Martha Ruffin

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Martha Ruffin

1310 Cross Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 80

"I was born in North Carolina, and I was seven years old when the

Surrender was. Every one of my children can tell you when they was born,

but I can't. My mother, Quinettie Farmer was her name. Brother Robert

Farmer is my cousin. He is about the same age as my husband. He got

married one week and me and my husband the next. My father's name was

Valentine Farmer. My grandmother on my mother's side was Mandy Harrison,

and my grandfather's name on my mother's side was Jordan Harrison. My

grandpa on my father's side was named Reuben Farmer, and his wife was

Nancy Farmer. I have seed my grandpa and grandma on my father's side.

But my mother didn't see them on my mother's side.

"I 'members my daddy's white folks' names, Moses Farmer. My father never

was sold. My daddy, Valentine Farmer, was a ditcher, shoemaker, and

sometimes a tanner. My mother was a house girl. She washed and ironed. I

couldn't tell exactly what my grandparents did. My grandparents, so my

parents told me, were mostly farmers. I reckon Moses Farmer owned about

three hundred slaves.

"I was born on Robert Bynum's place. He was my mother's owner. He

married one of the Harrison girls and my mother fell to that girl. My

mother done just about as she pleased. She didn't know nothin' about

workin' in the field till after the Surrender.

"The way my mother and father happened to meet--my old master hired my

daddy to do some work for him and he met my mama that way.

"The way my folks learned they was free was, a white school-teacher who

was teaching school where we stayed told my mother she was free, but

not to say nothing about it. About three weeks later, the Yankees come

through there and told them they was free and told my old boss that if

he wanted them to work he would have to hire them and pay them. The

school-teacher stayed with mother's folks--mother's white folks. The

school-teacher was teaching white folks, not niggers. She was a Yankee,

too. My mother was the house girl, and the school-teacher stayed with

her folks. The War was so hot she couldn't git no chance to go back


"My daddy farmed after the War. He farmed on shares the first year. The

next year, he bought him a horse. He finally owned his own farm. He

owned it when he died. He had about one hundred acres of land.

"I have pretty fair health for an old woman like I am. I am bothered

with the rheumatism. The Lawd wouldn't let both of us git down at the

same time. (Here she refers to her husband who was sick in bed at

the time she made the statement. You have his story already. It was

difficult for her to tell her story, for he wanted it to be like


"I belong to the Primitive Baptist Church. I haven't changed my

membership from my home.

"I got married in 1882, in February. How many years is that? I got so I

can't count up nothin'. Fifty-six years. Yes, that's it; that's how long

I been married. I had a little sister that got married with me. She

didn't really git married; she just stood up with me. She was just a

little baby girl. They told me I was pretty near twenty-three years old

when I married. I have a daughter that's been married twenty-five years.

We had older daughters, but that one was the first one married. I have

got a daughter over in North Little Rock that is about fifty years old.

Her husband is dead. We had ten children. My daughter is the mother of

ten children too. She got married younger than I did. This girl I am

living with is my baby. I have four children living--three girls and one

boy. A woman asked me how many children I had and I told her three. She

was a fortuneteller and she wanted to tell me my fortune. But I didn't

want her to tell me nothin'. God was gittin' ready to tell me somethin'

I didn't want to hear. I've got five great-grandchildren. We don't have

no great-great-grandchildren. Don't want none."

Interviewer's Comment

The old lady's style was kind of cramped by the presence of her husband.

Every once in a while, when she would be about to paint something in

lurid colors, he would drop in a word and she would roll her phrases

around in her mouth, so to speak, and shift and go ahead in a different

direction and on another gear.

Very pleasant couple though--with none of the bitterness that old age

brings sometimes. The daughter's name is Searles.

Martha Richardson Martha Spence Bunton facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail