Aunt Ferebe Rogers

Written by Ruth Chitty

Research Worker

District #2

Rewritten by Velma Bell


Baldwin County

Milledgeville, Ga.

More than a century lies in the span of memory of "Aunt Ferebe" Rogers.

The interviewers found her huddled by the fireside, all alone while her

grandaughter worked on a WPA Project to make the living for them both.

In spite of her years and her frail physique, her memory was usually

clear, only occasionally becoming too misty for scenes to stand out

plainly. Her face lighted with a reminiscent smile when she was asked to

"tell us something about old times."

"I 'members a whole heap 'bout slav'ey times. Law, honey, when freedom

come I had five chillen. Five chillen and ten cents!" and her crackled

laughter was spirited.

"Dey says I'm a hundred and eight or nine years old, but I don't think

I'm quite as old as dat. I knows I'se over a hundred, dough.

"I was bred and born on a plantation on Brier Creek in Baldwin County.

My ole marster was Mr. Sam Hart. He owned my mother. She had thirteen

chillen. I was de oldest, so I tuck devil's fare.

"My daddy was a ole-time free nigger. He was a good shoe-maker, and

could make as fine shoes and boots as ever you see. But he never would

work till he was plumb out o' money--den he had to work. But he quit

jes' soon as he made a little money. Mr. Chat Morris (he had a regular

shoe shop)--he offered him studdy work makin' boots and shoes for him.

Was go'n' pay him $300. a year. But he wouldn't take it. Was too lazy.

De ole-time free niggers had to tell how dey make dey livin', and if dey

couldn't give satisfaction 'bout it, dey was put on de block and sold to

de highest bidder. Most of 'em sold for 3 years for $50. My daddy

brought $100. when he was sold for three or four years.

"I was on de block twice myself. When de old head died dey was so many

slaves for de chillen to draw for, we was put on de block. Mr. John

Baggett bought me den; said I was a good breedin' 'oman. Den later, one

de young Hart marsters bought me back.

"All de slaves had diff'unt work to do. My auntie was one de weavers.

Old Miss had two looms goin' all de time. She had a old loom and a new

loom. My husband made de new loom for Old Miss. He was a carpenter and

he worked on outside jobs after he'd finished tasks for his marster. He

use to make all de boxes dey buried de white folks and de slaves in, on

de Hart and Golden Plantations. Dey was pretty as you see, too.

"I was a fiel' han' myself. I come up twix' de plow handles. I warn't de

fastes' one wid a hoe, but I didn't turn my back on nobody plowin'. No,


"My marster had over a thousand acres o' land. He was good to us. We had

plenty to eat, like meat and bread and vegetables. We raised eve'ything

on de plantation--wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, hogs, cows, sheep,

chickens--jes' eve'ything.

"All de clo'es was made on de plantation, too. Dey spun de thread from

cotton and wool, and dyed it and wove it. We had cutters and dem dat

done de sewin'. I still got de fus' dress my husband give me. Lemme show

it to you."

Gathering her shawl about her shoulders, and reaching for her stick, she

hobbled across the room to an old hand-made chest.

"My husband made dis chis' for me." Raising the top, she began to search

eagerly through the treasured bits of clothing for the "robe-tail

muslin" that had been the gift of a long-dead husband. One by one the

garments came out--her daughter's dress, two little bonnets all faded

and worn ("my babies' bonnets"), her husband's coat.

"And dat's my husband's mother's bonnet. It use to be as pretty a black

as you ever see. It's faded brown now. It was dyed wid walnut."

The chest yielded up old cotton cards, and horns that had been used to

call the slaves. Finally the "robe-tail muslin" came to light. The soft

material, so fragile with age that a touch sufficed to reduce it still

further to rags, was made with a full skirt and plain waist, and still

showed traces of a yellow color and a sprigged design.

"My husband was Kinchen Rogers. His marster was Mr. Bill Golden, and he

live 'bout fo' mile from where I stayed on de Hart plantation."

"Aunt Ferebe, how did you meet your husband?"

"Well, you see, us slaves went to de white folks church a-Sunday.

Marster, he was a prim'tive Baptis', and he try to keep his slaves from

goin' to other churches. We had baptisin's fust Sundays. Back in dem

days dey baptised in de creek, but at de windin' up o' freedom, dey dug

a pool. I went to church Sundays, and dat's where I met my husband. I

been ma'ied jes' one time. He de daddy o' all my chillen'. (I had

fifteen in all.)"

"Who married you, Aunt Ferebe. Did you have a license?"

"Who ever heered a nigger havin' a license?" and she rocked with

high-pitched laughter.

"Young marster was fixin' to ma'y us, but he got col' feet, and a

nigger by name o' Enoch Golden ma'ied us. He was what we called a

'double-headed nigger'--he could read and write, and he knowed so much.

On his dyin' bed he said he been de death o' many a nigger 'cause he

taught so many to read and write.

"Me and my husband couldn't live together till after freedom 'cause we

had diffunt marsters. When freedom come, marster wanted all us niggers

to sign up to stay till Chris'man. Bless, yo' soul, I didn't sign up. I

went to my husband! But he signed up to stay wid his marster till

Chris'man. After dat we worked on shares on de Hart plantation; den we

farmed fo'-five years wid Mr. Bill Johnson."

"Aunt Ferebe, are these better times, or do you think slavery times were


"Well, now, you ax me for de truth, didn't you?--and I'm goin' to tell

yo' de truth. I don't tell no lies. Yes, mam, dese has been better times

to me. I think hit's better to work for yourself and have what you make

dan to work for somebody else and don't git nuttin' out it. Slav'ey days

was mighty hard. My marster was good to us (I mean he didn't beat us

much, and he give us plenty plain food) but some slaves suffered awful.

My aunt was beat cruel once, and lots de other slaves. When dey got

ready to beat yo', dey'd strip you' stark mother naked and dey'd say,

'Come here to me, God damn you! Come to me clean! Walk up to dat tree,

and damn you, hug dat tree! Den dey tie yo' hands 'round de tree, den

tie yo' feets; den dey'd lay de rawhide on you and cut yo' buttocks

open. Sometimes dey'd rub turpentine and salt in de raw places, and den

beat you some mo'. Oh, hit was awful! And what could you do? Dey had all

de 'vantage of you.

"I never did git no beatin' like dat, but I got whuppin's--plenty o'

'em. I had plenty o' devilment in me, but I quit all my devilment when I

was ma'ied. I use to fight--fight wid anything I could git my han's on.

"You had to have passes to go from one plantation to 'nother. Some de

niggers would slip off sometime and go widout a pass, or maybe marster

was busy and dey didn't want to bother him for a pass, so dey go widout

one. In eve'y dee-strick dey had 'bout twelve men dey call patterollers.

Dey ride up and down and aroun' looking for niggers widout passes. If

dey ever caught you off yo' plantation wid no pass, dey beat you all


"Yes'm, I 'member a song 'bout--

'Run, nigger, run, de patteroller git you,

Slip over de fence slick as a eel,

White man ketch you by de heel,

Run, nigger run!'"

No amount of coaxing availed to make her sing the whole of the song, or

to tell any more of the words.

"When slaves run away, dey always put de blood-hounds on de tracks.

Marster always kep' one hound name' Rock. I can hear 'im now when dey

was on de track, callin', 'Hurrah, Rock, hurrah, Rock! Ketch 'im!'

"Dey always send Rock to fetch 'im down when dey foun' 'im. Dey had de

dogs trained to keep dey teef out you till dey tole 'em to bring you

down. Den de dogs 'ud go at yo' th'oat, and dey'd tear you to pieces,

too. After a slave was caught, he was brung home and put in chains.

"De marsters let de slaves have little patches o' lan' for deyse'ves. De

size o' de patch was 'cordin' to de size o' yo' family. We was 'lowed

'bout fo' acres. We made 'bout five hundred pounds o' lint cotton, and

sol' it at Warrenton. Den we used de money to buy stuff for Chris'man."

"Did you have big times at Christmas, Aunt Ferebe?"

"Chris'man--huh!--Chris'man warn't no diffunt from other times. We used

to have quiltin' parties, candy pullin's, dances, corn shuckin's, games

like thimble and sich like."

Aunt Ferebe refused to sing any of the old songs. "No, mam, I ain't

go'n' do dat. I th'oo wid all dat now. Yes, mam, I 'members 'em all

right, but I ain't go'n' sing 'em. No'm, nor say de words neither. All

dat's pas' now.

"Course dey had doctors in dem days, but we used mostly home-made

medicines. I don't believe in doctors much now. We used sage tea, ginger

tea, rosemary tea--all good for colds and other ail-ments, too.

"We had men and women midwives. Dr. Cicero Gibson was wid me when my

fus' baby come. I was twenty-five years old den. My baby chile

seventy-five now."

"Auntie, did you learn to read and write?"

"No, mam, I'd had my right arm cut off at de elbow if I'd a-done dat.

If dey foun' a nigger what could read and write, dey'd cut yo' arm off

at de elbow, or sometimes at de shoulder."

In answer to a query about ghosts, she said--"No, mam, I ain't seed

nuttin' like dat. Folks come tellin' me dey see sich and sich a thing. I

say hit's de devil dey see. I ain't seed nuttin' yit. No'm, I don't

believe in no signs, neither."

"Do you believe a screeeh owl has anything to do with death?"

"Yes, mam, 'fo' one my chillen died, squinch owl come to my house ev'ey

night and holler. After de chile die he ain't come no mo'. Cows mooin'

or dogs howlin' after dark means death, too.

"No, man, I don't believe in no cunjurs. One cunjur-man come here once.

He try his bes' to overcome me, but he couldn't do nuttin' wid me. After

dat, he tole my husband he couldn't do nuttin' to me, 'cause I didn't

believe in him, and dem cunjur-folks can't hurt you less'n you believes

in 'em. He say he could make de sun stan' still, and do wonders, but I

knowed dat warn't so, 'cause can't nobody stop de sun 'cep' de man what

made hit, and dat's God. I don't believe in no cunjurs.

"I don't pay much 'tention to times o' de moon to do things, neither. I

plants my garden when I gits ready. But bunch beans does better if you

plants 'em on new moon in Ap'il. Plant butterbeans on full moon in

Ap'il--potatoes fus' o' March.

"When de war broke out de damn Yankees come to our place dey done

eve'ything dat was bad. Dey burn eve'ything dey couldn't use, and dey

tuck a heap o' corn. Marster had a thousand bushels de purtiest shucked

corn, all nice good ears, in de pen at de house. Dey tuck all dat.

Marster had some corn pens on de river, dough, dey didn't find. I jes'

can't tell you all dey done.

"How come I live so long, you say?--I don't know--jes' de goodness o' de

Lawd, I reckon. I worked hard all my life, and always tried to do


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