John Hunter

Interviewer: S. S. Taylor

Person interviewed: John Hunter

3200 W. 17th Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 74


John Hunter claims to be only seventy-four years old, but when he is

talking he has the manner of an eye-witness to the things he relates. In

this connection, many of the ex-slaves seem to be sensitive concerning


Hunter is blind. He lives with Mrs. Alston, herself the widow of an old

ex-slave. His relation to her is simply that of a renter, although where

he gets the rent from I don't know.

His father fought in the Confederate army until disabled by disease.

Hunter was born in North Carolina but has lived in this state something

like fifty years.


"Slave houses were old log huts. Some made log houses and some made tent

harbors. Just any sort of way on dirt. Some of them didn't have any


"One with a floor was built with one room. Cooked and et and everything

in that one room. About 16 x 16. One window. No glass panes in it.

Shutter window. Some niggers just built up a log house and dobbed it

with dirt to keep the air from coming through.

"Food was kept in an old chest. There weren't no such things as trunks

and cupboards. I brought one from North Carolina with me--old-fashioned

chest. Bed was homemade and nailed to the side of the wall. Some of them

had railings on both sides when they were trying to make it look nice.

Mattress was made out of straw or shucks. You could hear it rattling

like a hog getting in his bed at night. I have slept on 'em many a time.

Those with floors and those without were made alike. A box or anything

was used for a table. If his master would give him anything he would

make it out of a plank. Make it at night. Boxes and homemade stools were

used for chairs. No chairs like there is now. People are blessed now.

Didn't go asking for no chairs then. They'd give you a chair--over your


"They et anything--any way they could get it,--in pans, old wooden

trays, pots, anything. Fed you just like little pigs. Poured it all out

in something and give them an old wooden spoon and telled them to get

down and eat. Sometimes get down on your belly and eat. No dishes for

niggers like now. No dishes till after freedom, and often none then."

Tent Harbors

"Sometimes they'd have a great long place with walls in it with logs and

planks and divided into stalls just like a man would have a great long

place for mules and divide it into stalls. They were called stockades.

You can see them in Tensas Parish in Louisiana. Now, each man would take

his family and live in his stall. No doors between the rooms. Each room

had a door leading into the open. They called 'em 'tent harbors' because

they were built more like a tent. Some of them were covered with boards.

People would go into the woods and rive out boards with a fro. A fro is

a piece of iron about a foot and a half long with an eye in it and a

wooden handle in the eye. You would drive it into the log and then work

it along until you rived out the board.

"Slave quarters were built right straight on down so that the master

could look right down the avenue when he would walk out. Little houses

one right after the other."


"The niggers had anything to eat that the master give 'em. He would give

plenty such as it was. Certain days they would go up and get it. Give it

to 'em just like they go draw rations now. But they'd give it to you not

you say what you wanted. So much meal and so much meat, and so on. Some

of 'em raised flour. You had to take whatever you could get."

Father and Mother

"My father was a soldier (Confederate). He got sick with the scrofula

and they sent him back to his old master, Dr. Harris, in Enfield, North

Carolina. [HW: He was a field hand at first, but after he come back with

the scrofula, they just made him a carriage driver.] That's how I came

to be born in 1864. My father married Betsy Judge right after he came

back. They didn't marry then as they do now. Just jumped over the broom."


"A slave couldn't go nowhere without a pass. If they caught you out

without a pass, they'd whip you. Jus' like if I wanted to go to a girl's

house, my master would hand me a pass. If he didn't, they'd ketch me and

whip me if I got out and wasn't able to run away from them."

What the Freedmen Expected

"When the slave was freed, he was looking to get a home. They were goin'

to do this and goin' to do that but they didn't do nothin'. They let us

stay on the place until we made the crop, told us we was free to go

wherever we wanted to go. That is all they give us and all we got. Some

said, 'You promised to give us a home', and they said to them, 'Well,

you can stay here as long as you live.'"

How Freedom Came

"The old master called them together and told them they was free. 'Peace

declared. You all have to go for yourselves. Won't whip no more now. You

are all free.'"

Runaways and Mean Masters

"My father's master was right smart mean to him. It was partly my

father's fault. He wouldn't take no whipping much. If they would get

after him he would run off. Whenever there was anything they wanted him

to do and he didn't go and do it just that minute, they wanted to whip

him. Jus' like a child, you know. He had to move when he was told. If he

didn't do it then he got a whipping. He would run away in the woods and

stay a week or two before he'd come back. Sometimes some of the boys

would see him and they would say to him, 'Old master says for you to

come back home; he ain't goin' to do nothin' to you.' Nobody would go in

the woods and hunt him. Some of them would go in there and get hurt.

"There was some masters that would go in the woods hunting their

niggers. Sometimes they'd carry bloodhounds with them. They never did

run my father with the bloodhounds though.

"My mother's master and mistress was good to her. They never drove her

around. Old man Judge died and left her mistress and she lived a widow

the balance of her life. But she never gave my mother no trouble."

Sales and Separations

"There was plenty of slaves being put up on the block and sold. My

mother was sold. Her father was a Cooper and she was sold to Judge. He

bought my mother's mother and her both, so that made her a Judge. He

bought her and she had to go in his name. Her husband was left with the

Coopers. She was put up on the block. 'Who will give me a bid on this

woman?' The old man was bid back. The Coopers bid him back."


"My mother didn't get no schooling no more'n what I learned her after

freedom. She never went to school in her life. Still she saw she could

read the Bible, the hymn-book, and such things like that as she wanted

to before she died."

What the Slaves Got

"They said that the President and the Governor was going to give land to

the niggers--going to take it off the owners that they worked for. But

they never did get it."

Ku Klux Klan

"I heered talk of the Ku Klux. I can remember once when they come

through there (Enfield). That was eight or ten years after the War. They

would ketch some of the niggers and whip them. The young niggers got

their guns and rigged up a plan to kill them and laid out in a place for

them, but they got wind of it and stopped coming."

Mother's Occupation

"My mother was a great weaver. She would weave cloth for the hands on

the place. Some days she would work around the house and some other days

she'd go out and weave. When they wasn't any weaving or spinning to be

done, she'd go out in the field. The weaving and the spinning was right

in the white folks' house."

Own Occupation

"I used to be a preacher. Don't do much of nothin' now. Ain't able. Get

a little help from the Welfare--a little groceries sometimes. Don't get

any pension. You see, I can't do much on account of my blindness."

Opinions of Young People

"I can't tell you what I think of the young people. Times have got to be

so fast. It is just terrible to think how this life is. So much change

from forty to fifty years ago. Just as much difference on both sides,

white and colored, as there is between chalk and cheese."

Praying Under Pots

"When they'd go to have a church meeting, they turn up the pot so that

the noise wouldn't come out. They could go to the white folks' church.

But the spirit would come on them sometimes to have service themselves.

Then they'd go down to the house at night and turn up those big old iron

pots and master never would hear. They wouldn't put the washpot flat on

the ground. They'd put sticks under it and raise it up about a foot from

the ground. If they'd put it flat on the ground the ground would carry

the sound."


"There weren't no voting at all in slavery times (in his locality--ed.)

that is, far as the niggers were concerned. But after everybody was free

you could vote up until they stopped the people from voting. They kept a

Republican ticket in then. There wasn't no Democrat. None like they is

now. I don't know how this thing got mixed up like it is now.

"I remember once in North Carolina a man named Bryant got away with a

lot of votes in the boxes. He was seen to go out with two boxes under

his arms. And when they counted up the votes, the Democrats was ahead.

In them days, they counted up the votes before they left the polls. They

wanted to kill him. They sent him to the penitentiary to stay five

years. When he went in he was a young man, and when he came back he was


"There was some fighting down there that night. My father was a

constable. It was the white folks got to fighting each other. They got

to 'resting them and they filled the calaboose full that night. Didn't

have but one jail and that was in Halifax. The penitentiary was in

Raleigh. Raleigh was about 85 miles from Halifax, and Halifax about 75

from Enfield. The jail was twelve miles from Enfield."


"There were mixed bloods then just like there are now. Them came by the

old master, you know. They treated the mulatto a little better than they

did the other slaves. You know you would have more respect for your own

blood. My Aunt Rena was half-sister to my father. They had the same

mother but different fathers and they always gave her a little better

treatment than they give him. They didn't sell her. When slavery broke

she was still with her master, Old Tom Hollis. The old lady (her

mother) was there too. They hadn't sold her neither. But they never

give none of them nothin' when they was freed.

"My father was a field hand at first. But after he went to war and come

back with the scrofula, they just made him a carriage driver. But he

wasn't no mulatto though."

John Hill John James facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail