Boston Blackwell

Name of Interviewer: Beulah Sherwood Hagg

Name of Ex-Slave; Boston Blackwell Age: 98

Residence: 520 Plum, North Little Rock

Story told by Boston Blackwell

Make yourself comfoble, miss. I can't see you much 'cause my eyes, they

is dim. My voice, it kinder dim too. I knows my age, good. Old Miss, she

told me when I got sold--"Boss, you is 13--borned Christmas. Be sure to

tell your new misses and she put you down in her book." My borned name

was Pruitt 'cause I got borned on Robert Pruitt's plantation in

Georgia,--Franklin County, Georgia. But Blackwell, it my freed name. You

see, miss, after my mammy got sold down to Augusta--I wisht I could tell

you the man what bought her, I ain't never seed him since,--I was sold

to go to Arkansas; Jefferson county, Arkansas. Then was when old Miss

telled me I am 13. It was before the Civil War I come here. The onliest

auction of slaves I ever seed was in Memphis, coming on to Arkansas. I

heerd a girl bid off for $800. She was about fifteen, I reckon. I heerd

a woman--a breeding woman, bid off for $1500. They always brought good

money. I'm telling you, it was when we was coming from Atlanta.

Do you want to hear how I runned away and jined the Yankees? You know

Abraham Lincoln 'claired freedom in '63, first day of January. In

October '63, I runned away and went to Pine Bluff to get to the Yankees.

I was on the Blackwell plantation south of Pine Bluff in '63. They was

building a new house; I wanted to feel some putty in my hand. One early

morning I clim a ladder to get a little chunk and the overseer man, he

seed me. Here he come, yelling me to get down; he gwine whip me 'cause

I'se a thief, he say. He call a slave boy and tell him cut ten willer

whips; he gwine wear every one out on me. When he's gone to eat

breakfas', I runs to my cabin and tells my sister, "I'se leaving this

here place for good." She cry and say, "Overseer man, he kill you." I

says, "He kill me anyhow." The young boy what cut the whips--he named

Jerry--he come along wif me, and we wade the stream for long piece.

Heerd the hounds a-howling, getting ready for to chase after us. Then we

hide in dark woods. It was cold, frosty weather. Two days and two nights

we traveled. That boy, he so cold and hungry, he want to fall out by the

way, but I drug him on. When we gets to the Yankee camp all our troubles

was over. We gets all the contraband we could eat. Was they more

run-aways there? Oh, Lordy, yessum. Hundreds, I reckon. Yessum, the

Yankees feeds all them refugees on contraband. They made me a driver of

a team in the quatamasters department. I was always keerful to do

everything they telled me. They telled me I was free when I gets to the

Yankee camp, but I couldn't go outside much. Yessum, iffen you could get

to the Yankee's camp you was free right now.

That old story 'bout 40 acres and a mule, it make me laugh. Yessum, they

sure did tell us that, but I never knowed any pusson which got it. The

officers telled us we would all get slave pension. That just exactly

what they tell. They sure did tell me I would get a passel (parcel) of

ground to farm. Nothing ever hatched out of that, neither.

When I got to Pine Bluff I stayed contraband. When the battle come,

Captain Manly carried me down to the battle ground and I stay there till

fighting was over. I was a soldier that day. No'um, I didn't shoot no

gun nor cannon. I carried water from the river for to put out the fire

in the cotton bales what made the breas'works. Every time the 'Federates

shoot, the cotton, it come on fire; so after the battle, they transfer

me back to quartemaster for driver. Captain Dodridge was his name. I

served in Little Rock under Captain Haskell. I was swored in for during

the war (Boston held up his right hand and repeated the words of

allegiance). It was on the corner of Main and Markham street in Little

Rock I was swored in. Year of '64. I was 5 feet, 8 inches high. You says

did I like living in the army? Yes-sum, it was purty good. Iffen you

obeyed them Yankee officers they treated you purty good, but iffen you

didn't, they sure went rough on you.

You says you wants to know how I live after soldiers all go away? Well,

firstes thing, I work on the railroad. They was just beginning to come

here. I digged pits out, going along front of where the tracks was to

go. How much I get? I get $1.00 a day. You axes me how it seem to earn

money? Lady, I felt like the richess man in the world! I boarded with a

white fambly. Always I was a watching for my slave pension to begin

coming. 'Fore I left the army my captain, he telled me to file. My file

number, it is 1,115,857. After I keeped them papers for so many years,

white and black folks bofe telled me it ain't never coming--my slave

pension--and I reckon the chilren tored up the papers. Lady, that number

for me is filed in Washington. Iffen you go there, see can you get my


After the railroad I went steamboating. First one was a little one; they

call her Fort Smith 'cause she go frum Little Rock to Fort Smith. It was

funny, too, her captain was name Smith. Captain Eugene Smith was his

name. He was good, but the mate was sure rough. What did I do on that

boat? Missy, was you ever on a river boat? Lordy, they's plenty to do.

Never is no time for rest. Load, onload, scrub. Just you do whatever you

is told to do and do it right now, and you'll keep outen trouble, on a

steamboat, or a railroad, or in the army, or wherever you is. That's

what I knows.

Yessum, I reckon they was right smart old masters what didn't want to

let they slaves go after freedom. They hated to turn them loose. Just

let them work on. Heap of them didn't know freedom come. I used to hear

tell how the govmint had to send soldiers away down in the far back

country to make them turn the slaves loose. I can't tell you how all

them free niggers was living; I was too busy looking out for myself.

Heaps of them went to farming. They was share croppers.

Yessum, miss, them Ku-Kluxers was turrible,--what they done to people.

Oh, God, they was bad. They come sneaking up and runned you outen your

house and take everything you had. They was rough on the women and

chilren. People all wanted to stay close by where soldiers was. I sure

knowed they was my friend.

Lady, lemme tell you the rest about when I runned away. After peace, I

got with my sister. She's the onliest of all my people I ever seed

again. She telled me she was skeered all that day, she couldn't work,

she shake so bad. She heerd overseer man getting ready to chase me and

Jerry. He saddle his horse, take his gun and pistol, bofe. He gwine kill

me en sight, but Jerry, he say he bring him back, dead er alive, tied to

his horse's tail. But he didn't get us, Ha, Ha, Ha. Yankees got us.

Now you wants to know about this voting business. I voted for Genral

Grant. Army men come around and registered you before voting time. It

wasn't no trouble to vote them days; white and black all voted together.

All you had to do was tell who you was vote for and they give you a

colored ticket. All the men up had different colored tickets. Iffen

you're voting for Grant, you get his color. It was easy. Yes Mam! Gol

'er mighty. They was colored men in office, plenty. Colored legislaturs,

and colored circuit clerks, and colored county clerks. They sure was

some big officers colored in them times. They was all my friends. This

here used to be a good county, but I tell you it sure is tough now. I

think it's wrong--exactly wrong that we can't vote now. The Jim Crow

lay, it put us out. The Constitution of the United States, it give us

the right to vote; it made us citizens, it did.

You just keeps on asking about me, lady. I ain't never been axed about

myself in my whole life! Now you wants to know after railroading

and steamboating what. They was still work the Yankee army wanted done.

The war had been gone for long time. All over every place was bodies

buried. They was bringing them to Little Rock to put in Govmint

graveyard. They sent me all over the state to help bring them here.

Major Forsythe was my quartemaster then. After that was done, they put

me to work at St. John's hospital. The work I done there liked to ruin

me for life. I cleaned out the water closets. After a while I took down

sick from the work--the scent, you know--but I keep on till I get so for

gone I can't stay on my feets no more. A misery got me in the chest,

right here, and it been with me all through life; it with me now. I

filed for a pension on this ailment. I never did get it. The Govmint

never took care of me like it did some soldiers. They said I was not a

'listed man; that I was a employed man, so I couldn't get no pension.

But I filed, like they told me. I telled you my number, didnft I?

1,115,827, Boston Blackwell. I give my whole time to the Govmint for

many years. White and black bofe always telling me I should have a

pension. I stood on the battlefield just like other soldiers. My number

is in Washington. Major Forsythe was the one what signed it, right in

his office. I seed him write it.

Then what did I do? You always asking me that. I was low er long time.

When I finally get up I went to farming right here in Pulaski county.

Lordy, no, miss, I didn't buy no land. Nothing to buy with. I went share

cropping with a white man, Col. Baucum. You asking me what was the

shares? Worked on halvers. I done all the work and fed myself. No'um, I

wasn't married yit. I took the rheumatiz in my legs, and got short

winded. Then I was good for nothing but picking cotton. I kept on with

that till my eyes, they got so dim I couldn't see to pick the rows

clean. Heap o' times I needed medicine--heap o' times I needed lots of

things I never could get. Iffen I could of had some help when I been

sick, I mought not be so no account now. My daughter has taked keer of

me ever since I not been able to work no more.

I never did live in no town; always been a country nigger. I always

worked for white folks, nearly. Never mixed up in big crowds of colored;

stayed to myself. I never been arrested in my whole life; I never got

jailed for nothing. What else you want to know, Miss?

About these days, and the young folks! Well, I ain't saying about the

young folks; but they--no, I wouldn't say. (He eyed a boy working with a

saw.) Well, I will say, they don't believe in hard work. Iffen they can

make a living easy, they will. In old days, I was young and didn't have

nothing to worry about. These days you have to keep studying where you

going to get enough to eat.

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