Louise Mckinney

[HW: DIST. 4 Ex. Slave.] 310 Louise McKinney 100142

[HW: "Uncle Jake"]

"A Vessel Ob De Lawd".

Uncle Jake was a character up in the hills of north Georgia. I can look

back and see him now as he trudged through the snow in the early morning

from his little log cabin down in the field. His new home-made shoes

were being worn for the first time and with every swing of the milk

pail, he limped.

"Whose on de Lawd's side? I's on de Lawd's side!" His thin, cracked

voice rang out clearly, and every other word received special emphasis

as he tried to step lightly with his left foot.

My nose was flattened against the cold, frosty window pane as I watched

the old darky go about his morning chores. Just the afternoon before I

had slipped away to his and Aunt Callie's cabin to talk for a little

while and found him melting tallow in an old bucket over a sputtering

log fire. As he rubbed the smelly drippings over the heavy shoes he kept

glancing toward the sky at the soft gray clouds, then he would say,

"Look at dat smoke up at de big house. It am meeting and mingling and

habin' communion wid dem clouds oberhead. We's goin' hab wedder in de

mornin', and here you is Cissie Ann wid dat 'plexion o' yo's as soft as

a fresh born lam'. Dis wind aint for sweet chile's like you for it

soun's like de pipe what de dibbil play as it whistles roun' dis chimney


With all of my six years' wide experience, I always learned something new

from Uncle Jake and somehow I enjoyed the musty smell of the dark cabin,

the strings of red pepper draped in festoons, twists of "chawing baccer"

and bunches of onions which hung from the rafters and the soft goose

feather bed which Uncle Jake said warded off dampness and kept him from

having "the misery in his stiff ol' jints". In spite of his protests as

to me remaining longer, I settled myself on a three-legged stool and

with the aid of his fumbling fingers took off my bonnet. My mother

insisted that a bonnet was for protection from wind and sun, so I always

wore mine, but I had to have assistance in removing it because mother

braided my hair near the top of my head and pulled the plait through a

hole in the bonnet left for that purpose, then the top was buttoned

around it so my fingers could not remove it. Uncle Jake always laughed

when he helped me take it off because we had to be rather secretive and

not let mother find out.

Mammy Callie was in the kitchen churning, so I continued to ply Uncle

Jake with questions while I waited for a glass of fresh buttermilk. I

knew that my father was away at war and that Uncle Jake and Mammy Callie

were looking after my grandparents, my mother and me, but they would not

tell what war was like or why I could not go and play with other

children--they always watched me when I played and everything was kept

locked and hidden. It was all so strange and different from what it had

been, but Uncle Jake was just the same and all he would say was, "Dis

ol' worl' am just a vessel ob de Lawd and sometimes de contents of dat

vessel jest don' agree, dey gets bilin' hot like when water am poured on

burning embers, a powerful smoke do rise. So it is now, chile, dis ol'

worl' jest got too hot wid sin and God am trying to cool it off wid

refreshin' showers ob his love, but de dibbil am makin' sech a smoke it

am smartin' God's eyes", and Uncle Jake would pat me on the head and I

would smile and nod as if his explanation had been perfectly clear.

These thoughts of the afternoon before ran through my mind as I watched

Uncle Jake as he limped through the snow with a big brown shawl wrapped

around his stooped shoulders, a piece of home spun jeans pinned around

his head and a pair of patched jeans trousers supported by heavy bands

of the same material for suspenders. As he returned from milking, I

wondered if he had my gray kitten in his pocket, but suddenly I realized

he was hobbling hurriedly, the milk pail was thrown aside and he seemed

badly frightened. I ran to find out what had occurred to upset Uncle

Jake's usual carefree manner.

"De lock am gone! Dat mule am gone! Dem bushwhackers done tuk it off and

I's done gone atter 'em, right now". His eyes flashed as he shouted

without stopping and he hobbled down to his cabin. Grandfather went down

and tried to convince him that the weather was too cold to attempt to

follow the thief and to wait until later, but the old negro began

quoting scripture as he put on another coat and heavy knit gloves. "De

Lawd say, 'Dey shall not steal', and de white folks is sho' to think I

tuk 'at mule off. Fuddermore, in de 'pistle ob de 'postle, Isaiah, he

say, 'Be a clean vessel ob de Lawd God', and I gonna find out de truf

and prove my position 'fore dese people. Dat low-down scallawag what

come here wid no 'nouncement ob his 'pearance is gwine suffer for dis

here axident. He nebber reckoned wid me". And with that Uncle Jake waded

into the deep snow and was last seen following the creek down through

the meadow as it meandered underneath an icy crust.

Several days passed and anxiety began to show on the faces of those at

home, but one morning Mammy Callie came to get breakfast with her face

aglow. After praying most of the night, she said "The good Lord has

given me a sho sign, for He done showed me a vision of a man up 'fore a

Jedge and den I see Jake wid a bucket of oats and dat mule was toggin'

behin' him".

His spirit was contagious and we lived in an atmosphere of expectancy

during the day and were not surprised when we heard shouts of joy and

praises to "de good Lawd" from Jake as he rode up on the old mule.

He had been unable to locate any tracks, but he had walked miles in the

cold and sneaked around the barns and in the chimney corners to

eavesdrop at the homes of those whom he suspected of being disloyal to

the Confederate cause. While hiding under a haystack late one afternoon,

he heard voices and he recognised his master's mule as it was sold by a

stranger with a decided northern brogue to the owner of the place on

which he was hiding. Uncle Jake almost shouted for joy, but he realised

he was on "alien" territory so he remained out of sight. When the mule

was fed and stabled, he skipped in under cover of darkness and led the

mule away. In the excitement of getting away he forgot that he had

crossed the county line, so no excuse was taken when the sheriff of that

county took him into custody. Uncle Jake was hailed into court the next

morning with the "owner" as witness against him.

"How old are you?" asked the judge in a stern manner.

"I's ol' enuf to know dat am de mule what belongs to Marster. I knows

him by his bray", answered the negro, as he looked over the crowd and

saw and felt no sympathy from any of them.

"You were caught with stolen goods out of your county and from all

appearances you were hurt in the attempt to escape for I see you are

limping. What do you say to that?"

Uncle Jake was trembling as he looked down at his smelly shoes. "No,

sir, Jedge. You is sho' wrong. I jest receibed a commandment from my

heabenly Father to walk in de Truth and I was serbing my white folks by

getting back what is ders. Dis mule was stole by some po' sinner what

don' know de scriptures".

At this point the sheriff from Jake's county, who was a good friend of

our Marlow family, walked into the courtroom to see if he could help

Jake in his difficulties. When the frightened negro saw him, he forgot

the dignity of the court and shouted, "Praise de Lawd. I's been a vessel

ob His for nigh onto sixty years and He's done fill me full ob Grace and

Glory dis very hour".

And without further ado, he left the sheriff to make all explanations.

As he ran to the hitching post the mule began to bray and as Uncle Jake

mounted he shouted, "We're shaking de dust ob dis place from off our

feet and goin' back to our (Fannin) county where we can con-tinue bein'

vessels ob de Lawd and servin' our white folks".

As long as he lived, Uncle Jake was a faithful servant to his white

folks. Every time I slipped away to spend a little time at the

log-cabin, I always asked him to repeat the story of how he returned the

mule and with each repeating he praised the Lord more for being a direct

instrument in helping him prove to the countryside that he was "a clean

vessel ob de Lawd", but he blamed the new shoes and his skinned heel for

not getting across the county line before he was caught.


An old negro by the name of Jake identified a mule of his master's in

court at Morganton. The little girls in the Morris family in Fannin

County were made to wear bonnets with their hair pulled through so they

could not be removed.

These two facts told me by Mr. J. R. Kincaid of Blue Ridge.

Louisa Gause Louise Pettis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail