Rebecca Hooks


American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Pearl Randolph, Field Worker

Lake City, Florida

January 14, 1937


Rebecca Hooks, age 90 years, is one of the few among the fast-thinning

ranks of ex-slaves who can give a clear picture of life "befo' de wah."

She was born in Jones County, Georgia of Martha and Pleasant Lowe, who

were slaves of William Lowe. The mother was the mulatto offspring of

William Lowe and a slave woman who was half Cherokee. The father was

also a mulatto, purchased from a nearby plantation.

Because of this blood mixture Rebecca's parents were known as "house

niggers," and lived on quarters located in the rear of the "big house."

A "house nigger" was a servant whose duties consisted of chores around

the big house, such as butler, maid, cook, stableman, gardner and

personal attendant to the man who owned him.

These slaves were often held in high esteem by their masters and of

course fared much better than the other slaves on the plantation. Quite

often they were mulattoes as in the case of Rebecca's parents. There

seemed to be a general belief among slave owners that mulattoes could

not stand as much laborious work as pure blooded Negro slaves. This

accounts probably for the fact that the majority of ex-slaves now alive

are mulattoes.

The Lowes were originally of Virginia and did not own as much property

in Georgia as they had in Virginia. Rebecca estimates the number of

slaves on this plantation as numbering no more than 25.

They were treated kindly and cruelly by turns, according to the whims of

a master and mistress who were none too stable in their dispositions.

There was no "driver" or overseer on this plantation, as "Old Tom was

devil enough himself when he wanted to be," observes Rebecca. While she

never felt the full force of his cruelties, she often felt sorry for the

other slaves who were given a task too heavy to be completed in the

given time; this deliberately, so that the master might have some excuse

to vent his pentup feelings. Punishment was always in the form of a

severe whipping or revocation of a slave's privilege, such as visiting

other plantations etc.

The Lowes were not wealthy and it was necessary for them to raise and

manufacture as many things on the plantation as possible. Slaves toiled

from early morning until night in the corn, cotton sugar cane and

tobacco fields. Others tended the large herds of cattle from which milk,

butter, meat and leather was produced. The leather was tanned and made

into crude shoes for the slaves for the short winter months. No one wore

shoes except during cold weather and on Sundays. Fruit orchards and

vegetables were also grown, but not given as much attention as the

cotton and corn, as these were the main money crops.

As a child Rebecca learned to ape the ways of her mistress. At first

this was considered very amusing. Whenever she had not knitted her

required number of socks during the week, she simply informed them that

she had not done it because she had not wanted to--besides she was not a

"nigger." This stubbornness accompanied by hysterical tantrums continued

to cause Rebecca to receive many stiff punishments that might have been

avoided. Her master had given orders that no one was ever to whip her,

so devious methods were employed to punish her, such as marching her

down the road with hands tied behind her back, or locking her in a dark

room for several hours with only bread and water.

Rebecca resembled very much a daughter of William Lowe. The girl was

really her aunt, and very conscious of the resemblance. Both had brown

eyes and long dark hair. They were about the same height and the clothes

of the young mistress fitted Rebecca "like a glove." To offset this

likeness, Rebecca's hair was always cut very short. Finally Rebecca

rebelled at having her hair all cut off and blankly refused to submit to

the treatment any longer. After this happening, the girls formed a

dislike for each other, and Rebecca was guilty of doing every mean act

of which she was capable to torment the white girl. Rebecca's mother

aided and abetted her in this, often telling her things to do. Rebecca

did not fear the form of punishment administered her and she had the

cunning to keep "on the good side of the master" who had a fondness for

her "because she was so much like the Lowes." The mistress' demand that

she be sold or beaten was always turned aside with "Dear, you know the

child can't help it; its that cursed Cherokee blood in her."

There seemed to be no very strong opposition to a slave's learning to

read and write on the plantation, so Rebecca learned along with the

white children. Her father purchased books for her with money he was

allowed to earn from the sale of corn whiskey which he made, or from

work done on some other plantation during his time off. He was not

permitted to buy his freedom, however.

On Sundays Rebecca attended church along with the other slaves. Services

were held in the white churches after their services were over. They

were taught to obey their masters and work hard, and that they should be

very thankful for the institution of slavery which brought them from

darkest Africa.

On the plantation, the doctor was not nearly as popular as the "granny"

or midwife, who brewed medicines for every ailment. Each plantation had

its own "granny" who also served the mistress during confinement. Some

of her remedies follows:

For colds: Horehound tea, pinetop tea, lightwood drippings on sugar.

For fever: A tea made of pomegranate seeds and crushed mint. For

whooping cough: A tea made of sheep shandy (manure); catnip tea. For

spasms: garlic; burning a garment next to the skin of the patient having

the fit.

Shortly before the war, Rebecca was married to Solomon, her husband.

This ceremony consisted of simply jumping over a broom and having some

one read a few words from a book, which may or may not have been the

Bible. After the war, many couples were remarried because of this


Rebecca had learned of the war long before it ended and knew its import.

She had confided this information to other slaves who could read and

write. She read the small newspaper that her master received at

irregular intervals. The two sons of William Lowe had gone to fight with

the Confederate soldiers (One never returned) and everywhere was felt

the tension caused by wild speculation as to the outcome of the war.

Certain commodities were very scarce Rebecca remembers drinking coffee

made of okra seed, that had been dried and parched. There was no silk,

except that secured by "running the blockade," and this was very

expensive. The smokehouse floors were carefully scraped for any morsel

of salt that might be gotten. Salt had to be evaporated from sea water

and this was a slow process.

There were no disorders in that section as far as Rebecca remembers,

but she thinks that the slaves were kept on the Lowe plantation a long

time after they had been freed. It was only when rumors came that Union

soldiers were patrolling the countryside for such offenders, that they

were hastily told of their freedom. Their former master predicted that

they would fare much worse as freemen, and so many of them were afraid

to venture into the world for themselves, remaining in virtual slavery

for many years afterward.

Rebecca and her husband were among those who left the plantation. They

share-cropped on various plantations until they came to Florida, which

is more than fifty years ago. Rebecca's husband died several years ago

and she now lives with two daughters, who are very proud of her.


Personal interview with Rebecca Hooks, 1604 North Marion Street, Lake

City, Florida.

Rebecca Brown Hill Rebecca Jane Grant facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail