John C Brown

Project #1655

W. W. Dixon,

Winnsboro, S. C.



John C. Brown and his wife, Adeline, who is eleven years older than

himself, live in a ramshackle four-room frame house in the midst of a

cotton field, six miles west of Woodward, S. C. John assisted in laying

the foundation and building the house forty-four years ago. A single

china-berry tree, gnarled but stately, adds to, rather than detracts

from, the loneliness of the dilapidated house. The premises and

thereabout are owned by the Federal Land Bank. The occupants pay no

rent. Neither of them are able to work. They have been fed by charity

and the W. P. A. for the past eighteen months.

(John talking)

"Where and when I born? Well, dat'll take some 'hear say', Mister. I

never knowed my mammy. They say she was a white lady dat visited my old

marster and mistress. Dat I was found in a basket, dressed in nice baby

clothes, on de railroad track at Dawkins, S. C. De engineer stop de

train, got out, and found me sumpin' like de princess found Moses, but

not in de bulrushes. Him turn me over to de conductor. De conductor

carry me to de station at Dawkins, where Marse Tom Dawkins come to meet

de train dat mornin' and claim me as found on his land. Him say him had

de best right to me. De conductor didn't 'ject to dat. Marse Tom carry

me home and give me to Miss Betsy. Dat was his wife and my mistress. Her

always say dat Sheton Brown was my father. He was one of de slaves on de

place; de carriage driver. After freedom he tell me he was my real

pappy. Him took de name of Brown and dat's what I go by.

"My father was a ginger-bread colored man, not a full-blooded nigger.

Dat's how I is altogether yallow. See dat lady over dere in dat chair?

Dat's my wife. Her brighter skinned than I is. How come dat? Her daddy

was a full-blooded Irishman. He come over here from Ireland and was

overseer for Marse Bob Clowney. He took a fancy for Adeline's mammy, a

bright 'latto gal slave on de place. White women in them days looked

down on overseers as poor white trash. Him couldn't git a white wife but

made de best of it by puttin' in his spare time a honeyin' 'round

Adeline's mammy. Marse Bob stuck to him, and never 'jected to it.

"When de war come on, Marse Richard, de overseer, shoulder his gun as a

soldier and, as him was educated more than most of de white folks, him

rise to be captain in de Confederate Army. It's a pity him got kilt in

dat war.

"My marster, Tom Dawkins, have a fine mansion. He owned all de land

'round Dawkins and had 'bout 200 slaves, dat lived in good houses and

was we well fed. My pappy was de man dat run de mill and grind de wheat

and corn into flour and meal. Him never work in de field. He was 'bove

dat. Him 'tend to de ginnin' of de cotton and drive de carriage.

"De Yankees come and burn de mansion, de gin-house and de mill. They

take all de sheep, mules, cows, hogs and even de chickens. Set de slaves

free and us niggers have a hard time ever since.

"My black stepmammy was so mean to me dat I run away. I didn't know

where to go but landed up, one night, at Adeline's mammy's and

steppappy's house, on Marse Bob Clowney's place. They had been slaves of

Marse Bob and was livin' and workin' for him. I knock on de door. Mammy

Charity, dat's Adeline's mammy, say: 'Who dat?' I say: 'Me'. Her say:

'Who is me?' I say: 'John'. Her say: 'John who?' I say: 'Just John'. Her

say: 'Adeline, open de door, dat's just some poor boy dat's cold and

hungry. Charity is my fust name. Your pappy ain't come yet but I'll let

dat boy in 'til he come and see what he can do 'bout it.'

"When Adeline open dat door, I look her in de eyes. Her eyes melt

towards me wid a look I never see befo' nor since. Mind you, I was just

a boy fourteen, I 'spects, and her a woman twenty-five then. Her say:

'You darlin' little fellow; come right in to de fire.' Oh, my! She took

on over me! Us wait 'til her pappy come in. Then him say: 'What us gonna

do wid him?' Adeline say: 'Us gonna keep him.' Pappy say: 'Where he

gonna sleep?' Adeline look funny. Mammy say: 'Us'll fix him a pallet by

de fire.' Adeline clap her hands and say: 'You don't mind dat, does you

boy?' I say: 'No ma'am, I is slept dat way many a time.'

"Well, I work for Marse Bob Clowney and stayed wid Adeline's folks two

years. I sure made myself useful in dat family. Never 'spicioned what

Adeline had in her head, 'til one day I climbed up a hickory nut tree,

flail de nuts down, come down and was helpin' to pick them up when she

bump her head 'ginst mine and say: 'Oh, Lordy!' Then I pat and rub her

head and it come over me what was in dat head! Us went to de house and

her told de folks dat us gwine to marry.

"Her led me to de altar dat nex' Sunday. Gived her name to de preacher

as Adeline Cabean. I give de name of John Clowney Brown. Marse Bob was

dere and laugh when de preacher call my name, 'John Clowney Brown'.

"Our chillun come pretty fast. I was workin' for $45.00 a year, wid

rations. Us had three pounds of bacon, a peck of meal, two cups of

flour, one quart of 'lasses, and one cup of salt, a week.

"Us never left Marse Robert as long as him lived. When us have four

chillun, him increase de amount of flour to four cups and de 'lasses to

two quarts. Then him built dis house for de old folks and Adeline and de

chillun to live in. I help to build it forty-four years ago. Our chillun

was Clarice, Jim, John, Charity, Tom, Richard, and Adeline.

"I followed Marse Robert Clowney in politics, wore a red shirt, and

voted for him to go to de Legislature. Him was 'lected dat time but

never cared for it no more.

"Adeline b'long to de church. Always after me to jine but I can't

believe dere is anything to it, though I believes in de law and de Ten

Commandments. Preacher calls me a infidel. Can't help it. They is maybe

got me figured out wrong. I believes in a Great Spirit but, in my time,

I is seen so many good dogs and hosses and so many mean niggers and

white folks, dat I 'clare, I is confused on de subject. Then I can't

believe in a hell and everlastin' brimstone. I just think dat people is

lak grains of corn: dere is some good grains and some rotten grains. De

good grains is res'rected, de rotten grains never sprout again. Good

people come up again and flourish in de green fields of Eden. Bad people

no come up. Deir bodies and bones just make phosphate guano, 'round de

roots of de ever bloomin' tree of life. They lie so much in dis world,

maybe de Lord will just make 'lie' soap out of them. What you think else

they would be fit for?"

John C Bectom John Cameron facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail