Emeline Stepney

[HW: Dist. 1

Ex-Slave 102]






[Date Stamp: MAY 8 1937]

Emeline Stepney, as she came into the office that July day, was a

perfect vignette from a past era. Over 90 years old, and unable to walk

without support, she was still quick witted and her speech, although

halting, was full of dry humor. Emeline was clad in a homespun dress

with high collar and long sleeves with wristbands. On her feet she wore

"old ladies' comforts." She was toothless and her hands were gnarled and

twisted from rheumatism and hard work.

Emeline's father, John Smith, had come from Virginia and belonged to

"Cap'n Tom Wilson." Her mother, Sally, "wuz a Georgia borned nigger" who

belonged to "Mars Shelton Terry." The two plantations near Greensboro,

in Greene County, were five miles apart and the father came to see his

family only on Wednesday and Saturday nights. The arrangement evidently

had no effect in the direction of birth control for Emeline was the

second of thirteen children.

Life on the Terry place was a fairly pleasant existence. The master was

an old bachelor and he had two old maid sisters, Miss Sarah and Miss

Rebecca. The plantation was in charge of two overseers who were

reasonably kind to the Negroes.

No crops of any kind were sold and consequently the plantation had to be

self-sustaining. Cotton was spun into clothing in the master's own

spinning room and the garments were worn by the master and slaves alike.

A small amount of flax was raised each year and from this the master's

two sisters made household linens. Food crops consisted of corn, wheat

(there was a mill on the plantation to grind these into flour and meal),

sweet potatoes, and peas. In the smoke house there was always plenty of

pork, beef, mutton, and kid. The wool from the sheep was made into

blankets and woolen garments.

The Terry household was not like other menages of the time. There were

only one or two house servants, the vast majority being employed in the

fields. Work began each morning at eight o'clock and was over at

sundown. No work was done on Saturday, the day being spent in

preparation for Sunday or in fishing, visiting, or "jes frolickin'". The

master frequently let them have dances in the yards on Saturday

afternoon. To supply the music they beat on tin buckets with sticks.

On Sunday the Negroes were allowed to attend the "white folks' church"

where a balcony was reserved for them. Some masters required their

"people" to go to church; but Emeline's master thought it a matter for

the individual to decide for himself.

Emeline was about 15 when her first suitor and future husband began to

come to see her. He came from a neighboring farm and had to have a pass

to show the "patty rollers" or else he would be whipped. He never stayed

at night even after they were married because he was afraid he might be


The slaves were never given any spending money. The men were allowed to

use tobacco and on rare occasions there was "toddy" for them. Emeline

declares SHE never used liquor and ascribes her long life partly to this

fact and partly to her belief in God.

She believes in signs but interprets them differently [HW: ?] from most

of her people. She believes that if a rooster crows he is simply

"crowin' to his crowd" or if a cow bellows it is "mos' likely bellowin'

fer water." If a person sneezes while eating she regards this as a sign

that the person is eating too fast or has a bad cold. She vigorously

denies that any of these omens foretells death. Some "fool nigger"

believe that an itching foot predicts a journey to a strange land; but

Emeline thinks it means that the foot needs washing.

Aunt Emeline has some remedies which she has found very effective in the

treatment of minor ailiments. Hoarhound tea and catnip tea are good for

colds and fever. Yellow root will cure sore throat and a tea made from

sheep droppings will make babies teethe easily. "I kin still tas'e dat

sassafras juice mammy used to give all de chilluns." She cackled as she

was led out the door.

Emeline Moore Emily Mays facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail