Addie Vinson





PLANTATION LIFE AS VIEWED BY AN EX-SLAVE



ADDIE VINSON, Age 86

653 Dearing Street

Athens, Georgia



Written By:

Mrs. Sadie B. Hornsby

Athens, Georgia



Edited By:

Mrs. Sarah H. Hall

Athens, Georgia



and

John N. Booth

WPA Residency No. 6 & 7



August 23, 1938





Perched on an embankment high above the street level is the four-room

frame cottage where Addie Vinson lives with her daughter. The visitor

scrambled up the steep incline to the vine covered porch, and a rap on

the front door brought prompt response. "Who dat?" asked a very black

woman, who suddenly appeared in the hall. "What you want?... Yassum,

dis here's Addie, but dey calls me Mammy, 'cause I'se so old. I s'pects

I'se most nigh a hunnert and eight years old."



The old Negress is very short and stout. Her dark blue calico dress was

striped with lines of tiny polka dots, and had been lengthened by a band

of light blue outing flannel with a darker blue stripe, let in just

below the waist line. Her high-topped black shoes were worn over grey

cotton hose, and the stocking cap that partially concealed her white

hair was crowned by a panama hat that flopped down on all sides except

where the brim was fastened up across the front with two conspicuous

"safety-first" pins. Addie's eyesight is poor, and she claims it was

"plum ruint by de St. Vitus's dance," from which she has suffered for

many years. She readily agreed to tell of her early life, and her eyes

brightened as she began: "Lawsy, Missy! Is dat what you come 'ere for?

Oh, dem good old days! I was thinkin' 'bout Old Miss jus' t'other day.



"I was borned down in Oconee County on Marse Ike Vinson's place. Old

Miss was Marse Ike's mother. My Mammy and Pappy was Peter and 'Nerva

Vinson and dey was both field hands. Marse Ike buyed my Pappy from Marse

Sam Brightwell. Me and Bill, Willis, Maze, Harrison, Easter, and Sue was

all de chillun my Mammy and Pappy had. Dere warn't but four of us big

enough to wuk when Marse Ike married Miss Ann Hayes and dey tuk Mammy

wid 'em to dey new home in town. I stayed dar on de plantation and done

lots of little jobs lak waitin' on table; totin' Old Miss' breakfast to

her in her room evvy mornin', and I holped 'tend to de grainery. Dey

says now dat folkses is livin' in dat old grainery house.



"Dat was a be-yootiful place, wid woods, cricks, and fields spread out

most as fur as you could see. De slave quarters would'a reached from

here to Milledge Avenue. Us lived in a one-room log cabin what had a

chimbly made out of sticks and mud. Dem homemade beds what us slep' on

had big old high posties wid a great big knob on de top of each post.

Our matt'esses was coarse home-wove cloth stuffed wid field straw. You

know I laked dem matt'esses 'cause when de chinches got too bad you

could shake out dat straw and burn it, den scald de tick and fill it wid

fresh straw, and rest in peace again. You can't never git de chinches

out of dese cotton matt'esses us has to sleep on now days. Pillows? What

you talkin' 'bout? You know Niggers never had no pillows dem days,

leaseways us never had none. Us did have plenty of kivver dough. Folkses

was all time a-piecin' quilts and having quiltin's. All dat sort of wuk

was done at night.



"Pappy's Ma and Pa was Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Jacob. Day was field

hands, and dey b'longed to Marse Obe Jackson. Grandma Lucy and Grandpa

Toney Murrah was owned by Marse Billy Murrah. Marse Billy was a preacher

what sho could come down wid de gospel at church. Grandma Lucy was his

cook. Miss Sadie LeSeur got Grandma Lucy and tuk her to Columbus,

Georgy, and us never seed our grandma no more. Miss Sadie had been one

of de Vinson gals. She tuk our Aunt Haley 'long too to wait on her when

she started out for Europe, and 'fore dey got crost de water, Aunt

Haley, she died on de boat. Miss Sarah, she had a time keepin' dem

boatsmens from th'owing Aunt Haley to de sharks. She is buried in de old

country somewhar.



"Now Missy, how was Nigger chillun gwine to git holt of money in slavery

time? Old Marse, he give us plenty of somepin t'eat and all de clothes

us needed, but he sho kep' his money for his own self.



"Now 'bout dat somepin t'eat. Sho dat! Us had plenty of dem good old

collards, turnips, and dem sort of oatments, and dar was allus a good

chunk of meat to bile wid 'em. Marse Ike, he kep' plenty of evvy sort of

meat folkses knowed about dem days. He had his own beef cattle, lots of

sheep, and he killed more'n a hunnert hogs evvy year. Dey tells me dat

old bench dey used to lay de meat out on to cut it up is standin' dar

yet.



"'Possums? Lawd, dey was plentiful, and dat ain't all dere was on dat

plantation. One time a slave man was 'possum huntin' and, as he was

runnin' 'round in de bresh, he looked up and dar was a b'ar standin'

right up on his hind laigs grinnin' and ready to eat dat Nigger up. Oh,

good gracious, how dat Nigger did run! Dey fetched in 'possums in piles,

and dere was lots of rabbits, fixes, and coons. Dem coon, fox and

'possum hounds sho knowed deir business. Lawsy, I kin jus' smell one of

dem good old 'possums roastin' right now, atter all dese years. You

parbiled de 'possum fust, and den roasted him in a heavy iron skillet

what had a big old thick lid. Jus' 'fore de 'possum got done, you peeled

ash-roasted 'taters and put 'em all 'round da 'possum so as day would

soak up some of dat good old gravy, and would git good and brown. Is you

ever et any good old ashcake? You wropped de raw hoecake in cabbage or

collard leafs and roasted 'em in de ashes. When dey got done, you had

somepin fit for a king to eat.



"De kitchen was sot off a piece from de big house, and our white folkses

wouldn't eat deir supper 'fore time to light de lamps to save your life;

den I had to stan' 'hind Old Miss' cheer and fan her wid a

turkey-feather fan to keep de flies off. No matter how rich folkses was

dem days dere warn't no screens in de houses.



"I never will forgit pore old Aunt Mary; she was our cook, and she had

to be tapped evvy now and den 'cause she had de drapsy so bad. Aunt

Mary's old man was Uncle Harris, and I 'members how he used to go

fishin' at night. De udder slaves went fishin' too. Many's de time I'se

seed my Mammy come back from Barber's Crick wid a string of fish

draggin' from her shoulders down to de ground. Me, I laked milk more'n

anything else. You jus' oughta seed dat place at milkin' time. Dere was

a heap of cows a fightin', chillun hollerin', and sich a bedlam as you

can't think up. Dat old plantation was a grand place for chillun, in

summertime 'specially, 'cause dere was so many branches and cricks close

by what us chillun could hop in and cool off.



"Chillun didn't wear nothin' but cotton slips in summer, but de winter

clothes was good and warm. Under our heavy winter dresses us wore

quilted underskirts dat was sho nice and warm. Sunday clothes? Yes

Mar'm, us allus had nice clothes for Sunday. Dey made up our summertime

Sunday dresses out of a thin cloth called Sunday-parade. Dey was made

spenser fashion, wid ruffles 'round de neck and waist. Our ruffled

petticoats was all starched and ironed stiff and slick, and us jus'

knowed our long pantalettes, wid deir scalloped ruffles, was mighty

fine. Some of de 'omans would wuk fancy eyelets what dey punched in de

scallops wid locust thorns. Dem pantalettes was buttoned on to our

drawers. Our Sunday dresses for winter was made out of linsey-woolsey

cloth. White ladies wore hoopskirts wid deir dresses, and dey looked lak

fairy queens. Boys wore plain shirts in summer, but in winter dey had

warmer shirts and quilted pants. Dey would put two pair of britches

togedder and quilt 'em up so you couldn't tell what sort of cloth dey

was made out of. Dem pants was called suggins.



"All de Niggers went barfoots in summer, but in winter us all wore

brogans. Old Miss had a shoe shop in de cellar under de big house, and

when dem two white 'omans dat she hired to make our shoes come, us

knowed wintertime was nigh. Dem 'omans would stay 'til day had made up

shoes enough to last us all winter long, den dey would go on to de next

place what dey s'pected to make shoes.



"Marse Ike Vinson was sho good to his Niggers. He was de hanger, 'cept

he never hung nobody. Him and Miss Ann had six chillun. Dey was Miss

Lucy, Miss Myrt, Miss Sarah, Miss Nettie, Marse Charlie, and Marse Tom.

Marse Ike's ma, Old Miss, wouldn't move to town wid him and Miss Ann;

she stayed on in de big house on de plantation. To tell de truf I done

forgot Old Miss' name. De overseer and his wife was Mr. Edmond and Miss

Betsey, and dey moved up to de big house wid old Miss atter Marse Ike

and Miss Ann moved to town. Stiles Vinson was de carriage driver, and he

fotched Marse Ike out to de plantation evvy day. Lord! Gracious alive!

It would take a week to walk all over dat plantation. Dere was more'n a

thousand acres in it and, countin' all de chillun, dere was mighty nigh

a hunnert slaves.



"Long 'fore day, dat overseer blowed a bugle to wake up de Niggers. You

could hear it far as High Shoals, and us lived dis side of Watkinsville.

Heaps of folkses all over dat part of de country got up by dat old

bugle. I will never forgit one time when de overseer said to us chillun,

'You fellows go to do field and fetch some corn tops.' Mandy said: 'He

ain't talkin' to us 'cause us ain't fellows and I ain't gwine.' Bless

your sweet life, I runned and got dem corn tops, 'cause I didn't want no

beatin'. Dem udder 'chillun got deir footses most cut off wid dem

switches whan dat overseer got to wuk to sho 'em dey had to obey him.

Dat overseer sho did wuk de Niggers hard; he driv' 'em all de time. Dey

had to go to de field long 'fore sunup, and it was way atter sundown

'fore dey could stop dat field wuk. Den dey had to hustle to finish deir

night wuk in time for supper, or go to bed widout it.



[HW sidenote: Beating]



"You know dey whupped Niggers den. Atter dey had done wukked hard in de

fields all day long, de beatin' started up, and he allus had somepin in

mind to beat 'em about. When dey beat my Aunt Sallie she would fight

back, and once when Uncle Randall said somepin he hadn't oughta, dat

overseer beat him so bad he couldn't wuk for a week. He had to be grez

all over evvy day wid hoalin' ointment for a long time 'fore dem gashes

got well.



"Rita and Retta was de Nigger 'omans what put pizen in some collards

what dey give Aunt Vira and her baby to eat. She had been laughin' at a

man 'cause his coattail was a-flappin' so funny whilst he was dancin',

and dem two Jezebels thought she was makin' fun of dem. At de graveyard,

'fore dey buried her, dey cut her open and found her heart was all

decayed. De overseer driv dem 'omans clear off de plantation, and

Marster, he was mighty mad. He said he had done lost 'bout $2,000. If he

had kotched dem 'omans he woulda hung 'em, cause he was de hanger. In

'bout two weeks dat overseer left dar, and Old Marse had to git him

anudder man to take his place.



"Sho! Dere was a jail for slaves and a hangin' place right in front of

de jail, but none of Old Marster's Niggers warn't never put in no

jailhouse. Oh God! Yes, dey sold slaves. My own granddaddy was made to

git up on dat block, and dey sold him. One time I seed Old Marse buy

four boys." At this point the narrative ceased when Addie suddenly

remembered that she must stop to get supper for the daughter, who would

soon be returning from work.



The visitor called early in the morning of the following day, and found

Addie bent over her washtubs in the back yard. "Have dat cheer," was the

greeting as the old Negress lifted a dripping hand to point out a chair

under the spreading branches of a huge oak tree, "You knows you don't

want to hear no more 'bout dat old stuff," she said, "and anyhow, is you

gittin' paid for doin' dis?" When the visitor admitted that these

interviews were part of her salaried work, Addie quickly asked: "What is

you gwine to give me?"



When the last piece of wash had been hung on the line and Addie had

turned a large lard can upside down for a stool, she settled down and

began to talk freely.



"No Ma'm, dey didn't low Niggers to larn how to read and write. I had to

go wid de white chillun to deir school on Hog Mountain road evvy day to

wait on 'em. I toted water for 'em kep' de fire goin', and done all

sorts of little jobs lak dat. Miss Martha, de overseer's daughter, tried

to larn me to read and write, but I wouldn't take it in.



"No Ma'm dere warn't no churches for Niggers in slavery time, so slaves

had to go to deir white folkses churches. Us went to church at Betty

Berry (Bethabara) and Mars Hill. When time come for de sermon to de

Niggers, sometimes de white folkses would leave and den again dey would

stay, but dat overseer, he was dar all de time. Old man Isaac Vandiver,

a Nigger preacher what couldn't read a word in de Bible, would git up in

dat pulpit and talk from his heart. You know dere's heaps of folkses

what's got dat sort of 'ligion--it's deep in deir hearts. De Reverend

Freeman was de white folkses' preacher. I laked him best, for what he

said allus sounded good to me.



"At funerals us used to sing Hark From De Tomb A Doleful Sound. I

never went to no funerals, but Old Marster's and Aunt Nira's, 'fore de

end of de war.



"When Old Marster went off to de war, he had all his slaves go to de

musterin' ground to see him leave. He was captain of his company from

Oconee County, and 'fore he left he had de mens in dat company bury deir

silver and gold, deir watches, rings, and jus' anything dey wanted to

keep, on Hog Mountain. Ha lef' a guard to watch de hidin' place so as

dey would have somepin when dey come back home, den dey marched back to

de musterin' ground dat was twixt de Hopkins' plantation and Old

Marster's place. Uncle Solomon went along to de war to tote Marster's

gun, cook for him, and sich lak. It warn't long 'fore old Marse was kilt

in dat war, and Uncle Solomon fetches him back in a coffin. All de

slaves dat went to de buryin' jus' trembled when guns was fired over Old

Marster's grave. Dat was done to show dat Old Marster had been a

powerful high-up man in de army.



"Good Gracious! Dere didn't nary a Nigger go off from our place to de

North, 'cause us was skeered of dem Yankees. Dere was a white

slave-trader named McRaleigh what used to come to Old Marster's

plantation to buy up Niggers to take 'em to de Mississippi bottoms. When

us seed him comin' us lit out for de woods. He got Aunt Rachel; you

could hear her hollerin' a mile down de road.



"Oh! Good Lord! Dem patterollers was awful. Folkses what dey cotched

widout no paper, dey jus' plum wore out. Old man John was de fiddler on

our place, and when de patterollers cotched him dey beat him up de wust

of all, 'cause him and his fiddle was all de time drawin' Niggers out to

do dances.



"If Old Marster wanted to send a massage he sont Uncle Randall on a mule

named Jim. Sometimes dat old mule tuk a notion he didn't want to go; den

he wouldn't budge. I ricollects one time dey tuk a bundle of fodder and

tied it to Old Jim's tail, but still he wouldn't move. Old Marster kep'

a special man to fetch and carry mail for de plantation in a road cyart,

and nobody warn't 'lowed to go nigh dat cyart.



"When slaves got in from de fields at night dey cooked and et deir

supper and went to bed. Dey had done been wukin' since sunup. When dere

warn't so much to do in de fields, sometimes Old Marster let his Niggers

lay off from wuk atter dinner on Saddays. If de chinches was most eatin'

de Niggers up, now and den de 'omans was 'lowed to stay to de house to

scald evvything and clear 'em out, but de menfolkses had to go on to de

field. On Sadday nights de 'omans patched, washed, and cut off peaches

and apples to dry in fruit season. In de daytime dey had to cut off and

dry fruit for Old Miss. When slaves got smart wid deir white folkses,

deir Marsters would have 'em beat, and dat was de end of de matter. Dat

was a heap better'n dey does now days, 'cause if a Nigger gits out of

place dey puts him on de chaingang. [TR: 'Whipping' written in margin.]



"Sunday was a day off for all de slaves on our plantation. Cause, de

mens had to look atter de stock in de lot right back of de cabins. De

'omans cooked all day for de next week. If dey tuk a notion to go to

church, mules was hitched to wagons made lak dippers, and dey jigged off

down de road. Us had four days holiday for Christmas. Old Miss give us

lots of good things to eat dem four days; dere was cake, fresh meat, and

all kinds of dried fruit what had been done stored away. All de Niggers

tuk dat time to rest but my Mammy. She tuk me and went 'round to de

white folkses' houses to wash and weave. Dey said I was a right smart,

peart little gal, and white folkses used to try to hire me from Old

Miss. When dey axed her for me, Old Miss allus told 'em: 'You don't want

to hire dat gal; she ain't no 'count.' She wouldn't let nobody hire her

Niggers, 'cept Mammy, 'cause she knowed Mammy warn't gwine to leave her

nohow. On New Year's Day, if dere warn't too much snow on de ground, de

Niggers burnt brush and cleared new ground.



"When Aunt Patience led de singin' at cornshuckin's, de shucks sho'ly

did fly. Atter de corn was shucked, dey fed us lots of good things and

give us plenty of liquor. De way cotton pickin' was managed was dis:

evvybody dat picked a thousand pounds of cotton in a week's time was

'lowed a day off. Mammy picked her thousand pounds evvy week.



"Dances? Now you's talkin' 'bout somepin' sho' 'nough. Old John, de

fiddler man, was right dere on our plantation. Niggers dat had done

danced half de night would be so sleepy when de bugle sounded dey

wouldn't have time to cook breakfast. Den 'bout de middle of de mawnin'

dey would complain 'bout bein' so weak and hongry dat de overseer would

fetch 'em in and have 'em fed. He let 'em rest 'bout a hour and a half;

den he marched 'em back to de field and wuked 'em 'til slap black dark.

Aunt Sook was called de lead wench. If de moon warn't out, she put a

white cloth 'round her shoulders and led 'em on.



"Didn't none of Old Marsters chillun marry in slavery time, but Old

Miss, she let us see a Nigger gal named Frances Hester git married. When

I sot down to dat weddin' supper I flung de chicken bones over my

shoulder, 'cause I didn't know no better. I don't 'member what gals

played when I was little, but boys played ball all day long if dey was

'lowed to. One boy, named Sam, played and run so hard he tuk his bed

Monday and never got up no more.



"I heared tell of Raw Haid and Bloody Bones. Old folkses would skeer us

most nigh to death tellin' us he was comin'. Mankind! Us made for de

house den. Missy, please mam, don't ax me 'bout dem ha'nts. I sees 'em

all de time. Atter she had done died out, Old Miss used to come back all

de time. She didn't lak it 'cause day wropped her in a windin' sheet and

buried her by de doorsteps, but I reckon dey done fixed her by now,

'cause she don't come back no more. Dere's a house in Athens, called de

Bell House, dat nobody kin live in, 'cause a man run his wife from home

and atter she died, she come back and ha'nted dat house.



"Lawd have mercy! Look here, don't talk lak dat. I ain't told you before

but part o' dis here yard is conjured. A man comes here early evvy

mornin' and dresses dis yard down wid conjuration. Soon as I sot down

here to talk to you, a pain started in my laigs, and it is done gone all

over me now. I started to leave you and go in de house. Come on. Let's

leave dis yard right now. Hurry!" On reaching the kitchen Addie hastily

grasped the pepper box and shook its contents over each shoulder and on

her head, saying: "Anything hot lak dis will sho drive dis spell away.

De reason I shakes lak I does, one day I was in de yard and somepin

cotch me. It helt fast to my footses, den I started to shake all over,

and I been shakin' ever since. A white 'oman gimme some white soap, and

evvy mornin' I washes myself good wid dat soap 'fore I puts on my

clothes."



Leaving the kitchen, Addie entered the front room which serves as a

bedroom. "Lawdy, Missy!" she exclaimed, "Does you smell dat funny scent?

Oh, Good Lawd! Jus' look at dem white powders on my doorstep! Let me git

some hot water and wash 'em out quick! Now Missy, see how dese Niggers

'round here is allus up to deir meanness? Dere's a man in de udder room

bilin' his pizen right now. I has to keep a eye on him all de time or

dis here old Nigger would be in her grave. I has to keep somepin hot all

de time to keep off dem conjure spells. I got three pids of pepper most

ready to pick, and I'se gwine to tie 'em 'round my neck, den dese here

spells folkses is all de time tryin' to put on me won't do me no harm."



Addie now lowered her voice to a stage whisper. "I found a folded up

piece of white paper under our back doorstep dis very mornin'. Bless

your life, I got a stick from de kitchen quick and poked it in a crack

in de steps and got it out 'fore I put my foots down on dem steps. I sho

did."



Here Addie reverted to her story of the plantation. "Old Marster was

mighty good to his Niggers," she said. When any of 'em got sick Old Miss

sont to town for him, and he allus come right out and fetched a doctor.

Old Miss done her very best for Pappy when he was tuk sick, but he died

out jus' de same. Pappy used to drive a oxcart and, when he was bad off

sick and out of his haid, he hollered out: 'Scotch dat wheel! Scotch dat

wheel!' In his mind, he was deep in de bad place den, and didn't know

how to pray. Old Miss, she would say: 'Pray, Pete, Pray.' Old Miss made

a heap of teas from diff'unt things lak pennyroyal, algaroba wood,

sassafras, flat tobacco, and mullein. Us wore rabbits foots, little bags

of asfiddy (asafetida), and garlic tabs 'round our necks to keep off

mis'ries. I wishes I had a garlic tab to wear 'round my neck now.



"One day Old Miss called us togedder and told us dat us was free as jay

birds. De Niggers started hollerin': 'Thank de Lawd, us is free as de

jay birds.' 'Bout dat time a white man come along and told dem Niggers

if he heared 'em say dat again he would kill de last one of 'em. Old

Miss axed us to stay on wid her and dar us stayed for 'bout three years.

It paid us to stay dere 'stead of runnin' off lak some udder Niggars dat

played de fool done. T'warn't long 'fore dem Yankees come 'long, and us

hustled off to town to see what dey looked lak. I never seed so many

mens at one time in my life before. When us got back to de plantation de

overseer told us not to drink no water out of de well, 'cause somebody

had done put a peck of pizen in dar. He flung a whole bushel of salt in

de well to help git rid of de pizen.



"Atter de end of de war, I went to wuk as a plow-hand. I sho did keep

out of de way of dem Ku Kluxers. Folkses would see 'em comin' and holler

out: 'De Ku Kluxers is ridin' tonight. Keep out of deir way, or dey will

sho kill you.' Dem what was skeered of bein' cotched and beat up, done

deir best to stay out of sight.



"It was a long time atter de war was done over 'fore schools for Niggers

was sot up, and den when Nigger chillun did git to go to school dey

warn't 'lowed to use de old blue-back spellin' book 'cause white folkses

said it larn't 'em too much.



"It was two or three years atter de war 'fore any of de Niggers could

save up enough money to start buyin' land, and den, if dey didn't watch

dey steps mighty keerful, de white folkses would find a way to git dat

land back from de Niggers.



"What! Is I got to tell you 'bout dat old Nigger I got married up wid? I

don't want to talk 'bout dat low down, no 'count devil. Anyhow, I

married Ed Griffeth and, sho dat, I had a weddin'. My weddin' dress was

jus' de purtiest thing; it was made out of parade cloth, and it had a

full skirt wid ruffles from de knees to de hem. De waist fitted tight

and it was cut lowneck wid three ruffles 'round de shoulder. Dem puff

sleeves was full from de elbow to de hand. All dem ruffles was aidged

wid lace and, 'round my waist I wore a wide pink sash. De underskirt was

trimmed wid lace, and dere was lace on de bottom of de drawers laigs.

Dat was sho one purty outfit dat I wore to marry dat no 'count man in. I

had bought dat dress from my young Mist'ess.



"Us had seven chillun and ten grandchillun. Most of 'em is livin' off up

in Detroit. If Ed ain't daid by now he ought to be; he was a good match

for de devil.



"I reckon Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Jeff Davis done right as fur as dey knowed

how and could. If dem northern folkses hadn't fotched us here, us sho

wouldn't never have been here in de fust place. Den dey hauled off and

said de South was mean to us Niggers and sot us free, but I don't know

no diffunce. De North sho let us be atter dat war, and some of de old

Niggers is still mad 'cause dey is free and ain't got no Marster to feed

'em and give 'em good warm clothes no more.



"Oh! You gits happy when you jines up wid de church. I sho don't want to

go to de bad place. Dere ain't but two places to go to, Heaven and hell,

and I'se tryin' to head for Heaven. Folkses says dat when Old Dives done

so bad he had to go to de bad place, a dog was sot at his heels for to

keep him in dar. No Mam, if it's de Good Lawd's will to let me git to

Heaven, I is sho gwine to keep out of hell, if I kin.



"Goodbye, Missy. Next time you comes fetch me a garlic tab to keep de

conjure spells 'way from me," was Addie's parting request.





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