Charlie Pye

[HW: Dist. 6

Ex-Slave #87]



[Date Stamp: MAY -- --]

The writer was much surprised to learn that the person whom she was

about to interview was nine years old when the Civil War ended. His

youthful appearance at first made her realize that probably he was not

an ex-slave after all. Very soon she learned differently. Another

surprise followed the first in that his memory of events during that

period was very hazy. The few facts learned are related as follows:

Mr. Charlie Pye was born in Columbus, Ga., 1856 and was the ninth child

of his parents, Tom Pye and Emmaline Highland. Tom Pye, the father,

belonged to Volantine Pye, owner of a plantation in Columbus, Ga. known

as the Lynch and Pye Plantation.

Mr. Pye's mistress was Miss Mary Ealey, who later married a Mr. Watts.

Miss Ealey owned a large number of slaves, although she did not own a

very large plantation. Quite a few of her slaves were hired out to other

owners. The workers on the plantation were divided into two or more

groups, each group having a different job to do. For instance, there

were the plow hands, hoe hands, log cutters, etc. Mr. Pye's mother was a

plow hand and besides this, she often had to cut logs. Mr. Pye was too

young to work and spent most of his time playing around the yards.

Houses on the Ealey plantation were built of pine poles after which the

cracks were filled with red mud. Most of these houses consisted of one

room; however, a few were built with two rooms to accommodate the larger

families. The beds, called "bunks" by Mr. Pye were nailed to the sides

of the room. Roped bottoms covered with a mattress of burlap and hay

served to complete this structure called a bed. Benches and a home made

table completed the furnishings. There were very few if any real chairs

found in the slave homes. The houses and furniture were built by skilled

Negro carpenters who were hired by the mistress from other slave owners.

A kind slave owner would allow a skilled person to hire his own time and

keep most of the pay which he earned.

Plenty of food was raised on the Ealey plantation, but the slave

families were restricted to the same diet of corn meal, syrup, and fat

bacon. Children were fed "pot likker", milk and bread from poplar

troughs, from which they ate with wooden spoons. Grown-ups ate with

wooden forks. Slaves were not allowed to raise gardens of their own,

although Mr. Pye's uncle was given the privilege of owning a rice patch,

which he worked at night.

In every slave home was found a wooden loom which was operated by hands

and feet, and from which the cloth for their clothing was made. When the

work in the fields was finished women were required to come home and

spin one cut (thread) at night. Those who were not successful in

completing this work were punished the next morning. Men wore cotton

shirts and pants which were dyed different colors with red oak bark,

alum and copper. Copper produced an "Indigo blue color." "I have often

watched dye in the process of being made," remarked Mr. Pye. Mr. Pye's

father was a shoemaker and made all shoes needed on the plantation. The

hair was removed from the hides by a process known as tanning. Red oak

bark was often used for it produced an acid which proved very effective

in tanning hides. Slaves were given shoes every three months.

To see that everyone continued working an overseer rode over the

plantation keeping check on the workers. If any person was caught

resting he was given a sound whipping. Mr. Pye related the following

incident which happened on the Ealey plantation. "A young colored girl

stopped to rest for a few minutes and my uncle stopped also and spoke to

her. During this conversation the overseer came up and began whipping

the girl with a "sapling tree." My uncle became very angry and picked up

an axe and hit the overseer in the head, killing him. The mistress was

very fond of my uncle and kept him hid until she could "run him."

Running a slave was the method they used in sending a slave to another

state in order that he could escape punishment and be sold again. You

were only given this privilege if it so happened that you were cared for

by your mistress and master."

Overseers on the Ealey plantation were very cruel and whipped slaves

unmercifully. Another incident related by Mr. Pye was as follows:

"My mother resented being whipped and would run away to the woods and

often remained as long as twelve months at a time. When the strain of

staying away from her family became too great, she would return home. No

sooner would she arrive than the old overseer would tie her to a peach

tree and whip her again. The whipping was done by a "Nigger Driver," who

followed the overseer around with a bull whip; especially for this

purpose. The largest man on the plantation was chosen to be the "Nigger


"Every slave had to attend church, although there were no separate

churches provided for them. However, they were allowed to occupy the

benches which were placed in the rear of the church. To attend church on

another plantation, slaves had to get a pass or suffer punishment from

the "Pader Rollers." (Patrollers)

"We didn't marry on our plantation", remarked Mr. Pye. After getting the

consent of both masters the couple jumped the broom, and that ended the

so called ceremony. Following the marriage there was no frolic or


"Sometimes quilting parties were held in the various cabins on the

plantation. Everyone would assist in making the winter bed covering for

one family one night and the next night for some other family, and so on

until everyone had sufficient bed covering.

"A doctor was only called when a person had almost reached the last

stages of illness. Illness was often an excuse to remain away from the

field. "Blue mass pills", castor oil, etc. were kept for minor aches and

pains. When a slave died he was buried as quickly as a box could be

nailed together.

"I often heard of people refugeeing during the Civil War period,"

remarked Mr. Pye. "In fact, our mistress refugeed to Alabama trying to

avoid meeting the Yanks, but they came in another direction. On one

occasion the Yanks came to our plantation, took all the best mules and

horses, after which they came to my mother's cabin and made her cook

eggs for them. They kept so much noise singing, "I wish I was in Dixie"

that I could not sleep. After freedom we were kept in ignorance for

quite a while but when we learned the truth my mother was glad to move

away with us."

"Immediately after the war ex-slave families worked for one-third and

one-fourth of the crops raised on different plantations. Years later

families were given one-half of the crops raised."

Mr. Pye ended the interview by telling the writer that he married at

the age of 35 years and was the father of two children, one of whom is

living. He is a Baptist, belonging to Mount Zion Church, and has

attended church regularly and believes that by leading a clean, useful

life he has lengthened his days on this earth. During his lifetime Mr.

Pye followed railroad work. Recently, however, he has had to give this

up because of his health.

Charlie Norris Charlie Richmond facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail