Adaline Johnson

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

Person interviewed: Adaline Johnson

Joining the Plunkett farms

Eight miles from Biscoe, Arkansas

Age: 96

"I was born twelve miles from the capital, Jackson, Mississippi, on

Strickland's place. My mother was born in Edgecombe County, North

Carolina. Master Jim Battle was old man. He owned three big

plantations, full of niggers. They took me to Edgecombe County where

my mother was born. Battles was rich set of white folks. They lived at

Tarbry, North Carolina and some at Rocky Mount. Joe Battle was my old

master. There was Hue Battle too. Master Joe Battle and Master

Marmaduke was bosses of the whole country. They told Mars Joe not to

whoop that crazy nigger man. He undertook it. He hit him seven licks

with the hoe and killed him. Killed him in Mississippi.

"Master Marmaduke fell at the hotel at Greensboro, North Carolina. He

was a hard drinker and they didn't tell them about it at the hotel. He

got up in the night, fell down the steps and killed hisself. Tom

Williams didn't drink. He went to war and got shot. He professed

religion when he was twelve years old and kept the faith. Had his

Testament in his pocket and blood run on it. That was when he was shot

in the Civil War.

"They took that crazy nigger man to several places, found there was no

law to kill a crazy man. They took him to North Carolina where was all

white folks at that place in Edgecombe County. They hung the poor

crazy nigger. They was 'fraid of uprisings the reason they took him to

place all white folks lived.

"My papa and Brutten (Brittain) Williams same age. Old Mistress

Frankie (Tom Williams', Sr. wife) say, 'Let 'em be, he ain't goiner

whoop Fenna, he's kin to him. He ain't goiner lay his hand on Fenna.'

They whoop niggers black as me. Fenna waited on Master Brutten

Williams. Fenna was half white. He was John Williams' boy. John was

Brutten's brother. John Williams went to Mississippi and overseed for

Mr. Bass. Mars Brutten got crazy. He'd shoot at anything and call it a


"Mother was a field woman. When she got in ill health, they put her to

sew. Miss Evaline Perry in Mississippi learned her how to sew. She

sewed up bolts of cloth into clothes for the niggers.

"Brutten Williams bought her from Joe Battle and he willed her to Joe

Williams. She cooked and wove some in her young life. Rich white folks

didn't sell niggers unless they got mad about them. Like mother, they

changed her about. We never was cried off and put up in front of the


"Mars Joe Battle wasn't good. He ruled 'em all. He was Mars Marmaduke

Battle's uncle. They went 'round to big towns and had a good time.

Miss Polly Henry married Mars Brutten. He moved back (from

Mississippi) to North Carolina. They had a big orchard. They give it

all away soon as it ripen. He had a barrel of apple and peach brandy.

He give some of it out in cups. They said there was some double

rectifying in that barrel of brandy. He died.

"Master Tom was killed in war. When he had a ferlough he give all the

men on his place five dollars and every woman a sow pig to raise from.

Tole us all good-bye, said he'd never get back alive. He give me one

and my mother one too. We prized them hogs 'bove everything we ever

had. He got killed. Master Tom was so good to his niggers. He never

whooped them. His wife ruled him, made him do like she wanted

everything but mean to his niggers. Her folks slashed their niggers

and she tried to make him do that too. He wouldn't. They said she wore

the breeches 'cause she ruled him.

"She was Mistress Helland Harris Williams. She took our big hogs away

from every one of us. We raised 'em up fine big hogs. She took them

away from us. Took all the hogs Master Tom give us back. She had

plenty land he left her and cows, some hogs. She married Allen

Hopkins. They had a boy. He sent him to Texas, then he left her. She

was so mean. Followed the boy to Texas. They all said she couldn't

rule Allen Hopkins like she did Tom Williams. She didn't.

"When freedom come on, mother and me both left her 'cause I seen she

wouldn't do. My papa left too and he had raised a little half white

boy. 'Cause he was same age of Brutten Williams, Tom took Brutten's

little nigger child and give him to papa to raise. His name Wilks. His

own black mama beat him. When freedom come on, we went to Cal Pierce's

place. They kept Wilks. He used to run off and come to us. They give

him to somebody else 'way off. Tom had a brother in Georgia. It was

Tom's wife wouldn't let Wilks go on living with us.

"Old mistress just did rave about her boys mixing up with them niggers

but she was better than any other white women to Wilks and Fenna and


"'Big Will' could do much as any two other niggers. When they bought

him a axe, it was a great big axe. They bought him a great big hoe.

They got a new overseer. Overseer said he use a hoe and axe like

everybody else. 'Big Will' killed the overseer with his big axe. Jim

Battle was gone off. His son Marmaduke Battle put him in jail. When

Jim Battle come back he said Marmaduke ought to sent for him, not put

him in jail. Jim Battle sold 'Big Will'. We never heard or seen him no

more. His family stayed on the plantation and worked. 'Big Will' could

split as many more rails as anybody else on the place.

"I seen people sell babies out of the cradle. Poor white people buy

babies and raise them.

"The Battles had gins and stores in North Carolina and Williams had

farms, nothing but farms.

"When I was a girl I nursed the nigger women's babies and seen after

the children. I nursed Tom Williams' boy, Johnny Williams. He run to

me, said, 'Them killed my papa.' I took him up in my arms. Then was

when the Yankee soldiers come on the place. Sid Williams went to war.

I cooked when the regular cook was weaving. Mother carded and spun

then. I had a ounce of cotton to card every night from September till

March. When I'd be dancing around, Miss Helland Harris Williams say,

'You better be studying your pewter days.' Meant for me to stop


"Mistress Polly married a Perry, then Right Hendrick. Perrys was rich

folks. When Marmaduke Battle died all the niggers cried and cried and

bellowed because they thought they would be sold and get a mean


"They had a mean master right then--Right Hendrick. Mean a man as ever

God ever wattled a gut in I reckon. That was in Mississippi. They took

us back and forth when it suited them. We went in hacks, surreys and

stage-coaches, wagons, horseback, and all sorts er ways. We went on

big river boats sometimes. They sold off a lot of niggers to settle up

the estate. What I want to know is how they settle up estates now.

"They parched persimmon seed and wheat during the war to make coffee.

I ploughed during the Civil War. Strange people come through, took our

snuff and tobacco. Master Tom said for us not have no light at night

so the robbers couldn't find us so easy. He was a good man. The

Yankees said they had to subdue our country. They took everything they

could find. Times was hard. That was in North Carolina.

"When Brutten Williams bought me and mama--mama was Liza

Williams--Master Brutten bought her sister three or four years after

that and they took us to (Zeblin or) Sutton in Franklin County. Now

they call it Wakefield Post Office. Brutten willed us to Tom. Sid,

Henry, John was Tom Williams' boys, and his girls were Pink and Tish.

"Master John and Marmaduke Battle was rich as they could be. They was

Joe Battle's uncles. Jesse Ford was Marmaduke's half-brother in Texas.

He come to Mississippi to get his part of the niggers and the rest was

put on a block and sold. Master Marmaduke broke his neck when he fell

downstairs. I never heard such crying before nor since as I heard that

day. Said they lost their best master. They knowed how bad they got

whooped on Ozoo River.

"Master Marmaduke walked and bossed his overseers. He went to the big

towns. He never did marry. My last master was Tom Williams. He was so

nice to us all. He confessed religion. He worked us hard, then hard

times come when he went to war. He knowed our tracks--foot tracks and

finger tracks both.

"Somebody busted a choice watermelon, plugged it out with his fingers

and eat it. Master Tom said, 'Fenna, them your finger marks.' Then he

scolded him good fashioned. Old Mistress Frankie say, 'Don't get

scared, he ain't go to whoop him, they kin. Fenna kin to him, he not

goiner hurt him.'

"At the crossroads there was a hat shop. White man brought a lot of

white free niggers to work in the hat shop. Way they come free

niggers. Some poor woman had no living. Nigger men steal flour or a

hog, take it and give it to her. She be hungry. Pretty soon a mulatto

baby turned up. Then folks want to run her out the country. Sometimes

they did.

"Old man Stinson (Stenson?) left and went to Ohio. They wrote back to

George to come after them to Ohio. Bill Harris had a baltimore

trotter. The letter lay about in the post office. They broke it open,

read it, give it to his owner. He got mad and sold George. He was Sam

Harrises carriage driver. Dick and him was half-brothers. Dick learned

him about reading and writing. When the war was over George come

through on the train. Sam Harris run up there, cracked his heels

together, hugged him, and give him ten dollars. He sold him when he

was so mad. I don't know if he went to Ohio to Stinson's or not.

"We stayed in the old country twenty-five or thirty years after


"When we left Miss Helland Harris Williams', Tim Terrel come by there

with his leg shot off and was there till he could get on to his folks.

"When I come here I was expecting to go to California. There was cars

going different places. We got on Mr. Boyd's car. He paid our way out

here. Mr. Jones brought his car to Memphis and stopped. Mr. Boyd

brought us right here. That was in 1892. We got on the train at

Raleigh, North Carolina.

"Papa bought forty acres land from the Boyd estate. Our children

scattered and we sold some of it. We got twenty acres. Some of it in

woods. I had to sell my cow to bury my granddaughter what lived with

me--taking care of me. Papa tole my son to take care of me and since

he died my son gone stone blind. I ain't got no chickens hardly. I go

hungry nigh all the time. I gets eight dollars for me and my blind son

both. If I could get a cow. We tries to have a garden. They ain't

making nothing on my land this year. I'm having the hardest time I

ever seen in my life. I got a toothpick in my ear and it's rising.

The doctor put some medicine in my ears--both of them.

"When I was in slavery I wore peg shoes. I'd be working and not time

to take off my shoes and fix the tacks--beat 'em down. They made holes

in bottoms of my feet; now they got to be corns and I can't walk and


Interviewer's Comment

This is another one of those terrible cases. This old woman is on

starvation. She had a cow and can't get another one. The son is blind

but feels about and did milk. The bedbugs are nearly eating her up.

They scald but can't get rid of them. They have a fairly good house to

live in. But the old woman is on starvation and away back eight miles

from Biscoe. I hate to see good old Negroes want for something to eat.

She acts like a small child. Pitiful, so feeble. The second time I

went out there I took her daughter who walks out there every week. We

fixed her up an iron bedstead so she can sleep better. I took her a

small cake. That was her dinner. She had eaten one egg that morning.

She was a clean, kind old woman. Very much like a child. Has a rising

in her head and said she was afraid her head would kill her. She gave

me a gallon of nice figs her daughter picked, so I paid her

twenty-five cents for them. She had plenty figs and no sugar.

Adah Isabelle Suggs Addie Vinson facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail