Mary James


Sept. 23, 1937



Reference: Personal interview with Mary James, ex-slave,

Sept. 23, 1937, at her home, 618 Haw St., Baltimore, Md.

"My father's name was Caleb Harris James, and my mother's name was Mary

Moriah. Both of them were owned by Silas Thornton Randorph, a distant

relative of Patrick Henry. I have seen the picture of Patrick Henry many

a time in the home place on the library wall. I had three sisters and

two brothers. Two of my sisters were sold to a slave dealer from

Georgia, one died in 1870. One brother ran away and the other joined the

Union Army; he died in the Soldiers' Home in Washington in 1932 at the

age of 84.

"How let me ask you, who told you about me? I knew that a stranger was

coming, my nose has been itching for several days. How about my home

life in Virginia, we lived on the James River in Virginia, on a farm

containing more than 8,000 acres, fronting 3-1/2 miles on the river,

with a landing where boats used to come to load tobacco and unload goods

for the farm.

"The quarters where we lived on the plantation called Randolph Manor

were built like horse stables that you see on race tracks; they were

1-1/2 story high, about 25 feet wide, and about 75 feet long, with

windows in the sides of the roofs. A long shelter on the front and at

the rear. In front, people would have benches to sit on, and on the back

were nails to hang pots and pans. Each family would have rooms according

to the size of the family. There were 8 such houses, 6 for families and

one for the girls and the other for the boys. In the quarters we had

furniture made by the overseer and colored carpenters; they would make

the tables, benches and beds for everybody. Our beds were ticking filled

with straw and covers made of anything we could get.

"I have a faint recollection of my grandparents. My grandfather was sold

to a man in South Carolina, to work in the rice field. Grandmother

drowned herself in the river when she heard that grand-pap was going

away. I was told that grandpap was sold because he got religious and

prayed that God would set him and grandma free.

"When I was ten years old I was put to work on the farm with other

children, picking weeds, stone up and tobacco worms and to do other

work. We all got new shoes for Christmas, a dress and $2.50 for

Christmas or suits of clothes. We spent our money at Mr. Randorph's

store for things that we wanted, but was punished if the money was spent

at the county seat at other stores.

"We were allowed fat meat, corn meal, black molasses and vegetables,

corn and grain to roast for coffee. Mother cooked my food after stopping

work on the farm for the day, I never ate possum. We would catch rabbits

in guns or traps and as we lived on the rivers, we ate any kind of fish

we caught. The men and everybody would go fishing after work. Each

family had a garden, we raised what we wanted.

"As near as I can recall, we had about 150 sheep on the farm, producing

our own wool. The old women weaved clothes; we had woolen clothes in the

winter and cotton clothes in the summer. On Sunday we wore the clothes

given to us at Christmas time and shoes likewise.

"I was married on the farm 1863 and married my same husband by a Baptist

preacher in 1870 as I was told I had not been legally married. I was

married in the dress given to me at Christmas of 1862. I did not get one

in 1863.

"Old Silas Randolph was a mean man to his slaves, especially when drunk.

He and the overseer would always be together, each of whom carried a

whip, and upon the least provocation would whip his slaves. My mistress

was not as mean as my master, but she was mean There was only one son in

the Randolph family. He went to a military school somewhere in Virginia.

I don't know the name. He was captured by the Union soldiers. I never

saw him until after the war, when he came home with one arm.

"The overseer lived on the farm. He was the brother of Mrs. Randolph. He

would whip men and women and children if he thought they were not

working fast.

"The plantation house was a large brick house over-looking the river

from a hill, a porch on three sides, two-stories and attic. In the attic

slept the house servants and coachman. We did not come in contact with

the white people very much. Our place was away from the village.

"There were 8,000 acres to the plantation, with more than 150 slaves on

it. I do not know the time slaves woke up, but everybody was at work at

sunrise and worked to sundown. The slaves were whipped for not working

fast or anything that suited the fancy of the master or overseer.

"I have seen slaves sold on the farm and I have seen slaves brought to

the farm. The slaves were brought up the river in boats and unloaded at

the landing, some crying and some seem to be happy.

"No one was taught to read or write. There was no church on the farm. No

one was allowed to read the Bible or anything else.

"I have heard it said that the Randolph's lost more slaves by running

away than anyone in the county. The patrollers were many in the county;

they would whip any colored person caught off the place after night.

Whenever a man wanted to run away he would go with someone else, either

from the farm or from some other farm, hiding in the swamps or along the

river, making their way to some place where they thought would be safe,

sometimes hiding on trains leaving Virginia.

"The slaves, after going to their quarters, cooked, rested or did what

they wanted. Saturdays was no different from Monday.

"On Christmas morning all the slaves would go up to the porch, get the

$2.50, shoes and clothes, go back to the cabins and do what they wanted.

"On New Year's Day everybody was scared as that was the day that slaves

were taken away or brought to the farm.

"You have asked about stories, I will tell you one I know. It is true.

"During the war one day some Union soldiers came to the farm looking for

Rebels. There were a number of them in the woods near the landing; they

had come across the river in boats. At night while the Union soldiers

were at the landing, they were fired on by the Rebels. The Union

soldiers went after them, killed ten, caught I think six and some were

drowned in the river. Among the six was the overseer, and from that

night people have heard shooting and seen soldiers. One night many years

after the Civil War, while visiting a friend who now lives within 500

feet from the landing where the fighting took place, there appeared some

soldiers carrying a man out of the woods whom I recognized as being the

overseer. He had been seen hundreds of times by other people. White

people will tell you the same thing. I will tell you for sure this is


"You must excuse me I wanted to see some friends this evening."

Mary Jackson Mary Jane Drucilla Davis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail