Nicey Kinney



R.F.D. #3

Athens, Ga.

Written by:

Miss Grace McCune


Edited by:

Mrs. Sarah H. Hall



John N. Booth

District Supervisor

Federal Writers' Proj.

Res. 6 & 7

Augusta, Ga.

Sept. 28, 1938

A narrow path under large water oaks led through a well-kept yard where

a profusion of summer flowers surrounded Nicey Kinney's two-story frame

house. The porch floor and a large portion of the roof had rotted down,

and even the old stone chimney at one end of the structure seemed to

sag. The middle-aged mulatto woman who answered the door shook her head

when asked if she was Nicey Kinney. "No, mam," she protested, "but dat's

my mother and she's sick in bed. She gits mighty lonesome lyin' dar in

de bed and she sho does love to talk. Us would be mighty proud if you

would come in and see her."

Nicey was propped up in bed and, although the heat of the September day

was oppressive, the sick woman wore a black shoulder cape over her thick

flannel nightgown; heavy quilts and blankets were piled close about her

thin form, and the window at the side of her bed was tightly closed. Not

a lock of her hair escaped the nightcap that enveloped her head. The

daughter removed an empty food tray and announced, "Mammy, dis lady's

come to see you and I 'spects you is gwine to lak her fine 'cause she

wants to hear 'bout dem old days dat you loves so good to tell about."

Nicey smiled. "I'se so glad you come to see me," she said, "'cause I

gits so lonesome; jus' got to stay here in dis bed, day in and day out.

I'se done wore out wid all de hard wuk I'se had to do, and now I'se a

aged 'oman, done played out and sufferin' wid de high blood pressur'.

But I kin talk and I does love to bring back dem good old days a-fore de


Newspapers had been pasted on the walls of Nicey's room. In one corner

an enclosed staircase was cut off from the room by a door at the head of

the third step; the space underneath the stair was in use as a closet.

The marble topped bureau, two double beds, a couple of small tables, and

some old chairs were all of a period prior to the current century. A pot

of peas was perched on a pair of "firedogs" over the coals of a wood

fire in the open fireplace. On a bed of red coals a thick iron pan held

a large pone of cornbread, and the tantalizing aroma of coffee drew

attention to a steaming coffeepot on a trivet in one corner of the

hearth. Nicey's daughter turned the bread over and said, "Missy, I jus'

bet you ain't never seed nobody cookin' dis way. Us is got a stove back

in de kitchen, but our somepin t'eat seems to taste better fixed dis

'way; it brings back dem old days when us was chillun and all of us was

at home wid mammy." Nicey grinned. "Missy," she said, "Annie--dat's dis

gal of mine here--laughs at de way I laks dem old ways of livin', but

she's jus' as bad 'bout 'em as I is, 'specially 'bout dat sort of

cookin'; somepin t'eat cooked in dat old black pot is sho good.

"Marse Gerald Sharp and his wife, Miss Annie, owned us and, Child, dey

was grand folks. Deir old home was 'way up in Jackson County 'twixt

Athens and Jefferson. Dat big old plantation run plumb back down to de

Oconee River. Yes, mam, all dem rich river bottoms was Marse Gerald's.

"Mammy's name was Ca'line and she b'longed to Marse Gerald, but Marse

Hatton David owned my daddy--his name was Phineas. De David place warn't

but 'bout a mile from our plantation and daddy was 'lowed to stay wid

his fambly most evvy night; he was allus wid us on Sundays. Marse Gerald

didn't have no slaves but my mammy and her chillun, and he was sho

mighty good to us.

"Marse Gerald had a nice four-room house wid a hall all de way through

it. It even had two big old fireplaces on one chimbly. No, mam, it

warn't a rock chimbly; dat chimbly was made out of home-made bricks.

Marster's fambly had deir cookin' done in a open fireplace lak evvybody

else for a long time and den jus' 'fore de big war he bought a stove.

Yes, mam, Marse Gerald bought a cook stove and us felt plumb rich 'cause

dere warn't many folks dat had stoves back in dem days.

"Mammy lived in de old kitchen close by de big house 'til dere got to be

too many of us; den Marse Gerald built us a house jus' a little piece

off from de big house. It was jus' a log house, but Marster had all dem

cracks chinked tight wid red mud, and he even had one of dem

franklin-back chimblies built to keep our little cabin nice and warm.

Why, Child, ain't you never seed none of dem old chimblies? Deir backs

sloped out in de middle to throw out de heat into de room and keep too

much of it from gwine straight up de flue. Our beds in our cabin was

corded jus' lak dem up at de big house, but us slept on straw ticks and,

let me tell you, dey sho slept good atter a hard days's wuk.

"De bestest water dat ever was come from a spring right nigh our cabin

and us had long-handled gourds to drink it out of. Some of dem gourds

hung by de spring all de time and dere was allus one or two of 'em

hangin' by de side of our old cedar waterbucket. Sho', us had a cedar

bucket and it had brass hoops on it; dat was some job to keep dem hoops

scrubbed wid sand to make 'em bright and shiny, and dey had to be clean

and pretty all de time or mammy would git right in behind us wid a

switch. Marse Gerald raised all dem long-handled gourds dat us used

'stid of de tin dippers folks has now, but dem warn't de onliest kinds

of gourds he growed on his place. Dere was gourds mos' as big as

waterbuckets, and dey had short handles dat was bent whilst de gourds

was green, so us could hang 'em on a limb of a tree in de shade to keep

water cool for us when us was wukin' in de field durin' hot weather.

"I never done much field wuk 'til de war come on, 'cause Mistess was

larnin' me to be a housemaid. Marse Gerald and Miss Annie never had no

chillun 'cause she warn't no bearin' 'oman, but dey was both mighty fond

of little folks. On Sunday mornin's mammy used to fix us all up nice and

clean and take us up to de big house for Marse Gerald to play wid. Dey

was good christian folks and tuk de mostest pains to larn us chillun how

to live right. Marster used to 'low as how he had done paid $500 for

Ca'line but he sho wouldn't sell her for no price.

"Evvything us needed was raised on dat plantation 'cept cotton. Nary a

stalk of cotton was growed dar, but jus' de same our clothes was made

out of cloth dat Mistess and my mammy wove out of thread us chillun

spun, and Mistess tuk a heap of pains makin' up our dresses. Durin' de

war evvybody had to wear homespun, but dere didn't nobody have no better

or prettier dresses den ours, 'cause Mistess knowed more'n anybody 'bout

dyein' cloth. When time come to make up a batch of clothes Mistess would

say, 'Ca'line holp me git up my things for dyein',' and us would fetch

dogwood bark, sumach, poison ivy, and sweetgum bark. That poison ivy

made the best black of anything us ever tried, and Mistess could dye the

prettiest sort of purple wid sweetgum bark. Cop'ras was used to keep de

colors from fadin', and she knowed so well how to handle it dat you

could wash cloth what she had dyed all day long and it wouldn't fade a


"Marster was too old to go to de war, so he had to stay home and he sho

seed dat us done our wuk raisin' somepin t'eat. He had us plant all our

cleared ground, and I sho has done some hard wuk down in dem old bottom

lands, plowin', hoein', pullin' corn and fodder, and I'se even cut

cordwood and split rails. Dem was hard times and evvybody had to wuk.

"Sometimes Marse Gerald would be away a week at a time when he went to

court at Jefferson, and de very last thing he said 'fore he driv off

allus was, 'Ca'line, you and de chillun take good care of Mistess.' He

most allus fetched us new shoes when he come back, 'cause he never kept

no shoemaker man on our place, and all our shoes was store-bought. Dey

was jus' brogans wid brass toes, but us felt powerful dressed up when us

got 'em on, 'specially when dey was new and de brass was bright and

shiny. Dere was nine of us chillun, four boys and five gals. Us gals had

plain cotton dresses made wid long sleeves and us wore big sunbonnets.

What would gals say now if dey had to wear dem sort of clothes and do

wuk lak what us done? Little boys didn't wear nothin' but long shirts in

summertime, but come winter evvybody had good warm clothes made out of

wool off of Marse Gerald's own sheep, and boys, even little tiny boys,

had britches in winter.

"Did you ever see folks shear sheep, Child? Well, it was a sight in dem

days. Marster would tie a sheep on de scaffold, what he had done built

for dat job, and den he would have me set on de sheep's head whilst he

cut off de wool. He sont it to de factory to have it carded into bats

and us chillun spun de thread at home and mammy and Mistess wove it into

cloth for our winter clothes. Nobody warn't fixed up better on church

days dan Marster's Niggers and he was sho proud of dat.

"Us went to church wid our white folks 'cause dere warn't no colored

churches dem days. None of de churches 'round our part of de country had

meetin' evvy Sunday, so us went to three diffunt meetin' houses. On de

fust Sunday us went to Captain Crick Baptist church, to Sandy Crick

Presbyterian church on second Sundays, and on third Sundays meetin' was

at Antioch Methodist church whar Marster and Mistess was members. Dey

put me under de watchkeer of deir church when I was a mighty little gal,

'cause my white folks sho b'lieved in de church and in livin' for God;

de larnin' dat dem two good old folks gimme is done stayed right wid me

all through life, so far, and I aims to live by it to de end. I didn't

sho 'nough jine up wid no church 'til I was done growed up and had left

Marse Gerald; den I jined de Cedar Grove Baptist church and was baptized

dar, and dar's whar I b'longs yit.

"Marster was too old to wuk when dey sot us free, so for a long time us

jus' stayed dar and run his place for him. I never seed none of dem

Yankee sojers but one time. Marster was off in Jefferson and while I was

down at de washplace I seed 'bout 12 men come ridin' over de hill. I was

sho skeered and when I run and told Mistess she made us all come inside

her house and lock all de doors. Dem Yankee mens jus' rode on through

our yard down to de river and stayed dar a little while; den dey turned

around and rid back through our yard and on down de big road, and us

never seed 'em no more.

"Soon atter dey was sot free Niggers started up churches of dey own and

it was some sight to see and hear 'em on meetin' days. Dey would go in

big crowds and sometimes dey would go to meetin's a fur piece off. Dey

was all fixed up in deir Sunday clothes and dey walked barfoots wid deir

shoes acrost deir shoulders to keep 'em from gittin' dirty. Jus' 'fore

dey got to de church dey stopped and put on deir shoes and den dey was

ready to git together to hear de preacher.

"Folks don't know nothin' 'bout hard times now, 'specially young folks;

dey is on de gravy train and don't know it, but dey is headed straight

for 'struction and perdition; dey's gwine to land in dat burnin' fire if

dey don't mind what dey's about. Jus' trust in de Lord, Honey, and cast

your troubles on Him and He'll stay wid you, but if you turns your back

on Him, den you is lost, plumb gone, jus' as sho as shelled corn.

"When us left Marse Gerald and moved nigh Athens he got a old Nigger

named Egypt, what had a big fambly, to live on his place and do all de

wuk. Old Marster didn't last long atter us was gone. One night he had

done let his farm hands have a big cornshuckin' and had seed dat dey had

plenty of supper and liquor to go wid it and, as was de custom dem days,

some of dem Niggers got Old Marster up on deir shoulders and toted him

up to de big house, singin' as dey went along. He was jus' as gay as dey

was, and joked de boys. When dey put him down on de big house porch he

told Old Mistess he didn't want no supper 'cept a little coffee and

bread, and he strangled on de fust bite. Mistess sont for de doctor but

he was too nigh gone, and it warn't long 'fore he had done gone into de

glory of de next world. He was 'bout 95 years old when he died and he

had sho been a good man. One of my nieces and her husband went dar atter

Marse Gerald died and tuk keer of Mistess 'til she went home to glory


"Mammy followed Old Mistess to glory in 'bout 3 years. Us was livin' on

de Johnson place den, and it warn't long 'fore me and George Kinney got

married. A white preacher married us, but us didn't have no weddin'

celebration. Us moved to de Joe Langford place in Oconee County, but

didn't stay dar but one year; den us moved 'crost de crick into Clarke

County and atter us farmed dar 9 years, us moved on to dis here place

whar us has been ever since. Plain old farmin' is de most us is ever

done, but George used to make some mighty nice cheers to sell to de

white folks. He made 'em out of hick'ry what he seasoned jus' right and

put rye split bottoms in 'em. Dem cheers lasted a lifetime; when dey got

dirty you jus' washed 'em good and sot 'em in de sun to dry and dey was

good as new. George made and sold a lot of rugs and mats dat he made out

of plaited shucks. Most evvybody kep' a shuck footmat 'fore deir front

doors. Dem sunhats made out of shucks and bulrushes was mighty fine to

wear in de field when de sun was hot. Not long atter all ten of our

chillun was borned, George died out and left me wid dem five boys and

five gals.

"Some old witch-man conjured me into marryin' Jordan Jackson. Dat's de

blessed truth, Honey; a fortune-teller is done told me how it was done.

I didn't want to have nothin' to do wid Jordan 'cause I knowed he was

jus' a no 'count old drinkin' man dat jus' wanted my land and stuff.

When he couldn't git me to pay him no heed hisself, he went to a old

conjure man and got him to put a spell on me. Honey, didn't you know dey

could do dat back in dem days? I knows dey could, 'cause I never woulda

run round wid no Nigger and married him if I hadn't been witched by dat

conjure business. De good Lord sho punishes folks for deir sins on dis

earth and dat old man what put dat spell on me died and went down to

burnin' hell, and it warn't long den 'fore de spell left me.

"Right den I showed dat no 'count Jordan Jackson dat I was a good 'oman,

a powerful sight above him, and dat he warn't gwine to git none of dis

land what my chillun's daddy had done left 'em. When I jus' stood right

up to him and showed him he warn't gwine to out whack me, he up and left

me and I don't even use his name no more 'cause I don't want it in my

business no way a t'all. Jordan's done paid his debt now since he died

and went down in dat big old burnin' hell 'long wid de old witch man dat

conjured me for him.

"Yes, Honey, de Lord done put it on record dat dere is sho a burnin'

place for torment, and didn't my Marster and Mistess larn me de same

thing? I sho does thank 'em to dis day for de pains dey tuk wid de

little Nigger gal dat growed up to be me, tryin' to show her de right

road to travel. Oh! If I could jus' see 'em one more time, but dey can

look down from de glory land and see dat I'se still tryin' to follow de

road dat leads to whar dey is, and when I gits to dat good and better

world I jus' knows de Good Lord will let dis aged 'oman be wid her dear

Marster and Mistess all through de time to come.

"Trust God, Honey, and He will lead you home to glory. I'se sho enjoyed

talkin' to you, and I thanks you for comin'. I'se gwine to ax Him to

take good keer of you and let you come back to cheer up old Nicey


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