Source: Slave Narratives Vol. XIV. South Carolina, Part
A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From
Interviews with Former Slaves. Contributed to South Carolina, Genealogy Trails by Kim Paterson.
REFLECTIONS OF EZRA ADAMS
EX-SLAVE 83 YEARS OLD
Ezra Adams is incapable of self-support, owing to ill health. He is very well taken care of by a niece, who lives on the Caughman land just off S. C. #6, and near Swansea, S. C.
"My mammy and pappy b'long to Marster Lawrence Adams, who had a big plantation in de eastern part of Lancaster County. He died four years after de Civil War and is buried right dere on de old plantation, in de Adams family burying grounds. I was de oldest of de five chillun in our family. I 'members I was a right smart size plowboy, when freedom come. I think I must of been 'bout ten or eleven years old, then. Dere's one thing I does know; de Yankees didn't tech our plantation, when they come through South Carolina. Up in de northern part of de county they sho' did destroy most all what folks had.
"You ain't gwine to believe dat de slaves on our plantation
didn't stop workin' for old marster, even when they was told dat they was
free. Us didn't want no more freedom than us was gittin' on our plantation
already. Us knowed too well dat us was well took care of, wid a plenty of
vittles to eat and tight log and board houses to live in. De slaves, where
I lived, knowed after de war dat they had abundance of dat somethin'
called freedom, what they could not wat, wear, and sleep in. Yes, sir,
they soon found out dat freedom ain't nothin', 'less you is got somethin'
to live on and a place to call home. Dis livin' on liberty is lak young
folks livin' on love after they gits married. It just don't work. No, sir,
it las' so long and not a bit longer. Don't tell me! It sho' don't hold
good when you has to work, or when you gits hongry. You knows dat poor
white folks and niggers has got to work to live, regardless of liberty,
love, and all them things. I believes a person loves more better, when
"Boss, I don't want to think, and I knows I ain't gwine to say a word, not a word of evil against deir dust lyin' over yonder in deir graves. I was old enough to know what de passin' 'way of old marster and missus meant to me. De very stream of lifeblood in me was dryin' up, it 'peared lak. When marster died, dat was my fust real sorrow. Three years later, missus passed 'way, dat was de time of my second sorrow. Then, I 'minded myself of a little tree out dere in de woods in November. Wid every sharp and cold wind of trouble dat blowed, more leaves of dat tree turnt loose and went to de ground, just lak they was tryin' to follow her. It seem lak, when she was gone, I was just lak dat tree wid all de leaves gone, naked and friendless. It took me a long time to git over all dat; same way wid de little tree, it had to pass through winter and wait on spring to see life again.
"I has farmed 'most all my life and, if I was not so old, I would be doin' dat same thing now. If a poor man wants to enjoy a little freedom, let him go on de farm and work for hisself. It is sho' worth somethin' to be boss, and, on de farm you can be boss all you want to, 'less de man 'low his wife to hold dat 'portant post. A man wid a good wife, one dat pulls wid him, can see and feel some pleasure and experience some independence. But, bless your soul, if he gits a woman what wants to be both husband and wife, fare-you-well and good-bye, too, to all love, pleasure, and independence; 'cause you sho' is gwine to ketch hell here and no mild climate whenever you goes 'way. A bad man is worse, but a bad woman is almost terrible.
"White man, dere is too many peoples in dese big towns and cities. Dere is more of them than dere is jobs to make a livin' wid. When some of them find out dat they can't make a livin', they turns to mischief, de easy way they thinks, takin' widout pay or work, dat which b'longs to other people. If I understands right, de fust sin dat was committed in de world was de takin' of somethin' dat didn't b'long to de one what took it. De gentleman what done dis was dat man Adam, back yonder in de garden. If what Adam done back yonder would happen now, he would be guilty of crime. Dat's how 'ciety names sin. Well, what I got to say is dis: If de courts, now, would give out justice and punishment as quick as dat what de Good Master give to Adam, dere would be less crime in de land I believes. But I 'spose de courts would be better if they had de same jurisdiction as de Master has. Yes, sir, they would be gwine some then.
"I tells you, dis gittin' what don't b'long to you is de main cause of dese wars and troubles 'bout over dis world now. I hears de white folks say dat them Japanese is doin' dis very thing today in fightin' them Chinamens. Japan say dat China has done a terrible crime against them and de rest of de world, when it ain't nothin' but dat they wants somethin' what don't belong to them, and dat somethin' is to git more country. I may be wrong, anyhow, dat is what I has heard.
"What does I think de colored people need most? If you please sir, I want to say dis. I ain't got much learnin', 'cause dere was no schools hardly 'round where I was brung up, but I thinks dat good teachers and work is what de colored race needs worser than anything else. If they has learnin', they will be more ashame to commit crime, most of them will be; and, if they has work to do, they ain't gwine to have time to do so much wrong. Course dere is gwine to be black sheeps in most flocks, and it is gwine to take patience to git them out, but they will come out, just as sho' as you is born.
"Is de colored people superstitious? Listen at dat. You makes me laugh. All dat foolishness fust started wid de black man. De reason they is superstitious comes from nothin' but stomp-down ignorance. De white chillun has been nursed by colored women and they has told them stories 'bout hants and sich lak. So de white chillun has growed up believin' some of dat stuff 'til they natchally pass it on from generation to generation. Here we is, both white and colored, still believin' some of them lies started back when de whites fust come to have de blacks 'round them.
"If you wants to know what I thinks is de best vittles, I's gwine to be obliged to omit (admit) dat it is cabbage sprouts in de spring, and it is collard greens after frost has struck them. After de best vittles, dere come some more what is mighty tasty, and they is hoghead and chittlings wid 'tatoes and turnips. Did you see dat? Here I is talkin' 'bout de joys of de appetite and water drapping from my mouth. I sho' must be gittin' hongry. I lak to eat. I has been a good eater all my life, but now I is gittin' so old dat 'cordin' to de scriptures, 'De grinders cease 'cause they are few', and too, 'Those dat look out de windows be darkened'. My old eyes and teeth is 'bout gone, and if they does go soon, they ain't gwine to beat dis old frame long, 'cause I is gwine to soon follow, I feels. I hope when I does go, I can be able to say what dat great General Stonewall Jackson say when he got kilt in de Civil War, 'I is gwine to cross de river and rest under de shade of de trees'."
[HW: Ezra Adams, Swansea (about 10m. south of Columbia)]
Everett R. Pierce
Columbia, S. C.
"You ask me to tell you something 'bout myself and de slaves in slavery times? Well Missy, I was borned a slave, nigh on to ninety years ago, right down here at Cedar Creek, in Fairfield County.
"My massa's name was Samuel Black and missus was named Martha. She used to be Martha Kirkland befo' she married. There was five chillun in de family; they was: Alice, Manning, Sally, Kirkland, and de baby, Eugene. De white folks live in a great big house up on a hill; it was right pretty, too.
"You wants to know how large de plantation was I lived on? Well, I don't know 'zackly but it was mighty large. There was forty of us slaves in all and it took all of us to keep de plantation goin'. De most of de niggers work in de field. They went to work as soon as it git light enough to see how to git 'round; then when twelve o'clock come, they all stops for dinner and don't go back to work 'til two. All of them work on 'til it git almost dark. No ma'am, they ain't do much work at night after they gits home.
"Massa Samuel ain't had no overseer, he look after his own plantation. My old granddaddy help him a whole heap though. He was a good nigger and massa trust him.
"After de crops was all gathered, de slaves still had plenty of work to do. I stayed in de house wid de white folks. De most I had to do was to keep de house clean up and nurse de chillun. I had a heap of pretty clothes to wear, 'cause my missus give me de old clothes and shoes dat Missy Sally throw 'way.
"De massa and missus was good to me but sometime I was so bad they had
to whip me. I 'members she used to whip me every time she tell me to do
something and I
"De grown-up slaves was punished sometime too. When they didn't feel like taking a whippin' they went off in de woods and stay 'til massa's hounds track them down; then they'd bring them out and whip them. They might as well not run away. Some of them never come back a-tall, don't know what become of them. We ain't had no jail for slaves; never ain't see none in chains neither. There was a guard-house right in de town but us niggers never was carried to it. You ask me if I ever see a slave auctioned off? Yes ma'am, one time. I see a little girl 'bout ten years old sold to a soldier man. Dis soldier man was married and didn't had no chillun and he buy dis little girl to be company for his wife and to help her wid de house work.
"White folks never teach us to read nor write much. They learned us our A, B, C's, and teach us to read some in de testament. De reason they wouldn't teach us to read and write, was 'cause they was afraid de slaves would write their own pass and go over to a free county. One old nigger did learn enough to write his pass and got 'way wid it and went up North.
"Missus Martha sho' did look after de slaves good when they was sick. Us had medicine made from herbs, leaves and roots; some of them was cat-nip, garlic root, tansy, and roots of burdock. De roots of burdock soaked in whiskey was mighty good medicine. We dipped asafetida in turpentine and hung it 'round our necks to keep off disease.
"Befo' de Yankees come thru, our peoples had let loose a lot of our hosses and de hosses strayed over to de Yankee side, and de Yankee men rode de hosses back over to our plantation. De Yankees asked us if we want to be free. I never say I did; I tell them I want to stay wid my missus and they went on and let me alone. They 'stroyed most everything we had 'cept a little vittles; took all de stock and take them wid them. They burned all de buildings 'cept de one de massa and missus was livin' in.
"It wasn't long after de Yankees went thru dat our missus told us dat we don't b'long to her and de massa no more. None of us left dat season. I got married de next year and left her. I like being free more better. Any niggers what like slavery time better, is lazy people dat don't want to do nothing.
"I married Fredrick Adams; he used to b'long to Miss Tenny Graddick but after he was freed he had to take another name. Mr. Jess Adams, a good fiddler dat my husband like to hang 'round, told him he could take his name if he wanted to and dats how he got de name of Adams. Us had four chillun; only one livin', dat Lula. She married John Entzminger and got several chillun. My gran'chillun a heap of comfort to me."
Columbia, S. C.
Samuel Boulware's only home is one basement room, in the home of colored friends, for which no rent charges are made. He is old and feeble and has poor eyesight, yet, he is self-supporting by doing light odd jobs, mostly for white people. He has never married, hence no dependents whatever. One of the members of the house, in which Samuel lives, told him someone on the front porch wanted to talk with him.
From his dingy basement room he slowly mounted the steps and came toward the front door with an irregular shamble. One seeing his approach would naturally be of the opinion, that this old darkey was certainly nearing the hundred year mark. Apparently Father Time had almost caught up with him; he had been caught in the winds of affliction and now he was tottering along with a bent and twisted frame, which for many years in the past, housed a veritable physical giant. The winds of 82 years had blown over him and now he was calmly and humbly approaching the end of his days. Humility was his attitude, a characteristic purely attributable to the genuine and old-fashion southern Negro. He slid into a nearby chair and began talking in a plain conversational way.
"Dis is a mighty hot day white folks but you knows dis is July and us gits de hot days in dis month. De older I gits de more I feels de hot and de cold. I has been a strong, hard working man most all my life and if it wasn't for dis rheumatism I has in my right leg, I could work hard every day now.
"Does I 'member much 'bout slavery times? Well, dere is no way for me
to disremember, unless I die. My mammy and me b'long to Doctor Hunter,
some called him
"My mammy worked hard in de field every day and as I was just a small boy, I toted water to de hands in de field and fetched wood into de kitchen to cook wid. Mammy was de mother of twelve chillun; three of them die when they was babies. I's de oldest of de twelve and has done more hard work than de rest. I had five brothers and all of them is dead, 'cept one dat lives in Savannah, Georgia. I has four sisters, one living in Charleston, one in New York City, one in Ithaca, N. Y., and one in Fairfield County, dis State.
"Does my folks help me along any? No sir, they sho' don't. I gits
nothin' from them, and I don't expect nothin' neither. Boss, a nigger's
kinfolks is worse than a stranger to
"Us had plenty to eat in slavery time. It wasn't de best but it filled us up and give us strength 'nough to work. Marster would buy a years rations on de first of every year and when he git it, he would have some cooked and would set down and eat a meal of it. He would tell us it didn't hurt him, so it won't hurt us. Dats de kind of food us slaves had to eat all de year. Of course, us got a heap of vegetables and fruits in de summer season, but sich as dat didn't do to work on, in de long summer days.
"Marster was good, in a way, to his slaves but dat overseer of his name John Parker, was mean to us sometimes. He was good to some and bad to others. He strung us up when he done de whippin'. My mammy got many whippin's on 'count of her short temper. When she got mad, she would talk back to de overseer, and dat would make him madder than anything else she could do.
"Marster had over twenty grown slaves all de time. He bought and sold them whenever he wanted to. It was sad times to see mother and chillun separated. I's seen de slave speculator cut de little nigger chillun with keen leather whips, 'cause they'd cry and run after de wagon dat was takin' their mammies away after they was sold.
"De overseer was poor white folks, if dats what you is askin' 'bout,
and dat is one thing dat made him so hard on de slaves of de plantation.
All de overseers I knowed
"Us slaves had no schoolin', 'cause dere was no teacher and school nigh our plantation. I has learnt to read a little since I got grown. Spelling come to me natural. I can spell 'most any word I hears, old as I is.
"Marster and mistress was Baptist in 'ligious faith, and b'long to Concord Baptist Church. Us slaves was allowed to 'tend dat church, too. Us set up in de gallery and jined in de singin' every Sunday. Us slaves could jine Concord Church but Doctor Durham, who was de preacher, would take de slaves in another room from de white folks, and git their 'fessions, then he would jine them to de church.
"My daddy was a slave on Reuben Boulware's plantation, 'bout two miles from Marster Hunter's place. He would git a pass to come to see mammy once every week. If he come more than dat he would have to skeedaddle through de woods and fields from de patrollers. If they ketched him widout a pass, he was sho' in for a skin crackin' whippin'. He knowed all dat but he would slip to see mammy anyhow, whippin' or not.
"Most them there patrollers was poor white folks, I believes. Rich
folks stay in their house at night, 'less they has some sort of big frolic
amongst theirselves. Poor white folks had to hustle 'round to make a
living, so, they hired out theirselves to slave owners and rode de roads
at night and whipped niggers if they ketched any off their plantation
widout a pass. I has found dat if you gives to some poor folks, white or
black, something a little better than they is used to, they is sho' gwine
to think too high
"I 'members lak yesterday, de Yankees comin' 'long. Marster tried to hide the best stuff on de plantation but some of de slaves dat helped him hide it, showed de Yankee soldiers just where it was, when they come dere. They say: 'Here is de stuff, hid here, 'cause us put it dere.' Then de soldiers went straight to de place where de valuables was hid and dug them out and took them, it sho' set old marster down. Us slaves was sorry dat day for marster and mistress. They was gittin' old, and now they had lost all they had, and more that dat, they knowed their slaves was set free. De soldiers took all de good hosses, fat cattle, chickens, de meat in de smoke house, and then burnt all empty houses. They left de ones dat folks lived in. De Yankees 'pear to me, to be lookin' for things to eat, more than anything else.
"Does I believe in 'ligion? Dat is all us has in dis world to live by and it's gwine to be de onliest thing to die wid. Belief in God and a 'umble spirit is how I's tryin' to live these days. I was christened fust a Methodist, but when I growed up, I jine de Presbyterian Church and has 'mained a member of dat church every since.
"Thank God I's had 'nough sense not to believe in haunts and sich
things. I has 'possum hunt at night by myself in graveyards and I ain't
seen one yet. My mammy say she see haunts pass her wid no heads but these
old eyes has never seen anything lak dat. If you has done somebody a
terrible wrong, then I believes dat person when they die, will 'pear to
you on 'count of dat."
CHARLIE DAVIS'S MUSINGS.
Charlie Davis, now seventy-nine years old, was a small boy when the slaves were freed. He lives alone in one room on Miller's Alley, Columbia, S. C., and is healthy and physically capable of self-support.
"I has been wonderin' what you wanted to talk to dis old nigger 'bout since I fust heard you wanted to see me. I takes it to be a honor for a white gentleman to desire to have a conversation wid me. Well, here I is, and I bet I's one of de blackest niggers you's seen for a season. Somehow, I ain't 'shame of my color a-tall. If I forgits I is dark complected, all I has to do is to look in a glass and in dere I sho' don't see no white man.
"Boss, I is kinda glad I is a black man, 'cause you knows dere ain't much expected of them nowhow and dat, by itself, takes a big and heavy burden off deir shoulders. De white folks worries too much over dis and over dat. They worries 'cause they ain't got no money and, when they gits it, they worries agin 'cause they is 'fraid somebody is gwine to steal it from them. Yes, sir, they frets and fumes 'cause they can't 'sociate wid big folks and, when they does go wid them, they is bothered 'cause they ain't got what de big folks has got.
"It ain't dat way wid most niggers. Nothin' disturbs them much, 'cept a empty stomach and a cold place to sleep in. Give them bread to eat and fire to warm by, then, hush your mouth; they is sho' safe then! De 'possum in his hollow, de squirrel in his nest, and de rabbit in his bed, is at home. So, de nigger, in a tight house wid a big hot fire, in winter, is at home, too.
"Some sort of ease and comfort is 'bout what all people, both white and
black, is strivin' for in dis world. All of us laks dat somethin' called
'tentment, in one way or de
"Is de black man nervous or is he natchally scary? Well, sir, I is gwine to say yes and no to dat. A nigger gits nervous when he hears somethin' he don't understand and scared when he sees somethin' he can't make out. When he gits sho' 'nough scared, he moves right then, not tomorrow. Lak de wild animals of de woods, he ain't 'fraid of de dark, much, if he is movin' 'bout, but when he stops, no house is too tight for him, in summer or winter. If he sees a strange and curious sight at night, he don't have to ask nobody what to do, 'cause he knows dat he has foots. It is good-bye wid old clothes, bushes, and fences, when them foots gits to 'tendin' to deir business. When you hears a funny and strange noise and sees a curious and bad sight, I b'lieves you fust git nervous and then dat feelin' grows stronger fas', 'til you git scared. I knows de faster I moves, de slower I gits scared.
"From my age now, you can tell dat I was mighty little in slavery time. All I knows 'bout them terrible times is what I has heard. I come pretty close to them ticklish times, but I can't help from thinkin', even now, dat I missed a 'sperience in slavery time dat would be doin' me good to dis very day. Dere ain't no doubt dat many a slave learnt good lessons dat showed them how to work and stay out of de jail or poorhouse, dat's worth a little.
"I has heard my mammy say dat she b'long to de Wyricks dat has a big
plantation in de northwestern part of Fairfield County and dat my daddy
b'long to de Graddicks in de northern part of Richland County. Dese two
plantations was just across de road from each other. Mammy said dat de
patrollers was as thick as flies 'round dese
"De patrollers was nothin' but poor white trash, mammy say, and if they didn't whip some slaves, every now and then, they would lose deir jobs. My mammy and daddy got married after freedom, 'cause they didn't git de time for a weddin' befo'. They called deirselves man and wife a long time befo' they was really married, and dat is de reason dat I's as old as I is now. I reckon they was right, in de fust place, 'cause they never did want nobody else 'cept each other, nohow. Here I is, I has been married one time and at no time has I ever seen another woman I wanted. My wife has been dead a long time and I is still livin' alone. All our chillun is scattered 'bout over de world somewhere, and dat somewhere is where I don't know. They ain't no help to me now, in my old age. But, I reckon they ain't to be blamed much, 'cause they is young, full of warm blood and thinks in a different way from de older ones. Then, too, I 'spects they thinks deir old daddy would kinda be in deir way, and de best thing for them to do is to stay away from me. I don't know, it just seems lak de way of de world.
"I come from de Guinea family of niggers, and dat is de reason I is so
small and black. De Guinea nigger don't know nothin', 'cept hard work,
and, for him to be so he can keep up wid bigger folks, he has to turn
'round fas'. You knows dat if you puts a little hog in a pen wid big hogs,
de little one has got to move 'bout in a hurry amongst de big ones, to git
'nough to eat, and de same way wid a little person, they sho' has to
hustle for what they gits. I has no head for learnin' what's in books, and
if I had, dere wasn't no schools for to learn dat head, when I come 'long.
I has made some money, 'long through de years, but never knowed how to
save it. Now I is so old
"President Roosevelt has done his best to help de old, poor, and forgotten ones of us all, every color and race, while dis 'pression has been gwine on in dis country. Is us gwine to git dis new pension what is gwine 'bout, or is dat other somebody gwine to think he needs it worser than us does? Dat's de question what 'sorbs my mind most, dese days. I don't need much, and maybe I don't deserve nothin', but I sho' would lak to git hold of dat little dat's 'tended for me by dat man up yonder in Washington. (Roosevelt)
"Does I b'lieve in spirits and hants? My answer to dat question is dis: 'Must my tremblin' spirit fly into a world unknown?' When a person goes 'way from dis world, dere they is, and dere they is gwine to stay, 'til judgment."
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