Louis Napoleon


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

J.M. Johnson, Field Worker

Jacksonville, Florida

November 17, 1936


About three miles from South Jacksonville proper down the old Saint

Augustine Road lives one Louis Napoleon an ex-slave, born in

Tallahassee, Florida about 1857, eight years prior to Emancipation.

His parents were Scipio and Edith Napoleon, being originally owned by

Colonel John S. Sammis of Arlington, Florida and the Floyd family of

Saint Marys, Georgia, respectively.

Scipio and Edith were sold to Arthur Randolph, a physician and large

plantation owner of Fort Louis, about five miles from the capital at

Tallahassee. On this large plantation that covered and area of about

eight miles and composed approximately of 90 slaves is where Louis

Napoleon first saw the light of day.

Louis' father was known as the wagoner. His duties were to haul the

commodities raised on the plantation and other things that required a

wagon. His mother Edith, was known as a "breeder" and was kept in the

palatial Randolph mansion to loom cloth for the Randolph family and

slaves. The cloth was made from the cotton raised on the plantation's

fertile fields. As Louis was so young, he had no particular duties, only

to look for hen nests, gather eggs and play with the master's three

young boys. There were seven children in the Randolph family, three

young boys, two "missy" girls and two grown sons. Louis would go fishing

and hunting with the three younger boys and otherwise engage with them

in their childish pranks.

He says that his master and mistress were very kind to the slaves and

would never whip them, nor would he allow the "driver" who was a white

man named Barton to do so. Barton lived in a home especially built for

him on the plantation. If the "driver" whipped any of them, all that was

necessary for the slave who had been whipped was to report it to the

master and the "driver" was dismissed, as he was a salaried man.

Plantation Life. The slaves lived in log cabins especially built for

them. They were ceiled and arranged in such a manner as to retain the

heat in winter from the large fireplaces constructed therein.

Just before the dawn of day, the slaves were aroused from their slumber

by a loud blast from a cow-horn that was blown by the "driver" as a

signal to prepare themselves for the fields. The plantation being so

expansive, those who had to go a long distance to the area where they

worked, were taken in wagons, those working nearby walked. They took

their meals along with them and had their breakfast and dinner on the

fields. An hour was allowed for this purpose. The slaves worked while

they sang spirituals to break the monotony of long hours of work. At the

setting of the sun, with their day's work all done, they returned to

their cabins and prepared their evening's meal. Having finished this,

the religious among them would gather at one of the cabin doors and give

thanks to God in the form of long supplications and old fashioned songs.

Many of them being highly emotional would respond in shouts of

hallelujahs sometimes causing the entire group to become "happy"

concluding in shouting and praise to God. The wicked slaves expended

their pent up emotions in song and dance. Gathering at one of the cabin

doors they would sing and dance to the tunes of a fife, banjo or fiddle

that was played by one of their number. Finished with this diversion

they would retire to await the dawn of a new day which indicated more

work. The various plantations had white men employed as "patrols" whose

duties were to see that the slaves remained on their own plantations,

and if they were caught going off without a permit from the master, they

were whipped with a "raw hide" by the "driver." There was an exception

to this rule, however, on Sundays the religious slaves were allowed to

visit other plantations where religious services were being held without

having to go through the matter of having a permit.

Religion. There was a free colored man who was called "Father James

Page," owned by a family of Parkers of Tallahassee. He was freed by them

to go and preach to his own people. He could read and write and would

visit all the plantations in Tallahassee, preaching the gospel. Each

plantation would get a visit from him one Sunday of each month. The

slaves on the Randolph plantation would congregate in one of the cabins

to receive him where he would read the Bible and preach and sing. Many

times the services were punctuated by much shouting from the "happy

ones." At these services the sacrament was served to those who had

accepted Christ, those who had not, and were willing to accept Him were

received and prepared for baptism on the next visit of "Father Page."

On the day of baptism, the candidates were attired in long white flowing

robes, which had been made by one of the slaves. Amidst singing and

praises they marched, being flanked on each side by other believers, to

a pond or lake on the plantation and after the usual ceremony they were

"ducked" into the water. This was a day of much shouting and praying.

Education. The two "missy" girls of the Randolph family were dutiful

each Sunday morning to teach the slaves their catechism or Sunday School

lesson. Aside from this there was no other training.

The War and Freedom. Mr. Napoleon relates that the doctor's two oldest

sons went to the war with the Confederate army, also the white "driver,"

Barton. His place was filled by one of the slaves, named Peter Parker.

At the closing of the war, word was sent around among the slaves that if

they heard the report of a gun, it was the Yankees and that they were


It was in May, in the middle of the day, cotton and corn being planted,

plowing going on, and slaves busily engaged in their usual activities,

when suddenly the loud report of a gun resounded, then could be heard

the slaves crying almost en-masse, "dems de Yankees." Straightway they

dropped the plows, hoes and other farm implements and hurried to their

cabins. They put on their best clothes "to go see the Yankees." Through

the countryside to the town of Tallahassee they went. The roads were

quickly filled with these happy souls. The streets of Tallahassee were

clustered with these jubilant people going here and there to get a

glimpse of the Yankees, their liberators. Napoleon says it was a joyous

and un-forgetable occasion.

When the Randolph slaves returned to their plantation, Dr. Randolph told

them that they were free, and if they wanted to go away, they could, and

if not, they could remain with him and he would give them half of what

was raised on the farms. Some of them left, however, some remained,

having no place to go, they decided it was best to remain until the

crops came off, thus earning enough to help them in their new venture in

home seeking. Those slaves who were too old and not physically able to

work, remained on the plantation and were cared for by Dr. Randolph

until their death.

Napoleon's father, Scipio, got a transfer from the government to his

former master, Colonel Sammis of Arlington, and there he lived for

awhile. He soon got employment with a Mr. Hatee of the town and after

earning enough money, bought a tract of land from him there and farmed.

There his family lived and increased. Louis being the oldest of the

children obtained odd jobs with the various settlers, among them being

Governor Reid of Florida who lived in South Jacksonville. Governor Reid

raised cattle for market and Napoleon's job was to bring them across the

Saint Johns River on a litter to Jacksonville, where they were


Louis Napoleon is now aged and infirm, his father and mother having died

many years ago. He now lives with one of his younger brothers who has a

fair sized orange grove on the south side of Jacksonville. He retains

the property that his father first bought after freedom and on which

they lived in Arlington. His hair white and he is bent with age and ill

health but his mental faculties are exceptionally keen for one of his

age. He proudly tells you that his master was good to his "niggers" and

cannot recall but one time that he saw him whip one of them and that

when one tried to run away to the Yankees. Only memories of a kind

master in his days of servitude remain with him as he recalls the dark

days of slavery.


Personal interview with Louis Napoleon, South Jacksonville, Florida

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