhawk Indian brave, and Racheal, a Chackatau maiden had made themselves a home such as only Indians know, understand and enjoy. He was a hunter and a fighter but had professed faith in Christ through the influence of the missionaries. My greatgrandmother passed the facts on to her children and they have been handed down for four generations. I, in turn, have given the traditions to my children and grandchildren.

"No more peaceful home had ever offered itself to the red man than the beautiful valley of the Wabash river. Giant elms, sycamores and maple trees bordered the stream while the fertile valley was traversed with creeks and rills, furnishing water in abundance for use of the Indian campers.

"The Indians and the white settlers in the valley transacted business with each other and were friendly towards each other, as I have been told by my mother, Eliza, and my grandmother, Courtney Hawk.

"The missionaries often called the Indian families together for the purpose of teaching them and the Indians had been invited, prior to being driven from the valley, to a sort of festival in the woods. They had prepared much food for the occasion. The braves had gone on a long hunt to provide meat and the squaws had prepared much corn and other grain to be used at the feast. All the tribes had been invited to a council and the poor people were happy, not knowing they were being deceived.

"The decoy worked, for while the Indians were worshiping God the meeting was rudely interrupted by orders of the Governor of the State. The Governor, whose duty it was to give protection to the poor souls, caused them to be taken captives and driven away at the point of swords and guns.

"In vain, my grandmother said, the Indians prayed to be let return to their homes. Instead of being given their liberty, some several hundred horses and ponies were captured to be used in transporting the Indians away from the valley. Many of the aged Indians and many innocent children died on the long journey and traditional stories speak of that journey as the 'trail of death.'"

"After long weeks of flight, when the homes of the Indians had been reduced to ashes, the long trail still carried them away from their beautiful valley. My greatgrandfather and his squaw became acquainted with a party of Indians that were going to the canebrakes of Alabama. The pilgrims were not well fed or well clothed and they were glad to travel towards the south, believing the climate would be favorable to their health.

"After a long and dreary journey, the Indians reached Alabama. Rachael had her youngest papoose strapped on to her back while John had cared for the larger child, Lucy. Sometimes she had walked beside her father but often she had become weary or sleepy and he had carried her many miles of the journey, besides the weight of blankets and food. An older daughter, Courtney, also accompanied her parents.

"When they neared the cane lands they heard the songs of Negro slaves as they toiled in the cane. Soon they were in sight of the slave quarters of Patent George's plantation. The Negroes made the Indians welcome and the slave dealer allowed them to occupy the cane house; thus the Indians became slaves of Patent George.

"Worn out from his long journey John Hawk became too ill to work in the sugar cane. The kindly-disposed Negroes helped care for the sick man but he lived only a few months. Rachel and her two children remained on the plantation, working with the other slaves. She had nowhere to go. No home to call her own. She had automatically become a slave. Her children had become chattel.

"So passed a year away, then unhappiness came to the Indian mother, for her daughter, Courtney, became the mother of young Master Ford George's child. The parents called the little half-breed "Eliza" and were very fond of her. The widow of John Hawk became the mother of Patent George's son, Patent Junior.

"The tradition of the family states that in spite of these irregular occurrences the people at the George's southern plantation were prosperous, happy, and lived in peace each with the others. Patent George wearied of the Southern climate and brought his slaves into Kentucky where their ability and strength would amass a fortune for the master in the iron ore regions of Kentucky.

"With the wagon trains of Patent and Ford George came Rachel Hawk and her daughters, Courtney, Lucy and Rachel. Rachel died on the journey from Alabama but the remaining full blooded Indians entered Kentucky as slaves.

"The slave men soon became skilled workers in the Hillman Rolling Mills. Mr. Trigg was owner of the vast iron works called the "Chimneys" in the region, but listed as the Hillman, Dixon, Boyer, Kelley and Lyons Furnaces. For more than a half century these chimneys smoked as the most valuable development in the western area of Kentucky. Operated in 1810, these furnaces had refined iron ore to supply the United States Navy with cannon balls and grape shot, and the iron smelting industry continued until after the close of the Civil War.

"No slaves were beaten at the George's plantation and old Mistress Hester Lam allowed no slave to be sold. She was a devoted friend to all.

"As Eliza George, daughter of Ford George and Courtney Hawk, grew into young womanhood the young master Ford George went oftener and oftener to social functions. He was admired for his skill with firearms and for his horsemanship. While Courtney and his child remained at the plantation Ford enjoyed the companship of the beautiful women of the vicinity. At last he brought home the beautiful Loraine, his young bride. Courtney was stoical as only an Indian can be. She showed no hurt but helped Mistress Hester and Mistress Loraine with the house work."

Here George Fortman paused to let his blinded eyes look back into the long ago. Then he again continued with his story of the dark trail.

"Mistress Loraine became mother of two sons and a daughter and the big white two-story house facing the Cumberland River at Smith Landing, Kentucky, became a place of laughter and happy occasions, so my mother told me many times.

"Suddenly sorrow settled down over the home and the laughter turned into wailing, for Ford George's body was found pierced through the heart and the half-breed, Eliza, was nowhere to be found.

"The young master's body lay in state many days. Friends and neighbors came bringing flowers. His mother, bowed with grief, looked on the still face of her son and understood?understood why death had come and why Eliza had gone away.

"The beautiful home on the Cumberland river with its more than 600 acres of productive land was put into the hands of an administrator of estates to be readjusted in the interest of the George heirs. It was only then Mistress Hester went to Aunt Lucy and demanded of her to tell where Eliza could be found.

'She has gone to Alabama, Ole Mistus', said Aunt Lucy, 'Eliza was scared to stay here.' A party of searchers were sent out to look for Eliza. They found her secreted in a cane brake in the low lands of Alabama nursing her baby boy at her breast. They took Eliza and the baby back to Kentucky. I am that baby, that child of unsatisfactory birth."

The face of George Fortman registered sorrow and pain, it had been hard for him to retell the story of the dark road to strange ears.

"My white uncles had told Mistress Hester that if Eliza brought me back they were going to build a fire and put me in it, my birth was so unsatisfactory to all of them, but Mistress Hester always did what she believed was right and I was brought up by my own mother.

"We lived in a cabin at the slave quarters and mother worked in the broom cane. Mistress Hester named me Ford George, in derision, but remained my friend. She was never angry with my mother. She knew a slave had to submit to her master and besides Eliza did not know she was Master Ford George's daughter."

The truth had been told at last. The master was both the father of Eliza and the father of Eliza's son.

"Mistress Hester believed I would be feeble either in mind or body because of my unsatisfactory birth, but I developed as other children did and was well treated by Mistress Hester, Mistress Lorainne and her children.

"Master Patent George died and Mistress Hester married Mr. Lam, while slaves kept working at the rolling mills and amassing greater wealth for the George families.

"Five years before the outbreak of the Civil War Mistress Hester called all the slaves together and gave us our freedom. Courtney, my grandmother, kept house for Mistress Lorainne and wanted to stay on, so I too was kept at the George home. There was a sincere friendship as great as the tie of blood between the white family and the slaves. My mother married a negro ex-slave of Ford George and bore children for him. Her health failed and when Mistress Puss, the only daughter of Mistress Lorainne, learned she was ill she persuaded the Negro man to sell his property and bring Eliza back to live with her."

[TR: in following section the name George 'Fordman' is used twice.]

"Why are you called George Fordman when your name is Ford George?" was the question asked the old man.

"Then the Freedsmen started teaching school in Kentucky the census taker called to enlist me as a pupil. 'What do you call this child?' he asked Mistress Lorainne. 'We call him the Little Captain because he carried himself like a soldier,' said Mistress Lorainne. 'He is the son of my husband and a slave woman but we are rearing him.' Mistress Lorainne told the stranger that I had been named Ford George in derision and he suggested she list me in the census as George Fordsman, which she did, but she never allowed me to attend the Freedmen's School, desiring to keep me with her own children and let me be taught at home. My mother's half brother, Patent George allowed his name to be reversed to George Patent when he enlisted in the Union Service at the outbreak of the Civil War."

Some customs prevalent in the earlier days were described by George Fordman. "It was customary to conduct a funeral differently than it is conducted now," he said. "I remember I was only six years old when old Mistress Hester Lam passed on to her eternal rest. She was kept out of her grave several days in order to allow time for the relatives, friends and ex-slaves to be notified of her death.

"The house and yard were full of grieving friends. Finally the lengthy procession started to the graveyard. Within the George's parlors there had been Bible passages read, prayers offered up and hymns sung, now the casket was placed in a wagon drawn by two horses. The casket was covered with flowers while the family and friends rode in ox carts, horse-drawn wagons, horseback, and with still many on foot they made their way towards the river.

"When we reached the river there were many canoes busy putting the people across, besides the ferry boat was in use to ferry vehicles over the stream. The ex-slaves were crying and praying and telling how good granny had been to all of them and explaining how they knew she had gone straight to Heaven, because she was so kind?and a Christian. There were not nearly enough boats to take the crowd across if they crossed back and forth all day, so my mother, Eliza, improvised a boat or 'gunnel', as the craft was called, by placing a wooden soap box on top of a long pole, then she pulled off her shoes and, taking two of us small children in her arms, she paddled with her feet and put us safely across the stream. We crossed directly above Iaka, Livingston county, three miles below Grand River.

"At the burying ground a great crowd had assembled from the neighborhood across the river and there were more songs and prayers and much weeping. The casket was let down into the grave without the lid being put on and everybody walked up and looked into the grave at the face of the dead woman. They called it the 'last look' and everybody dropped flowers on Mistress Hester as they passed by. A man then went down and nailed on the lid and the earth was thrown in with shovels. The ex-slaves filled in the grave, taking turns with the shovel. Some of the men had worked at the smelting furnaces so long that their hands were twisted and hardened from contact with the heat. Their shoulders were warped and their bodies twisted but they were strong as iron men from their years of toil. When the funeral was over mother put us across the river on the gunnel and we went home, all missing Mistress Hester.

"My cousin worked at Princeton, Kentucky, making shoes. He had never been notified that he was free by the kind emancipation Mrs. Hester had given to her slaves, and he came loaded with money to give to his white folks. Mistress Lorainne told him it was his own money to keep or to use, as he had been a free man several months.

"As our people, white and black and Indians, sat talking they related how they had been warned of approaching trouble. Jack said the dogs had been howling around the place for many nights and that always presaged a death in the family. Jack had been compelled to take off his shoes and turn them soles up near the hearth to prevent the howling of the dogs. Uncle Robert told how he believed some of Mistress Hester's enemies had planted a shrub near her door and planted it with a curse so that when the shrub bloomed the old woman passed away. Then another man told how a friend had been seen carrying a spade into his cousin's cabin and the cousin had said, 'Daniel, what foh you brung that weapon into by [TR: my?] cabin? That very spade will dig my grave,' and sure enough the cousin had died and the same spade had been used in digging his grave.

"How my childish nature quailed at hearing the superstitions discussed, I cannot explain. I have never believed in witchcraft nor spells, but I remember my Indian grandmother predicted a long, cold winter when she noticed the pelts of the coons and other furred creatures were exceedingly heavy. When the breastbones of the fowls were strong and hard to sever with the knife it was a sign of a hard, cold and snowy winter. Another superstition was this: 'A green winter, a new graveyard?a white winter, a green graveyard.'"

George Fortman relates how, when he accompanied two of his cousins into the lowlands?there were very many Katy-dids in the trees?their voices formed a nerve-racking orchestra and his cousin told him to tiptoe to the trees and touch each tree with the tips of his fingers. This he did, and for the rest of the day there was quiet in the forest.

"More than any other superstition entertained by the slave Negroes, the most harmful was the belief on conjurors. One old Negro woman boiled a bunch of leaves in an iron pot, boiled it with a curse and scattered the tea therein brewed, and firmly believed she was bringing destruction to her enemies. 'Wherever that tea is poured there will be toil and troubles,' said the old woman.

"The religion of many slaves was mostly superstition. They feared to break the Sabbath, feared to violate any of the Commandments, believing that the wrath of God would follow immediately, blasting their lives.

"Things changed at the George homestead as they change everywhere," said George Fortman. "When the Civil War broke out many slaves enlisted in hopes of receiving freedom. The George Negroes were already free but many thought it their duty to enlist and fight for the emancipation of their fellow slaves. My mother took her family and moved away from the plantation and worked in the broom cane. Soon she discovered she could not make enough to rear her children and we were turned over to the court to be bound out.

"I was bound out to David Varnell in Livingston County by order of Judge Busch and I stayed there until I was fifteen years of age. My sister learned that I was unhappy there and wanted to see my mother, so she influenced James Wilson to take me into his home. Soon goodhearted Jimmy Wilson took me to see Mother and I went often to see her."

Sometimes George would become stubborn and hard to control and then Mr. Wilson administered chastisement. His wife could not bear to have the boy punished. 'Don't hit him, Jimmie, don't kick him,' would say the good Scotch woman, who was childless. 'If he does not obey me I will whip him,' James Wilson would answer. So the boy learned the lesson of obedience from the old couple and learned many lessons in thrift through their examples.

"In 1883 I left the Wilson home and began working and trying to save some money. River trade was prosperous and I became a 'Roustabout'. The life of the roustabout varied some with the habits of the roustabout and the disposition of the mate. We played cards, shot dice and talked to the girls who always met the boats. The 'Whistling Coon' was a popular song with the boatmen and one version of 'Dixie Land'. One song we often sang when near a port was worded 'Hear the trumpet Sound'?

Hear the trumpet sound,
Stand up and don't sit down,
Keep steppin' 'round and 'round,
Come jine this elegant band.

If you don't step up and jine the bout,
Old Missus sure will fine it out,
She'll chop you in the head wid a golen ax,
You never will have to pay da tax,
Come jine the roust-a-bout band."

From roust-a-bout George became a cabin boy, cook, pilot, and held a number of positions on boats, plowing different streams. There was much wild game to be had and the hunting season was always open. He also remembers many wolves, wild turkeys, catamounts and deer in abundance near the Grand River. "Pet deer loafed around the milking pens and ate the feed from the mangers" said he.

George Fortman is a professor of faith in Christ. He was baptized in Concord Lake, seven miles from Clarksville, Tennessee, became a member of the Pleasant Greene Church at Callwell, Kentucky and later a member of the Liberty Baptist Church at Evansville.

"I have always kept in touch with my white folks, the George family," said the man, now feeble and blind. "Four years ago Mistress Puss died and I was sent for but was not well enough to make the trip home."

Too young to fight in the Civil War, George was among those who watched the work go on. "I lived at Smiths Landing and remember the battle at Fort Donnelson. It was twelve miles away and a long cinder walk reached from the fort for nearly thirty miles. The cinders were brought from the iron ore mills and my mother and I have walked the length of it many times." Still reviewing the long, dark trail he continued. "Boatloads of soldiers passed Smith's Landing by day and night and the reports of cannon could be heard when battles were fought. We children collected Munnie balls near the fort for a long time after the war."

Although the George family never sold slaves or separated Negro families, George Fortman has seen many boats loaded with slaves on the way to slave marts. Some of the George Negroes were employed as pilots on the boats. He also remembers slave sales where Negroes were auctioned by auctioneers, the Negroes stripped of clothes to exhibit their physique.

"I have always been befriended by three races of people, the Caucassian, the African, and the Negro," declares George Fortman. "I have worked as a farmer, a river man, and been employed by the Illinois Central Railroad Company and in every position I have held I have made loyal friends of my fellow workmen." One friend, treasured in the memory of the aged ex-slave is Ollie James, who once defended George in court.

George Fortman has friends at Dauson Springs, Grayson Springs, and other Kentucky resorts. He has been a citizen of Evansville for thirty-five years and has had business connections here for sixty-two years. He janitored for eleven years for the Lockyear Business College, but his days of usefulness are over. He now occupies a room at Bellemeade Ave. and Garvin St. and his only exercise consists of a stroll over to the Lincoln High School. There he enjoys listening to the voices of the pupils as they play about the campus. "They are free", he rejoices. "They can build their own destinies, they did not arrive in this life by births of unsatisfactory circumstances. They have the world before them and my grandsons and granddaughters are among them."

Ex-Slave Stories
District No. 5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel

429 Oak Street, Evansville, Ind.

From an Interview with Elizabeth Jones at 429 Oak Street, Evansville, Ind.

"Yes Honey, I was a slave, I was born at Henderson, Kentucky and my mother was born there. We belonged to old Mars John Alvis. Our home was on Alvis's Hill and a long plank walk had been built from the bank of the Ohio river to the Alvis home. We all liked the long plank walk and the big house on top of the hill was a pretty place."

Betty Jones said her master was a rich man and had made his money by raising and selling slaves. She only recalls two house servants were mulatoes. All the other slaves were black as they could be.

Betty Alvis lived with her parents in a cabin near her master's home on the hill. She recalls no unkind treatment. "Our only sorrow was when a crowd of our slave friends would be sold off, then the mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends always cried a lot and we children would grieve to see the grief of our parents."

The mother of Betty was a slave of John Alvis and married a slave of her master. The family lived at the slave quarters and were never parted. "Mother kept us all together until we got set free after the war," declares Betty. Many of the Alvis negroes decided to make their homes at Henderson, Kentucky. "It was a nice town and work was plentiful."

Betty Alvis was brought to Evansville by her parents. The climate did not agree with the mother so she went to Princeton, Kentucky to live with her married daughter and died there.

Betty Alvis married John R. Jones, a native of Tennessee, a former slave of John Jones, a Tennessee planter. He died twelve years ago.

Betty Jones recalls when Evansville was a small town. She remembers when the street cars were mule drawn and people rode on them for pleasure. "When boats came in at Evansville, all the girls used to go down to the bank, wearing pretty ruffled dresses and every body would wave to the boat men and stay down at the river's edge until the boat was out of sight." Betty Jones remembers when the new Court House was started and how glad the men of the city were to erect the nice building. She recalls when the old frame buildings used for church services were razed and new structures were erected in which to worship God. She does not believe in evil spirits, ghosts nor charms as do many former slaves, but she remembers hearing her friends express superstitions concerning black cats. It was also a belief that to build a new kitchen onto your old home was always followed by the death of a member of the immediate family and if a bird flew into a window it had come to bring a call to the far away land and some member of the family would die.

Betty Jones was not scared when the recent flood came to within a block of her door. She had lived through a flood while living at Lawrence Station at Marion County, Indiana. "We was all marooned in our homes for two weeks and all the food we had was brought to our door by boats. White river was flooded then and our home was in the White River Flats." "What God wills must happen to us, and we do not save ourselves by trying to run away. Just as well stay and face it as to try to get away."

The old negro woman is cared for by her unmarried daughter since her husband's death. The old woman is lonely and was happy to recieve a caller. She is alone much of the time as her daughter is compelled to do house work to provide for her mother and herself. "Of course I'm a Christian," said the aged negress. "I'm a religious woman and hope to meet my friends in Heaven." "I would like to go back to Henderson, Kentucky once more, for I have not been there for more than twenty years. I'd live to walk the old plank walk again up to Mr. Alvis' home but I'm afraid I'll never get to go. It costs too much."

So desire remains with the aged and memories remain to comfort the feeble.

x-Slave Stories
District #5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel


The slave mart, separation from a dearly beloved mother and little sisters are among the earliest memories recalled by Amy Elizabeth Patterson, a resident of Evansville, Indiana.

Amy Elizabeth, now known as "Grandmother Patterson" resides with her daughter Lula B. Morton at 512 Linwood Avenue near Cherry Street. Her birth occurred July 12, 1850 at Cadiz, Trigg County, Kentucky. Her mother was Louisa Street, slave of John Street, a merchant of Cadez. [TR: likely Cadiz]

"John Street was never unkind to his slaves" is the testimony of Grandmother Patterson, as she recalls and relates stories of the long ago. "Our sorrow began when slave traders, came to Cadiz and bought such slaves as he took a fancy to and separated us from our families!"


John Street ran a sort of agency where he collected slaves and yearly sold them to dealers in human flesh. Those he did not sell he hired out to other families. Some were hired or indentured to farmers, some to stock raisers, some to merchants and some to captains of boats and the hire of all these slaves went into the coffers of John Street, yearly increasing his wealth.

Louisa Street, mother of Amy Elizabeth Patterson, was house maid at the Street home and her first born daughter was fair with gold brown hair and amber eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Street always promised Louisa they would never sell her as they did not want to part with the child, so Louisa was given a small cabin near the master's house. The mistress had a child near the age of the little mulatto and Louisa was wet nurse for both children as well as maid to Mrs. Street. Two years after the birth of Amy Elizabeth, Louisa became mother of twin daughters, Fannie and Martha Street, then John Street decided to sell all his slaves as he contemplated moving into another territory.

The slaves were auctioned to the highest bidder and Louisa and the twins were bought by a man living near Cadiz but Mr. Street refused to sell Amy Elizabeth. She showed promise of growing into an excellent house-maid and seamstress and was already a splendid playmate and nurse to the little Street boy and girl. So Louisa lost her child but such grief was shown by both mother and child that the mother was unable to perform her tasks and the child cried continually. Then Mr. Street consented to sell the little girl to the mother's new master.

Louisa Street became mother of seventeen children. Three were almost white. Amy Elizabeth was the daughter of John Street and half sister of his children by his lawful wife. Mrs. Street knew the facts and respected Louisa and her child and, says grandmother Patterson, "That was the greatest crime ever visited on the United States. It was worse than the cruelty of the overseers, worse than hunger, for many slaves were well fed and well cared for; but when a father can sell his own child, humiliate his own daughter by auctioning her on the slave block, what good could be expected where such practices were allowed?"

Grandmother Patterson remembers superstitions of slavery days and how many slaves were afraid of ghosts and evil spirits but she never believed in supernatural appearances until three years ago when she received a message, through a medium, from the spirit land; now she is a firm believer, not in ghosts and evil visitations, but in true communication with the departed ones who still love and long to protect those who remain on earth.

Several years ago a young grandson of the old woman was drowned. The little boy was Stokes Morton, a very popular child rating high averages in school studies and beloved by his teachers and friends. The mother, Lulu B. Morton and the grandmother both gave up to grief, in fact they both have declined in health and were unable to carry on their regular duties.

Grandmother Patterson began suffering from a dental ailment and was compelled to visit a dental surgeon. The dental surgeon suggested that she visit a medium and seek some comforting message from the child.

She at once visited a medium and received a message. "Stokes answered me. In fact he was waiting to communicate with us. He said 'Grandmother! you and mother must stop staying at the cemetary and grieving for me. Send the flowers to your sick friends and put in more time with the other children. I am happy here, I am in a beautiful field, The sky is blue and the field is full of beautiful white lambs that play with me.'"

The message comforted the aged woman. She began occupying her time with other members of the family and again began to visit with her neighbors.

She felt a call two years later and again consulted the medium. That time she received a message from the child, his father and a little girl that had died in infancy. Grandmother Patterson said she would not recall the ones who had gone on to the land of promise. She is a christian and a believer in the Word of God.

Grandmother Patterson, in spite of her 87 years of life (fifteen of which were passed in slavery) is useful in her daughter's home. Her children and grand children are fond of her as indeed they well may be. She is a refined woman, gracious to every person she encounters. She is hoping for better opportunities for her race. She admonishes the younger relatives to live in the fear and love of the Lord that no evil days overtake them.

"Yes, slavery was a curse to this nation" she declares, "A curse which still shows itself in hundreds of homes where mulatto faces are evidence of a heinous sin and proof that there has been a time when American fathers sold their children at the slave marts of America." She is glad the curse has been erased even if by the bloodshed of heroes.

x-Slave Stories

District #5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel


"Yes, I was a slave," said John Rudd, "And I'll say this to the whole world, Slavery was the worst curse ever visited on the people of the United States."

John Rudd is a negro, dark and swarthy as to complexion but his nose is straight and aqualine, for his mother-was half Indian.

The memory of his mother, Liza Rudd, is sacred to John Rudd today and her many disadvantages are still a source of grief to the old man of 83 years. John Rudd was born on Christmas day 1854 in the home of Benjamin Simms, at Springfield, Kentucky. The mother of the young child was house maid for mistress Simms and Uncle John remembers that mother and child received only the kindliest consideration from all members of the Simms family.

While John was yet a small boy Benjamin Simms died and the Simms slaves were auctioned to the highest bidders. "If'n you wants to know what unhappiness means," said Uncle John Rudd, "Jess'n you stand on the Slave Block and hear the Auctioneer's voice selling you away from the folks you love." Uncle John explained how mothers and fathers were often separated from their dearly loved children, at the auction block, but John and his younger brother Thomas were fortunate and were bought by the same master along with Liza Rudd, their mother. An elder brother, Henry, was separated from his mother and brothers and became the property of George Snyder and was thereafter known as Henry Snyder.

When Liza Rudd and her two little sons left the slave block they were the property of Henry Moore who lived a few miles away from Springfield. Uncle John declares that unhappiness met them at the threshold of the Moore's estate.

Liza was given the position of cook, housemaid and plough-hand while her little boys were made to hoe, carry wood and care for the small children of the Moore family.

John had only been at the Moore home a few months when he witnessed several slaves being badly beaten. Henry Moore kept a white overseer and several white men were employed to whip slaves. A large barrel stood near the slave quarters and the little boy discovered that the barrel was a whipping post. The slaves would be strapped across the side of the barrel and two strong men would wield the "cat of nine tails" until blood flowed from gashed flesh, and the cries and prayers of the unfortunate culprits availed them nothing until the strength of the floggers became exhausted.

One day, when several Negroes had just recovered from an unusual amount of chastisement, the little Negro, John Rudd, was playing in the front yard of the Moore's house when he heard a soft voice calling him. He knew the voice belonged to Shell Moore, one of his best friends at the Moore estate. Shell had been among those severely beaten and little John had been grieving over his misfortunes. "Shell had been in the habbit of whittling out whistles for me and pettin' of me," said the now aged negro. "I went to see what he wanted wif me and he said 'Goodby Johnnie, you'll never see Shellie alive after today.'" Shell made his way toward the cornfield but the little Negro boy, watching him go, did not realize what situation confronted him. That night the master announced that Shell had run away again and the slaves were started searching fields and woods but Shell's body was found three days later by Rhoder McQuirk, dangling from a rafter of Moore's corn crib where the unhappy Negro had hanged himself with a leather halter.

Shell was a splendid worker and was well worth a thousand dollars. If he had been fairly treated he would have been happy and glad to repay kindness by toil. "Mars Henry would have been better to all of us, only Mistress Jane was always rilin' him up," declared John Rudd as he sat in his rocking chair under a shade tree.

"Jane Moore, was the daughter of Old Thomas Rakin, one of the meanest men, where slaves were concerned, and she had learnt the slave drivin' business from her daddy."

Uncle John related a story concerning his mother as follows: "Mama had been workin' in the cornfield all day 'till time to cook supper. She was jes' standin' in the smoke house that was built back of the big kitchen when Mistress walks in. She had a long whip hid under her apron and began whippin Mama across the shoulders, 'thout tellin' her why. Mama wheeled around from whar she was slicin' ham and started runnin' after old Missus Jane. Ole Missus run so fas' Mama couldn't catch up wif her so she throwed the butcher knife and stuck it in the wall up to the hilt." "I was scared. I was fraid when Marse Henry come in I believed he would have Mama whipped to death."

"Whar Jane?" said Mars Henry. "She up stairs with the door locked," said Mama. Then she tole old Mars Henry the truth about how mistress Jane whip her and show him the marks of the whip. She showed him the butcher knife stickin' in the wall. "Get yer clothes together," said Marse Henry.

John then had to be parted from his mother. Henry Rudd [TR: 'Moore' written above in brackets.] believed that the Negroes were going to be set free. War had been declared and his desire was to send Liza far into the southern states where the price of a good negro was higher than in Kentucky. When he reached Louisville he was offered a good price for her service and hired her out to cook at a hotel. John grieved over the loss of his mother but afterwards learned she had been well treated at Louisville. John Rudd continued to work for Henry Moore until the Civil War ended. Then Henry Snyder came to the Moore home and demanded his brothers to be given into his charge.

Henry Snyder had enlisted in the Federal Army and had fought throughout the war. He had entered or leased seven acres of good land seven miles below Owensboro, Kentucky, and on those good acres of Davies County farm land the mother and her three sons were reunited.

John Rudd had never seen a river until he made the trip to Owensboro with his brother Henry. The trip was made on the big Gray Eagle and Uncle John declares "I was sure thrilled to get that boat ride." He relates many incidents of run-away Negroes. Remembers his fear of the Ku Klucks, and remembers seeing seven ex-slaves hanging from one tree near the top of Grimes-Hill, just after the close of the war.

When John grew to young manhood he worked on farms in Davis County near Owensboro for several years, then procured the job of portering for John Sporree, a hotel keeper at Owensboro, and in this position John worked for fifteen years.

While at Owensboro he met the trains and boats. He recalls the boats; Morning Star, and Guiding Star; both excursion boats that carried gay men and women on pleasure trips up and down the Ohio river.

Uncle John married Teena Queen his beloved first wife, at Owensboro. To this union was born one son but he has not been to see his father nor has he heard from him for thirty years, and his father believes him to have died. The second wife was Minnie Dixon who still lives with Uncle John at Evansville.

When asked what his political ideas were, Uncle John said his politics is his love for his government. He draws an old age compensation of 14 dollars a month.

Uncle John had some trouble proving his age but met the situation by having a friend write to the Catholic Church authorities at Springfield. Mrs. Simms had taken the position of God Mother to the baby and his birth and christening had been recorded in the church records. He is a devout Catholic and believes that religion and freedom are the two richest blessings ever given to mankind.

Uncle John worked as janitor at the Boehne Tuberculosis Hospital for eight years. While working there he received a fall which crippled him. He walks by the aid of a cane but is able to visit with his friends and do a small amount of work in his home.

Stories from Ex-Slaves
5th District
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel
1415 S. Barker Avenue, Evansville, Indiana


Among the interesting stories connected with former slaves one of the most outstanding ones is the life story of Adah Isabelle Suggs, indeed her escape from slavery planned and executed by her anxious mother, Harriott McClain, bears the earmarks of fiction, but the truth of all related occurences has been established by the aged negro woman and her daughter Mrs. Harriott Holloway, both citizens of Evansville, Indiana.

Born in slavery before January the twenty-second, 1862 the child Adah McClain was the property of Colonel Jackson McClain and Louisa, his wife.

According to the customary practice of raising slave children, Adah was left at the negro quarters of the McClain plantation, a large estate located in Henderson county, three and one half miles from the village of Henderson, Kentucky. There she was cared for by her mother. She retains many impressions gained in early childhood of the slave quarters; she remembers the slaves singing and dancing together after the day of toil. Their voices were strong and their songs were sweet. "Master was good to his slaves and never beat them" were her words concerning her master.

When Adah was not yet five years of age the mistress, Louisa McClain, made a trip to the slave quarters to review conditions of the negroes. It was there she discovered that one little girl there had been developing ideas and ideals; the mother had taught the little one to knit tiny stockings, using wheat straws for knitting needles.

Mrs. McClain at once took charge of the child taking her from her mother's care and establishing her room at the residence of the McClain family.

Today the aged Negro woman recalls the words of praise and encouragement accorded her accomplishments, for the child was apt, active, responsive to influence and soon learned to fetch any needed volume from the library shelves of the McClain home.

She was contented and happy but the mother knew that much unhappiness was in store for her young daughter if she remained as she was situated.

A custom prevailed throughout the southern states that the first born of each slave maiden should be the son or daughter of her master and the girls were forced into maternity at puberty. The mothers naturally resisted this terrible practice and Harriott was determined to prevent her child being victimized.

One planned escape was thwarted; when the girl was about twelve years of age the mother tried to take her to a place of safety but they were overtaken on the road to the ferry where they hoped to be put across the Ohio river. They were carried back to the plantation and the mother was mildly punished and imprisoned in an upstair room.

The little girl knew her mother was imprisoned and often climbed up to a window where the two could talk together.

One night the mother received directions through a dream in which her escape was planned. She told the child about the dream and instructed her to carry out orders that they might escape together.

The girl brought a large knife from Mrs. McClain's pantry and by the aid of that tool the lock was pried from the prison door and the mother made her way into the open world about midnight.

A large tobacco barn became her refuge where she waited for her child. The girl had some trouble making her escape; she had become a useful and necessary member of her mistress' household and her services were hourly in demand. The Daughter "young missus" Annie McClain was afflicted from birth having a cleft palate and later developing heart dropsy which made regular surgery imperative. The negro girl had learned to care for the young white woman and could draw the bandages for the surgeon whey "Young Missus" underwent surgical treatment.

The memory of one trip to Louisville is vivid in the mind of the old negress today for she was taken to the city and the party stopped at the Gault House and [TR: line not completed]

"It was a grand place," she declares, as she describes the surroundings; the handsome draperies and the winding stairway and other artistic objects seen at the grand hotel.

The child loved her young mistress and the young mistress desired the good slave should be always near her; so, patient waiting was required by the negro mother before her daughter finally reached their rendezvous.

Under cover of night the two fugitives traveled the three miles to Henderson, there they secreted themselves under the house of Mrs. Margaret Bentley until darkness fell over the world to cover their retreat. Imagine the frightened negroes stealthily creeping through the woods in constant fear of being recaptured. Federal soldiers put them across the river at Henderson and from that point they cautiously advanced toward Evansville. The husband of Harriott, Milton McClain and her son Jerome were volunteers in a negro regiment. The operation of the Federal Statute providing for the enlistment of slaves made enlisted negroes free as well as their wives and children, so, by that statute Harriott McClain and her daughter should have been given their freedom.

When the refugees arrived in Evansville they were befriended by free negroes of the area. Harriott obtained a position as maid with the Parvine family, "Miss Hallie and Miss Genevieve Parvine were real good folks," declares the aged negro Adah when repeating her story. After working for the Misses Parvine for about two years, the negro mother had saved enough money to place her child in "pay school" there she learned rapidly.

Adah McClain was married to Thomas Suggs January 18, 1872. Thomas was a slave of Bill McClain and it is believed he adopted the name Suggs because a Mr. Suggs had befriended him in time of trouble. Of this fact neither the wife nor daughter have positive proof. The father has departed this life but Adah Suggs lives on with her memories.

Varied experiences have attended her way. Wifehood and devotion; motherhood and care she has known for she has given fifteen children to the world. Among them were one set of twins, daughters and triplets, two sons and a daughter. She is a beloved mother to those of her children who remain near her and says she is happy in her belief in God and Christ and hopes for a glorious hereafter where she can serve the Lord Jesus Christ and praise him eternally.

What greater hope can be given to the mortal than the hope cherished by Adah Isabelle Suggs?


District #5
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel

Oak street, Evansville, Ind.

"White folks 'jes naturally different from darkies," said Aunt Katie Sutton, ex-slave, as she tightened her bonnet strings under her wrinkled chin.

"We's different in color, in talk and in ligion and beliefs. We's different in every way and can never be spected to think oe [TR: or?] to live alike."

"When I was a little gal I lived with my mother in an old log cabin. My mammy was good to me but she had to spend so much of her time at humoring the white babies and taking care of them that she hardly ever got to even sing her own babies to sleep."

"Ole Missus and Young Missus told the little slave children that the stork brought the white babies to their mothers but that the slave children were all hatched out from buzzards eggs and we believed it was true."

"Yes, Maam, I believes in evil spirits and that there are many folks that can put spells on you, and if'n you dont believe it you had better be careful for there are folks right here in this town that have the power to bewitch you and then you will never be happy again."

Aunt Katie declared that the seventh son of a seventh son, or the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter possesses the power to heal diseases and that a child born after the death of its father possesses a strange and unknown power.

While Aunt Katie was talking, a neighbor came in to borrow a shovel from her.

"No, no, indeed I never lends anything to nobody," she declared. After the new neighbor left, Aunt Katie said, "She jes erbout wanted dat shovel so she could 'hax' me. A woman borrowed a poker from my mammy and hexed mammy by bending the poker and mammy got all twisted up wid rhumatis 'twill her uncle straightened de poker and den mammy got as straight as anybody."

"No, Maam, nobody wginter take anything of mine out'n this house." Aunt Katie Sutton's voice was thin and her tune uncertain but she remembered some of the songs she heard in slavery days. One was a lullaby sung by her mother and the song is given on separate pages of this artical.

Three years ago Aunt Katie was called away on her last journey although she had always emmerced the back and front steps of her cottage with chamber lye daily to keep away evil spirits death crept in and demanded the price each of us must pay and Katie answered the call.

Aunt Katie sprinkled salt in the foot prints of departing guests "Dat's so dey kain leave no illwill behind em and can never come agin 'thout an invitation," she explained.

She said she one time planted a tree with a curse and that her worst enemy died that same year.

"Evil spirits creeps around all night long and evil people's always able to hex you, So, you had best be careful how you talks to strangers. Always spit on a coin before You gives it to a begger and dont pass too close to a hunchbacked person unless you can rub the hump or you will have bad luck as sure as anything."

Aunt Katie declared a rabbit's foot only brought good luck if the rabbit had been killed by a cross eyed negro in a country grave yard in the dark of the moon and she said that she believed one of that description could be found only once in a lifetime or possibly a hundred years.

"A Slave Mammy's Lullaby."

Sung by Katie Sutton, Ex-slave of Evansville, Indiana.

"A snow white stork flew down from the sky.
Rock a bye, my baby bye,
To take a baby gal so fair,
To young missus, waitin there;
When all was quiet as a mouse,
In ole massa's big fine house.

Dat little gal was borned rich and free,
She's de sap from out a sugah tree;
But you are jes as sweet to me;
My little colored chile,
Jes lay yo head upon my bres;
An res, and res, and res, an res,
My little colored chile.

To a cabin in a woodland drear,
You've come by a mammy's heart to cheer;
In this ole slave's cabin,
Your hands my heart strings grabbin;
Jes lay your head upon my bres,
Jes snuggle close an res an res;
My little colored chile.

Repeat Refrain.

Yo daddy ploughs ole massa's corn,
Yo mammy does the cooking;
She'll give dinner to her hungry chile,
When nobody is a lookin;
Don't be ashamed, my chile, I beg,
Case you was hatched from a buzzard's egg;
My little colored chile."

Ex-Slave Stories

>5th District
Vanderburgh County
Lauana Creel
1415 S. Barker Avenue, Evansville, Indiana

[HW: Personal Interview]

Samuel Watson, a citizen of Evansville, Indiana, was born in Webster County, Kentucky, February 14, 1862. His master's home was located two and one half miles from Clay, Kentucky on Craborchard Creek.

"Uncle Sammy" as the negro children living near his home on South East Fifth Street call the old man, possesses an unusually clear memory. In fact he remembers seeing the soldiers and hearing the report of cannon while he was yet an infant.

One story told by the old negro relates how; "old missus" saved "old massa's horses". The story follows:

The mistress accompanied by a number of slaves was walking out one morning and all were startled by the sound of hurrying horses. Soon many mounted soldiers could be seen coming over a hill in the distance. The child Samuel was later told that the soldiers were making their way to Fort Donelson and were pressing horses into service. They were also enlisting negroes into service whenever possible.

Old master, Thomas Watson, owned many good able-bodied slaves and many splendid horses. The mistress realised the danger of loss and opening the "big gate" that separated the corral from the forest lands, Mrs. Watson ran into the midst of the horses shouting and frailing them. The frightened horses ran into the forest off the highway and toward the river.

When the soldiers stopped at the Watson plantation they found only a few old work horses standing under a tree and not desiring these they want on their way.

The little negro boy ran and hid himself in the corner made by a great outside chimney, where he was found later, by his frightened mother. Uncle Samuel remembers that the horses came home the following afternoon, none missing.

Uncle Samuel remembers when the war ended and the slaves were emancipated. "Some were happy! and some were sad!" Many dreaded leaving their old homes and their masters' families.

Uncle Samuel's mother and three children were told that they were free people and the master asked the mother to take her little ones and go away.

She complied and took her family to the plantation of Jourdain James, hoping to work and keep her family together. Wages received for her work failed to support the mother and children so she left the employ of Mr. James and worked from place to place until her children became half starved and without clothing.

The older children, remembering better and happier days, ran away from their mother and went back to their old master.

Thomas Watson went to Dixon, Kentucky and had an article of indenture drawn up binding both Thomas and Laurah to his service for a long number of years. Little Samuel only remained with his mother who took him to the home of William Allen Price. Mr. Price's plantation was situated in Webster County, Kentucky about half-way between Providence and Clay on Craborchard Creek. Mr. Price had the little boy indentured to his service for a period of eighteen years. There the boy lived and worked on the plantation.

He said he had a good home among good people. His master gave him five real whippings within a period of fourteen years but Uncle Samuel believes he deserved every lash administered.

Uncle Samuel loved his master's family, he speaks of Miss Lena, Miss Lula, Master Jefferson and Master John and believes they are still alive. Their present home is at Cebra, Kentucky.

It was the custom for a slave indentured to a master to be given a fair education, a good horse, bridle, saddle and a suit of clothes for his years of toil, but Mr. Price did not believe the boy deserved the pay and refused to pay him. A lawyer friend sued in behalf of the Negro and received a judgement of $115.00 (one hundred and fifteen dollars). Eighteen dollars repaid the lawyer for his service and Samuel started out with $95.00 and his freedom.

Evansville became the home of Samuel Watson in 1882. The trip was made by train to Henderson then on transfer boat along the Ohio to Evansville.

The young negro man was impressed by the boat and crew and said he loved the town from the first glimpse.

Dr. Bacon, a prominent citizen living at Chandler Avenue and Second Street, employed Samuel as coachman. His next service was as house-man for Levi Igleheart, 1010 Upper Second Street. Mr. Igleheart grew to trust Samuel and gave him many privileges allowing him to care for horses and to manage business for the family.

Samuel was married in 1890. His wife was born in Evansville and knew nothing of slavery by birth or indenture.

Uncle Samuel was given a job at the Trinity Church, corner of Third and Chestnut Streets. Mr. Igleheart recommended him for the position. He received $30.00 per month for his services for a period of six years.

Mr. McNeely employed him for several years as janitor for lodges and secret orders. The old negro was also a paper hanger and wall cleaner and did well untill the panic seized him as it did others.

Uncle Samuel was entitled to an old age pension which he recieved from 1934 until 1935 but January 15th, 1936 something went wrong and the money was with held. Then uncle Samuel was sent to the poor house. Still he was not unhappy and did what he could to make others happy.

In 1936 he again applied and received the pension. $17.00 per month is paid for his upkeep, his only labor consists of tending a little garden and doing light chores. He lives with William Crosby on S.E. Fifth Street.

(Source: Slave Narratives: a Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves, North Carolina Narratives, Vol. XI, Part 2. Vol. XI, Publ. 1941. The Federal Writer?s Project, 1936-1938. Library of Congress. Contributed by Kim Paterson)

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