Ellen Claibourn

[HW: Dist. 2

Ex-Slave #17]


808 Campbell Street

(Richmond County)

Augusta, Georgia


(Mrs.) Margaret Johnson--Editor

Federal Writers' Project

Dist. 2

Augusta, Ga.

Ellen was born August 19, 1852, on the plantation of Mr. Hezie Boyd in

Columbia County, her father being owned by Mr. Hamilton on an adjoining

plantation. She remembers being given, at the age of seven, to her young

mistress, Elizabeth, who afterward was married to Mr. Gabe Hendricks. At

her new home she served as maid, and later as nurse. The dignity of her

position as house servant has clung to her through the years, forming

her speech in a precision unusual in her race.

"I 'member all our young marsters was drillin' way back in 1860, an' the

Confed'rate War did not break out till in April 1861. My mistis' young

husband went to the war, an' all the other young marsters 'round us.

Young marster's bes' friend came to tell us all goodby, an' he was

killed in the first battle he fought in.

"Befo' the war, when we was little, we mostly played dolls, and had doll

houses, but sometime young marster would come out on the back porch and

play the fiddle for us. When he played 'Ole Dan Tucker' all the peoples

uster skip and dance 'bout and have a good time. My young mistis played

on the piano.

"My granpa was so trusty and hon'able his old marster give him and

granma they freedom when he died. He give him a little piece of land and

a mule, and some money, and tole him he didn't b'long to nobody, and

couldn't work for nobody 'cept for pay. He couldn't free granpa's

chilrun, 'cause they already b'longed to their young marsters and

mistises. He worked for Mr. Hezie Boyd one year as overseer, but he say

he didn't wanter lose his religion trying to make slaves work, so he

took to preaching. He rode 'bout on his mule and preach at all the

plantations. I never 'member seein' granma, but granpa came to see us

of'en. He wore a long tail coat and a big beaver hat. In that hat

granma had always pack a pile of ginger cakes for us chilrun. They was

big an' thick, an' longish, an' we all stood 'round to watch him take

off his hat. Every time he came to see us, granma sent us clothes and

granpa carried 'em in his saddle bags. You ever see any saddle bags,

ma'am? Well they could sho' hold a heap of stuff!

"My pa uster come two or three times a week to our plantashun, an' just

so he was back by sun-up for work, nobody didn't say nothin' to him. He

just lived 'bout three or four miles way from us.

"Yes ma'am we went to church, and the white preachers preached for us.

We sat in the back of the church just like we sits in the back of the

street cars now-days. Some of the house servants would go one time and

some another. All the hands could go but ev'rybody had to has a pass, to

sho' who they b'long to.

"Yes ma'am, the slaves was whipped if they didn't do they taskwork, or

if they steal off without a pass, but if our marster found a overseer

whipped the slaves overmuch he would git rid of him. We was always

treated good and kind and well cared for, and we was happy.

"No ma'am, no overseer ever went to marster's table, or in the house

'cept to speak to marster. Marster had his overseers' house and give 'em

slaves to cook for 'em and wait on 'em, but they never go anywhere with

the fam'ly.

"The house servants' houses was better than the fiel'-hands'--and

Marster uster buy us cloth from the 'Gusta Fact'ry in checks and plaids

for our dresses, but all the fiel'-hands clothes was made out of cloth

what was wove on mistis' own loom. Sometime the po' white folks in the

neighborhood would come an' ask to make they cloth on mistis' loom, and

she always let 'em.

"Yes, ma'am, we had seamsters to make all the clothes for everybody, and

mistis had a press-room, where all the clothes was put away when they

was finished. When any body needed clothes mistis would go to the

press-room an' get 'em.

"During the war mistis had one room all fixed up to take care of sick

soldiers. They would come stragglin' in, all sick or shot, an' sometimes

we had a room full of 'em. Mistis had one young boy to do nothin' but

look after 'em and many's the night I got up and helt the candle for 'em

to see the way to the room.

"Oh my Gawd, I saw plenty wounded soldiers. We was right on the road to

Brightsboro, and plenty of 'em pass by. That Confed'rate war was the

terriblest, awfullest thing.

"Nobody but me knowed where mistis buried her gold money and finger

rings and ear-rings and breat-pins. [TR: breast-pins?] I helt the candle

then, too. Mistis and marster, (he was home then) an' me went down back

of the grape arbor to the garden-house. Marster took up some planks, an'

dug a hole like a grabe and buried a big iron box with all them things

in it; then he put back the planks. Nobody ever found 'em, and after the

war was over we went and got 'em.

"Yes, ma'am, everybody did they own work. De cook cooked, and the

washer, she didn't iron no clothes. De ironer did that. De housemaid

cleaned up, and nurse tended the chilrun. Then they was butlers and

coachmen. Oh, they was a plenty of us to do eve'ything.

"We didn't have a stove, just a big fire place, and big oven on both

sides, and long-handle spiders. When we was fixin' up to go to Camp

Meeting to the White Oak Camp meeting grounds, they cooked chickens and

roasted pigs, and put apples in they mouth and a lot of other food--good

food too. De food peoples eat these days, you couldn't have got nobody

to eat. Camp Meetin' was always in August and September. It was a good

Methodis' meetin', and eve'ybody got religion. Sometimes a preacher

would come to visit at the house, an' all the slaves was called an' he

prayed for 'em. Sometimes the young ones would laugh, an' then marster

would have 'em whipped.

"My young mistis had a sister older than her. She married Mr. Artie

Boyd, an' they had a big weddin' but she loved her home and her mother

and father so much she wouldn't leave home. She just stayed on living

there. When her baby come she died, and I tell you, ma'am, her fun'al

was most like a weddin', with so many people an' so many flowers. All

the people from the plantashun came to the house, an' the wimmen had

they babies in they arms. One the ladies say, "How come they let all

these niggers and babies come in the house?" But marster knowed all us

loved mistis, and he call us in. Marse Artie he wrote a long letter an'

all the things he got from mistis he give back to her fam'ly an' all his

own things he give to his brother, an' then he died. Some say his heart

strings just broke 'cause mistis died, and some say he took something.

"No, ma'am, I wasn't married till after freedom. I was married right

here in 'Gusta by Mr. Wharton, the First Baptist Church preacher, an' I

lived and worked here ever since."

Ellen Cave Ellen Cragin facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail