Ellen Briggs Thompson

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Ellen Briggs Thompson

3704 W. Twelfth Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 83

Birth and Relatives

"I was born in October 1844, in Nashville, Arkansas. I don't remember

the exact day. I have went through thick and thin. I was a small girl

when my mother died. I got the rheumatism so bad I can't hardly walk. It

hurts me now. My oldest brother, Henry Briggs, was five years older than

me, and my youngest brother, Isaac Briggs, was five years younger than

me. I was born October, but he was born at Christmas Eve just after

surrender. My oldest brother died last year. My youngest brother is

in Galveston, Texas. If he is living, he is there. My name was Briggs

before I married. I was just studying about my sister-in-law when you

come up. If I could get the money, I would go to see her. She was my

oldest brother's wife. Her name was Frances Briggs after she married.

She lives in Emmet, Arkansas, where he married her. I just had two

brothers, no sisters.

"My husband's name was Henry Thompson. He has been dead about twelve or

thirteen years. I have had so much sickness I can't remember exactly. I

married him a long time ago. I got it put down in the Bible. I married

yonder in Emmet, Arkansas. I ain't got the Bible nor nothing. My brother

had it and he is dead.

"My father's name was Daniel Briggs. He died in Hot Springs. We were

small children when he and my mother was separated. He was in one place

and we were in another. He tried to get us children when he died, but we

was little and couldn't get to him. My mother was dead then.

"My mother's name was Susanna Briggs. Her father's name was Isaac Metz.

The children left him in South Carolina. The white folks sold them away

from him. My mother just had three children: me, and my two brothers. I

don't know how many my grandfather had. There were four sisters that I

know besides my mother and two boys: Aunt Melissa, and Aunt Jane, and

Aunt Annie, and Aunt Sarah, and Uncle Albert Mitchell, and Uncle Ben. My

grandmother's name was Betsy. I never got to see her but they told me

about her.

Good Masters

"I have heard them say that their white folks didn't whip them. My

master was a good man. My young master, when it come to the surrender,

slipped back home and told them they was going to be free as ever he

was. His name was Joe Mitchell. I never seed my white folks whip anybody

in my life. They just never whipped anybody. They never whipped me. I

have seen the white folks next to us whip their Negroes and I asked

grandma about it. She said that those were their Negroes and she would

explain what they was being whipped for. They was on another farm. I

don't remember what they was being whipped for.

"My young master told the slaves when he notified them they was free

that if they didn't want to stay with him, he would give them enough to

go on till they could make it, you know, to keep them from starving. He

was a good man.

"The old man, Joe's father, was named Thomas Mitchell. He died before I

was born. I never seed him, just knowed his name. Joe's mother was named

Isabel Mitchell. I came to be named Briggs because her husband's name

was Briggs. He belonged to a Briggs. I don't know what his name was

else. They didn't belong to the same master. They used to let them

marry. They would fix great big tables. Sometimes they would marry in

the house; that was in the winter. Then sometimes they would marry

outdoors. Then they would set a long table for all their associates to

eat just like you would fix a table for your friends. Looked like they

would be so glad to see their boys and girls marry. They would have

regular preacher and marry just like they do now.

"There wasn't no breeders on our place. But I have heard of people who

did keep a woman just for that purpose. They never whipped her nor

nothing. They just let her have children. As soon as she had one, they

would take it away from her so that she could have another one right



"When my young master was gone to the War and the jayhawkers would come

around, my young master's mother would take all the colored women and

children and lock them up and she would take a big heavy gun and go out

to meet them. The Jayhawkers were white people who would steal corn and

horses and even slaves if they could get them. But colored folks was

sharp. They would do things to break their horses' legs and they would

run and hide. My uncle was a young boy. He saw the Jayhawkers coming

once. And he ran and pressed himself under the crib. The space was so

small he nearly broke his ribs. His mistress had to get him out and take

him to the house.

"My grandmother used to take me with her after dark when she'd go out

to pray. She wouldn't go anywhere without me. One time when she was out

praying, I touched her and said to her that I heard something in the

corn crib. She cut her prayer off right now and went and told it to her

old mistress, and to the young master, who was in the house just then

telling the Negroes they were all going to be free. The Jayhawkers spied

us and they got out and went on their way. My young master crawled out

and went back to the Confederate army. He had to crawl out because he

wanted to keep anybody from seeing him and capturing him.


"I never seed but one or two soldiers. That was after the surrender. I

suppose they were Union soldiers. They had on their blue jackets. There

never was any fighting in Nashville, while I was living there.

"About all that I knew about the War was that the men went off to fight.

None of the colored men went--just the white men. The colored men stayed

back and worked in the field. Isabel Mitchell and her boys were bosses.

What they said goed.

Slave Houses

"The slaves lived in old log houses. Some of them were plank houses.

Some of the slaves chinked 'em up with dirt. They had these big wooden

windows in the houses. Sometimes they would be two, sometimes they would

be three windows--one to each room. There would be two or three or four

rooms to the house. That would be according to the family. My mother had

three girls besides her own children. She had a four-room house. Her

house was built right in the white folks' yard. My grandmother didn't

work in the field. She tended to the children. She worked in the big

house. My mother was boss of the whole thing. She would go and work in

the field but grandmother would see after the children. She wouldn't

let me go from her to the gate without her. I just had to follow her

everywhere she went.

"Grandmother besides taking care of us used to make clothes. She cooked

for the white folks. But she sure had to see after us children. I seed

after myself. I was all the girl-child there and I just did what I

wanted to.

"The country was kind of wild in those days. The deer used to come

loping down and we would be scared and run and hide. Some people would

set the dogs on them and some people would kill them no matter who they


You see, some people had them as pets.


"I never seed nothing in the way of amusements except people going to

church and going to parties and all such as that. They believed in going

to church. They would have parties at night. The white folks didn't care

what they had. They would help prepare for it. They would let 'em have

anything they wanted to have and let 'em go to church whenever they

wanted to go.

And if they took a notion they would have a supper. When they would have

a party they would do just like they do now. They would have dancing. I

never seed any playing cards. When they danced, somebody would play the

fiddle for them. When they had a supper, they would usually sell the

things. Then the white folks would come and buy from them. There would

be nice looking things on the table.


"They had meetings at Center Point, and at Arkadelphia. And they would

let us go to them or anywhere else we wanted. We had to have passes, of

course. They had colored preachers. Sometimes the slaves would go to

the white people's church. They wouldn't go often, just every once in

awhile. White ladies would get after the colored to come and go with

them sometimes. Sometimes, too, when they would have a dinner or

something, they would take Aunt Sue or mother to cook for them. They

wouldn't let nobody meddle with them or bother them--none of the other

white folks. And they would let them fix a table for their own friends

that they would want to have along.

Personal Occupations

"I used to work in the field or in the house or anything I could get to

do. I would even go out and saw these big rails when my husband would

have a job and couldn't get a chance to do it. It has been a good while

since I have been able to do any good work. My husband has been dead

fifteen years and I had to quit work long before he died.

Right after the War

"Right after the War my folks worked in the field, washed, cooked, or

anything they could do. They left the old place and came down about

Washington, Arkansas. I don't know just how long they stayed in

Washington. From Washington, my mother went to Prescott and settled

there at a little place they called Sweet Home, just outside of

Prescott. That is where my daughter was born and that is where my mother

died. I came here about nine years ago.

Present Support

I came here to stay with my daughter. But now she doesn't have any help

herself. She has three small children and she's their only support now.

She's not working either. She just come in from the Urban League looking

for a job. They say that they don't have a thing and that the people

don't want any women now. They just want these young girls because they

make them work cheaper. We have both applied for help from the Welfare

but neither of us has gotten anything yet."

Ellen Brass Ellen Butler facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail