Bessie Lawsom

Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson

Person interviewed: Bessie Lawsom,

Helena, Arkansas

Age: 76

[Date Stamp: MAY 31 1938]

"I was born in Georgia. My mama was brought from Virginia to one of

the Carolina states, then to Georgia. She was sold twice. I don't

recollect but one of her masters. I heard her speak of Master

Bracknell. His wife, now I remember her well. She nursed me. I was

sickly and they needed her to work in the crop so bad. She done had a

baby leetle older than I was, so I nursed one breast and Jim the

other. She raised me and Jim together. Mama was name Sallie and papa

Mathew Bracknell. They called him Mat Bracknell. I don't know my

master's name. They had other children.

"Me and Jim dug wells out in the yard and buried all the little ducks

and chickens and made graves. We had a regular burying ground we made.

They treated us pretty good as fur as I knowed. I never heard mama

complain. She lived till I was forty years old. Papa died a few years

after freedom. He had typhoid fever. He was great to fish. I believe

now he got some bad water to drink out fishing. There was six of us

and three half children. I'm the onliest one living as I knows of. One

sister died in 1923 in Atlanta. She come to see me. She lived with big

rich folks there. She was a white man's girl. She never had so much

bad luck as we dark skin children the way it was. My papa had to go to

war with some of Master Bracknell's kin folks, maybe his wife's kin

folks, and they took him to wait on them at the battle-fields. Some

soldiers camped by at the last of the war. They stole her out. She

went to take something to a sick widow woman for old mistress. She

never got back for a week. She said she was so scared and one day when

her man, the man that claimed her, went off on a scout trip she asked

a man, seemed to be a big boss, could she go to that thicket and get

some black gum toothbrushes. He let her ride a little old broken down

horse out there. She had a bridle but she was bare back. She come home

through the pasture and one of the colored boys took the horse back

nearly to the camps and turned him loose. 'Fo'e my own papa got back

she had a white chile. Master Bracknell was proud of her. Papa didn't

make no difference in her and his children. After the War he bought a

whole bolt of cloth when he went to town. Mama would make us all a

dress alike. The Yankees whooped mama at their camp. She said she was

afraid to try to get away and that come in her mind. Old mistress

thought that widow woman was keeping her to wait on her and take care

of her small children. She wasn't uneasy and they took care of me.

"I don't recollect freedom. I heard mama say a drove come by and ask

her to come go to Atlanta; they said Yankees give 'em Atlanta. She

said she knowed if she went off papa wouldn't know where she was. She

told 'em she had two young children she couldn't leave. They went on.

She told old mistress and she said she done right not to go.

"The Yankees stole mama's feather bed. Old mistress had great big high

feather beds and big pillows. Mama had a bed in a shed room open out

on the back piazza. They put them big beds across their horses and

some took pillows and down the road they went. It was cold and the

ground froze. They made cotton beds then and the Yankees done got all

the geese and chickens. They nearly starved. The Yankees took all the

cows and stock.

"Master Bracknell was cripple. He had a store at Cross Roads. It was

twenty-five miles from Marietta, Georgia. They never troubled him like

they did old mistress. She was scared of them. She knowed if they come

and caught her gone they would set fire to the house. No, they never

burned nothing on our place but they did some in sight. I can remember

seeing big fires about at night and day time too.

"We lived on Master Bracknell's place till I was eight years old and

my sister five. We come to South, Alabama, then to Mississippi and

then up the river to Helena. I married in Jackson, Mississippi. A

white boy married us. We lived on his place and he was going to

preach. He wasn't a preacher then. Richard Moore was his name. It took

him several weeks to learn what to say. He practiced on us. He thought

a heap of me and he ask Jesse if he could marry us. He brought us a

big fine cake his mother cooked for us when he come. My husband named

Jesse Lawsom. He was raised in Louisiana. We lived together till he

died. My mother went blind before she died. His mother lived there,

then we took care of them and after he died his mother lived with me.

Now I lives with this niece here some and my daughter in Jackson. I

had fourteen children. I just got one left and grandchildren I go to

see. I make the rounds. Some of 'em good and some of them ain't no

account at tall.

"I used to take advice. They get up and leave the place. They don't

want old folks to advise 'em. If they can't get their price they sit

around and go hungry. They won't work for what I used to be glad to

get. I keep my girl on the right path and that is all I can do. My

niece don't work out but her husband works on the farm all the time.

She helps him. They go out and live till the work is done. He is off

now ploughing. Times is fast sure as you born, girl. Faster 'an ever I


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