Robert Farmer

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person Interviewed: Robert Farmer

1612 Battery Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 84

[HW: Tale of a "Nigger Ruler"]

"I was born in North Carolina. I can't tell when. Our names are in the

Bible, and it was burnt up. My old master died and my young master was

to go to the war, the Civil War, in the next draft. I remember that they

said, 'If them others had shot right, I wouldn't have had to go.'

"He talked like they were standing up on a table or something shooting

at the Yankees. Of course it wasn't that way. But he said that they

didn't shoot right and that he would have to do it for them. They all

came back, and none of them had shot right. One sick (he died after he

got home); the other two come back all right.

"When my old master died, the son that drawed me stayed home for a

little while. When he left he said about me, 'Don't let anybody whip him

while I am gone. If they do, I'll bury them when I come back.' He was a

good man and a good master.

Brutal Beating

"There were some that weren't so good. One of his brothers was a real

bad man. They called him a nigger ruler. He used to go from place to

place and handle niggers. He carried his cowhide with him when he went.

My master said, 'A man is a damn fool to have a valuable slave and

butcher him up.' He said, 'If they need a whipping, whip them, but don't

beat them so they can't work.' He never whipped his slaves. No man ever

hit me a lick but my father. No man. I ain't got no scar on me nowhere.

"My young master was named Wiley Grave Sharpe. He drawed me when my old

master, Teed Sharpe, Sr., died. He's been dead a long time. Teed Sharpe,

Jr., Gibb Sharpe, and Sam Sharpe were brothers to Wiley Grave Sharpe.

Teed Sharpe, Jr. was the brutal one. He was the nigger ruler that did

the beating up and the killing of Negroes.

"He beat my brother Peter once till Peter dropped dead. Wiley Graves who

drawed me said, 'My brother shouldn't have done that.' But my brother

didn't belong to Wiley and he couldn't do nothing about it. That was

Teed, Jr.'s name. He got big money and was called a nigger ruler. Teed

had said he was going to make Peter do as much work as my sister did.

She was a young girl--but grown and stout and strong. In the olden time,

you could see women stout and strong like that. They don't grow that way

now. Peter couldn't keep up with her. He wasn't old enough nor strong

enough then. He would be later, but he hadn't reached his growth and my

sister had. Every time that Peter would fall behind my sister, Teed

would take him out and buckle him down to a log with a leather strap and

stand 'way back and then he would lay that long cowhide down, up and

down his back. He would split it open with every stroke and the blood

would run down. The last time he turned Peter loose, Peter went to my

sister and asked her for a rag. She thought he just wanted to wipe the

blood out of his face and eyes, but when she gave it to him, he fell

down dead across the potato ridges.


"Mary Farmer was my mother. William Farmer was my father. I never knowed

any of my father's 'lations except one sister. She would come to see us


"My father's master was Isaac Farmer. My mother didn't 'long to him. She

'longed to the Sharpes. Just what her master's name was I don't

recollect. She lived five miles from my father. He went to see her every

Thursday night. That was his regular night to go. He would go Saturday

night; if he went any other time and the pateroles could catch him, they

would whip him just the same as though he belonged to them. But they

never did whip my father because they never could catch him. He was one

of those who ran.

"My father and mother had ten children. I don't know whether any of them

is living now or not besides myself.

How Freedom Came

"Freedom was a singsong every which way when I knowed anything. My

father's master, Isaac Farmer, had a big farm and a whole world of land.

He told the slaves all of them were free. He told his brother's slaves,

'After you have made this crop, bring your wives and children here

because I am able to take care of them.' He had a smokehouse full of

meat and other things. He told my father that after this crop is

gathered, to fetch his wife and children to him (Isaac Farmer), because

Sharpe might not be able to feed and shelter and take care of them all.

So my father brought us to Isaac Farmer's farm.

"I never did anything but devilment the whole second year of freedom. I

was large enough to take water in the field but I didn't have to do

that. There were so many of them there that one could do what he

pleased. The next year I worked because they had thinned out. The first

year come during the surrender. They cared for Sharpe's crop. The next

year they took Isaac Farmer's invitation and stayed with him. The third

year many of them went other places, but my father and my mother and

brothers and sisters stayed with Isaac Farmer for awhile.

"As time went on, I farmed with success myself.

"I stayed in North Carolina a long time. I had a wife and children in

North Carolina. Later on, I went to Louisiana and stayed there one year

and made one crop. Then I came here with my wife and children. I don't

know how long I been here. We came up here when the high water was. That

was the biggest high water they had. I worked on the levee and farmed.

The first year we came here, we farmed. I lived out in the country then.


"While I was able to work, I stayed on the farm. I had forty acres. But

after my children left me and my wife died, I thought it would be better

to sell out and pay my debts. Pay your honest debts and everything will

be lovely. Now I manages to pay my rent by taking care of this yard and

I get help from the government. I can't read and I can't write.

"I went down yonder to get help from the county. At last they taken me

on and I got groceries three times. After that I couldn't get nothin' no

more. They said my papers were made out incorrectly. I asked the worker

to make it out correctly because I couldn't read and write. She said she

wasn't supposed to do that but she would do it. She made it out for me.

A short time later, the postman brought me a letter. I handed it to a

lady to read for me, and she said, 'This is your old age check.' You

don't know how much help that thing's been to me.

Ku Klux

"The Ku Klux never bothered me and they never bothered any of my people.


"The young people pass by me and I don't know nothing about 'em. I know

they are quite indifferent from what I was. When I come old enough to

want a wife, I knowed what sort of wife I wanted. God blessed me and I

happened to run up on the kind of woman I wanted. I made an engagement

with her, and I didn't have a dollar. I was engaged to marry for three

years before I married. I knowed it wouldn't do for me to marry her the

way she was raised and I didn't have nothing. It looked curious for me

to want that woman. I wanted her, and I had sense. I had sense enough to

know how I must carry myself to get her. Now it looks like a young man

wants all the women and ain't satisfied with nary one.

"My youngest son had a fine wife and was satisfied. He took up with what

I call a whiskey head. He's been swapping horses ever since. That is the

baby boy of mine. You know good and well a man couldn't get along that


"These young men will keep this one over here for a few days, and then

that one over there for a few days. It shows like he wants them all.


"I have voted. I don't now. Since I lost out, I ain't voted.

Slave Houses

"You might say slave houses was nothing. Log houses, made out of logs

and chinked up with sticks and mud in the cracks. Chimneys made with

sticks and mud. Two rooms in our house. No windows, just cracks. All

furniture was homemade. Take a two by four and bore a hole in it and put

a cross piece in it and you had a bed.

"They made stools for chairs and made tables too. Food was kept in the

smokehouse. For rations, they would give so much meat, so much molasses,

and so much meal. No sugar and no coffee. They used to make tea out of

sage, and out of sassafras, and that was the coffee.


"I been married twice. The first time was out in North Carolina. The

last time was in this city. I didn't stay with that last woman but four

days. It took me just that long to find out who and who. She didn't want

me; she wanted my money, and she thought I had more of it than I did.

She got all I had though. I had just fifty dollars and she got that. I

am going to get me a good woman, though, as soon as I can get divorced.

Memories of Work on Plantation

"My mother used to milk and I used to rope the calves and hold them so

that they couldn't get to the cow. I had to keep the horses in the

canebrake so they could eat. That was to keep the soldiers from getting

a fine black horse the master had.


"But they got him just the same. The Yankees used to come in blue

uniforms and come right on in without asking anything. They would take

your horse and ask nothing. They would go into the smokehouse and take

out shoulders, hams, and side meat, and they would take all the wine and

brandy that was there.

Dances After Freedom

"Two sisters stayed in North Carolina in a two-room house in Wilson

County. There was a big drove of us and we all went to town in the

evening to get whiskey. There was one man who had a wife with us, but

all the rest were single. We cut the pigeon wing, waltzed, and

quadrilled. We danced all night until we burned up all the wood. Then we

went down into the swamp and brought back each one as long a log as he

could carry. We chopped this up and piled it in the room. Then we went

on 'cross the swamp to another plantation and danced there.

"When we got through dancing, I looked at my feet and the bottom of them

was plumb naked. I had just bought new boots, and had danced the bottoms

clean out of them.

"I belong to the Primitive Baptist Church. I stay with Dr. Cope and

clean up the back yard for my rent."

Robert Falls Robert Glenn facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail