Harriet Robinson

Oklahoma Writers' Project


[Date stamp: AUG 18 1937]


Age 95 yrs.

500 Block N. Fonshill

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

I was born September 1, 1842, in Bastrop, Texas, on Colorado River. My

pappy was named Harvey Wheeler and my mammy was named Carolina Sims.

My brothers and sisters was named Alex, Taylor, Mary, Cicero,

Tennessee, Sarah, Jeff, Ella and Nora. We lived in cedar log houses

with dirt floors and double chimneys, and doors hung on wooden hinges.

One side of our beds was bored in the walls and had one leg on the

other. Them white folks give each nigger family a blanket in winter.

I nussed 3 white chillun, Lulu, Helen Augusta, and Lola Sims. I done

this before that War that set us free. We kids use to make extra money

by toting gravel in our aprons. They'd give us dimes and silver


Our clothes was wool and cotton mixed. We had red rustic shoes, soles

one-half inch thick. They'd go a-whick a-whack. The mens had pants wid

one seam and a right-hand pocket. Boys wore shirts.

We ate hominy, mush, grits and pone bread for the most part. Many of

them ate out of one tray with wooden spoons. All vittles for field

hands was fixed together.

Women broke in mules throwed 'em down and roped 'em. They'd do it

better'n men. While mammy made some hominy one day both my foots was

scalded and when they clipped them blisters, they jest put some cotton

round them and catched all dat yellow water and made me a yellow dress

out of it. This was 'way back yonder in slavery, before the War.

Whenever white folks had a baby born den all de old niggers had to

come thoo the room and the master would be over 'hind the bed and he'd

say, "Here's a new little mistress or master you got to work for."

You had to say, "Yessuh Master" and bow real low or the overseer would

crack you. Them was slavery days, dog days.

I remember in slavery time we had stages. Them devilish things had

jest as many wrecks as cars do today. Only thing, we jest didn't have

as many.

My mammy belonged to Master Colonel Sam Sims and his old mean wife

Julia. My pappy belonged to Master Meke Smith and his good wife

Harriett. She was sho' a good woman. I was named after her. Master Sam

and Master Meke was partners. Ever year them rich men would send so

many wagons to New Mexico for different things. It took 6 months to go

and come.

Slaves was punished by whip and starving. Decker was sho' a mean

slave-holder. He lived close to us. Master Sam didn't never whip me,

but Miss Julia whipped me every day in the mawning. During the war she

beat us so terrible. She say, "Your master's out fighting and losing

blood trying to save you from them Yankees, so you kin git your'n

here." Miss Julia would take me by my ears and butt my head against

the wall. She wanted to whip my mother, but old Master told her, naw

sir. When his father done give my mammy to Master Sam, he told him not

to beat her, and iffen he got to whar he jest had to, jest bring her

back and place her in his yard from whar he got her.

White folks didn't 'low you to read or write. Them what did know come

from Virginny. Mistress Julia used to drill her chillun in spelling

any words. At every word them chillun missed, she gived me a lick

'cross the head for it. Meanest woman I ever seen in my whole life.

This skin I got now, it ain't my first skin. That was burnt off when I

was a little child. Mistress used to have a fire made on the

fireplace and she made me scour the brass round it and my skin jest

blistered. I jest had to keep pulling it off'n me.

We didn't had no church, though my pappy was a preacher. He preached

in the quarters. Our baptizing song was "On Jordan's Stormy Bank I

stand" and "Hark From The Tomb." Now all dat was before the War. We

had all our funerals at the graveyard. Everybody, chillun and all

picked up a clod of dirt and throwed in on top the coffin to help fill

up the grave.

Taling 'bout niggers running away, didn't my step-pappy run away?

Didn't my uncle Gabe run away? The frost would jest bite they toes

most nigh off too, whiles they was gone. They put Uncle Isom (my

step-pappy) in jail and while's he was in there he killed a white

guardman. Then they put in the paper, "A nigger to kill", and our

Master seen it and bought him. He was a double-strengthed man, he was

so strong. He'd run off so help you God. They had the blood hounds

after him once and he caught the hound what was leading and beat the

rest of the dogs. The white folks run up on him before he knowed it

and made them dogs eat his ear plumb out. But don't you know he got

away anyhow. One morning I was sweeping out the hall in the big house

and somebody come a-knocking on the front door and I goes to the door.

There was Uncle Isom wid rags all on his head. He said, "Tell ole

master heah I am." I goes to Master's door and says, "Master Colonel

Sam, Uncle Isom said heah he am." He say, "Go 'round to the kitchen

and tell black mammy to give you breakfast." When he was thoo' eating

they give him 300 lashes and, bless my soul, he run off again.

When we went to a party the nigger fiddlers would play a chune dat

went lak this:

I fooled Ole Mastah 7 years

Fooled the overseer three;

Hand me down my banjo

And I'll tickle your bel-lee.

We had the same doctors the white folks had and we wore asafetida and

garlic and onions to keep from taking all them ailments.

I 'member the battle being fit. The white folks buried all the jewelry

and silver and all the gold in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Orange,

Texas. Master made all us niggers come together and git ready to leave

'cause the Yankees was coming. We took a steamer. Now this was in

slavery time, sho' 'nuff slavery. Then we got on a steamship and

pulled out to Galveston. Then he told the captain to feed we niggers.

We was on the bay, not the ocean. We left Galveston and went on trains

for Houston.

One, my sister Liza, was mulatto and Master Colonel Sims' son had 3

chillun by her. We never seen her no more after her last child was

born. I found out though that she was in Canada.

After the War, Master Colonel Sims went to git the mail and so he call

Daniel Ivory, the overseer, and say to him, "Go round to all the

quarters and tell all the niggers to come up, I got a paper to read to

'em. They're free now, so you kin git you another job, 'cause I ain't

got no more niggers which is my own." Niggers come up from the cabins

nappy-headed, jest lak they gwine to the field. Master Colonel Sims

say, "Caroline (that's my mammy), you is free as me. Pa said bring you

back and I'se gwina do jest that. So you go on and work and I'll pay

you and your three oldest chillun $10.00 a month a head and $4.00 fer

Harriet," that's me, and then he turned to the rest and say "Now all

you'uns will receive $10.00 a head till the crops is laid by." Don't

you know before he got half way thoo', over half them niggers was


Them Klu Klux Klans come and ask for water with the false stomachs and

make lak they was drinking three bucketsful. They done some terrible

things, but God seen it all and marked it down.

We didn't had no law, we had "bureau." Why, in them days iffen

somebody stole anything from you, they had to pay you and not the

Law. Now they done turned that round and you don't git nothing.

One day whiles master was gone hunting, Mistress Julia told her

brother to give Miss Harriett (me) a free whipping. She was a nigger

killer. Master Colonel Sam come home and he said, "You infernal sons

o' bitches don't you know there is 300 Yankees camped out here and

iffen they knowed you'd whipped this nigger the way you done done,

they'd kill all us. Iffen they find it out, I'll kill all you all."

Old rich devils, I'm here, but they is gone.

God choosed Abraham Lincoln to free us. It took one of them to free us

so's they couldn't say nothing.

Doing one 'lection they sung:

Clark et the watermelon

J. D. Giddings et the vine!

Clark gone to Congress

An' J. D. Giddings left behind.

They hung Jeff Davis up a sour apple tree. They say he was a

president, but he wasn't, he was a big senator man.

Booker T. Washington was all right in his way, I guess, but Bruce and

Fred Douglass, or big mens jest sold us back to the white folks.

I married Haywood Telford and had 13 head of chillun by him. My oldest

daughter is the mammy of 14. All my chillun but four done gone to

heaven before me.

I jined the church in Chapel Hill, Texas. I am born of the Spirit of

God sho' nuff. I played with him seven years and would go right on

dancing at Christmas time. Now I got religion. Everybody oughta live

right, though you won't have no friends iffen you do.

Our overseer was a poor man. Had us up before day and lak-a-that. He

was paid to be the head of punishment. I jest didn't like to think of

them old slavery days, dogs' days.

Harriet Miller Harriett Gresham facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail