Joanna Draper

Oklahoma Writers' Project


[Date stamp: AUG 19 1937]


Age 83 yrs.

Tulsa, Okla.

Most folks can't remember many things happened to 'em when they only

eight years old, but one of my biggest tribulations come about dat

time and I never will forget it! That was when I was took away from my

own mammy and pappy and sent off and bound out to another man, way off

two-three hundred miles away from whar I live. And dat's the last time

I ever see either one of them, or any my own kinfolks!

Whar I was born was at Hazelhurst, Mississippi. Jest a little piece

east of Hazelhurst, close to the Pearl River, and that place was a

kind of new plantation what my Master, Dr. Alexander, bought when he

moved into Mississippi from up in Virginia awhile before the War.

They said my mammy brings me down to Mississippi, and I was born jest

right after she got there. My mammy's name was Margaret, and she was

born under the Ramson's, back in Tennessee. She belonged to Dave

Ramson, and his pappy had come to Tennessee to settle on war land, and

he had knowed Dr. Alexander's people back in Virginia too. My pappy's

name was Addison, and he always belonged to Dr. Alexander. Old doctor

bought my mammy 'cause my pappy liked her. Old doctor live in

Tennessee a little while before he go on down in Mississippi.

Old doctor's wife named Dinah, and she sho' was a good woman, but I

don't remember about old doctor much. He was away all the time, it

seem like.

When I is about six year old they take me into the Big House to learn

to be a house woman, and they show me how to cook and clean up and

take care of babies. That Big House wasn't very fine, but it was

mighty big and cool, and made out of logs with a big hall, but it

didn't have no long gallery like most the houses around there had.

They was lots of big trees in the yard, and most the ground was new

ground 'round that place, 'cause the old Doctor jest started to done

farming on it when I was took away, but he had some more places not so

far away, over towards the river that was old ground and made big

crops for him. I went to one of the places one time, but they wasn't

nobody on 'em but niggers and a white overseer. I don't know how many

niggers old Doctor had, but Master John Deeson say he had about a


At old Doctor's house I didn't have to work very hard. Jest had to

help the cooks and peel the potatoes and pick the guineas and chickens

and do things like that. Sometime I had to watch the baby. He was a

little boy, and they would bring him into the kitchen for me to watch.

I had to git up way before daylight and make the fire in the kitchen

fireplace and bring in some fresh water, and go get the milk what been

down in the spring all night, and do things like that until breakfast

ready. Old Master and old Mistress come in the big hall to eat in the

summer, and I stand behind them and shoo off the flies.

Old doctor didn't have no spinning and weaving niggers 'cause he say

they don't do enough work and he buy all the cloth he use for

everybody's clothes. He can do that 'cause he had lots of money. He

was big rich, and he keep a whole lot of hard money in the house all

the time, but none of the slaves know it but me. Sometimes I would

have the baby in the Mistress' room and she would go git three or four

big wood boxes full of hard money for us to play with. I would make

fences out of the money all across the floor, to keep the baby

satisfied, and when he go to sleep I would put the money back in the

boxes. I never did know how much they is, but a whole lot.

Even after the War start old Doctor have that money, and he would

exchange money for people. Sometimes he would go out and be gone a

long time, and come back with a lot more money he got from somewhar.

Right at the first they made him a high officer in the War and he done

doctoring somewhar at a hospital most of the time. But he could go on

both sides of the War, and sometime he would come in at night and

bring old Mistress pretty little things, and I heard him tell her he

got them in the North.

One day I was fanning him and I asked him is he been to the North and

he kick out at me and tell to shut up my black mouth, and it nearly

scared me to death the way he look at me! Nearly every time he been

gone and come in and tell Mistress he been in the North he have a lot

more hard money to put away in them boxes, too!

One evening long come a man and eat supper at the house and stay all

night. He was a nice mannered man, and I like to wait on him. The next

morning I hear him ask old Doctor what is my name, and old Doctor

start in to try to sell me to that man. The man say he can't buy me

'cause old Doctor say he want a thousand dollars, and then old Doctor

say he will bind me out to him.

I run away from the house and went out to the cabin whar my mammy and

pappy was, but they tell me to go on back to the Big House 'cause

maybe I am just scared. But about that time old Doctor and the man

come and old Doctor make me go with the man. We go in his buggy a long

ways off to the South, and after he stop two or three night at peoples

houses and put me out to stay with the niggers he come to his own

house. I ask him how far it is back home and he say about a hundred

miles or more, and laugh, and ask me if I know how far that is.

I wants to know if I can go back to my mammy some time, and he say

"Sho', of course you can, some of these times. You don't belong to me,

Jo, I'se jest your boss and not your master."

He live in a big old rottendy house, but he aint farming none of the

land. Jest as soon as he git home he go off again, and sometimes he

only come in at night for a little while.

His wife's name was Kate and his name was Mr. John. I was there about

a week before I found out they name was Deeson. They had two children,

a girl about my size name Joanna like me, and a little baby boy name

Johnny. One day Mistress Kate tell me I the only nigger they got. I

been thinking maybe they had some somewhar on a plantation, but she

say they aint got no plantation and they aint been at that place very

long either.

That little girl Joanna and me kind of take up together, and she was a

mighty nice mannered little girl, too. Her mammy raised her good. Her

mammy was mighty sickly all the time, and that's the reason they bind

me to do the work.

Mr. John was in some kind of business in the War too, but I never see

him with no soldier clothes on but one time. One night he come in with

them on, but the next morning he come to breakfast in jest his plain

clothes again. Then he go off again.

I sho' had a hard row at that house. It was old and rackady, and I had

to scrub off the staircase and the floors all the time, and git the

breakfast for Mistress Kate and the two children. Then I could have my

own breakfast in the kitchen. Mistress Kate always get the supper,


Some days she go off with the two children and leave me at the house

all day by myself, and I think maybe I run off, but I didn't know whar

to go.

After I been at that place two years Mr. John come home and stay. He

done some kind of trading in Jackson, Mississippi, and he would be

gone three or four days at a time, but I never did know what kind of

trading it was.

About the time he come home to stay I seen the first Ku Klux I ever

seen one night. I was going down the road in the moonlight and I heard

a hog grunting out in the bushes at the side of the road. I jest walk

right on and in a little ways I hear another hog in some more bushes.

This time I stop and listen, and they's another hog grunts across the

road, and about that time two mens dressed up in long white skirts

steps out into the road in front of me! I was so scared the goose

bumps jump up all over me 'cause I didn't know what they is! They

didn't say a word to me, but jest walked on past me and went on back

the way I had come. Then I see two more mens step out of the woods and

I run from that as fast as I can go!

I ast Miss Kate what they is and she say they Ku Klux, and I better

not go walking off down the road any more. I seen them two, three

times after that, though, but they was riding hosses them times.

I stayed at Mr. John's place two more years, and he got so grumpy and

his wife got so mean I make up my mind to run off. I bundle up my

clothes in a little bundle and hide them, and then I wait until Miss

Kate take the children and go off somewhere, and I light out on foot.

I had me a piece of that hard money what Master Dr. Alexander had give

me one time at Christmas. I had kept it all that time and nobody

knowed I had it, not even Joanna. Old Doctor told me it was fifty

dollars, and I thought I could live on it for a while.

I never had been away from that place, not even to another plantation

in all the four years I was with the Deesons, and I didn't know

which-a-way to go, so I jest started west.

I been walking about all evening it seem like, and I come to a little

town with jest a few houses. I see a nigger man and ask him whar I can

git something to eat, and I say I got fifty dollars.

"What you doing wid fifty dollars, child? Where you belong at,

anyhow?" He ask me, and I tell him I belong to Master John Deeson, but

I is running away. I explain that I jest bound out to Mr. John, but

Dr. Alexander my real master, and then that man tell me the first time

I knowed it that I aint a slave no more!

That man Deeson never did tell me, and his wife never did!

Well, dat man asked me about the fifty dollars, and then I found out

that it was jest fifty cents!

I can't begin to tell about all the hard times I had working for

something to eat and roaming around after that. I don't know why I

never did try to git back up around Hazelhurst and hunt up my pappy

and mammy, but I reckon I was jest ignorant and didn't know how to go

about it. Anyways I never did see them no more.

In about three years or a little over I met Bryce Draper on a farm in

Mississippi and we was married. His mammy had had a harder time than I

had. She had five children by a man that belong to her master, Mr.

Bryce and already named one of the boys--that my husband--Bryce after

him, and then he take her in and sell her off away from all her


One was jest a little baby, and the master give it laudanum, but it

didn't die, and he sold her off and lied and said she was a young girl

and didn't have no husband, 'cause the man what bought her said he

didn't want to buy no woman and take her away from a family. That new

master name was Draper.

The last year of the War Mr. Draper die, and his wife already dead,

and he give all his farm to his two slaves and set them free. One of

them slaves was my husband's mammy.

Then right away the whites come and robbed the place of every thing

they could haul off, and run his mammy and the other niggers off! Then

she went and found her boy, that was my husband, and he live with her

until she died, jest before we is married.

We lived in Mississippi a long time, and then we hear about how they

better to the Negroes up in the North, and we go up to Kansas, but

they ain't no better there, and we come down to Indian Territory in

the Creek Nation in 1898, jest as they getting in that Spanish War.

We leased a little farm from the Creek Nation for $15 an acre, but

when they give out the allotments we had to give it up. Then we rent

100 acres from some Indians close to Wagoner, and we farm it all with

my family. We had enough to do it too!

For children we had John and Joe, and Henry, and Jim and Robert and

Will that was big enough to work, and then the girls big enough was

Mary, Nellie, Izora, Dora, and the baby. Dora married Max Colbert. His

people belonged to the Colberts that had Colbert's Crossin' on the Red

River way before the War, and he was a freedman and got allotment.

I lives with Dora now, and we is all happy, and I don't like to talk

about the days of the slavery times, 'cause they never did mean

nothing to me but misery, from the time I was eight years old.

I never will forgive that white man for not telling me I was free, and

not helping me to git back to my mammy and pappy! Lots of white people

done that.

Joana Owens Joe Barnes facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail