Compilation Richmond



Written by:

Louise Oliphant,

Federal Writers' Project

Augusta, Georgia

Edited by:

John N. Booth,

District Supervisor,

Federal Writers' Project

Augusta, Georgia

There are many ex-slaves living in Richmond County and Augusta who have

vivid recollections of the days when their lives were inseparably bound

to those of their masters. These people have a past rich in tradition

and sentiment, and their memories of customs, habits of work and play,

and the superstitious beliefs, which still govern their actions to a

large extent weave a colorful pattern in local history.

Mistreatment at the hands of their masters and the watchdog overseers is

outstanding in the memory of most of them. "When I was in slavery, us

had what you call good white folk. They warn't rich by no means, but

they was good. Us had rather have 'em poor and good than rich and mean.

Plenty of white folk mistreated they slaves, but ours never mistreated

us. They was a man lived in callin' distance, on the next plantation,

who worked his slaves day and night and on Sunday for a rarety. You

could hear 'em coming from the field about 12 o'clock at night, and they

had to be back in the fields by daylight. They couldn't get off on

Saturday nights like everbody else. Whenever he bought their clothes, it

was on Sunday when they warn't workin'. He was mean, but he was good

about buyin' for 'em, new shoes or a suit or anything of the like they

said they needed.

"Marster had overseers, but he wouldn't let 'em whip his slaves

unmerciful. They always whipped us just as your mamas whips you now.

"Bob Lampkin was the meanest slave owner I ever knowed. He would beat

his slaves and everybody else's he caught in the road. He was so mean

'til God let him freeze to death. He come to town and got drunk and when

he was going back home in his buggy, he froze stiff going up Race Creek

Hill. White and colored was glad when he died.

"His slaves used to run away whenever they got a chance. I 'member he

had a real pretty gal on his place. She was light brown and was built up

better than anybody I ever saw. One of the overseers was crazy about

her, but her mother had told her not to let any of 'em go with her. So

this old overseer would stick close 'round her when they was workin',

just so he could get a chance to say somethin' to her. He kept followin'

this child and followin' this child until she almost went crazy. Way

afterwhile she run away and come to our house and stayed 'bout three

days. When my marster found out she was there, he told her she would

have to go back, or at least she would have to leave his place. He

didn't want no trouble with nobody. When that child left us she stayed

in the woods until she got so hungry she just had to go back. This old

man was mad with her for leavin', and one day while she was in the field

he started at her again and when she told him flat footed she warn't

goin' with him he took the big end of his cow hide and struck her in the

back so hard it knocked her plumb crazy. It was a big lake of water

about ten yards in front of 'em, and if her mother hadn't run and caught

her she would have walked right in it and drowned.

"In them times white men went with colored gals and women bold. Any time

they saw one and wanted her, she had to go with him, and his wife didn't

say nothin' 'bout it. Not only the men, but the women went with colored

men too. That's why so many women slave owners wouldn't marry, 'cause

they was goin' with one of their slaves. These things that's goin' on

now ain't new, they been happenin'. That's why I say you just as well

leave 'em alone 'cause they gwine to do what they want to anyhow.

"My marster never did whip any grown folk. He whipped chillun when they

did anything wrong. He didn't 'low us to eat plums before breakfus, but

all the chillun, his too, would die or do it, so every time he caught us

he would whip us."

Another ex-slave recalled that "you had to call all your marster's

chillun marster or mistis, even the babies. You never wore enough

clothes and you always suffered for comfort. Us warn't even 'lowed to

have fire. If you had a fireplace in your house, it was took out and the

place closed up. If you was ever caught with fire you was beat 'most to

death. Many mothers died in confinement on account of takin' cold 'cause

us couldn't have fire.

"My young marster tried to go with me, and 'cause I wouldn't go with him

he pretended I had done somethin' and beat me. I fought him back because

he had no right to beat me for not goin' with him. His mother got mad

with me for fightin' him back and I told her why he had beat me. Well

then she sent me to the courthouse to be whipped for fightin' him. They

had stocks there where most people would send their slaves to be

whipped. These stocks was in the shape of a cross, and they would strap

your clothes up around your waist and have nothin' but your naked part

out to whip. They didn't care about who saw your nakedness. Anyway they

beat me that day until I couldn't sit down. When I went to bed I had to

lie on my stomach to sleep. After they finished whippin' me, I told them

they needn't think they had done somethin' by strippin' me in front of

all them folk 'cause they had also stripped their mamas and sisters. God

had made us all, and he made us just alike.

"They never carried me back home after that; they put me in the Nigger

Trader's Office to be sold. About two days later I was sold to a man at

McBean. When I went to his place everbody told me as soon as I got there

how mean he was and they said his wife was still meaner. She was jealous

of me because I was light; said she didn't know what her husband wanted

to bring that half white nigger there for, and if he didn't get rid of

me pretty quick she was goin' to leave. Well he didn't get rid of me and

she left about a month after I got there. When he saw she warn't comin'

back 'til he got rid of me, he brought me back to the Nigger Trader's


"As long as you warn't sold, your marster was 'sponsible for you, so

whenever they put you on the market you had to praise yourself in order

to be sold right away. If you didn't praise yourself you got a beatin'.

I didn't stay in the market long. A dissipated woman bought me and I

done laundry work for her and other dissipated women to pay my board

'til freedom come. They was all very nice to me.

"Whenever you was sold your folk never knowed about it 'til afterwards,

and sometimes they never saw you again. They didn't even know who you

was sold to or where they was carryin' you, unless you could write back

and tell 'em.

"The market was in the middle of Broad and Center Streets. They made a

scaffold whenever they was goin' to sell anybody, and would put the

person up on this so everybody could see him good. Then they would sell

him to the highest bidder. Everybody wanted women who would have

children fast. They would always ask you if you was a good breeder, and

if so they would buy you at your word, but if you had already had too

many chillun, they would say you warn't much good. If you hadn't ever

had any chillun, your marster would tell 'em you was strong, healthy,

and a fast worker. You had to have somethin' about you to be sold. Now

sometimes, if you was a real pretty young gal, somebody would buy you

without knowin' anythin' 'bout you, just for yourself. Before my old

marster died, he had a pretty gal he was goin' with and he wouldn't let

her work nowhere but in the house, and his wife nor nobody else didn't

say nothin' 'bout it; they knowed better. She had three chillun for him

and when he died his brother come and got the gal and the chillun.

"One white lady that lived near us at McBean slipped in a colored gal's

room and cut her baby's head clean off 'cause it belonged to her

husband. He beat her 'bout it and started to kill her, but she begged so

I reckon he got to feelin' sorry for her. But he kept goin' with the

colored gal and they had more chillun.

"I never will forget how my marster beat a pore old woman so she

couldn't even get up. And 'cause she couldn't get up when he told her

to, he hit her on the head with a long piece of iron and broke her

skull. Then he made one of the other slaves take her to the jail. She

suffered in jail all night, and the jailer heard her moanin' and

groanin', so the next mornin' he made marster come and get her. He was

so mad 'cause he had to take her out of jail that he had water pumped

into her skull just as soon as he got back home. Then he dropped her

down in a field and she died 'fore night. That was a sad time. You saw

your own folk killed and couldn't say a word 'bout it; if you did you

would be beat and sometimes killed too.

"A man in callin' distance from our place had a whippin' pole. This man

was just as mean as he could be. I know he is in hell now, and he ought

to be. A woman on his place had twins and she warn't strong from the

beginnin'. The day after the chillun was borned, he told her to go over

to his house and scrub it from front to back. She went over to the house

and scrubbed two rooms and was so sick she had to lay down on the floor

and rest awhile. His wife told her to go on back to her house and get in

bed but she was afraid. Finally she got up and scrubbed another room and

while she was carryin' the water out she fainted. The mistress had some

of the men carry her home and got another slave to finish the scrubbin'

so the marster wouldn't beat the pore nigger. She was a good woman but

her husband was mean as the devil. He would even beat her. When he got

home that night he didn't say nothin' 'cause the house had been

scrubbed, but the next mornin' one of the chillun told him about the

woman faintin' and the other girl finishin' the scrubbin'. He got mad

and said his wife was cloakin' for the slaves, that there was nothin'

wrong with the woman, she was just lazy. He beat his wife, then went out

and tied the pore colored woman to a whippin' pole and beat her

unmerciful. He left her hangin' on the pole and went to church. When he

got back she was dead. He had the slaves take her down and bury her in a

box. He said that laziness had killed her and that she warn't worth the

box she was buried in. The babies died the next day and he said he was

glad of it 'cause they would grow up lazy just like their mother.

"My marster had a barrel with nails drove in it that he would put you in

when he couldn't think of nothin' else mean enough to do. He would put

you in this barrel and roll it down a hill. When you got out you would

be in a bad fix, but he didn't care. Sometimes he rolled the barrel in

the river and drowned his slaves.

"I had a brother who worked at the acadamy and every night when the

teacher had his class he would let my brother come in. He taught him to

read and write too. He learned to read and write real well and the

teacher said he was the smartest one in the class. Marster passed our

window one night and heard him readin'. The next mornin' he called him

over to the house and fooled him into readin' and writin', told him he

had somethin' he wanted him to do if he could read and write good

enough. My brother read everythin' marster give him and wrote with a

pencil and ink pen. Marster was so mad that he could read and write

better than his own boy that he beat him, took him away from the

academy, and put him to work in the blacksmith shop. Marster wouldn't

let him wear no shoes in the shop 'cause he wanted the hot cinders to

fall on his feet to punish him. When the man in charge of the shop told

marster he wouldn't work my brother unless he had on shoes, he bought

some brogans that he knowed he couldn't wear, and from then on he made

him do the hardest kind of work he could think of.

"My marster never whipped us himself. He had a coachman do all the

whippin' and he stood by to see that it was done right. He whipped us

until we was blistered and then took a cat-o-nine-tails and busted the

blisters. After that he would throw salty water on the raw places. I

mean it almost gave you spasms. Whenever they sent you to the courthouse

to be whipped the jail keeper's daughter give you a kick after they put

you in the stocks. She kicked me once and when they took me out I sho

did beat her. I scratched her everwhere I could and I knowed they would

beat me again, but I didn't care so long as I had fixed her."

One ex-slave "belonged to an old lady who was a widow. This lady was

very good to me. Of course most people said it was 'cause her son was my

father. But she was just good to all of us. She did keep me in the house

with her. She knowed I was her son's child all right. When I married, I

still stayed with my mistress 'til she died. My husband stayed with his

marster in the day time and would come and stay with me at night.

"When my mistress died I had to be sold. My husband told me to ask his

marster to buy me. He didn't want me to belong to him because I would

have to work real hard and I hadn't been use to no hard work, but he was

so afraid somebody would buy me and carry me somewhere way off, 'til he

decided it was best for his marster to buy me. So his marster bought me

and give me and my husband to his son. I kept house and washed for his

son as long as he was single. When he married his wife changed me from

the house and put me in the field and she put one of the slaves her

mother give her when she married, in the kitchen. My marster's wife was

very mean to all of us. She didn't like me at all. She sold my oldest

child to somebody where I couldn't ever see him any more and kept me.

She just did that to hurt me. She took my baby child and put her in the

house with her to nurse her baby and make fire. And all while she was in

the house with her she had to sleep on the floor.

"Whenever she got mad with us she would take the cow hide, that's what

she whipped us with, and whip us 'til the blood ran down. Her house

was high off the ground and one night the calf went under the house

and made water. The next morning she saw it, so she took two of my

sister-in-law's chillun and carried 'em in the kitchen and tied 'em. She

did this while her husband was gone. You see if he had been there he

wouldn't have let her done that. She took herself a chair and sit down

and made one of the slaves she brought there with her whip those chillun

so 'til all of the slaves on the place was cryin'. One of the slaves run

all the way where our marster was and got him. He come back as quick as

he could and tried to make her open the door, but she wouldn't do it so

he had to break the door in to make her stop whippin' them chillun. The

chillun couldn't even cry when he got there. And when he asked her what

she was whippin' them for she told him that they had went under the

house and made that water. My master had two of the men to take 'em over

to our house, but they was small and neither one ever got over that

whippin'. One died two days later and the other one died about a month

afterwards. Everybody hated her after that.

"Just before freedom declared, my husband took very sick and she took

her husband and come to my house to make him get up. I told her that he

was not able to work, but my husband was so scared they would beat me to

death 'til he begged me to hush. I expect marster would have if he

hadn't been scared of his father. You see his father give me to him. He

told me if the legislature set in his behalf he would make me know a

nigger's place. You know it was near freedom. I told him if he made my

husband get out of bed as sick as he was and go to work, I would tell

his father if he killed me afterwards. And that's one time I was goin'

to fight with 'em. I never was scared of none of 'em, so I told 'em if

they touched my husband they wouldn't touch nothin' else. They wouldn't

give us nothin' to eat that whole day.

"Course we never did have much to eat. At night they would give us a

teacup of meal and a slice of bacon a piece for breakfus' the next

mornin'. If you had chillun they would give you a teacup of meal for two

chillun. By day light the next mornin' the overseer was at your house to

see if you was out, and if you hadn't cooked and eat and got out of that

house he would take that bull whip, and whip you nearly to death. He

carried that bull whip with him everywhere he went.

"Those folks killed one of my husband's brothers. He was kind of

crack-brained, and 'cause he was half crazy, they beat him all the time.

The last time they beat him we was in the field and this overseer beat

him with that bull hide all across the head and everywhere. He beat him

until he fell down on his knees and couldn't even say a word. And do you

know he wouldn't even let a one of us go to see about him. He stayed

stretched out in the the field 'til us went home. The next mornin' he

was found dead right where he had beat him that evenin'.

"'Bout two or three weeks later than that they told one of the slaves

they was goin' to beat him after we quit work that evenin'. His name was


"When the overseer went to the other end of the field Josh dropped his

hoe and walked off. Nobody saw him anymore for about three weeks. He was

the best hand us had and us sho' did need him. Our master went

everywhere he could think of, lookin' for Josh, but he couldn't find him

and we was glad of it. After he looked and looked and couldn't find him

he told all of us to tell Josh to come back if we knowed where he was.

He said if Josh would come back he wouldn't whip him, wouldn't let the

overseer whip him. My husband knowed where he was but he warn't goin' to

tell nobody. Josh would come to our house every night and us would give

him some of what us had for dinner and supper. Us always saved it for

him. Us would eat breakfus' at our house, but all of us et dinner and

supper at the mess house together. Everyday when I et dinner and supper

I would take a part of mine and my husband would take a part of his and

us would carry it to our house for pore Josh. 'Bout 'leven o'clock at

night, when everybody was sleep, Josh would come to the side window and

get what us had for him. It's really a shame the way that pore man had

to hide about just to keep from bein' beat to death 'bout nothin'. Josh

said the first day he left he went in the woods and looked and looked

for a place to hide. Later he saw a tree that the wind had blowed the

top off and left 'bout ten feet standin'. This was rather a big tree and

all of the insides had rotted out. I reckon you have seen trees like

that. Well that's the way this one was. So Josh climbed up this tree and

got down inside of it. He didn't know there was nothin' down in that

tree, but there was some little baby bears in there. Then there he was

down there with no way to come out, and knowin' all the time that the

mama bear was comin' back. So he thought and thought and thought. After

while he thought 'bout a knife he had in his pocket. You see he couldn't

climb out of the tree, it was too tall. When he heard the bear climbin'

up the tree he opened his knife. Have you ever seen a bear comin' down a

tree? Well he comes down backwards. So when this bear started down

inside of the tree he went down backwards, and Josh had his knife open

and just caught him by the tail and begin stickin' him with the knife.

That's the way Josh got out of that tree. When he stuck the bear with

the knife the bear went back up the tree, and that pulled Josh up. And

when the bear got to the top of the tree Josh caught a hold of the tree

and pulled himself on out, but the bear fell and broke his neck. Well

Josh had to find him somewhere else to hide. In them times there was big

caves in the woods, not only the woods but all over the country, and

that's where pore Josh hid all while he was away. Josh stayed there in

that cave a long time then he come on back home. He didn't get a

whippin' either."

Childhood memories were recalled by an old woman who said: "When I was

about nine years old, for about six months, I slept on a crocus bag

sheet in order to get up and nurse the babies when they cried. Do you

see this finger? You wonder why its broke? Well one night the babies

cried and I didn't wake up right away to 'tend to 'em and my mistess

jumped out of bed, grabbed the piece of iron that was used to push up

the fire and began beatin' me with it. That's the night this finger got

broke, she hit me on it. I have two more fingers she broke beatin' me at

diff'unt times. She made me break this leg too. You see they would put

the women in stocks and beat 'em whenever they done somethin' wrong.

That's the way my leg was broke. You see us had to call all of our

marster's chillun 'mistess' or 'marster.' One day I forgot to call one

of my young mistesses, 'miss.' She was about eight or nine months old.

My mistess heard me and put me in a stock and beat me. While she was

beatin' me, I turned my leg by some means and broke it. Don't you think

she quit beatin' me 'cause I had broke my leg. No, that made no

diff'unce to her. That's been years ago, but it still worries me now.

Now other times when you called your marster's chillun by their names,

they would strip you and let the child beat you. It didn't matter

whether the child was large or small, and they always beat you 'til the

blood ran down.

"Have you ever slept in the grave yard? I know you haven't but I have.

Many a time when I was told that I was goin' to get a beatin', I would

hide away in the cemetery where I stayed all night layin' in gullies

between graves prayin'. All night long I could see little lights runnin'

all over the grave yard, and I could see ha'nts, and hear 'em sayin'

'Uh, Uh, Uh, Uh, Uh,' which meant they were pityin' my case.

"When they whipped the men, all their clothes was took off, their hands

was fastened together and then they wound 'em up in the air to a post

and tied their feet to the bottom of the post. They would begin whippin'

'em at sundown, and sometimes they would be whippin' 'em as late as

'leven o'clock at night. You could hear 'em cryin' and prayin' a long

ways off. When they prayed for the Lord to have mercy, their marster

would cuss the Lord and tell 'em they better not call his name again."

The whipping pole, as described by Lizzie, was a long post several feet

in diameter to which was attached a long rope through a pulley. On one

end was a device, similiar to the modern handcuff--the other end was

used to draw the hand to an upward position, thereby, rendering the

individual helpless. At the base of the pole was a clamp like instrument

which held the feet in a motionless position.

Roy Redfield recalls going to the courthouse and seeing the older slaves

whipped. "When I would go there with my young marster I would see 'em

whippin' the slaves. You see they had stocks there then, and they

wouldn't put you in jail like they do now. Your marster or mistess would

send you to the courthouse with a note and they would put you in them

stocks and beat you, then they would give you a note and send you back.

They never did beat me, if they had my old mistess would have raised

sand with 'em. Whenever I was whipped my mother did it. I warn't no

slave and my ma neither, but my pa was.

"When they whipped you they would strap you down in them stocks, then a

man would wind the whippin' machine and beat you 'til they had given you

the number of lashes your boss had on the note. I didn't see them

whippin' any women there, so I can't say they did and I can't say they


"My master wouldn't let us go to school, but his chillun would slip

'round and teach us what they could out of their books. They would also

give us books to read. Whenever their pa or ma caught them tryin' to

teach us they always whipped them. I learned to read and write from 'em

and I'll never forget how hard it was for 'em to get a chance to teach

me. But if they caught you tryin' to write they would cut your finger

off and if they caught you again they would cut your head off.

"When I was a young man, a old man stole the head and pluck (pluck is

the liver and lites) out of the hog (some people call it the haslet) and

hid it up in the loft of his house. When his marster missed it he went

to this man's house lookin' for it. The man told him that he didn't have

it. He had already told his wife if his marster come not to own it

either. Well his master kept askin' him over and over 'bout the head and

pluck, but they denied having it. The marster told 'em if they didn't

give it to him and that quick he was goin' to give 'em a thousand lashes

each, if less didn't kill 'em. This woman's husband told her not to own

it. He told her to take three thousand lashes and don't own it. So their

marster whipped her and whipped her, but she wouldn't own it. Finally he

quit whippin' her and started whippin' the old man. Just as soon as he

started whippin' the man he told his wife to go up in the loft of the

house and throw the head and pluck down 'cause he didn't want it.

"You always had to get a pass when goin' out. Sometimes, when you

wouldn't be thinking, a patter roller would step up to the door and ask

who was there. If any visitor was there they would ask 'em to show their

pass. If you didn't have a pass they would take you out and beat you,

then make you go home and when you got home, your marster would take you

to the barn, strip you buck naked, tie you to a post and beat you. Us

didn't have to get passes whenever us wanted to go visitin'. All us had

to do was tell 'em who us belonged to, and they always let us by. They

knowed our marster would let us go 'thout passes.

"Us used to go to barn dances all the time. I never will forget the

fellow who played the fiddle for them dances. He had run away from his

marster seven years before. He lived in a cave he had dug in the ground.

He stayed in this cave all day and would come out at night. This cave

was in the swamp. He stole just 'bout everythin' he et. His marster had

been tryin' to catch him for a long time. Well they found out he was

playin' for these dances and one night us saw some strange lookin' men

come in but us didn't pay it much 'tention. Us always made a big oak

fire and thats where us got mos' of our light from. Well these men

danced with the girls a good while and after a while they started goin'

out one by one. Way after while they all came back in together, they had

washed the blackenin' off their faces, and us seen they was white. This

man had a song he would always sing. 'Fooled my marster seven

years--expect to fool him seven more.' So when these men came in they

went to him and told him maybe he had fooled 'em for seven years, but he

wouldn't fool 'em seven more. When they started to grab him he just

reached in the fire and got a piece of wood that was burnin' good on one

end and waved it all around (in a circle) until he set three of 'em on

fire. While they was puttin' this fire out he run out in the swamp and

back in his cave. They tried to catch him again. They painted their

faces and done just like they did the first time, but this time they

carried pistols. When they pulled their pistols on him he did just like

he did the first time, and they never did catch him. He stopped comin'

to play for the dances after they was straight after him. Dogs couldn't

trail him 'cause he kept his feet rubbed with onions.

"I have seen some marsters make their slaves walk in snow knee deep,

barefooted. Their heels would be cracked open jus' like corn bread.

"The only real mean thing they did to us when I was young was to sell my

father when our marster died. They sold him to somebody way off, and

they promised to bring him back to see us, but they never did. We always

wished he would come, but until this day us hasn't laid eyes on him

again. My mother worried 'bout him 'til she died.

"Chillun didn't know what shoes was 'til they was 'bout fifteen years

old. They would go a mile or a mile and a half in the snow for water

anytime, and the only thin' they ever had on their feet would be

somethin' made out of home-spun. You don't hardly hear of chilblain feet

now, but then most every child you saw had cracked heels. The first pair

of shoes I ever wore, I was sixteen years old, was too small for me and

I pulled 'em off and throwed 'em in the fire."

Clayton Holbert Cora Gillam facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail