Douglas Parish


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Rachel A. Austin, Field Worker

Monticello, Florida

November 10, 1936


Douglas Parish was born in Monticello, Florida, May 7, 1850, to Charles

and Fannie Parish, slaves of Jim Parish. Fannie had been bought from a

family by the name of Palmer to be a "breeder", that is a bearer of

strong children who could bring high prices at the slave markets. A

"breeder" always fared better than the majority of female slaves, and

Fannie Parish was no exception. All she had to do was raise children.

Charles Parish labored in the cotton fields, the chief product of the

Parish plantation.

As a small boy Douglas used to spend his time shooting marbles, playing

ball, racing and wrestling with the other boys. The marbles were made

from lumps of clay hardened in the fireplace. He was a very good runner,

and as it was a custom in those days for one plantation owner to match

his "nigger" against that of his neighbor, he was a favorite with Parish

because he seldom failed to win the race. Parish trained his runners by

having them race to the boundary of his plantation and back again. He

would reward the winner with a jack-knife or a bag of marbles.

Just to be first was an honor in itself, for the fastest runner

represented his master in the Fourth of July races when runners from all

over the country competed for top honors, and the winner earned a bag of

silver for his master. If Parish didn't win the prize, he was hard to

get along with for several days, but gradually he would accept his

defeat with resolution. Prizes in less important races ranged from a

pair of fighting cocks to a slave, depending upon the seriousness of the


Douglas' first job was picking cotton seed from the cotton. When he was

about 12 years of age, he became the stable boy, and soon learned about

the care and grooming of horses from an old slave who had charge of the

Parish stables. He was also required to keep the buggies, surreys, and

spring-wagons clean. The buggies were light four-wheeled carriages drawn

by one horse. The surreys were covered four-wheeled carriages, open at

the sides, but having curtains that may be rolled down. He liked this

job very much because it gave him an opportunity to ride on the horses,

the desire of all the boys on the plantation. They had to be content

with chopping wood, running errands, cleaning up the plantation, and

similar tasks. Because of his knowledge of horses, Douglas was permitted

to travel to the coast with his boss and other slaves for the purpose of

securing salt from the sea water. It was cheaper to secure salt by this

method than it was to purchase it otherwise.

Life in slavery was not all bad, according to Douglas. Parish fed his

slaves well, gave them comfortable quarters in which to live, looked

after them when they were sick, and worked them very moderately. The

food was cooked in the fireplace in large iron pots, pans and ovens. The

slaves had greens, potatoes, corn, rice, meat, peas, and corn bread to

eat. Occasionally the corn bread was replaced by flour bread. The slaves

drank an imitation coffee made from parched corn or meal. Since there

was no ice to preserve the left-over food, only enough for each meal was


Parish seldom punished his slaves, and never did he permit his overseer

to do so. If the slaves failed to do their work, they were reported to

him. He would warn them and show his black whip which was usually

sufficient. He had seen overseers beat slaves to death, and he did not

want to risk losing the money he had invested in his. After his death,

his son managed the plantation in much the same manner as his father.

But the war was destined to make the Parishes lose all their slaves by

giving them their freedom. Even though they were free to go, many of the

slaves elected to remain with their mistress who had always been kind to

them. The war swept away much of the money which her husband had left

her; and although she would liked to have kept all of her slaves, she

found it impossible to do so. She allowed the real old slaves to remain

on the premises and kept a few of the younger ones to work about the

plantation. Douglas and his parents were among those who remained on the

plantation. His father was a skilled bricklayer and carpenter, and he

was employed to make repairs to the property. His mother cooked for the


Many of the Negroes migrated North, and they wrote back stories of the

"new country" where "de white folks let you do jes as you please." These

stories influenced a great number of other Negroes to go North and begin

life anew as servants, waiters, laborers and cooks. The Negroes who

remained in the South were forced to make their own living. At the end

of the war, foods and commodities had gone up to prices that were

impossible for the Negro to pay. Ham, for example, cost 40c and 50c a

pound; lard was 25c; cotton was two dollars a bushel.

Douglas' father taught him all that he knew about carpentry and

bricklaying, and the two were in demand to repair, remodel, or build

houses for the white people. Although he never attended school, Charles

Parish could calculate very rapidly the number of bricks that it would

take to build a house. After the establishing of schools by the

Freedmen's Bureau, Douglas' father made him go, but he did not like the

confinement of school and soon dropped out. The teachers for the most

part, were white, who were concerned only with teaching the ex-slaves

reading, writing, and arithmetic. The few colored teachers went into

the community in an effort to elevate the standards of living. They went

into the churches where they were certain to reach the greatest number

of people and spoke to them of their mission. The Negro teachers were

cordially received by the ex-slaves who were glad to welcome some

"Yankee niggers" into their midst.

Whereas the white teachers did not bother with the Negroes except in the

classroom, other white men came who showed a decided interest in them.

They were called "carpetbaggers" because of the type of traveling bag

which they usually carried, and this term later became synonymous with

"political adventurer." These men sought to advance their political

schemes by getting the Negroes to vote for certain men who would be

favorable to them. They bought the Negro votes or put a Negro in some

unimportant office to obtain the goodwill of the ex-slaves. They used

the ignorant colored minister to further their plans, and he was their

willing tool. The Negro's unwise use of his ballot plunged the South

further and further into debt and as a result the South was compelled to

restrict his privileges.


1. Personal interview with Douglas Parish, Monticello, Florida

Douglas Dorsey Dr D B Gaines facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail