PHILLIP JOHNSON, An Ex-Slave.
Ref: Phillip Johnson, R.F.D. Poolesville, Md.
The subject of this sketch is a pure blooded Negro, whose kinky hair is
now white, likewise his scraggy beard. He is of medium size and somewhat
stooped with age, but still active enough to plant and tend a patch of
corn and the chores about his little place at Sugarlands. His home is a
small cabin with one or two rooms upstairs and three down, including the
kitchen which is a leanto. The cabin is in great disrepair.
Phillip John is above the average in intelligence, has some education
and is quite well versed in the Holy Scriptures, having been for many
years a Methodist preacher among his people. He uses fairly good English
and freely talks in answer to questions. Without giving the questions
put to him by this writer, his remarks given in the first person and as
near his own idiom are as follows:
"I'll be ninety years old next December. I dunno the day. My Missis had
the colored folks ages written in a book but it was destroyed when the
Confederate soldiers came through. But she had a son born two or three
months younger than me and she remember that I was born in December,
1847, but she had forgot the day of the month.
"I was born down on the river bottom about four miles below Edwards'
Ferry, on the Eight Mile Level, between Edwards' Ferry and Seneca. I
belonged to ole Doctah White. He owned a lot o' lan down on de bottom. I
dunno his first name. Everybody called him Doctah White. Yes, he was
related to Doctah Elijah White. All the Whites in Montgomery County is
related. Yes sah, Doctah White was good to his slaves. Yes sah, he had
many slaves. I dunno how many. My Missis took me away from de bottom
when I was a little boy, 'cause de overseer he was so cruel to me. Yes
sah he was mean. I promised him a killin if ever I got big enough.
"We all liked the Missis. Everybody in dem days used to ride horseback.
She would come ridin her horse down to de bottom with a great big basket
of biscuits. We thought they were fine. We all glad to see de Missis a
comin. We always had plenty to eat, such as it was. We had coarse food
but there was plenty of it.
"The white folks made our clothes for us. They made linsey for the woman
and woolen cloth for de men. They gave clothes sufficient to keep em
warm. The men had wool clothes with brass buttons that had shanks on em.
They looked good when they were new. They had better clothes then than
most of us have now.
"They raised mostly corn an oats an wheat down on de river bottom in
those days. They didn't raise tobacco. But I've heard say that they used
to raise it long before I was born. They cut grain with cradles in dem
days. They had a lot 'o men and would slay a lot 'o wheat in a day. It
was pretty work to see four or five cradlers in a field and others
following them raking the wheat in bunches and others following binding
them in bundles. The first reapers that came were called Dorsey reapers.
They cut the grain and bunched it. It was then bound by hand.
"When my Missis took me away from the river bottom I lived in
Poolesville where the Kohlhoss home and garage is. I worked around the
house and garden. I remember when the Yankee and Confederate soldiers
both came to Poolesville. Capn Sam White (son of the doctor) he join the
Confederate in Virginia. He come home and say he goin to take me along
back with him for to serve him. But the Yankees came and he left very
sudden and leave me behind. I was glad I didn't have to go with him. I
saw all that fightin around Poolesville. I used to like to watch em
fightin. I saw a Yankee soldier shoot a Confederate and kill him. He
raised his gun twice to shoot but he kept dodgin around the house an he
didn' want to shoot when he might hit someone else. When he ran from the
house he shot him.
"Yes sah, them Confederates done more things around here than the
Yankees did. I remember once during the war they came to town. It was
Sunday morning an I was sittin in the gallery of the ole brick Methodist
church. One of them came to de door and he pointed his pistol right at
that preacher's head. The gallery had an outside stairs then. I ran to
de door to go down de stairs but there was another un there pointing his
gun and they say don't nobody leave dis building. The others they was a
cleanin up all the hosses and wagons round the church. The one who was
guarding de stairs, he kept a lookin to see if dey was done cleaning up
de hosses, and when he wasn't watching I slip half way down de stairs,
an when he turn his back I jump down and run. When he looks he jus
"My father he lived to be eighty nine. He died right here in this house
and he's buried over by the church. His name was Sam. They called my
mother Willie Ann. She died when I was small. I had three brothers and
one sister. My father married again and had seven or eight other
"I've had eleven children; five livin, six dead. I've been preaching for
forty years and I have seen many souls saved. I don't preach regular
anymore but once in a while I do. I have preached in all these little
churches around here. I preached six years at Sugar Loaf Mountain. The
presidin elder he wants me to go there. The man that had left there jus
tore that church up. I went up there one Sunday and I didn't see
anything that I could do. I think I'm not able for this. I said they
needs a more experienced preacher than me. But the presidin elder keeps
after me to go there and I says, well, I go for one year. Next thing it
was the same thing. I stays on another year and so on for six years.
When I left there that church was in pretty good shape.
"I think preaching the gospel is the greatest work in the world. But
folks don't seem to take the interest in church that they used to."
Next: George Jones
Previous: Mary James