Minnie Branham Stonestreet

[HW: Dist. 1

Ex-Slave #92]


by Minnie Branham Stonestreet



[Date Stamp: MAY 8 1937]

Henry Rogers of Washington-Wilkes is known by almost every one in the

town and county. To the men around town he is "Deacon", to his old

friends back in Hancock County (Georgia) where he was born and reared,

he is "Brit"; to everybody else he is "Uncle Henry", and he is a friend

to all. For forty-one years he has lived in Washington-Wilkes where he

has worked as waiter, as lot man, and as driver for a livery stable when

he "driv drummers" around the country anywhere they wanted to go and in

all kinds of weather. He is proud that he made his trips safely and was

always on time. Then when automobiles put the old time livery stables

out of business he went to work in a large furniture and undertaking

establishment where he had charge of the colored department. Finally he

decided to accept a job as janitor and at one time was janitor for three

banks in town. He is still working as janitor in two buildings, despite

his seventy-three years.

Uncle Henry's "book learning" is very limited, but he has a store of

knowledge gathered here and there that is surprising. He uses very

little dialect except when he is excited or worried. He speaks of his

heart as "my time keeper". When he promises anything in the future he

says, "Please the Lord to spare me", and when anyone gets a bit

impatient he bids them, "Be paciable, be paciable". Dismal is one of his

favorite words but it is always "dism". When he says "Now, I'm tellin'

yer financially" or "dat's financial", he means that he is being very

frank and what he is saying is absolutely true.

Regarded highly as the local weather prophet, Uncle Henry gets up every

morning before daybreak and scans the heavens to see what kind of

weather is on its way. He guards all these "signs" well and under no

consideration will he tell them. They were given to him by someone who

has passed on and he keeps them as a sacred trust. If asked, upon making

a prediction, "How do you know?" Uncle Henry shakes his wise old head

and with a wave of the hand says, "Dat's all right, you jess see now,

it's goin' ter be dat way". And it usually is!

Seventy-three years ago "last gone June" Uncle Henry was born in the Mt.

Zion community in Hancock county (Georgia), seven miles from Sparta. His

mother was Molly Navery Hunt, his father, Jim Rogers. They belonged to

Mr. Jenkins Hunt and his wife "Miss Rebecca". Henry was the third of

eight children. He has to say about his early life:

"Yassum, I wuz born right over there in Hancock county, an' stayed there

'til the year 1895 when Mrs. Riley come fer me to hep' her in the Hotel

here in Washington an' I been here ev'ry since. I recollects well living

on the Hunt plantation. It wuz a big place an' we had fifteen or twenty

slaves"--(The "we" was proudly possessive)--"we wuz all as happy passel

o' niggers as could be found anywhere. Aunt Winnie wuz the cook an' the

kitchen wuz a big old one out in the yard an' had a fireplace that would

'commodate a whole fence rail, it wuz so big, an' had pot hooks, pots,

big old iron ones, an' everything er round to cook on. Aunt Winnie had a

great big wooden tray dat she would fix all us little niggers' meals in

an' call us up an' han' us a wooden spoon apiece an' make us all set

down 'round the tray an' eat all us wanted three times ev'ry day. In one

corner of the kitchen set a loom my Mother use to weave on. She would

weave way into the night lots of times.

"The fust thing I 'members is follerin' my Mother er 'round. She wuz the

housegirl an' seamstress an' everywhere she went I wuz at her heels. My

father wuz the overseer on the Hunt place. We never had no hard work to

do. My fust work wuz 'tendin' the calves an' shinin' my Master's shoes.

How I did love to put a Sunday shine on his boots an' shoes! He called

me his nigger an' wuz goin' ter make a barber out o' me if slavery had

er helt on. As it wuz, I shaved him long as he lived. We lived in the

Quarters over on a high hill 'cross the spring-branch from the white

peoples' house. We had comfortable log cabins an' lived over there an'

wuz happy. Ole Uncle Alex Hunt wuz the bugler an' ev'ry mornin' at 4:00

o'clock he blowed the bugle fer us ter git up, 'cept Sunday mornin's, us

all slept later on Sundays.

"When I wuz a little boy us played marbles, mumble peg, an' all sich

games. The little white an' black boys played together, an' ev'ry time

'Ole Miss' whipped her boys she whipped me too, but nobody 'cept my

Mistess ever teched me to punish me.

"I recollects one Sadday night ole Uncle Aaron Hunt come in an' he must

er been drinkin' or sumpin' fer he got ter singin' down in the Quarters

loud as he could 'Go Tell Marse Jesus I Done Done All I Kin Do', an'

nobody could make him hush singin'. He got into sich er row 'til they

had ter go git some o' the white folks ter come down an' quiet him down.

Dat wuz the only 'sturbance 'mongst the niggers I ever 'members.

"I wuz so little when the War come on I don't member but one thing 'bout

it an' that wuz when it wuz over with an' our white mens come home all

de neighbors, the Simpsons, the Neals, the Allens all living on

plantations 'round us had a big dinner over at my white peoples', the

Hunts, an' it sho wuz a big affair. Ev'rybody from them families wuz

there an' sich rejoicin' I never saw. I won't forgit that time.

"I allus been to Church. As a little boy my folks took me to ole Mt

Zion. We went to the white peoples' Church 'til the colored folks had

one of they own. The white folks had services in Mt Zion in the mornings

an' the niggers in the evenin's."

When a colored person died back in the days when Uncle Henry was coming

on, he said they sat up with the dead and had prayers for the living.

There was a Mr. Beman in the community who made coffins, and on the Hunt

place old Uncle Aaron Hunt helped him. The dead were buried in home-made

coffins and the hearse was a one horse wagon.

"When I wuz a growin' up" said Uncle Henry, "I wore a long loose shirt

in the summer, an' in the winter plenty of good heavy warm clothes. I

had 'nits an' lice' pants an' hickory stripe waists when I wuz a little

boy. All these my Mother spun an' wove the cloth fer an' my Mistess

made. When I wuz older I had copperas pants an' shirts."

Uncle Henry has many signs but is reluctant to tell them. Finally he was

prevailed upon to give several. What he calls his "hant sign" is: "If

you runs into hot heat sudden, it is a sho sign hants is somewheres


When a rooster comes up to the door and crows, if he is standing with

his head towards the door, somebody is coming, if he is standing with

his tail towards the door, it is a sign of death, according to Uncle

Henry. It is good luck for birds to build their nests near a house, and

if a male red bird comes around the woodpile chirping, get ready for bad

weather for it is on its way.

Uncle Henry is a pretty good doctor too, but he doesn't like to tell his

remedies. He did say that life everlasting tea is about as good thing

for a cold as can be given and for hurts of any kind there is nothing

better than soft rosin, fat meat and a little soot mixed up and bound to

the wound. He is excellent with animals and when a mule, dog, pig or

anything gets sick his neighbors call him in and he doctors them and

usually makes them well.

As for conjuring, Uncle Henry has never known much about it, but he said

when he was a little fellow he heard the old folks talk about a mixture

of devil's snuff and cotton stalk roots chipped up together and put into

a little bag and that hidden under the front steps. This was to make all

who came up the steps friendly and peacable even if they should happen

to be coming on some other mission.

After the War the Rogers family moved from the Hunts' to the Alfriend

plantation adjoining. As the Alfriends were a branch of the Hunt family

they considered they were still owned as in slavery by the same "white

peoples". They lived there until Uncle Henry moved to Washington-Wilkes

in 1895.

Christmas was a great holiday on the plantation. There was no work done

and everybody had a good time with plenty of everything good to eat.

Easter was another time when work was laid aside. A big Church service

took place Sunday and on Monday a picnic was attended by all the negroes

in the community.

There were Fourth of July celebrations, log rollings, corn shuckings,

house coverings and quilting parties. In all of these except the Fourth

of July celebration it was a share-the-work idea. Uncle Henry grew a bit

sad when he recalled how "peoples use ter be so good 'bout hep'in' one

'nother, an' now dey don't do nothin' fer nobody lessen' dey pays 'em."

He told how, when a neighbor cleared a new ground and needed help, he

invited all the men for some distance around and had a big supper

prepared. They rolled logs into huge piles and set them afire. When all

were piled high and burning brightly, supper was served by the fire

light. Sometimes the younger ones danced around the burning logs. When

there was a big barn full of corn to be shucked the neighbors gladly

gathered in, shucked the corn for the owner, who had a fiddler and maybe

some one to play the banjo. The corn was shucked to gay old tunes and

piled high in another barn. Then after a "good hot supper" there was

perhaps a dance in the cleared barn. When a neighbor's house needed

covering, he got the shingles and called in his neighbors and friends,

who came along with their wives. While the men worked atop the house the

women were cooking a delicious dinner down in the kitchen. At noon it

was served amid much merry making. By sundown the house was finished and

the friends went home happy in the memory of a day spent in toil freely

given to one who needed it.

All those affairs were working ones, but Uncle Henry told of one that

marked the end of toil for a season and that was the Fourth of July as

celebrated on the Hunt and Alfriend plantations. He said: "On the

evenin' of the third of July all plows, gear, hoes an' all sich farm

tools wuz bro't in frum the fields an' put in the big grove in front o'

the house where a long table had been built. On the Fo'th a barbecue wuz

cooked, when dinner wuz ready all the han's got they plows an' tools,

the mules wuz bro't up an' gear put on them, an' den ole Uncle Aaron

started up a song 'bout the crops wuz laid by an' res' time had come,

an' everybody grabbed a hoe er sumpin', put it on they shoulder an'

jined the march 'round an' round the table behind Uncle Aaron singin'

an' marchin', Uncle Aaron linin' off the song an' ev'ry body follerin'

him. It wuz a sight to see all the han's an' mules er goin' 'round the

table like that. Den when ev'ry body wuz might nigh 'zausted, they

stopped an' et a big barbecue dinner. Us use ter work hard to git laid

by by de Fo'th so's we could celebrate. It sho' wuz a happy time on our

plantations an' the white peoples enjoyed it as much as us niggers did.

"Us use ter have good times over there in Hancock County", continued

Uncle Henry. Ev'rybody wuz so good an' kind ter one 'nother; 't'ain't

like that now--no mam, not lak it use ter be. Why I 'members onst, when

I fust growed up an' wuz farmin' fer myself, I got sick way long up in

the Spring, an' my crop wuz et up in grass when one evenin' Mr.

Harris--(he wuz overseein' fer Mr. Treadwell over on the next plantation

to the Alfriends)--come by. I wuz out in the field tryin' ter scratch

'round as best I could, Mr. Harris say: 'Brit, you in de grass mighty

bad.' I say: 'Yassir, I is, but I been sick an' couldn't hep' myself,

that's how come I so behind.' He say: 'Look lak you needs hep'.'

'Yassir,' I says, 'but I ain't got nobody to work but me.' Dat's all he

said. Well sir, the nex' mornin' by times over comes Mr. Harris wid six

plows an' eight hoe han's an' they give me a whole day's work an' when

they finished that evenin' they want a sprig of grass in my crop; it wuz

clean as this floor, an' I'se tellin' yer the truth. Dat's the way

peoples use ter do, but not no mo'--everybody too selfish now, an' they

think ain't nobody got responsibilits (responsibilities) but them."

Speaking of his early life Uncle Henry continued: "When I growed up I

broke race horses fer white mens an' raced horses too, had rooster

fights an' done all them kind o' things, but I 'sought 'ligion an' found

it an' frum that day to this I ain't never done them things no mo'. When

I jined the Church I had a Game rooster named 'Ranger' that I had won

ev'ry fight that I had matched him in. Peoples come miles ter see Ranger

fight; he wuz a Warhorse Game. After I come to be a member of the Church

I quit fightin' Ranger so Mr. Sykes come over an' axed me what I would

take fer him, I told him he could have him--I warn't goin' to fight wid

him any mo'. He took him an' went over three states, winnin' ev'ry fight

he entered him in an' come home wid fifteen hundred dollars he made on

Ranger. He give me fifty dollars, but I never wanted him back. Ranger

wuz a pet an' I could do anything wid 'im. I'd hold out my arm an' tell

him to come up an' he'd fly up on my arm an' crow. He'd get on up on my

haid an' crow too. One rainy day 'fore I give him away he got in the lot

an' kilt three turkeys an' a gobbler fer my Mistess. She got mighty mad

an' I sho wuz skeered 'til Marse took mine an' Ranger's part an'

wouldn't let her do nothin' wid us."

Forty-seven years ago Uncle Henry married Annie Tiller of Hancock

County. They had four children, three of whom are living. About his

courtship and marriage he has to say: "I wuz at Sunday School one Sunday

an' saw Annie fer the fust time. I went 'round where she wuz an' wuz

made 'quainted with her an' right then an' there I said to myself,

'She's my gal'. I started goin' over to see her an' met her folks. I

liked her Pa an Ma an' I would set an' talk with them an' 'pear not to

be payin' much 'tention to Annie. I took candy an' nice things an' give

to the family, not jest to her. I stood in with the ole folks an'

't'warn't long 'fore me an' Annie wuz married." Uncle Henry said he took

Annie to Sparta to his Pastor's home for the marriage and the preacher

told him he charged three dollars for the ceremony. "But I tole him I

warnt goin' to give him but er dollar an' a half 'cause I wuz one of his

best payin' members an' he ought not to charge me no more than dat. An'

I never paid him no mo' neither, an' dat wuz er plenty."

Though he is crippled in his "feets" he is hale and hearty and manages

to work without missing a day. He is senior Steward in his church and

things there go about like he says even though he isn't a preacher. All

the members seem to look to him for "consulation an' 'couragement". In

all his long life he has "never spoke a oath if I knows it, an' I hates

cussin'." He speaks of his morning devotions as "havin' prayers wid

myself". His blessing at mealtime is the same one he learned in his

"white peoples'" home when he was a little boy:

"We humbly thank Thee, our Heavenly Father,

for what we have before us."

Uncle Henry says: "I loves white peoples an' I'm a-livin' long 'cause in

my early days dey cared fer me an' started me off right--they's my bes'


Minnie B Ross Minnie Davis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail