Frank Berry


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Pearl Randolph, Field Worker

John A. Simms, Editor

Jacksonville, Florida

August 18, 1936


Frank Berry, living at 1614 west Twenty-Second street, Jacksonville,

Florida, claims to be a grandson of Osceola, last fighting chief of the

Seminole tribe. Born in 1858 of a mother who was part of the human

chattel belonging to one of the Hearnses of Alachua County in Florida,

he served variously during his life as a State and Federal Government

contractor, United States Marshal (1881), Registration Inspector (1879).

Being only eight years of age when the Emancipation Proclamation was

issued, he remembers little of his life as a slave. The master was kind

in an impersonal way but made no provision for his freedmen as did many

other Southerners--usually in the form of land grants--although he gave

them their freedom as soon as the proclamation was issued. Berry learned

from his elders that their master was a noted duelist and owned several

fine pistols some of which have very bloody histories.

It was during the hectic days that followed the Civil War that Berry

served in the afore-mentioned offices. He held his marshalship under a

Judge King of Jacksonville, Florida. As State and Federal Government

Contractor he built many public structures, a few of which are still in

use, among them the jetties at Mayport, Florida which he helped to build

and a jail at High Springs, Florida.

It was during the war between the Indians and settlers that Berry's

grandmother, serving as a nurse at Tampa Bay was captured by the Indians

and carried away to become the squaw of their chief; she was later

re-captured by her owners. This was a common procedure, according to

Berry's statements. Indians often captured slaves, particularly the

women, or aided in their escape and almost always intermarried with

them. The red men were credited with inciting many uprisings and

wholesale escapes among the slaves.

Country frolics (dances) were quite often attended by Indians, whose

main reason for going was to obtain whiskey, for which they had a very

strong fondness. Berry describes an intoxicated Indian as a "tornado mad

man" and recalls a hair raising incident that ended in tragedy for the


A group of Indians were attending one of these frolics at Fort Myers

and everything went well until one of the number became intoxicated,

terrorizing the Negroes with bullying, and fighting anyone with whom he

could "pick" a quarrel. "Big Charlie" an uncle of the narrator was

present and when the red man challenged him to a fight made a quick end

of him by breaking his neck at one blow.

For two years he was hounded by revengeful Indians, who had an uncanny

way of ferreting out his whereabouts no matter where he went. Often he

sighted them while working in the fields and would be forced to flee to

some other place. This continued with many hairbreadth escapes, until he

was forced to move several states away.

Berry recalls the old days of black aristocracy when Negroes held high

political offices in the state of Florida, when Negro tradesmen and

professionals competed successfully and unmolested with the whites. Many

fortunes were made by men who are now little more than beggars. To this

group belongs the man who in spite of reduced circumstances manages

still to make one think of top hats and state affairs. Although small of

stature and almost disabled by rheumatism, he has the fiery dignity and

straight back that we associate with men who have ruled others. At the

same time he might also be characterized as a sweet old person, with all

the tender reminiscences of the old days and the and childish

prejudices against all things new. As might be expected, he lives in the

past and always is delighted whenever he is asked to tell about the only

life that he has ever really lived. Together with his aged wife he lives

with his children and is known to local relief agencies who supplement

the very small income he now derives from what is left of what was at

one time a considerable fortune.


Personal interview with subject, Frank Berry, 1614 West Twenty-Second

Street, Jacksonville, Florida

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