Jasper Battle



112 Berry St.,

Athens, Ga.

Written by:

Grace McCune [HW: (White)]


Edited by:

Sarah H. Hall


Leila Harris



John N. Booth

District Supervisor

Federal Writers' Project

Residencies 6 & 7

The shade of the large water oaks in Jasper's yard was a welcome sight

when the interviewer completed the long walk to the old Negro's place in

the sweltering heat of a sunny July afternoon. The old house appeared to

be in good condition and the yard was clean and tidy. Jasper's wife,

Lula, came around the side of the house in answer to the call for

Jasper. A large checked apron almost covered her blue dress and a clean

white headcloth concealed her hair. Despite her advanced age, she seemed

to be quite spry.

"Jus' come back here whar I'se a-doin' de white folks' washin'," she

said. "Jasper's done been powerful sick and I can't leave him by hisself

none. I brung him out here in de shade so I could watch him and 'tend to

him whilst I wuks. Jasper stepped on a old plank what had two rusty

nails in it, and both of 'em went up in his foot a fur ways. I done driv

dem nails plumb up to dey haids in de north side of a tree and put

jimpson weed poultices on Jasper's foot, but it's still powerful bad


By this time we had arrived within sight and earshot of the old rocking

chair where Jasper sat with his foot propped high in another chair. His

chair had long ago been deprived of its rockers. The injured member

appeared to be swollen and was covered with several layers of the

jimpson weed leaves. The old man's thin form was clothed in a faded blue

shirt and old gray cotton trousers. His clothes were clean and his

white hair was in marked contrast to his shining but wrinkled black

face. He smiled when Lula explained the nature of the proposed

interview. "'Scuse me, Missy," he apologized, "for not gittin' up,

'cause I jus' can't use dis old foot much, but you jus' have a seat here

in de shade and rest yourself." Lula now excused herself, saying: "I

jus' got to hurry and git de white folks' clothes washed and dried 'fore

it rains," and she resumed her work in the shade of another huge tree

where a fire was burning brightly under her washpot and a row of

sud-filled tubs occupied a long bench.

"Lula, she has to wuk all de time," Jasper explained, "and she don't

never have time to listen to me talk. I'se powerful glad somebody is

willin' to stop long enough to pay some heed whilst I talks 'bout

somepin. Dem days 'fore de war was good old days, 'specially for de

colored folks. I know, 'cause my Mammy done told me so. You see I was

mighty little and young when de war was over, but I heared de old folks

do lots of talkin' 'bout dem times whilst I was a-growin' up, and den

too, I stayed right dar on dat same place 'til I was 'bout grown. It was

Marse Henry Jones' plantation 'way off down in Taliaferro County, nigh

Crawfordville, Georgy. Mammy b'longed to Marse Henry. She was Harriet

Jones. Daddy was Simon Battle and his owner was Marse Billie Battle. De

Battle's plantation was off down dar nigh de Jones' place. When my Mammy

and Daddy got married Marse Henry wouldn't sell Mammy, and Marse Billie

wouldn't sell Daddy, so dey didn't git to see one another but twice a

week--dat was on Wednesday and Sadday nights--'til atter de war was done

over. I kin still 'member Daddy comin' over to Marse Henry's plantation

to see us.

"Marse Henry kept a lot of slaves to wuk his big old plantation whar he

growed jus' evvything us needed to eat and wear 'cept sugar and coffee

and de brass toes for our home-made, brogan shoes. Dere allus was

a-plenty t'eat and wear on dat place.

"Slave quarters was log cabins built in long rows. Some had chimblies in

de middle, twixt two rooms, but de most of 'em was jus' one-room cabins

wid a stick and mud chimbly at de end. Dem chimblies was awful bad 'bout

ketchin' on fire. Didn't nobody have no glass windows. Dey jus' had

plain plank shutters for blinds and de doors was made de same way, out

of rough planks. All de beds was home-made and de best of 'em was

corded. Dey made holes in de sides and foots and haidpieces, and run

heavy home-made cords in dem holes. Dey wove 'em crossways in and out of

dem holes from one side to another 'til dey had 'em ready to lay de

mattress mat on. I'se helped to pull dem cords tight many a time. Our

mattress ticks was made of homespun cloth and was stuffed wid wheat

straw. 'Fore de mattress tick was put on de bed a stiff mat wove out of

white oak splits was laid on top of de cords to pertect de mattress and

make it lay smooth. Us was 'lowed to pick up all de old dirty cotton

'round de place to make our pillows out of.

"Jus' a few of de slave famblies was 'lowed to do deir own cookin'

'cause Marster kept cooks up at de big house what never had nothin' else

to do but cook for de white folks and slaves. De big old fireplace in

dat kitchen at de big house was more dan eight feet wide and you could

pile whole sticks of cord-wood on it. It had racks acrost to hang de

pots on and big ovens and little ovens and big, thick, iron fryin' pans

wid long handles and hefty iron lids. Dey could cook for a hunderd

people at one time in dat big old kitchen easy. At one time dere was

tables acrost one end of de kitchen for de slaves t'eat at, and de slave

chillun et dar too.

"Marster was mighty good to slave chillun. He never sont us out to wuk

in de fields 'til us was 'most growed-up, say 12 or 14 years old. A

Nigger 12 or 14 years old dem days was big as a white child 17 or 18

years old. Why Miss, Niggers growed so fast, dat most of de Nigger

nurses warn't no older dan de white chillun dey tuk keer of. Marster

said he warn't gwine to send no babies to de fields. When slave chillun

got to be 'bout 9 or 10 years old dey started 'em to fetchin' in wood

and water, cleanin' de yards, and drivin' up de cows at night. De

bigges' boys was 'lowed to measure out and fix de stock feed, but de

most of us chillun jus' played in de cricks and woods all de time.

Sometimes us played Injuns and made so much fuss dat old Aunt Nancy

would come out to de woods to see what was wrong, and den when she found

us was jus' a-havin' fun, she stropped us good for skeerin' her.

"Mammy's job was to make all de cloth. Dat was what she done all de

time; jus' wove cloth. Some of de others cyarded de bats and spun

thread, but Mammy, she jus' wove on so reg'lar dat she made enough cloth

for clothes for all dem slaves on de plantation and, it's a fact, us did

have plenty of clothes. All de nigger babies wore dresses made jus' alak

for boys and gals. I was sho'ly mighty glad when dey 'lowed me to git

rid of dem dresses and wear shirts. I was 'bout 5 years old den, but dat

boys' shirt made me feel powerful mannish. Slave gals wore homespun

cotton dresses, and dey had plenty of dem dresses, so as dey could keep

nice and clean all de time. Dey knitted all de socks and stockin's for

winter. Dem gals wore shawls, and dere poke bonnets had ruffles 'round

'em. All de shoes was home-made too. Marster kept one man on de

plantation what didn't do nothin' but make shoes. Lordy, Missy! What

would gals say now if dey had to wear dem kind of clothes? Dey would

raise de roof plumb offen de house. But jus' let me tell you, a purty

young gal dressed in dem sort of clothes would look mighty sweet to me

right now.

"Us never could eat all de meat in Marster's big old smokehouse.

Sometimes he tuk hams to de store and traded 'em for sugar and coffee.

Plenty of 'bacco was raised on dat plantation for all de white folks and

de growed-up Niggers. Slave chillun warn't sposen to have none, so us

had to swipe what 'bacco us got. If our Mammies found out 'bout us

gittin' 'bacco, dey stropped us 'til de skin was most off our backs, but

sometimes us got away wid a little. If us seed any of de old folks was

watchin' us, us slipped de 'bacco from one to another of us whilst dey

s'arched us, and it went mighty bad on us if dey found it.

"Slaves went to de white folks' church and listened to de white

preachers. Dere warn't no colored preacher 'lowed to preach in dem

churches den. Dey preached to de white folks fust and den dey let de

colored folks come inside and hear some preachin' atter dey was through

wid de white folks. But on de big 'vival meetin' days dey 'lowed de

Niggers to come in and set in de gallery and listen at de same time dey

preached to de white folks. When de sermon was over dey had a big dinner

spread out on de grounds and dey had jus' evvything good t'eat lak

chickens, barbecued hogs and lambs, pies, and lots of watermelons. Us

kept de watermelons in de crick 'til dey was ready to cut 'em. A white

gentleman, what dey called Mr. Kilpatrick, done most of de preachin'. He

was from de White Plains neighborhood. He sho' did try mighty hard to

git evvybody to 'bey de Good Lord and keep his commandments.

"Mr. Kilpatrick preached all de funerals too. It 'pears lak a heap more

folks is a-dyin' out dese days dan died den, and folks was a heap better

den to folks in trouble. Dey would go miles and miles den when dey

didn't have no auto'biles, to help folks what was in trouble. Now, dey

won't go next door when dere's death in de house. Den, when anybody died

de fust thing dey done was to shroud 'em and lay 'em out on de coolin'

board 'til Old Marster's cyarpenter could git de coffin made up. Dere

warn't no embalmers dem days and us had to bury folks de next day atter

dey died. De coffins was jus' de same for white folks and deir slaves.

On evvy plantation dere was a piece of ground fenced in for a graveyard

whar dey buried white folks and slaves too. My old Daddy is buried down

yonder on Marse Henry's plantation right now.

"When a slave wanted to git married up wid a gal, he didn't ax de gal,

but he went and told Marster 'bout it. Marster would talk to de gal and

if she was willin', den Marster would tell all de other Niggers us was

a-goin' to have a weddin'. Dey would all come up to de big house and

Marster would tell de couple to jine hands and jump backwards over a

broomstick, and den he pernounced 'em man and wife. Dey didn't have to

have no licenses or nothin' lak dey does now. If a man married up wid

somebody on another place, he had to git a pass from his Marster, so as

he could go see his wife evvy Wednesday and Sadday nights. When de

patterollers cotched slaves out widout no passes, dey evermore did beat

'em up. Leastways dat's what Mammy told me.

"Durin' de big war all de white folkses was off a-fightin' 'cept dem

what was too old to fight or what was too bad crippled and 'flicted. Dey

stayed home and looked atter de 'omans and chillun. Somebody sont

Mist'ess word dat dem yankees was on de way to our plantation and she

hid evvything she could, den had de hogs and hosses driv off to de

swamps and hid. Mammy was crazy 'bout a pet pig what Marster had done

give her, so Mist'ess told her to go on down to dat swamp quick, and

hide dat little pig. Jus' as she was a-runnin' back in de yard, dem

yankees rid in and she seed 'em a-laughin' fit to kill. She looked

'round to see what dey was tickled 'bout and dere followin' her lak a

baby was dat pig. Dem yankees was perlite lak, and dey never bothered

nothin' on our place, but dey jus' plumb ruint evvything on some of de

plantations right close to our'n. Dey tuk nigh evvything some of our

neighbors had t'eat, most all deir good hosses, and anything else dey

wanted. Us never did know why dey never bothered our white folkses'


"When dey give us our freedom us went right on over to Marse Billie

Battle's place and stayed dar wid Daddy 'bout a year; den Daddy come wid

us back to Marse Henry's, and dar us stayed 'til Old Marster died. Long

as he lived atter de war, he wukked most of his help on sheers, and seed

dat us was tuk keer of jus' lak he had done when us all b'longed to him.

Us never went to school much 'cause Mammy said white folks didn't lak

for Niggers to have no larnin', but atter de war was done over our Old

Mist'ess let colored chillun have some lessons in a little cabin what

was built in de back yard for de white chillun to go to school in.

"Atter dey buried our Old Marster, us moved down to Hancock County and

farmed dar, 'cause dat was all us knowed how to do. Us got together and

raised money to buy ground enough for a churchyard and a graveyard for

colored folks. Dat graveyard filled up so fast dat dey had to buy more

land several times. Us holped 'em build de fust colored church in

Hancock County.

"School for colored chillun was held den in our church house. Our

teacher was a white man, Mr. Tom Andrews, and he was a mighty good

teacher, but Lordy, how strick he was! Dese here chillun don't know

nothin' 'bout school. Us went early in de mornin', tuk our dinner in a

bucket, and never left 'til four o'clock, and sometimes dat was 'most

nigh sundown. All day us studied dat blue back speller, and dat white

teacher of ours sho' tuk de skin offen our backs if us didn't mind him.

Dere warn't no fussin' and fightin' and foolin' 'round on de way home,

'cause dat white teacher 'lowed he had control of us 'til us got to our

Mammies' doors and if us didn't git for home in a hurry, it was jus' too

bad for us when he tuk it out on us next day wid dat long hick'ry


"Things is sho' diffunt now. Folks ain't good now as dey was den, but

dere is gwine to be a change. I may not be here to see it, but it's

a-comin' 'cause de Good Lord is done 'sied (prophesied) it, and it's got

to be. God's sayin' is comin' to pass jus' as sho' as us is livin' and

settin' in de shade of dis here tree.

"Lordy, Miss! How come you axes 'bout colored folks'es weddin's? I was

a-courtin' a little 14-year old gal named Lovie Williams, but her Mammy

runned me off and said she warn't gwine to let Lovie git married up wid

nobody 'til she got big enough. I jus' bought dem licenses and watched

for my chanct and den I stole dat gal right from under her Mammy's eyes.

My Mammy knowed all 'bout it and holped us git away. Us didn't have no

time for no weddin'. De best us could do was jus' to git ourselfs

married up. Lovie's Mammy raised de Old Ned, but us didn't keer den,

'cause it was too late for her to do nothin' to part us. Lovie was one

of the bestest gals what ever lived. Us raised 12 chillun and I never

had one speck of trouble wid her. Lovie's done been daid 15 years now."

His voice trembled as he talked about his first wife, and Lula almost

stopped her work to listen. This kind of talk did not please her and her

expression grew stern. "You done talked a-plenty," she told him. "You

ain't strong 'nough to do no more talkin'," but Jasper was not willing

to be silenced. "I reckon I knows when I'se tired. I ain't gwine to hush

'til I gits good and ready," was his protest. "Yes Missy," he continued.

"All our chillun is done daid now 'cept four and dey is 'way off up

North. Ain't nobody left here 'cept me and Lula. Lula is pow'ful good to

me. I done got too old to wuk, and can't do nothin' nohow wid dis old

foot so bad off. I'se ready and even anxious to go when de Good Lord

calls for old Jasper to come to de Heav'nly Home.

"I ain't heared nothin' from my only brother in over 7 years. I 'spose

he still lives in Crawfordville. Missy, I wishes I could go back down to

Crawfordville one more time. I kin jus' see our old homeplace on de

plantation down dar now. Lula a-washin' here, makes me study 'bout de

old washplace on Marse Henry's plantation. Dere was a long bench full of

old wood tubs, and a great big iron pot for bilin' de clothes, and de

batten block and stick. Chillun beat de clothes wid de batten stick and

kept up de fire 'round de pot whilst de 'omans leaned over de tubs

washin' and a-singin' dem old songs. You could hear 'em 'most a mile

away. Now and den one of de 'omans would stop singin' long enough to

yell at de chillun to 'git more wood on dat fire 'fore I lash de skin

offen your back.'

"Oh Missy, dem was good old days. Us would be lucky to have 'em back

again, 'specially when harvest time comes 'round. You could hear Niggers

a-singin' in de fields 'cause dey didn't have no worries lak dey got

now. When us got de corn up from de fields, Niggers come from far and

nigh to Marster's cornshuckin'. Dat cornshuckin' wuk was easy wid

evvybody singin' and havin' a good time together whilst dey made dem

shucks fly. De cornshuckin' captain led all de singin' and he set right

up on top of de highes' pile of corn. De chillun was kept busy a-passin'

de liquor jug 'round. Atter it started gittin' dark, Marster had big

bonfires built up and plenty of torches set 'round so as dere would be

plenty of light. Atter dey et all dey wanted of dem good things what had

done been cooked up for de big supper, den de wrastlin' matches started,

and Marster allus give prizes to de best wrastlers. Dere warn't no

fussin' and fightin' 'lowed on our place, and dem wrastlin' matches was

all in good humor and was kept orderly. Marster wanted evvybody to be

friends on our plantation and to stay dat way, for says he: 'De Blessed

Saviour done said for us to love our neighbor as ourselfs, and to give

and what us gives is gwine to come back to us.' Missy, de Good Lord's

word is always right."

The interviewer was preparing to leave when one of Jasper's old friends

approached the sheltering tree in the yard, where the interview was

drawing to a close. "Brudder Paul," said Jasper, "I wisht you had come

sooner 'cause Missy, here, and me is done had de bestes' time a-goin'

back over dem old times when folks loved one another better dan dey does

now. Good-bye Missy, you done been mighty kind and patient wid old

Jasper. Come back again some time."

Janie Gallman Je Filer facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail