Pierce Harper

PIERCE HARPER, 86, was born on the Subbs plantation near Snow Hill,

North Carolina. When eight years old he was sold for $1,150

[Handwritten Note: '?'] to the Harper family, who lived in Snow

Hill. After the Civil War, Pierce farmed a small place near Snow

Hill and saw many raids of the Klu Klux Klan. He came to Galveston,

Texas, in 1877. Pierce attended a Negro school after he was grown,

learned to read and write, and is interested in the betterment of

his race.

"When you ask me is I Pierce Harper, you kind of 'sprised me. I reckoned

everybody know old Pierce Harper. Sister Johnson say to me outside of

services last Sunday night, 'Brother Harper, you is de beatines' man I

ever seen. You know everybody and everybody know you.' And I said,

'Sister Johnson, dat's 'cause I keep faith with de Lawd. I love de Lawd

and my neighbors and de Lawd and my neighbors love me.' Dat's what my

old mother told me 'way back in slavery, before I was ever sold. But

here I is talking 'bout myself when you want to hear me talk 'bout

slavery. Let's see, now.

"I was born way back in 1851 in North Carolina, on Mr. Subbs'

plantation, clost to Snow Hill, which was the county seat. My daddy was

a field hand and my mother worked in the fields, too, right 'longside my

daddy, so she could keep him lined up. The master said that Calisy, that

my mother, was the best fieldhand he had, and Calvin, that my daddy, was

the laziest. My mother used to say he was chilesome.

"Then when I was eight years old they sold me. The market place was in

Snow Hill on the public square near the jailhouse. It was jus' a little

stand built out in the open with no top on it, that the slaves stood on

to get sold while the white folks auctioned 'em off. I was too little to

get on the stand, so they had to hold me up and Mr. Harper bought me for

$1,100. [Handwritten Note: '?'] That was cheap for a boy.

"He lived in a brick house in town and had two-three slaves 'sides me. I

run errands and kept the yard clean, things a little boy could do. They

didn't have no school for slaves and I never learned to read and write

till after freedom. After I was sold, they let me go visit my mother

once a year, on Sunday morning, and took me back at night.

"The masters couldn't whip the slaves there. The law said in black and

white no master couldn't whip no slave, no matter what he done. When a

slave got bad they took him to the county seat and had him whipped. One

day I seen my old daddy get whipped by the county and state 'cause he

wouldn't work. They had a post in the public square what they tied 'em

to and a man what worked for the county whipped 'em.

"After he was whipped my daddy run away to the north. Daddy come by when

I was cleanin' the yard and said, 'Pierce, go 'round side the house,

where nobody can't see us.' I went and he told me goodbye, 'cause he was

goin' to run away in a few days. He had to stay in the woods and travel

at night and eat what he could find, berries and roots and things. They

never caught him and after he crossed the Mason-Dixon line he was safe.

"There used to be a man who raised bloodhounds to hunt slaves with. I

seen the dogs on the trail a whole day and still not catch 'em.

Sometimes the slave made friends with the dogs and they wouldn't let on

if they found him. Three dogs followed one slave the whole way up north

and he sold them up there.

"I heered 'em talk about some slaves what run barefooted in cold weather

and you could trail 'em by blood in the snow and ice where they hurt

their feet.

"Most of the time the master gave us castor oil when we were sick. Some

old folks went in the woods for herbs and made medicine. They made tea

out of 'lion's tongue' for the stomach and snake root is good for pains

in the stomach, too. Horse mint breaks the fever. They had a vermifuge


"I seed a lot of Southern soldiers and they'd go to the big house for

something to eat. Late in '63 they had a fight at a place called

Kingston, only 12 miles from our place, takin' how the jacks go. We

could hear the guns go off when they was fightin'. The Yankees beat and

settled down there and the cullud folks flocked down on them and when

they got to the Yankee lines they was safe. They went in droves of 25 or

50 to the Yankees and they put 'em to work fightin' for freedom. They

fit till the war was over and a lot of 'em got kilt. My mother and

sister run away to the Yankees and they paid 'em big money to wash for


"When peace come they read the 'mancipation law to the cullud people and

they stayed up half the night at Mr. Harper's, singing and shouting.

They spent that night singin' and shoutin'. They wasn't slaves no more.

The master had to give 'em a half or third of what he made. Our master

parceled out some land to 'em and told 'em to work it their selves and

some done real well. They got hosses that the soldiers had turned loose

to die, and fed them and took good care of 'em and they got good stock

that way. Cotton was twenty and thirty cents a pound then.

"After us cullud folks was 'sidered free and turned loose, the Klu Klux

broke out. Some cullud people started to farmin', like I told you, and

gathered the old stock. If they got so they made good money, and had a

good farm, the Klu Klux would come and murder 'em. The gov'ment builded

school houses and the Klu Klux went to work and burned 'em down. They'd

go to the jails and take the cullud men out and knock their brains out

and break their necks and throw 'em in the river.

"There was a cullud man they taken, his name was Jim Freeman. They taken

him and destroyed his stuff and him, 'cause he was making some money.

Hung him on a tree in his front yard, right in front of his cabin.

"There was some cullud young men went to the schools they'd opened by

the gov'ment. Some white woman said someone had stole something of hers

so they put them young men in jail. The Klu Klux went to the jail and

took 'em out and killed 'em. That happened the second year after the


"After the Klu Kluxes got so strong the cullud men got together and made

the complaint before the law. The Gov'nor told the law to give 'em the

old guns in the com'sary, what the Southern soldiers had used, so they

issued the cullud men old muskets and said protect themselves. They got

together and organized the militia and had leaders like reg'lar

soldiers. They didn't meet 'cept when they heered the Klu Kluxes was

coming to get some cullud folks. Then they was ready for 'em. They'd

hide in the cabins and then's when they found out who a lot of them Klu

Kluxes was, 'cause a lot of 'em was kilt. They wore long sheets and

covered the hosses with sheets so you couldn't rec'nize 'em. Men you

thought was your friend was Klu Kluxes and you'd deal with 'em in stores

in the daytime and at night they'd come out to your house and kill you.

I never took part in none of the fights, but I heered the others talk

'bout them, but not where them Klu Klux could hear 'em.

"One time they had 12 men in jail, 'cused of robbin' white folks. All

was white in jail but one, and he was cullud. The Klu Kluxes went to the

jailor's house and got the jail key and got them men out and carried 'em

to the River Bridge, in the middle. Then they knocked their brains out

and threw 'em in the river.

"We was 'fraid of them Klu Kluxes and come to town, to Snow Hill. We

rented a little house and my mother took in washing and ironing. I went

to school and learned to read and write, then worked on farms, and

fin'ly went to Columbia, in South Carolina, and worked in the turpentine

country. I stayed there a while and got married.

"I come to Texas in 1877 and Galveston was a little pen then, a little

mess. I worked for some white people and then went to Houston and it

wasn't nothing but a mudhole. So I messed 'round in South Carolina again

a while and then come back to Galveston.

"The Lawd called me then and I answered and I answered and was preacher

here at the Union Baptist Church, on 11th and K, 'bout 25 years.

"I knowed Wright Cuney well and he held the biggest place a cullud man

ever helt in Galveston. He was congressman and the white people looked

up to him just like he was white.

"Durin' the Spanish-American War I went to Washington, D.C., to see my

sister and got in the soldier business. The gov'ment give me $30.00 a

month for drivin' a four-mule wagon for the army. I druv all through

Pennsylvania and Virginia and South Carolina for the gov'ment. I was

a----what do they call a laborer in the army?

"When war was over I come back here and now I'm too old to work and the

state gives me a pension and me and my granddaughter live on that. The

young folks is makin' their mark now. One thing about 'em, they get

educated, but there's not much for them to do when they get finished

with school but walk the streets now. I been always trying to help my

people to rise 'bove their station and they are rising all the time, and

some day they'll be free."

Pierce Cody Pink Holly facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail