Cordelia Thomas





PLANTATION LIFE



CORDELIA THOMAS, Age 80

130 Berry Street

Athens, Ga.



Written by:

Grace McCune [HW: (white)]

Athens



Edited by:

Sarah H. Hall

Athens



Leila Harris

Augusta



and

John N. Booth

District Supervisor

Federal Writers' Project

Residencies 6 & 7





A long, hot walk over rough, hilly roads brought the visitor to

Cordelia's place just after the noon hour of a sweltering July day, and

the shade of the tall water oaks near the little cabin was a most

welcome sight. The house stood only a few feet from a spur of railroad

track but the small yard was enclosed by a luxurious green hedge. Roses

predominated among the many varieties of flowers in evidence on the

otherwise drab premises.



A dilapidated porch across the front of the residence had no roof and

the floorboards were so badly rotted that it did not seem quite safe to

walk from the steps to the front door where Cordelia stood waiting.

"Come right in, Missy," she invited, "but be keerful not to fall through

dat old porch floor." The tall, thin Negress was clad in a faded but

scrupulously clean blue dress, a white apron, and a snowy headcloth

crowned by a shabby black hat. Black brogans completed her costume.

Cordelia led the way to the rear of a narrow hall. "Us will be cooler

back here," she explained. Sunlight poured through gaping holes in the

roof, and the coarse brown wrapping paper pasted on the walls was

splattered and streaked by rain. The open door of Cordelia's bedroom

revealed a wooden bed, a marble-topped bureau, and a washstand of the

Victorian period. A rocker, two straight chairs, a small table, and a

trunk completed the furnishings of the room and left but little space

for its occupant to move about.



"I'se jus' a mite tired," Cordelia stated, "'cause I jus' got back from

de courthouse whar dem welfare 'omans done gimme a sack o' flour and

some other bundles what I ain't opened up yit, but I knows dey's got

somepin in 'em to holp me, 'cause dem folks is sho' been mighty good to

me since my rheumatiz is been so bad I couldn't wuk enough to make a

livin'. De doctor, he say I got de blood presser. I don't rightly know

jus' what dat is, but it looks lak somepin's a-pressin' right down in my

haid 'til I feels right foolish, so I reckon he's right 'bout it a-bein

de blood presser. When I gits down on my knees it takes a long time for

me to git straight up on my feet again. De Lord, He's done been wid me

all dese years, and old Cordelia's goin' to keep right on kneelin' 'fore

Him and praisin' Him often 'til He 'cides de time has come for her to go

home to Heben.



"I was borned on Marse Andrew Jackson's plantation down in 'Conee

(Oconee) County, twixt here and High Shoals. Marse Andy, he owned my

Mammy, and she was named Em'ly Jackson. Bob Lowe was my Daddy, and he

b'longed to Marse Ike Lowe. The Lowe plantation was nigh whar Marse

Andy's was, down der in 'Conee County. 'Cause neither one of deir

marsters wouldn't sell one of 'em to de other marster, Mammy had to stay

on de Jackson plantation and Daddy was kept right on wukin' on de Lowe

place atter dey had done got married. Marse Bob, he give Daddy a ticket

what let him go to see Mammy evvy Wednesday and Sadday night, and dem

patterollers couldn't bother him long as he kept dat ticket. When dey

did find a slave off his marster's plantation widout no ticket, it was

jus' too bad, for dat meant a beatin' what most kilt him. Mammy said dey

didn't never git my Daddy, 'cause he allus had his ticket to show.



"I don't ricollect much 'bout days 'fore de big war ended 'cause I was

so little den, but many's de time I heared Mammy and Daddy and de other

old folks tell 'bout dem times. Us chillun had de bestes' time of

anybody dem days, 'cause dey didn't 'low us to do nothin' but jus' eat

all us could and play de rest of de time. I don't know how it was on

other places, but dat was de way us was raised on our old marster's

plantation.



"De cracks of de log cabins whar de slaves lived was chinked wid red mud

to keep out de cold and rain. Dere warn't no glass in de windows, dey

jus' had plank shutters what dey fastened shut at night. Thin slide

blocks kivvered de peepholes in de rough plank doors. Dey had to have

dem peepholes so as dey could see who was at de door 'fore dey opened

up. Dem old stack chimblies what was made out of sticks and red clay,

was all time gittin' on fire. Dem old home-made beds had high posties

and us called 'em 'teesters.' To take de place of springs, what hadn't

never been seen 'round dar in dem days, dey wove heavy cords lengthways

and crostways. Over dem cords dey laid a flat mat wove out of white oak

splints and on dat dey put de homespun bed ticks stuffed wid wheat

straw. Dey could have right good pillows if dey was a mind to pick de

scrap cotton and fix it up, but dere warn't many of 'em keered dat much

'bout no pillows.



"Slaves didn't do no cookin' on our place 'cause Marster fed evvybody up

at de big house. Missy, I ain't never gwine to forgit dat big old

fireplace up dar. Dey piled whole sticks of cord wood on it at one time,

wid little sticks crossways under 'em and, let me tell you, dat was a

fire what would cook anything and evvything. De pots hung on swingin'

racks, and dere was big ovens, little ovens, long-handled fryin' pans,

and heavy iron skillets wid tight, thick lids. It sho' was a sight de

way us chillun used to make 'way wid dem ash-roasted 'taters and dat

good, fresh butter. Us chillun had to eat supper early 'cause all

chillun had to be in bed 'fore dark. It warn't lak dese days. Why Missy,

chilluns now stays up 'most all night runnin' 'round dese parts.



"Marster was sho' good 'bout seein' dat his Niggers had plenty to eat

and wear. For supper us et our bread and milk wid wooden spoons out of

wooden bowls, but for dinner dey give us veg'ables, corn pone, and

'taters. Marster raised all de sorts of veg'ables what dey knowed

anything 'bout in dem days, and he had big old fields of wheat, rye,

oats, and corn, 'cause he 'lowed dat stock had to eat same as folkses.

Dere was lots of chickens, turkeys, cows, hogs, sheep, and some goats on

dat plantation so as dere would allus be plenty of meat for evvybody.



"Our Marster evermore did raise de cotton--lots of it to sell, and

plenty for clothes for all de folkses, white and black, what lived on

his place. All de cloth was home-made 'cept de calico for de best Sunday

dresses. Chillun had to spin de thread and deir mammies wove de cloth.

'Fore de end of de war, whilst I was still so little I had to stand on a

box to reach de spinnin' wheel good, I could spin six reels a day.



"Chillun was happy when hog-killin' time come. Us warn't 'lowed to help

none, 'cept to fetch in de wood to keep de pot bilin' whar de lard was

cookin'. Our Mist'ess allus had de lard rendered in de bigges' washpot,

what dey sot on rocks in de fireplace. Us didn't mind gittin' de wood

for dat, 'cause when dem cracklin's got done, dey let us have all us

could eat and, jus' let me tell you, Missy, you ain't never had nothin'

good 'less you has et a warm skin cracklin' wid a little salt. One time

when dey was renderin' lard, all us chillun was crowdin' 'round close as

us could git to see which one could git a cracklin' fust. Mist'ess told

us to stand back 'fore somebody got burnt; den Mammy said she was gwine

to take de hides off our backs 'bout gittin' so close to dat fire, and

'bout dat time somebody 'hind me gimme a quick push; and in de fire I

went. Marster grabbed me 'most time I hit dem red coals, but one hand

and arm was burnt so bad I had to wear it in a sling for a long time.

Den Marster laid down de law and told us what he would do if he cotch us

chillun hangin' 'round de fire whar dey was cookin' lard again.



"Folkses said our Marster must have a powerful sweet tooth on account of

he kept so many bee hives. When bees swarmed folkses rung bells and beat

on tin pans to git 'em settled. Veils was tied over deir haids to keep

de bees from gittin' to deir faces when dey went to rob de hives.

Chillun warn't never 'lowed to be nowhar nigh durin' dat job. One day I

sneaked out and got up close to see how dey done it, and dem bees got

all over me. Dey stung me so bad I couldn't see for days and days.

Marster, he jus' fussed and said dat gal, Cordelia, she was allus whar

she didn't b'long. Missy, I ain't never wanted to fool wid no more bees,

and I don't even lak honey no more.



"Slaves all went to church wid deir white folkses 'cause dere warn't no

Nigger churches dem days. All de preachin' was done by white preachers.

Churches warn't nigh and convenient dem days lak dey is now and dey was

such a fur piece from de plantations dat most of de folkses stayed all

day, and dem meetin' days was big days den. De cooks was told to fix de

bestes' dinners dey could git up, and chillun was made to know dey had

better mind what dey was 'bout when dey was in de meetin' house or it

was gwine to be made mighty hot for 'em when dey got back home. Dat was

one thing our Marster didn't 'low no foolin' 'bout. His Niggers had to

be-have deyselfs at de meetin' house. 'Long 'bout August when craps was

laid by, dey had brush arbor meetin's. White folks brought deir slaves

and all of 'em listened to a white preacher from Watkinsville named Mr.

Calvin Johnson. Dere was lots of prayin' and shoutin' at dem old brush

arbor 'vival meetin's.



"Dey had campmeetin's too. De old Freeman place was whar dey had some of

dem fust campmeetin's, and Hillsboro, Mars Hill, and Bethabara was some

of de other places whar Marster tuk us to campmeetin's. Missy, you jus'

don't know nothin' 'bout 'citement if you ain't never been to one of dem

old-time campmeetin's. When folkses would git 'ligion dey would holler

and shout a-testifyin' for de Lord. Atter de meetin' dey dammed up de

crick and let it git deep enough for de baptizin'. Dey dipped de white

folkses fust, and den de Niggers. You could hear 'em singin' a mile away

dem old songs lak: On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand,--Roll, Jordan

Roll,--All God's Chilluns is a-goin' Home, and--Whar de Livin'

Waters Flow. I jus' can't 'member half of dem good old songs 'cause my

mem'ry ain't good as it used to be." Here Cordelia paused. She seemed

oblivious to all around her for several minutes, and then she suddenly

smiled. "Lordy, Missy," she began, "if I could jus' call back dem days

wid our good old Marster to look atter us and see dat us had what us

needed to eat and wear and a good comf'table cabin to live in, wouldn't

dis be a happy old 'oman? Lots of de other old folks would lak it too,

'cause our white folkses day sho' did take good keer of deir slaves.



"Did you ever hear of dem logrollin's? On our place dey spent 'bout two

whole days cookin' and gittin' ready. Marster axed evvybody from fur and

nigh, and dey allus come 'cause dey knowed he was gwine to give 'em a

good old time. De way dey rolled dem logs was a sight, and de more good

corn liquor Marster passed 'round, de faster dem logs rolled. Come

night-time, Marster had a big bonfire built up and sot lots of pitchpine

torches 'round so as dere would be plenty of light for 'em to see how to

eat dat fine supper what had done been sot out for 'em. Atter supper,

dey danced nigh all de rest of de night. Mammy used to tell us 'bout de

frolics next day, 'cause us chillun was made to go to bed at sundown.

Come day, go day, no matter what might happen, growin' chillun had to be

in bed at deir reg'lar time, but Mammy never forgot to tell us all 'bout

de good times next day.



"Mammy said dem cornshuckin's meant jus' as much fun and jollification

as wuk. Dey gathered Marster's big corn crap and 'ranged it in long,

high piles, and sometimes it tuk sev'ral days for dem cornshuckers to

git it all shucked, but evvybody stayed right dar on de job 'til it was

finished. At night, dey wukked by de light of big fires and torches, den

dey had de big supper and started dancin'. Dey stopped so often to swig

dat corn liquor Marster pervided for 'em dat 'fore midnight folkses

started fallin' out and drappin' down in de middle of de dance ring. De

others would git 'em by de heels and drag 'em off to one side 'til dey

come to and was ready to drink more liquor and dance again. Dat was de

way dey went on de rest of de night.



"Corpses! Buryin's! Graveyards! Why, Miss, dere warn't nigh so many

folkses a-dyin' all de time dem days as dere is now. Folkses lived right

and was tuk better keer of and dere warn't so much reason for 'em to die

out den. When somebody did die, folkses come from miles and miles around

to de buryin'. Dey give de slaves de same sort of funerals de white

folkses had. De corpses was washed good all over wid hot water and

home-made soap, den dey was dressed and laid out on de coolin' boards

'til de cyarpenter man had time to make up de coffins. Lordy, Missy,

ain't you never seed no coolin' board? I 'spects dey is all gone now

though. Dey looked a good deal lak ironin' boards, only dey had laigs to

stand on. Lots of times dey didn't dress de corpses, but jus' wropped

'em in windin' sheets. Dem home-made, pine coffins didn't look so bad

atter dey got 'em painted up and lined nice. Dey driv de wagon what had

de corpse on it right slow to de graveyard. De preacher talked a little

and prayed; den atter de mourners had done sung somepin on de order of

Harps [HW: Hark?] From De Tomb, dey shovelled in de dirt over de

coffin whilst de preacher said comfortin' words to de fambly of de daid.

Evvy plantation had its own graveyard wid a fence around it, and dere

was a place in it for de slaves 'nigh whar deir white folks was buried.



"Honey, didn't you never hear tell of Dr. Frank Jackson? He was sho' a

grand doctor. Dr. Jackson made up his own medicines and toted 'em 'round

wid him all de time. He was close kin to our Marse Andy Jackson's

fambly. All dem Jacksons down in 'Conee was good white folks.



"Us stayed on wid Old Marster for a little while atter de war was over,

and den right away Mammy died and Daddy hired me out to Mrs. Sidney

Rives (Reaves?). I 'spects one reason she was so mighty good to me was

'cause I was so little den. I was nigh grown when I left her to wuk for

Dr. Palmer's fambly. All his chillun was little den and I was deir nuss.

One of de best of his chillun was little Miss Eunice. She is done growed

to be a school teacher and dey tells me she is still a-teachin'. It

warn't long atter my Daddy died dat I left de Palmers and started

wukkin' for Mr. Dock Dorsey's fambly. If dere ever was a good Christian

'oman in dis here old world it was Miss Sallie Dorsey, Mr. Dock Dorsey's

wife. She had been Miss Sallie Chappell 'fore she married Mr. Dorsey.

Miss Sallie tried to git evvybody what stayed 'round her to live right

too, and she wanted all her help to go to church reg'lar. If Miss Sallie

and Marse Dock Dorsey was livin' now, dey would pervide for Old 'Delia

jus' lak dey used to do. All deir chillun was nice. Miss Fannie and Miss

Sue, dey was extra good gals, but somehow I jus' can't call back de

names of dem other ones now. Dey all had to be good wid de sort of mammy

and daddy dey had. Miss Sallie, she was sick a long time 'fore she died,

and dey let me wait on her. Missy, I tell you de gospel truth, I sho'

did love dat 'oman. Not long 'fore she passed on to Heben, she told her

husband dat atter she was gone, she wanted him to marry up wid her

cousin, Miss Hargrove, so as he would have somebody to help him raise up

her chillun, and he done 'zactly what she axed him to. All of my own

white folkses has done died out, and Old 'Delia won't be here much

longer. One of de Thorntons here--I forgits which one--married up wid my

young Mist'ess, Rebecca Jackson. Her gal got married up wid Dr. Jago, a

horse-doctor. A insurance man named Mr. Speer married into de Jackson

fambly too. He moved his fambly from here to de mountains on account of

his son's health, and I jus' los' track of 'em den.



"Lordy, Chile! What you want to know 'bout my weddin' for, nowhow? Dere

ain't never gwine to be no more weddin's lak dey had back dere in dem

times 'cause folkses thinks dey got to have too much nowadays. When

folkses got married den dey was a-thinkin' 'bout makin' sho' 'nough

homes for deyselfs, and gittin' married meant somepin sort of holy.

Mammy said dat most times when slaves got married dey jus' jumped

backwards over a broomstick whilst deir Marster watched and den he

pernounced dat dey was man and wife. Now dey is got to go to de

courthouse and pay out good money for a license and den go git a

preacher or somebody lak a jestice jedge to say de marriage words over

'em.



"Me and Solomon Thomas had to go buy us a license too, but us didn't

mind 'bout 'puttin out 'dat money cause us was so much in love. I wore a

pretty white dress and a breakfast shawl, and atter us had done went to

de preacher man's house and got married, us come right on here to dis

very house what had b'longed to Solomon's daddy 'fore it was Solomon's.

Us built two more rooms on de house, but all de time Solomon lived us

tried to keep de place lookin' a good deal lak it was de day us got

married.



"Atter Solomon died, I sold off most of de land to de railroad for de

right of way for dat dere track what you sees out dere, and it sho' has

made plenty of wuk for me to keep dat soot what dem engines is all time

a-spittin' out cleaned off my things in de house. It draps down through

dem big holes overhead, and I can't git hold of no money to have de roof

patched up.



"Me and Solomon, us had 11 chillun, but dey is all daid out but three.

One of my boys is in Baltimore and another boy lives in Louisiana

somewhar. My gal, Delia, she stays over in de Newtown part of Athens

here. She would love to help her old Mammy, but my Delia's got chillun

of her own and she can't git nothin' to do 'cept a little washin' for de

white folkses, and she ain't able to pervide what her own household

needs to eat. Dem boys of mine is done got so fur off dey's done forgot

all 'bout deir old Mammy.



"When us fust got married, Solomon wukked at Mr. Orr's cotton house, and

he stayed dere a long time 'fore he went to wuk for Mr. Moss and Mr.

Levy. All dem white folks was good to me and Solomon. I kept on wukkin'

for de Dorseys 'til us had so many chillun I had to stay home and look

atter 'em. Solomon got sick and he lay dere sufferin' a long, long time,

but Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy seed dat he didn't want for nothin'. Even

atter Solomon died dem good white mens kept on comin' out now and den to

see if me and Solomon's chillun had what us needed.



"Solomon, my Solomon, he went out of dis here world, in dat dere room

whar you sees dat old bed, and dat is perzactly whar I wants to be when

de Blessed Lord lays his hands on me and tells me to come on Home to

Glory. I wants to be toted out of dat room, through dis hall and on out

to de graveyard jus' lak my man was. I knows dat evvything would be done

nice jus' lak I wants it if Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy was a-livin' 'cause

dey was both Masons, and members of de Masons is all done swore a oath

to look atter deir own folkses. Dey said Solomon and his fambly was lak

deir own folkses, Mr. Moss and Mr. Levy did. Most of de folkses, both

white and black, dat I has knowed and loved has done gone on over de

Jordan, out of dis world of trouble, and it will be happy days for all

of us when us meets again in de place 'of many mansions' whar dere won't

be nothin' for none of us to pester ourselfs 'bout no more.



"All of my life, I'se had a great desire to travel, jus' to go evvywhar,

but atter all dese years of busy livin' I 'spects all de trav'lin' I'll

ever do will be on de road to Glory. Dat will be good enough for me

'cause I got so many more of 'em I loves over dar dan is left here."



As the visitor passed out of earshot of Cordelia's cabin the last words

she heard from the old Negress were: "Good-bye again, Missy. Talkin' to

you has been a heap of consolation to me."





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