John Hill


1525 Broad Street

Athens, Georgia


Written By:

Grace McCune

Research Worker

Federal Writers' Project

Athens, Georgia

Edited By:

Leila Harris


Federal Writers' Project

Augusta, Georgia


Ex-Slave, Age 74

1525 W. Broad St.

Athens, Georgia

John Hill, an old Negro about 74 years old, was seated comfortably on

the front porch of his little cabin enjoying the sunshine. He lives

alone and his pleasure was evident at having company, and better still

an appreciative audience to whom he could relate the story of his early


"My pa wuz George Washin'ton Hill. His old Marster wuz Mr. Aubie Hill,

an' dey all lived on de Hill Plantation, in de Buncombe district, nigh

whar Monroe, Georgia is now. My ma wuz Lucy Annie Carter, an' she

b'longed to de Carter fambly down in Oglethorpe County, 'til she wuz

sold on de block, on de ole Tuck plantation, whar dey had a regular

place to sell 'em. Dey put 'em up on a big old block, an' de highest

bidder got de Nigger. Marse George Hill bought my ma, an' she come to

stay on de Hill plantation. Dar's whar my pa married her, an' dar's whar

I wuz borned.

"When I wuz just a little tike, I toted nails for 'em to build de

jailhouse. Dey got 'bout two by four planks, nailed 'em crossways, an'

den dey drived nails in, 'bout evvy inch or two apart, just lak a

checkerboard. When dey got it done, dat jail would evermo' keep you on

de inside. Dere wuz a place wid a rope to let down, when de jailbirds

would need somethin', or when somebody wanted to send somethin' up to

'em. No Ma'am, dat warn't de rope dey used to hang folkses wid.

"My pa stayed on wid old Marster 'bout ten years atter de War, den us

moved to de farm wid de Walkers at Monroe, Georgia. Dat wuz Governor

Walker's pa. Dere wuz a red clay bank on de side of de crick whar us

chilluns had our swimmmin' hole, an' us didn't know when us wuz a

frolickin' an' rollin' young Marse Clifford down dat bank, dat someday

he would be gov'ner of Georgia. He evermo' wuz a sight, kivered wid all

dat red mud, an' Mist'ess, she would fuss an' say she wuz goin' to whup

evvyone of us, but us just stayed out of de way an' she never cotched

us. Den she would forgit 'til de nex' time.

"When I wuz 'bout eight years old, dey 'lowed it wuz high time I wuz a

larnin' somethin', an' I wuz sont to de little log schoolhouse down in

de woods. De onliest book I had wuz just a old blue back speller. Us

took corn an' 'tatoes 'long an' cooked 'em for dinner, for den us had to

stay all day at school. Us biled de corn an' roasted 'tatoes in ashes,

an' dey tasted mighty good.

"Us had corn pone to eat all de time, an' on de fust Sunday in de month

us had cake bread, 'cause it wuz church day. Cake bread wuz made out of

shorts, but dem biscuits wuz mighty good if dey wuz dark, 'stead of

bein' white.

"Us had big gyardens, an' raised all sorts of vegetables: corn, peas,

beans, 'tatoes, colla'ds, an' turnip greens. Us had plenty of milk an'

butter all de time. An' Marster made us raise lots of cows, hogs, sheep,

an' chickens, an' tukkeys.

"Dey warn't no ready made clo'es or no vittuls in cans at de

sto'keepers' places, an' us didn't have no money to spend, if dey had a

been dar. Us didn't have nothin' what us didn't raise an' make up.

Cotton had to be picked offen de seed, an' washed an' cyarded, den ma

spun de thread an' wove de cloth an' sometimes she dyed it wid ink

balls, 'fore it wuz ready to make clo'es out of. De ink Marster used to

write wid wuz made out of ink balls.

"I wuz still little when my ma died. De white folks' preacher preached

her fun'ral from de tex' of Isaiah fifth chapter: fust verse, an' dey

sung de old song, "Goin' Home to Die no Mo'." Den dey buried her on de

place, an' built a rail fence 'roun' de grave, to keep de stock from

trompin' on it. Sometimes several owners got together an' had one place

to bury all de slaves, an' den dey built a rail fence all 'roun' de

whole place.

"Hit wuz just lak bein' in jail, de way us had to stay on de place,

'cause if us went off an' didn't have no ticket de paddyrollers would

always git us, an' dey evermore did beat up some of de Niggers.

"I 'members de Klu Klux Klan good. Dey kept Niggers skeered plum to

death, an' when dey done sumpin' brash dey sho' got beat up if de

Kluxers cotched 'em.

"One time de Kluxers come by our place on de way to beat a old Nigger

man. I begged 'em to lemme go wid 'em, an' atter a while dey said I

could go. Dere wuz horns on de mask dey kivvered up my head wid an' I

wuz mighty skeered but I didn't say nothin'. Atter us got dar, dey tied

de old man up by his hands to de rafters in his house. He wuz beggin'

'em to let him off an' yellin' 'O Lordy, have mussy!' Dere wuz a little

gal dar an' I wanted to skeer her, so I started atter her, an' de old

man tole her to hit me on de head. She picked up a shovel an' th'owed it

an' cut my leg so wide open de blood just spilt down on de floor. I got

so bad off dey had to take me back to old Marster, an' he fix me up. Hit

wuz six months 'fore I could use dat leg good, an', I nebber did wanter

go wid dem Kluxers no more.

"Us went to de white folkses church, but onct a year on de fust Sunday

in Augus' de white folkses let de Niggers have dat day for camp meetin'.

Dey fixed good dinners for us, an' let us go off in de woods an' stay

all day. Dem chicken pies an' dem good old 'tato custards, 'bout one an'

a half inches thick, made wid sea sugar, dey make your mouf water just

to talk 'bout 'em. What wuz sea sugar? Why it wuz dat crawly, kind of

grayish, lookin' sugar us used den. I wuz grown 'fore I ever seed no

sho' 'nough white sugar.

"My pa hired me out to Mr. Ray Kempton to tote cotton to de gin on his

plantation, when I wuz 'bout 16 years old. I wuz wukkin' dar when de

fust railroad wuz laid, an' dey named de place Kempton station fer Marse

Ray Kempton. I wuz paid five dollars a month an' board for my wuk, an' I

stayed dar 'til I married.

"I wuz 'bout eighteen when I rode on de train for de fust time. Us rode

from Social Circle to Washin'ton, Wilkes, to see my ma's folkses. Ma tuk

a heap of ginger cakes an' fried chicken along for us to eat on de

train, an' de swingin' an' swayin' of dat train made me so sick I didn't

want to ride no more for a long time.

"Soon atter I wuz twenty years old, I married a gal from Washin'ton,

Wilkes, an' us moved to Athens, an' I been livin' right here ever since.

Us got here de last day de old whiskey house wuz open. Dey closed it

down dat night. I wukked a long time wid de Allgood boys in de horse

tradin' business an' den I wukked for Mr. an' Mrs. Will Peeples 'bout

ten years. Dey runned a boardin' house, an' while I wuz dar, Dr. Walker

come to board, an' I wuz mighty glad to wait on him, 'cause he wuz from

Monroe an' had done been livin' on de old Walker place dat I stayed at

when us wuz down dar.

"My uncle, Ambus Carter, wuz a preacher on Marse Jim Smith's place. He

b'longed to Marse Jim durin' de War, an' he never did leave him. Atter

freedom come, most of Marse Jim's Niggers lef' him, an' den he had what

dey called chaingang slaves. He paid 'em out of jail for 'em to wuk for

him. An' he let 'em have money all de time so dey didn't never git out

of debt wid him. Dey had to stay dar an' wuk all de time, an' if dey

didn't wuk he had 'em beat. He evermore did beat 'em if dey got lazy,

but if dey wukked good, he wuz good to 'em. Sometimes dey tried to run

away. Dey had dogs to trail 'em wid so dey always cotched 'em, an' den

da whippin' boss beat 'em mos' to death. It wuz awful to hear 'em

hollerin' an' beggin' for mussy. If dey hollered, 'Lord have mussy!'

Marse Jim didn't hear 'em, but if dey cried, 'Marse Jim have mussy!' den

he made 'em stop de beatin'. He say, 'De Lord rule Heb'en, but Jim Smith

ruled de earth.'

"One time he cotched some Niggers down at de Seaboard Station, what had

runned away from his place. He got de police, an' brung 'em back 'cause

he 'lowed dey still owed him money. I wuz mighty sorry for 'em, for I

knowed what dey wuz goin' to git when he done got 'em back on his place.

Dat whippin' boss beat 'em 'til dey couldn't stan' up.

"But he wuz good to my uncle, an' treated him just lak one of de fambly.

He helped him wid all his sermons, an' told him to always tell 'em to be

observerant an' obejent to de boss man. He provided good fer his help

an' dey always had plenty to eat. He used to try to git me to come an'

stay wid him, but I didn't want to stay on dat place.

"Marse Jim used to have big 'possum hunts for his Niggers, an' he would

sen' me word, an' I most always went, 'cause dem wuz good times den,

when dey cooked de coons an' 'possums, an' eat an' drunk mos' of de

night. Coon meat is most as good as lamb if you is careful to take out

de musk sacs when you dress 'em to cook."

Smithsonia, the Jim Smith plantation, covered thousands of acres, but

the words of the feeble old Negro showed that he could not imagine it

possible for any farmer to own more than one hundred acres.

"Marse Jim had a hund'ud acre farm, an' he had to keep plenty of Niggers

to look atter dat place, but I wuz 'fraid to go dar to stay, for it wuz

sho' just lak de jailhouse.

"Dey ain't but four of our nine chilluns livin' now an' dey's all up

Nawf. Dey done sont atter me when deir ma died, an' tried to git me to

stay wid 'em, but its too cold up dar for dis old Nigger, so I just

stays on here by myself. It don't take much for me to live on. In crop

times I wuks in de fiel' a choppin' cotton, an' I picks cotton too. I'll

just wait on here an' de waitin' won't be much longer, 'cause I'se a

living right, an', 'Praise de Lawd,' I'se a gwine to Heb'en w'en I


John Henry Gibson- John Hunter facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail