Isaiah Green



Submitted by Minnie B. Ross

Typed by

J.C. Russell


An opinion of Slavery


Isaiah Green--Ex-Slave


Isaiah Green, an ex-slave, still has a clear, agile mind and an

intelligent manner. With his reddish brown complexion, straight hair,

and high cheek bones, he reminds you of an old Indian Chief, and he

verifies the impression by telling you that his grandfather was a full

blooded Indian.

Isaiah Green was born in 1856 at Greensboro, Ga. Cleary Mallory Willis

and Bob Henderson were his parents, but he did not grow up knowing the

love and care of a father, for his father was sold from his mother when

he was only two years. Years later, his mother lost track of his father

and married again. There were eleven children and Isaiah was next to the


His master was Colonel Dick Willis, who with his wife "Miss Sally"

managed a plantation of 3,000 acres of land and 150 slaves. Col. Willis

had seven children, all by a previous marriage. Throughout the State he

was known for his wealth and culture. His plantation extended up and

down the Oconee River.

His slave quarters were made up of rows of 2-room log cabins with a

different family occupying each room. The fireplaces were built three

and four feet in length purposely for cooking. The furniture, consisting

of a bed, table, and chair, was made from pine wood and kept clean by

scouring with sand. New mattresses and pillows were made each spring

from wheat straw.

Old Uncle Peter, one of the Willis slaves, was a skilled carpenter and

would go about building homes for other plantation owners. Sometimes he

was gone as long as four or five months.

Every two weeks, rations of meal, molasses and bacon were given each

slave family in sufficient quantity. The slaves prepared their own

meals, but were not allowed to leave the fields until noon. A nursing

mother, however, could leave between times.

Large families were the aim and pride of a slave owner, and he quickly

learned which of the slave women were breeders and which were not. A

slave trader could always sell a breeding woman for twice the usual

amount. A greedy owner got rid of those who didn't breed. First,

however, he would wait until he had accumulated a number of

undesirables, including the aged and unruly.

There was an old slave trader in Louisiana by the name of Riley who

always bought this type of slave, and re-sold them. When ready to sell,

a slave owner notified him by telegram. When Riley arrived, the slaves

were lined up, undressed and closely inspected. Too many scars on the

body meant a "bad slave" and no one would be anxious to purchase him.

Green related the story of his grand mother Betsy Willis. "My

grandmother was half white, since the master of the plantation on which

she lived was her father." He wished to sell her, and when she was

placed on the block he made the following statement: "I wish to sell a

slave who is also my daughter. Before anyone can purchase her, he must

agree not to treat her as a slave but as a free person. She is a good

midwife and can be of great service to you." Col. Dick Willis was there,

and in front of everyone signed the papers.

The Willis plantation was very large and required many workers. There

were 75 plow hands alone, excluding those who were required to do the

hoeing. Women as well as men worked in the fields. Isaiah Green declares

that his mother could plow as well as any man. He also says that his

work was very easy in the spring. He dropped peas into the soft earth

between the cornstalks, and planted them with his heel. Cotton, wheat,

corn, and all kinds of vegetables made up the crops. A special group of

women did the carding and spinning, and made the cloth on two looms. All

garments were made from this homespun cloth. Dyes from roots and berries

were used to produce the various colors. Red elm berries and a certain

tree bark made one kind of dye.

Besides acting as midwife, Green's grandmother Betsy Willis, was also a

skilled seamstress and able to show the other women different points in

the art of sewing. Shoes were given to the slaves as often as they were

needed. Green's step-father was afflicted and could not help with the

work in the field. Since he was a skilled shoe maker his job was to make

shoes in the winter. In summer, however, he was required to sit in the

large garden ringing a bell to scare away the birds.

Col. Willis was a very kind man, who would not tolerate cruel treatment

to any of his slaves by overseers. If a slave reported that he had been

whipped for no reason and showed scars on his body as proof, the

overseer was discharged. On the Willis Plantation were 2 colored men

known as "Nigger Drivers." One particularly, known as "Uncle Jarrett,"

was very mean and enjoyed exceeding the authority given by the master.

Green remarked, "I was the master's pet. He never allowed anyone to whip

me and he didn't whip me himself. He was 7-ft. 9 in. tall and often as I

walked with him, he would ask, "Isaiah, do you love your old master?' Of

course I would answer, yes, for I did love him."

Col. Willis did not allow the "patterrollers" to interfere with any of

his slaves. He never gave them passes, and if any were caught out

without one the "patterrollers" were afraid to whip them.

Mr. John Branch was considered one of the meanest slave owners in Green

County, and the Negroes on his plantation were always running away.

Another slave owner known for his cruelty was Colonel Calloway, who had

a slave named Jesse who ran away and stayed 7 years. He dug a cave in

the ground and made fairly comfortable living quarters. Other slaves who

no longer could stand Col. Calloway's cruelty, would join him. Jesse

visited his wife, Lettie, two and three times a week at night. Col.

Calloway could never verify this, but became suspicious when Jesse's

wife gave birth to two children who were the exact duplicate of Jesse.

When he openly accused her of knowing Jesse's whereabouts, she denied

the charges, pretending she had not seen him since the day he left.

When the war ended, Jesse came to his old master and told him he had

been living right on the plantation for the past 7 years. Col. Calloway

was astonished; he showed no anger toward Jesse, however, but loaned him

a horse and wagon to move his goods from the cave to his home.

There were some owners who made their slaves steal goods from other

plantations and hide it on theirs. They were punished by their master,

however, if they were caught.

Frolics were held on the Willis plantation as often as desired. It was

customary to invite slaves from adjoining plantations, but if they

attended without securing a pass from their master, the "patterrollers"

could not bother them so long as they were on the Willis plantation. On

the way home, however, they were often caught and beaten.

In those days there were many Negro musicians who were always ready to

furnish music from their banjo and fiddle for the frolics. If a white

family was entertaining, and needed a musician but didn't own one, they

would hire a slave from another plantation to play for them.

Col. Willis always allowed his slaves to keep whatever money they

earned. There were two stills on the Willis plantation, but the slaves

were never allowed to drink whiskey at their frolics. Sometimes they

managed to "take a little" without the master knowing it.

On Sunday afternoons, slaves were required to attend white churches for

religious services, and over and over again the one sermon drummed into

their heads was, "Servants obey your mistress and master; you live for

them. Now go home and obey, and your master will treat you right." If a

slave wished to join the church, he was baptized by a white minister.

The consent of both slave owners was necessary to unite a couple in

matrimony. No other ceremony was required. If either master wished to

sell the slave who married, he would name the price and if it was

agreeable to the other, the deal was settled so that one owner became

master of both. The larger and stronger the man, the more valuable he

was considered.

Slaves did not lack medical treatment and were given the best of

attention by the owner's family doctor. Sometimes slaves would pretend

illness to escape work in the field. A quick examination, however,

revealed the truth. Home remedies such as turpentine, castor oil, etc.,

were always kept on hand for minor ailments.

Green remembers hearing talk of the war before he actually saw signs of

it. It was not long before the Yankees visited Greensboro, Ga., and the

Willis plantation. On one occasion, they took all the best horses and

mules and left theirs which were broken down and worn from travel. They

also searched for money and other valuables. During this period a mail

wagon broke down in the creek and water soon covered it. When the water

fell, Negroes from the Willis plantation found sacks of money and hid

it. One unscrupulous Negro betrayed the others; rather than give back

the money, many ran away from the vicinity. Isaiah's Uncle managed to

keep his money but the Ku Klux Klan learned that he was one of the

group. One night they kidnaped and carried him to the woods where they

pinned him to the ground, set the dry leaves on fire, and left him. In

the group he recognized his master's son Jimmie. As fate would have it

the leaves burned in places and went out. By twisting a little he

managed to get loose, but found that his feet were badly burned. Later,

when he confronted the master with the facts, Col. Willis offered to pay

him if he would not mention the fact that his son Jimmie was mixed up in

it, and he sent the man to a hospital to have his burns treated. In the

end, all of his toes had to be amputated.

Another time, the Yankees visited the Willis plantation and offered

Green a stick of candy if he would tell them where the master hid his

whiskey. Isaiah ignorantly gave the information. The leader of the

troops then blew his trumpet and his men came from every direction. He

gave orders that they search for an underground cellar. Very soon they

found the well-stocked hiding place. The troops drank as much as they

wanted and invited the slaves to help themselves. Later, when Col.

Willis arrived and the mistress, who was furious, told him, she said,

"If it hadn't been for that little villain, the Yankees would never have

found your whiskey." The master understood, however, that Isaiah hadn't

known what he was doing, and refused to punish him.

The Yankees came to the Willis plantation to notify the Negroes of their

freedom. One thing they said stands out in Green's memory. "If your

mistress calls you 'John,' call her 'Sally.' You are as free as she is

and she can't whip you any more. If you remain, sign a paper so that you

will receive pay for your work." Mrs. Willis looked on with tears in her

eyes and shook her head sadly. The next day the master notified each

slave family that they could remain on his plantation if they desired

and he would give each $75.00 at Christmas. Looking at Isaiah's

step-father, he told him that since he was afflicted he would pay him

only $50.00, but this amount was refused. Wishing to keep the man, Col.

Willis finally offered him as much as he promised the ablebodied men.

Some slave owners did not let their slaves know of their freedom, and

kept them in ignorance as long as six months; some even longer.

Green's family remained on the Willis plantation until they were forced

to move, due to their ex-master's extravagance. As Isaiah remarked, "He

ran through with 3,000 acres of land and died on rented land in Morgan


Directly after the war, Col. Willis was nominated for the office of

legislator of Georgia. Realizing that the vote of the ex-slaves would

probably mean election for him, he rode through his plantation trying to

get them to vote for him. He was not successful, however, and some

families were asked to move off his plantation, especially those whom

he didn't particularly like.

Years later, Green's family moved to Atlanta. Isaiah is now living in

the shelter provided by the Dept. of Public Welfare. He appears to be

fairly contented.

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