George Briggs





Project 1885-1

Folklore

Spartanburg, Dist. 4

Nov. 10, 1937

Edited by: Elmer Turnage



STORIES FROM EX-SLAVES





"I is gwine over to Tosch to see Maria. Everybody know Maria. She go by

Rice--Maria Rice. She sont fer me to cure her misery. First, I went from

my home in lower Cross Keys, across de Enoree, to see Maria. When I

reached dar whar she stay, dey tell me dat her daughter over to Tosch.

Done come and got her.



"A kind friend dat de Lawd put in my path fetched me back across de

Enoree and over to Tosch to Maria's gal's house. I is gwine straight

over dar and lay my hand on Maria and rid her of dat misery dat she sont

word was ailing her all dis spring. Don't make no diff'uns whar you

hurts--woman, man or suckling babe--if you believes in de holler of my

hand, it'll ease you, allus do it. De Bible say so, dat's why it be

true. Ain't gwine to tell you nothing but de truth and de whole truth,

so help me Jesus. Gone 65 years, I is been born agin dat long; right

over in Padgett's Creek church, de white folks' church, dat's what de

Lawd tuck my sins away and washed me clean agin wid His blood. Dat's why

I allus sticks to de truth, I does.



"Dey all 'lows dat I is gwine on 89, and I has facts to believe it am

true. I 'longed to Marse Jesse Briggs. Did you know dat it was two Jesse

Briggs? Yes sir, sho was two Jesse Briggses.



"What I gwine to relate to you is true, but in respect to my old Marse,

and in de case dat dem what reads dat book won't understand, you needs

not to write dis statement down. My marster was called 'Black Jesse',

but de reason fer dat was to keep him from gitting mixed up wid de other

Jesse. Dat is de secret of de thing. Now dat's jes' fer your own light

and knowledge, and not to be wrote down. He was de blacksmith fer all de

Cross Keys section, and fer dat very thing he got de name by everybody,

'Black Jesse'. I allus 'longed to dat man and he was de kindest man what

de countryside had knowledge of.



"In Union County is whar I was born and raised, and it's whar I is gwine

to be buried. Ain't never left de county but once in my life, and if de

Lawd see fitten, I ain't gwine to leave it no mo', 'cept to reach de

Promise Land. Lawd! Lawd! De Promise Land, dat's whar I is gwine when I

leaves Union County. Dey carried me a hundred miles to cure a sick

woman, onliest time I ever left Union County. I loves it and I is fit

throughout and enduring de time dem Yankees tried to git de county, to

save it. What is I gwine to leave it fer? Mr. Perrin and all de white

folks is good to me since my marse done gone and left his earthly home.

And he is waiting up dar wid Missie to see me agin. Dat I is sho of.



"Listen brother, de Lawd is setting on His throne in Glory. He hear

every word dat I gwine to tell you. Folks fergits dat when dey talks

real often sometimes, don't dey? I put my hand on any 'flux' man or

woman and removes de pain, if dey have faith in my hand. I don't tell

nothing but de truth. I was born on Gist Briggs' plantation in Union

County, in de lower section of Cross Keys. Marse Sexton and all dem good

folks in lower Keys says dat I sho is 88. Give my name right flat, it's

George Briggs; giving it round, it like dis, George McDuffie Briggs. My

papa's name was Ike Wilburn, and my mother's name was Margaret Briggs.

Pa 'longed to Marse Lige Wilburn. Mama 'longed to Jesse (Black Jesse)

Briggs. Dey both born and raised in Union County. Dese was my brothers

and sisters, coming in de order dey was born to my parents in: Charlie,

Dave, Aaron, Tom, Noah, Charlotte, Polly, Fannie, Mattie, Horace,

Cassie. I'm de oldest, and Cassie and me lives in Union County. Fannie

and Mattie lives in Asheville, and de rest is done journeyed to de

Promise Land. Yes Lawd, to de Promise Land.



"Marse and Missus was good to us all. Missus name was Nancy. She die

early and her grave is in Cross Keys at de Briggs graveyard. Be still!

Lemme git my mind together so dat I don't git mixed up and can git you

de Briggses together. Here 'tis: Cheney and Lucindy, Lucindy married a

Floyd from Spartanburg, and de Floyds lived at de Burn't factory. Cheney

Briggs had a son, Henry Briggs.



"Not so fast, fer I'se gwine to start way back, dat time when us was

lil' darky boys way back in slavery. We started to work wid de marster's

mules and hosses. When us was real little, we played hoss. Befo' Cheney

Briggs went to Arkansas he was our play hoss. His brother, Henry, was de

wagoner and I was de mule. Henry was little and he rid our backs

sometimes. Henry rid old man Sam, sometimes, and old man Sam jes' holler

and haw haw at us chilluns. Dis was in sech early childhood dat it is

not so I can 'zactly map out de exact age us was den; anyway, from dis

we rid de gentle hosses and mules and larn't how to feed dem. Every word

dat I tells you is de truth, and I is got to meet dat word somewhars

else; and fer dat reason, de truth is all dat dis old man ever tells.



"In dat day we lived in a log cabin or house. Sometimes us never had

nothing to do. Our house had only one room, but some of de houses had

two rooms. Our'n had a winder, a do', and a common fireplace. Now dey

makes a fireplace to scare de wood away. In old days dey made fireplaces

to take care of de chilluns in de cold weather. It warm de whole house,

'cause it was so big and dar was plenty wood. Wood wasn't no problem

den, and it ain't no problem yet out in de lower Keys. In town it is,

and I ain't guessing. I done seed so.



"I sho can histronize de Confederates. I come along wid de Secession

flag and de musterings. I careful to live at home and please de Marse.

In de war, I'se mo' dan careful and I stick close to him and please him,

and he mo' dan good. Us did not git mobbed up like lots of dem did.



"When Tice Myers' chilluns was born, he had a house built wid a

up-stairs. But never no stage coach stopped dar as I ever heard tell

about, and I done saw 75 years at Padgett's Creek.



"Way 'tis, from de bundle of de heart, de tongue speaketh. Been in

service reg'lar since Monday. I went to Neal Greege's house but she

wasn't dar. I is speaking 'bout Ria (Maria Rice). She done gone to town.

At de highway, de Lawd prepared a friend to carry me to Union, and when

I got dar I take and lay hands on Ria Rice, she laying down and

suffering, and I sot down and laid my hand on her. We never say nothing,

jes' pray. She be real quiet, and atter while, she riz up and take a

breath. She kept on a setting up fer so long dat her husband make her

lay back down fer fear dat she git worser. I stay dar all through de

night and she sleep sound and wake up dis morning feeling like a new

woman.



"Befo' breakfast, here is de words of praise I lifted to de Lawd, over

dar on Tosch. You set down de coser (chorus): 'First to de graveyard;

den to de Jedgement bar!' Is you got dat verser (verses)? Den git dis:

'All de deacons got to go; all de members got to go; all de sinners got

to go.' Mo' 'longs to it, but dat's all I takes when I is praising Him

fer relieving pain through me. (He sings each line five times. He takes

off his hat; bows; holds his hands over his head, and closes his eyes

while singing. His hair is snow white.)



"Lawd, help me dis morning! Here's another first line to one of our

songs: 'All dem preachers got to go'.



"Nehemiah, when he wid de king, de king axed him to reveal de wall whar

his father was buried. Nehemiah did what de king had done axed him. I

'tends Galilee Baptist church in lower Cross Keys; and at Sedalia, I

goes to New Hope Methodist church, but I don't know nothing else but

Baptist. We peoples is barrence (barren of the Holy Spirit), but not

God; He, Hisself, is born of God, and all is of de same source and by

dat I means de Spirit. All has to be born of de Spirit to become

chilluns of God. Romans, Chap. 6, 'lows something like dis: 'He dat is

dead in sin, how is it dat he can continue in sin?' Dat tell us dat

every man, white or black, is de child of God. And it is Christ dat is

buried in baptism, and we shall be buried in like manner. If Christ did

not rise, den our preaching is in vain. And if we is not born agin, why

den we is lost and our preaching is in vain.



"In picking up de New Testament, consider all dat you hear me arguing

and saying is from a gift and not from edication. Romans 6, 'lows:

'Speak plain words, not round words, kaise all de round words is fer dem

dat is edicated.' Jacob had twelve sons. Dey went and bundled up deir

wheat, and eleven bundles bowed to de one. Dat Joseph's bundle what he

done up. Other brothers up and got and sold Joseph into captivity to de

Egyptians. Dat throw'd Jacob to send Reuben to Egypt. Den dey bowed to

Jacob and his sons. It run on and on till dey all had to go to Egypt,

and all of dem had to live under Joseph.



"When I was a little shaver and come to myself. I was sleeping in a

corded bed. (He scratched his head) I jes' studying fer a minute; can't

'zactly identify my grandpa, but I can identify my grandma. We all

raised on de same place together. She name Cindy Briggs, but dey call

her Cina kaise dar was so many Cindys 'round dar. One thing I does

'member 'bout her, if she tote me, she sho to whip me. I was raised

strict.



"All my life I is stayed in de fur (far) end of Union County whar it

borders Laurens, wid de Enoree dividing de two counties. It is right dar

dat I is plowed and hoed and raised my craps fer de past 75 years, I

reckons. Lawd have mercy! No, I doesn't recalls de names of none of dem

mules. Dat's so fur back dat I is jes' done forgot, dat's all. But I

does recall 'fur back' things de best, sometimes. Listen good now. When

I got big and couldn't play 'round at chillun's doings, I started to

platting cornshucks and things fer making hoss and mule collars, and

scouring-brooms and shoulder-mats. I cut hickory poles and make handles

out of dem fer de brooms. Marse had hides tanned, and us make buggy

whips, wagon whips, shoe strings, saddle strings and sech as dat out of

our home-tanned leather. All de galluses dat was wo' in dem days was

made by de darkies.



"White oak and hickory was split to cure, and we made fish baskets, feed

baskets, wood baskets, sewing baskets and all kinds of baskets fer de

Missus. All de chair bottoms of straight chairs was made from white oak

splits, and de straight chairs was made in de shop. You made a scouring

brush like dis: (He put his hands together to show how the splits were

held) By splitting a width of narrow splits, keep on till you lay a

entire layer of splits; turn dis way; den dat way, and den bind together

and dat hold dem like you want dem to stay. Last, you work in a pole as

long as you want it fer de handle, and bind it tight and tie wid de

purtiest knots.



"I git money fer platting galluses and making boot strings and other

little things. Allus first, I desires to be well qualified wid what I

does. I is gwine to be qualified wid everything dat I does, iffen I does

it fer money or no. Dat's de reason white people has allus give me words

of encouragement.



"Now I gwine to sing a song fer Miss Polly, kaise she de grand-daughter

of de late Sheriff Long, and I goes to see her grandma at de Keys (Cross

Keys House). Dar she come now.



"How is you dis morning, Miss Polly? De Lawd sho does shower you, Miss

Polly, and dat's de reason I is gwine to sing fer you dis morning.

You'll be able to tell Mr. Jimmie (her father) dat Uncle George sing fer

you, 'Jesus Listening All De Day Long'.



"Jesus listening all de day long to hear some sinner pray.

De winding sheet to wrop (wrap) dis body in,

De coffin to hold you fast;

Pass through death's iron do'.

Come ye dat love de Lawd and let your joy be know'd;

Dis iron gate you must pass through, if you gwine to be

Born agin."



He sang these lines over three times and then bowing, said: "Ain't it

glory dat we can live whar de Lawd can use us? Dat's power. A strong man

entereth in; a weak man cometh out. Dat represent Christ gwine into your

heart.



"Sho I can remember when dey had de mustering grounds at de Keys. Dar

day mustered and den dey turn't in and practiced drilling dem soldiers

till dey larn't how to march and to shoot de Yankees. Drilling, dat's de

proper word, not practice, I knows, if I ain't ed'icated. Dey signed me

to go to de 16th regiment, but I never reached de North. When us got to

Charleston, us turn't around and de bosses fetched us right back to

Union through Columbia. Us heard dat Sherman was coming, fetching fire

along 'hind him.



"Don't know nothing 'bout no militia to make no statement, but it went

on and turn't back. Another regiment had a barbecue somewhars in Union

County befo' it went off to war; might a been de 18th regiment, but I

does not feel dat I can state on dat.



"My soul reaches from God's foot-stool up to his heavenly home. I can

histronize de poor white folks' wives and chilluns enduring de time of

de Civil War fer you. When dese poor white men went to de war, dey left

deir little chillun and deir wives in de hands of de darkies dat was

kind and de rich wives of our marsters to care fer. Us took de best care

of dem poor white dat us could under de circumstances dat prevailed.



"We was sont to Sullivan's Island, but befo' we reached it, de Yankees

done got it and we won't 'lowed to cross in '64. But jes' de same, we

was in service till dey give Capt. Franklin Bailey 'mission to fetch us

home. Dar we had to git 'mission fer everything, jes' as us niggers had

to git 'mission to leave our marster's place at home in Union County.

Capt. Bailey come on back to Cross Keys wid us under his protection, and

we was under it fer de longest time atter we done got home.



"Fer 65 years I been licensed as a preacher, and fer longer dan dat I

been a member of Padgett's Creek Baptist church. Mo' work I does, mo'

work I has to do. You know how to pray. Well, you does not know how to

make polish out of pinders.



"I ain't ed'icated yet, but even Lige what teaches school out to de Keys

(de big black school), dat big black buck dat teaches de chilluns deir

'rithmetic; even he couldn't do dis here one. A heap of ed'icated folks

can't give it. Here it is: 'What's de biggest figger in de figger ten?'"



With his old black, rough and gnarled forefinger he drew on the table

the figure 1. "Now you see dat? Dat's de figger 1. A naught ain't

nothing by itself or multiplied by other naughts; but set it down in

front of de figger 1, and it takes on de value 9. Dar you is got

ten--one and nine is ten. Dat naught becomes something. I is old, and I

ain't had narry bit of schooling, but I likes to be close to de orchard,

and I knows it's dar by de smell of it. Dat's de way I is when I gits

along side ed'icated folks--I knows dat dey is.



"It's like dat sum dem scholars couldn't git; standing alone dat naught

ain't worth nothing, but set it up against dat which is of value and it

takes on value. Set a naught ag'inst dat which is one and you has ten;

set up another naught dar and you has a hundred. Now if somebody was to

give me a note worth $10, and I found room to add another naught along

side of de first; den dem two naughts what ain't worth nothing by

deirselves gives de note de value of $99 if dey is sot along wid de one.

Ed'icated folks calls dat raising de note. I is ig'nant and I calls dat

robbery. And dat's like you and me. We is naughts and Christ is de

One, and we ain't nothing till we carries de Spirit of de Lawd along

wid us.



"On de pathway of life, may you allus keep Christ in front of you and

you will never go wrong. De Lawd will den see fit to give you a soul dat

will reach from His foot-stool here on earth to His dwelling place on

high." He ended with a deep sob and good-bye.



Source: George Briggs (88), Union, S. C. RFD 2.

Interviewer: Caldwell Sims, Union, S. C. 6/9/37.





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