Julia Larken





PLANTATION LIFE AS VIEWED BY AN EX-SLAVE



JULIA LARKEN, Age 76

693 Meigs Street

Athens, Georgia



Written by:

Miss Grace McCune

Athens



Edited by:

Mrs. Sarah H. Hall

Athens



and

John N. Booth

District Supervisor

Federal Writers' Project

Residencies 6 & 7

Augusta, Georgia





Julia's small three-room cottage is a servant house at the rear of a

white family's residence. A gate through an old-fashioned picket fence

led into a spacious yard where dense shade from tall pecan trees was

particularly inviting after a long walk in the sweltering heat.



An aged mulatto woman was seated on the narrow porch. Her straight white

hair was arranged in braids, and her faded print dress and enormous

checked apron were clean and carefully patched. A pair of dark colored

tennis shoes completed her costume. She arose, tall and erect, to greet

her visitor. "Yessum, dis here's Julia Larken," she said with a friendly

smile. "Come right in, Chile, and set here and rest on my nice cool

porch. I knows you's tired plumb out. You shouldn't be out walkin'

'round in dis hot sun--It ain't good for you. It'll make you have brain

fever 'fore you knows it."



When asked for the story of her life, Julia replied: "Lordy, Chile, did

you do all dis walkin', hot as it is today, jus' to hear dis old Nigger

talk? Well, jus' let me tell you, dem days back yonder 'fore de war was

de happiest time of my whole life.



"I don't know much 'bout slavery, 'cause I was jus' a little gal when de

war ended. I was borned in war times on Marse Payton Sails' plantation,

way off down in Lincoln County. My Ma was borned and bred right dar on

dat same place. Marster bought my Daddy and his Mammy from Captain

LeMars, and dey tuk de name of Sails atter dey come to live on his

place. Mammy's name was Betsy Sails and Daddy was named Sam'l. Dey was

married soon atter Marster fetched Daddy dar.



"Dere ain't no tellin' how big Marster's old plantation was. His house

set right on top of a high hill. His plantation road circled 'round dat

hill two or three times gittin' from de big road to de top of de hill.

Dere was a great deep well in de yard whar dey got de water for de big

house. Marster's room was upstairs and had steps on de outside dat come

down into de yard. On one side of his house was a fine apple orchard, so

big dat it went all de way down de hill to de big road.



"On de other side of de house was a large gyarden whar us raised

evvything in de way of good veg'tables; dere was beans, corn, peas,

turnips, collards, 'taters, and onions. Why dey had a big patch of

nothin' but onions. Us did love onions. Dere was allus plenty of good

meat in Marster's big old smokehouse dat stood close by de well.

Marster, he believed in raisin' heaps of meat. He had cows, hogs, goats,

and sheep, not to mention his chickens and turkeys.



"All de cloth for slaves' clothes was made at home. Mammy was one of de

cooks up at de big house, and she made cloth too. Daddy was de shoe man.

He made de shoes for all de folks on de plantation.



"De log cabins what de slaves lived in was off a piece from de big

house. Dem cabins had rock chimblies, put together wid red mud. Dere

warn't no glass in de windows and doors of dem cabins--jus' plain old

home-made wooden shutters and doors." Julia laughed as she told of their

beds. "Us called 'em four posters, and dat's what dey was, but dey was

jus' plain old pine posties what one of de men on de plantation made up.

Two posties at de head and two at de foot wid pine rails betwixt 'em was

de way dey made dem beds. Dere warn't no sto'-bought steel springs dem

days, not even for de white folks, but dem old cord springs went a long

ways towards makin' de beds comfortable and dey holped to hold de bed

together. De four poster beds de white folks slept on was corded too,

but deir posties warn't made out of pine. Dey used oak and walnut and

sometimes real mahogany, and dey carved 'em up pretty. Some of dem big

old posties to de white folkses beds was six inches thick.



"Slaves all et up at de big house in dat long old kitchen. I kin jus'

see dat kitchen now. It warn't built on to de big house, 'cept it was at

de end of a big porch dat went from it to de big house. A great big

fireplace was 'most all de way 'cross one end of dat kitchen, and it had

racks and cranes for de pots and pans and ovens but, jus' let me tell

you, our Marster had a cookstove too. Yessum, it was a real sho' 'nough

iron cookstove. No'm, it warn't 'zactly lak de stoves us uses now. It

was jus' a long, low stove, widout much laigs, jus' flat on top wid eyes

to cook on. De oven was at de bottom. Mammy and Grandma Mary was mighty

proud of dat stove, 'cause dere warn't nobody else 'round dar what had a

cookstove so us was jus' plumb rich folks.



"Slaves didn't come to de house for dinner when dey was wukin' a fur

piece off in de fields. It was sont to 'em, and dat was what kilt one of

my brothers. Whilst it was hot, de cooks would set de bucket of dinner

on his haid and tell him to run to de field wid it fore it got cold. He

died wid brain fever, and de doctor said it was from totin' all dem hot

victuals on his haid. Pore Brudder John, he sho' died out, and ever

since den I been skeered of gittin' too hot on top of de haid.



"Dere was twelve of Mammy's chillun in all, countin' Little Peter who

died out when he was a baby. De other boys was John, Tramer, Sam'l,

George, and Scott. De only one of my brothers left now is George,

leastwise I reckon he's livin' yet. De last 'count I had of him he was

in Chicago, and he must be 'bout a hundred years old now. De gals was me

and Mary, 'Merica, Hannah, Betsy, and Emma.



"'Fore Grandma Mary got too old to do all de cookin', Mammy wuked in de

field. Mammy said she allus woke up early, and she could hear Marster

when he started gittin' up. She would hurry and git out 'fore he had

time to call 'em. Sometimes she cotch her hoss and rid to the field

ahead of de others, 'cause Marster never laked for nobody to be late in

de mornin'. One time he got atter one of his young slaves out in de

field and told him he was a good mind to have him whupped. Dat night de

young Nigger was tellin' a old slave 'bout it, and de old man jus'

laughed and said: 'When Marster pesters me dat way I jus' rise up and

cuss him out.' Dat young fellow 'cided he would try it out and de next

time Marster got atter him dey had a rukus what I ain't never gwine to

forgit. Us was all out in de yard at de big house, skeered to git a good

breath when us heared Marster tell him to do somepin, 'cause us knowed

what he was meanin' to do. He didn't go right ahead and mind Marster lak

he had allus been used to doin'. Marster called to him again, and den

dat fool Nigger cut loose and he evermore did cuss Marster out. Lordy,

Chile, Marster jus' fairly tuk de hide off dat Nigger's back. When he

tried to talk to dat old slave 'bout it de old man laughed and said:

'Shucks, I allus waits 'til I gits to de field to cuss Marster so he

won't hear me.'



"Marster didn't have but two boys and one of 'em got kilt in de war. Dat

sho'ly did hurt our good old Marster, but dat was de onliest diffunce de

war made on our place. When it was over and dey said us was free, all de

slaves stayed right on wid de Marster; dat was all dey knowed to do.

Marster told 'em dey could stay on jus' as long as dey wanted to, and

dey was right dar on dat hill 'til Marster had done died out and gone to

Glory.



"Us chillun thought hog killin' time wes de best time of all de year. Us

would hang 'round de pots whar dey was rendin' up de lard and all day us

et dem good old browned skin cracklin's and ash roasted 'taters. Marster

allus kilt from 50 to 60 hogs at a time. It tuk dat much meat to feed

all de folks dat had to eat from his kitchen. Little chillun never had

nothin' much to do 'cept eat and sleep and play, but now, jus' let me

tell you for sho', dere warn't no runnin' 'round nights lak dey does

now. Not long 'fore sundown dey give evvy slave chile a wooden bowl of

buttermilk and cornpone and a wooden spoon to eat it wid. Us knowed us

had to finish eatin' in time to be in bed by de time it got dark.



"Our homespun dresses had plain waisties wid long skirts gathered on to

'em. In hot weather chillun wore jus' one piece; dat was a plain slip,

but in cold weather us had plenty of good warm clothes. Dey wove cotton

and wool together to make warm cloth for our winter clothes and made

shoes for us to wear in winter too. Marster evermore did believe in

takin' good keer of his Niggers.



"I kin ricollect dat 'fore dere was any churches right in our

neighborhood, slaves would walk 8 and 10 miles to church. Dey would git

up 'way 'fore dawn on meetin' day, so as to git dar on time. Us wouldn't

wear our shoes on dem long walks, but jus' went barfoots 'til us got

nearly to de meetin' house. I jus' kin 'member dat, for chillun warn't

'lowed to try to walk dat fur a piece, but us could git up early in de

mornin' and see de grown folks start off. Dey was dressed in deir best

Sunday go-to-meetin' clothes and deir shoes, all shined up, was tied

together and hung over deir shoulders to keep 'em from gittin' dust on

'em. [HW in margin: Sunday clothing] Men folks had on plain homespun

shirts and jeans pants. De jeans what deir pants was made out of was

homespun too. Some of de 'omans wore homespun dresses, but most of 'em

had a calico dress what was saved special for Sunday meetin' wear.

'Omans wore two or three petticoats all ruffled and starched 'til one or

dem underskirts would stand by itself. Dey went barfoots wid deir shoes

hung over deir shoulders, jus' lak de mens, and evvy 'oman pinned up her

dress and evvy one of her petticoats but one to keep 'em from gittin'

muddy. Dresses and underskirts was made long enough to touch de ground

dem days. Dey allus went off singin', and us chillun would be wishin'

for de time when us would be old enough to wear long dresses wid

starched petticoats and go to meetin'. Us chillun tried our best to stay

'wake 'til dey got home so us could hear 'em talk 'bout de preachin' and

singin' and testifyin' for de Lord, and us allus axed how many had done

jined de church dat day.



"Long 'fore I was old enough to make dat trip on foot, dey built a

Baptist church nearby. It was de white folkses church, but dey let deir

own Niggers join dar too, and how us chillun did love to play 'round it.

No'm, us never broke out no windows or hurt nothin' playin' dar. Us

warn't never 'lowed to throw no rocks when us was on de church grounds.

De church was up on top of a high hill and at de bottom of dat hill was

de creek whar de white folks had a fine pool for baptizin'. Dey had

wooden steps to go down into it and a long wooden trough leadin' from de

creek to fill up de pool whenever dere was baptizin' to be done. Dey had

real sermons in dat church and folks come from miles around to see dem

baptizin's. White folks was baptized fust and den de Niggers. When de

time come for to baptize dem Niggers you could hear 'em singin' and

shoutin' a long ways off.



"It jus' don't seem lak folks has de same sort of 'ligion now dey had

dem days, 'specially when somebody dies. Den de neighbors all went to de

house whar de corpse was and sung and prayed wid de fambly. De coffins

had to be made atter folks was done dead. Dey measured de corpse and

made de coffin 'cordin'ly. Most of 'em was made out of plain pine wood,

lined wid black calico, and sometimes dey painted 'em black on de

outside. Dey didn't have no 'balmers on de plantations so dey couldn't

keep dead folks out long; dey had to bury 'em de very next day atter dey

died. Dey put de corpse in one wagon and de fambly rode in another, but

all de other folks walked to de graveyard. When dey put de coffin in de

grave dey didn't have no sep'rate box to place it in, but dey did lay

planks 'cross de top of it 'fore de dirt was put in. De preacher said a

prayer and de folks sung Harps from de Tomb. Maybe several months

later dey would have de funeral preached some Sunday.



"Us had all sorts of big doin's at harvest time. Dere was cornshuckin's,

logrollin's, syrup makin's, and cotton pickin's. Dey tuk time about from

one big plantation to another. Evvy place whar dey was a-goin' to

celebrate tuk time off to cook up a lot of tasty eatments, 'specially to

barbecue plenty of good meat. De Marsters at dem diffunt places allus

seed dat dere was plenty of liquor passed 'round and when de wuk was

done and de Niggers et all dey wanted, dey danced and played 'most all

night. What us chillun laked most 'bout it was de eatin'. What I 'member

best of all is de good old corn risin' lightbread. Did you ever see any

of it, Chile? Why, my Mammy and Grandma Mary could bake dat bread so

good it would jus' melt in your mouth.



"Mammy died whilst I was still little and Daddy married again. I guess

his second wife had a time wid all of us chillun. She tried to be good

to us, but I was skeered of her for a long time atter she come to our

cabin. She larnt me how to make my dresses, and de fust one I made all

by myself was a long sight too big for me. I tried it on and was plumb

sick 'bout it bein' so big, den she said; 'Never mind, you'll grow to

it.' Let me tell you, I got dat dress off in a hurry 'cause I was 'most

skeered to death for fear dat if I kept it on it would grow to my skin

lak I thought she meant. [HW in margin: Humor] I never put dat dress on

no more for a long time and dat was atter I found out dat she jus' meant

dat my dress would fit me atter I had growed a little more.



"All us chillun used to pick cotton for Marster, and he bought all our

clothes and shoes. One day he told me and Mary dat us could go to de

store and git us a pair of shoes apiece. 'Course us knowed what kind of

shoes he meant for us to git, but Mary wanted a fine pair of Sunday

shoes and dat's what she picked out and tuk home. Me, I got brass-toed

brogans lak Marster meant for us to git. 'Bout half way home Mary put on

her shoes and walked to de big house in 'em. When Marster seed 'em he

was sho' mad as a hornet, but it was too late to take 'em back to de

store atter de shoes had done been wore and was all scratched up.

Marster fussed: 'Blast your hide, I'm a good mind to thrash you to

death.' Mary stood dar shakin' and tremblin', but dat's all Marster ever

said to her 'bout it. Us heared him tell Mist'ess dat dat gal Mary was a

right smart Nigger.



"Marster had a great big old bull dat was mighty mean. He had real long

horns, and he could lift de fence railin's down one by one and turn all

de cows out. Evvy time he got out he would fight us chillun, so Marster

had to keep him fastened up in de stable. One day when us wanted to play

in de stable, us turned Old Camel (dat was de bull) out in de pasture.

He tuk down rails enough wid his horns to let de cows in Marster's fine

gyarden and dey et it all up. Marster was wuss dan mad dat time, but us

hid in de barn under some hay 'til he went to bed. Next mornin' he

called us all up to git our whuppin', but us cried and said us wouldn't

never do it no more so our good old Marster let us off dat time.



"Lak I done said before, I stayed on dar 'til Marster died, den I

married Matthew Hartsfield. Lordy, Chile, us didn't have no weddin'. I

had on a new calico dress and Matthew wore some new blue jeans breeches.

De Reverend Hargrove, de white folks preacher, married us and nobody

didn't know nothin' 'bout it 'til it was all over. Us went to Oglethorpe

County and lived dar 19 years 'fore Matthew died. I wuked wid white

folks dar 'til I married up wid Ben Larken and us come on here to Athens

to live. I have done some wuk for 'most all de white folks 'round here.

Ben's grandpappy was a miller on Potts Creek, nigh Stephens, and

sometimes Ben used to have to go help him out wid de wuk, atter he got

old and feeble.



"Dey's all gone now and 'cept for some nieces, I'm left all alone. I kin

still mind de chillun and even do a little wuk. For dat I do give thanks

to de Good Lord--dat he keeps me able to do some wuk.



"Goodbye Chile," said Julia, when her visitor arose to leave. "You must

be more keerful 'bout walkin' 'round when de sun is too hot. It'll make

you sick sho'. Folks jus' don't know how to take de right sort of keer

of deyselves dese days."





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