Eliza Williamson

[HW: Dist 5]

Josephine Lowell


[TR: This interview contained many handwritten edits; where text was

transposed or meaning was significantly changed, it has been noted.]

Just a few recollections of life in slavery time, as told me by [TR:

illegible] who was Eliza Taliaferro Williamson, daughter of Dickerson

and Polly Taliaferro. My mother was born at Mt. Airy, North Carolina,

near the Virginia line, and always went to school, across the line, in

Virginia. Her grandfather was John Taliaferro, slave holder, tobacco

raiser, and farmer. The Negro quarters were near the main or Big House.

Mother said that great-grandfather would go to the back door each night

and call every slave to come in for family prayer. They came and knelt

in the Big House, while old marster prayed. Mother said it was like a

camp-meeting when he died--wailing and weeping by the Negroes for their

old Marster. She said the slaves had the same food that the white family

had and the same warm clothes for winter. All clothing, bed sheeting,

table linen, towels, etc. were hand woven. They raised sheep for wool,

and flax for linen, but I don't know where they got the cotton they

used. The work of the house and farm was divided as with a big family.

Some of the women cooked, sewed, wove, washed, milked, but was never

sent to the field. None of the Toliver family believed in women working

in the field. When each of great-grandfather's children married, he or

she was given a few slaves. I think he gave my grandfather, Dickerson

Taliaferro, three slaves, and these he brought with him to Georgia when

they settled in Whitfield County.

My grandfather was a member of the Legislature from Whitfield County for

two terms. He was as gentle with his slaves as a father would have been,

and was never known to abuse one of them. One of his slaves, who was a

small boy at the close of the War, stayed with my grandfather until he

was a grown man, then after a few years away from home, came home to old

Marster to die. This is the picture of good slave holders, but sad to

say all were not of that type. [TR: deleted: 'See next sheet for'] a

picture of horror, which was also told me by my mother. [TR: deleted:

'The thought of it'] was like a nightmare to my childish mind.

The Story of little Joe.

[TR: deleted: 'Mother said there were'] two families lived on farms

adjacent to her father. They were the two Tucker brothers, tobacco

raisers. One of the wives, Polly, or Pol, as she was called, hated the

family of her husband's brother because they were more affluent than she

liked them to be. It [HW: Her jealousy] caused the two families to live

in disagreement.

Little Joe belonged to Pol's family, and was somewhere between ten and

fourteen years old. Mother said Pol made Joe work in the field at night,

and forced him to sing so they would know he wasn't asleep. He wore

nothing in summer but an old shirt made of rough factory cloth which

came below his knees. She said the only food Pol would give him was

swill [HW: scraps] from the table--handed to him out the back door.

Mother said Pol had some kind of impediment in her speech, which caused

her to say 'ah' at the close of a sentence. So, when she called Joe to

the back door to give him his mess of scraps, she would say, "Here, Joe,

here's your truck, ah." Mother was a little girl then, and she and

grandmother felt so sorry for Joe that they would bake baskets of sweet

potatoes and slip [TR: 'to the field to give him' replaced with

illegible text ending 'in the field']. She said he would come through

the corn, almost crawling, so Pol wouldn't see him, and take the sweet

potatoes in the tail of his shirt and scuttle back through the tall

stuff where he might hide and eat it them.

She had a Negro woman who had a baby (and there may have been other

women) but this Negro woman was not allowed to see her baby except just

as a cow would be let in to her calf at certain times during the day,

[TR: 'then' replaced by ??] she had to go to the field and leave it

alone. Mother said that Pol either threw or kicked the baby into the

yard because it cried, and it died. I don't know why the authorities

didn't arrest her, but she may have had an alibi, or some excuse for the

death of the child.

The Burning of the Tobacco Barn

The [HW: other] Tucker brother had made a fine crop of tobacco that

year, more than a thousand dollars worth in his big barn. Pol made one

of her slaves go with her, [HW: when] and she set fire to the tobacco

barn of her brother-in-law's barn, and not being able to get away [HW:

unable to escape] before the flames [HW: brought] a crowd, she hid in

the grass, right near the path where the people were running to the

fire. She had some kind of stroke, perhaps from fright, or pure deviltry

which 'put her out of business'. I wish I could remember whether it

killed her or just made a paralytic of her, but this is a true story.

Eliza Scantling Elizabeth Alexander facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail