FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Rachel Austin, Secretary
April 16, 1937
Clayborn Gantling was born in Dawson, Georgia, Terrell County, January
20, 1848 on the plantation of Judge Williams.
Judge Williams owned 102 heads of slaves and was known to be "tolable
nice to 'em in some way and pretty rough on 'em in other ways" says Mr.
Gantling. "He would'nt gi' us no coffee, 'cept on Sunday Mornings when
we would have shorts or seconds of wheat, which is de leavins' of flour
at mills, yu' know, but we had plenty bacon, corn bread, taters and
"As a child I uster have to tote water to de old people on de farm and
tend de cows an' feed de sheep. Now, I can' say right 'zackly how things
wuz during slavery 'cause its been a long time ago but we had cotton and
corn fields and de hands plowed hard, picked cotton grabbled penders,
gathered peas and done all the other hard work to be done on de
plantations. I wuz not big 'nuff to do all of dem things but I seed
plenty of it done.
"Dey made lye soap on de farms and used indigo from wood for dye. We
niggers slept on hay piled on top of planks but de white folks had
"I don't 'member my grandparents but my mas was called Harriet Williams
and my pa was called Henry Williams; dey wuz called Williams after my
master. My mas and pa worked very hard and got some beatings but I don't
know what for. Dey wuz all kinds of money, five and ten dollar bills,
and so on then, but I didn't ever see them with any.
"When war came along and Sherman came through the old people wuz very
skeered on account of the white owners but there was no fighting close
to me. My master's sons Leo and Fletcher joined the army and lots of de
other masters went; de servants wuz sent along to wait on de young white
men. Guess you'd like to know if any were killed. 'I should smile,' two
I know were killed.
"During those days for medicine, the old people used such things as
butterfly root and butterfly tea, sage tea, red oak bark,
hippecat--something that grow--was used for fevers and bathing children.
They wuz white doctors and plenty of colored grannies.
"When de Yankees came they acted diffunt and was naturally better to
servants than our masters had been; we colored folks done the best we
could but that was not so good right after freedom. Still it growed on
and growed on getting better.
"Before freedom we always went to white churches on Sundays with passes
but they never mentioned God; they always told us to be "good niggers
and mind our missus and masters".
"Judge Williams had ten or twelve heads of children but I can' 'member
the names of 'em now; his wife was called Mis' 'Manda and she was jes'
'bout lak Marse Williams. I had 'bout eighteen head of boys and five
girls myself; dere was so many, I can' 'member all of dem."
Mr. Gantling was asked to relate some incidents that he could remember
of the lives of slaves, and he continued:
"Well the horn would blow every morning for you to git up and go right
to work; when the sun ris' if you were not in the field working, you
would be whipped with whips and leather strops. I 'member Aunt Beaty was
beat until she could hardly get along but I can' 'member what for but do
you know she had to work along till she got better. My ma had to work
pretty hard but my oldest sister, Judy, was too young to work much.
"A heap of de slaves would run away and hide in de woods to keep from
working so hard but the white folks to keep them from running away so
that they could not ketch 'em would put a chain around the neck which
would hang down the back and be fastened on to another 'round the waist
and another 'round the feet so they could not run, still they had to
work and sleep in 'em, too; sometimes they would wear these chains for
three or four months.
"When a slave would die they had wooden boxes to put 'em in and dug
holes and just put then in. A slave might go to a sister or brother's
"My recollection is very bad and so much is forgotten, but I have seen
slaves sold in droves like cows; they called 'em 'ruffigees,' and white
men wuz drivin' 'em like hogs and cows for sale. Mothers and fathers
were sold and parted from their chillun; they wuz sold to white people
in diffunt states. I tell you chile, it was pitiful, but God did not let
it last always. I have heard slaves morning and night pray for
deliverance. Some of 'em would stand up in de fields or bend over cotton
and corn and pray out loud for God to help 'em and in time you see, He
"They had whut you call "pattyrollers" who would catch you from home and
'wear you out' and send you back to your master. If a master had slaves
he jes' could not rule (some of 'em wuz hard and jes' would not mind de
boss), he would ask him if he wanted to go to another plantation and if
he said he did, then, he would give him a pass and that pass would read:
"Give this nigger hell." Of course whan the "pattyrollers" or other
plantation boss would read the pass he would beat him nearly to death
and send him back. Of course the nigger could not read and did not know
what the pass said. You see, day did not 'low no nigger to have a book
or piece of paper of any kind and you know dey wuz not go teach any of
'em to read.
"De women had it hard too; women with little babies would have to go to
work in de mornings with the rest, come back, nurse their chillun and go
back to the field, stay two or three hours then go back and eat dinner;
after dinner dey would have to go to de field and stay two or three more
hours then go and nurse the chillun again, go back to the field and stay
till night. One or maybe two old women would stay in a big house and
keep all de chillun while their mothers worked in de fields.
"Now dey is a heap more I could tell maybe but I don't think of no more
Mr. Gantling came to Florida to Jennings Plantation near Lake Park and
stayed two years, then went to Everett's Plantation and stayed one year.
From there he went to a place called High Hill and stayed two or three
years. He left there and went to Jasper, farmed and stayed until he
moved his family to Jacksonville. Here he worked on public works until
he started raising hogs and chickens which he continued up to about
fourteen years ago. Now, he is too old to do anything but just "sit
around and talk and eat."
He lives with his daughter, Mrs. Minnie Holly and her husband, Mr. Dany
Holly on Lee Street.
Mr. Gantling cannot read or write, but is very interesting.
He has been a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church for more
than fifty years.
He has a very good appetite and although has lost his teeth, he has
never worn a plate or had any dental work done. He is never sick and has
had but little medical attention during his lifetime. His form is bent
and he walks with a cane; although his going is confined to his home, it
is from choice as he seldom wears shoes on account of bad feet. His
eyesight is very good and his hobby is sewing. He threads his own
needles without assistance of glasses as he has never worn them.
Mr. Gantling celebrated his 89th birthday on the 20th day of November
He is very small, also very short; quite active for his age and of a
very genial disposition, always smiling.
1. Interview with Mr. Clayborn Gantling, 1950 Lee Street, Jacksonville,
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