Robert Heard





ROBERT HEARD--PORTRAIT OF AN EX-SLAVE



[HW: J. Jaffee]





As we approached the little dilapidated, one-room cabin on the Jackson

County hilltop, the aroma of frying bacon smote our nostrils.



Uncle Robert Heard welcomed us and stopped tending his ash-cake, peas,

and fat back long enough to squint over the top of the "specks dat Ole

Mis had give him back in '70", then he took a long look at the mahogany

clock that had "sot on her parlor fish boa'd". In spite of his

ninety-six years his memory of the old days is still fresh and his body

surprisingly active for a person of his age.



"Course I 'members all 'bout Marster and Mistis," he asserted with an

indignant air. "I wuz grown an' big nuff to pick out a 'oman fer myse'f

in de fust year ov de war. Dey wuz 120 niggers on de place whar I wuz

borned. Hit belonged to ole Gen'l Heard an' hit wuz clost to

Washin'ton."



"My mammy died when I warn't nothin' but a little trot-about. She wuz

name' Susan, an' my pa wuz name' John. De Gen'l went to Virginny an'

bought 'em an' had 'em sont home in boxes wid cracks big nuff to feed

'em through. Mistis give us our fust names an' us tuck dey las' un."



"Us didn't have no overseer on our plantation. Gen'l Heard allus looked

arter his niggers hisssef til he got too old an' den his son, Mars Tom,

seed arter 'em. I ain't never see'd 'em beat but one slave an' dat wuz

caze he got rowdy drunk. Dey allus gite us a note to de patty rollers

(patrollers) when us wanted to go somewheres".



"Us went to work 'bout a half hour by sun an' quit at dusty dark. De

mens done fiel' wuk an' de wimmins mostly hepped Mistis 'bout de house.

Dey washed, milked, made candles, an' worked in de spinnin' room. Us

didn't have to buy nothin' caze dey wuz evathing us needed on the

plantation."



"On some places de bosses kep' nigger mens at stud but Gen'l Heard an'

Mars Tom didn't low nobody to live in sin on dey plantation. Us wuz all

married by a white preacher, just lak white folks. Us 'tended de white

folk's church ever Sundey an' sot in de gal'ry. Dey warn't no dancin' or

cyard playin' in Gen'l Heard's house. He said: 'If you serve the Lord

you have no time to fiddle and dance.'"



"Old Marster wuz too old to go to de war but Mars Tom went an' I hyeard

Mistis say he got kilt at de second Manassas. My Uncle Chris went to de

war wid Mars Tom an' he come back wid only one arm. He say de blood on

some uv dem battle fiel's come up to de top uv his boots.



"Gen'l Heard died whiles de war wuz ragin' an' Ole Mistis come out on de

po'ch an' tolt us we wuz all free. Most all de niggers stayed on wid

Mistis arter de war an' worked fer fo'ths. Us used her mules an' tools

an' she give us rations just lak Marster had been a doin' afore dey wuz

any war. She would uv been powerful rich ef Confederacy money hadn't uv

been so wuthless. She had four loads uv it hauled outen de house an'

dumped in a ditch.



"At Christmus time, us allus had a BIG frolic wid music an' dancin'. Us

danced de cotillion an' beat on buckets wid gourds fer music. Marster

give us a little toddy now an' den an' us had plenty uv it at Christmas.

De frolic allus had to bust up at midnight caze Marster would git out

his horse pistols an' start shootin' ef it didn't. Sometimes us ud have

a Satidy off an' us ud all go fishin' or have a frolic. Candy pullin's

wuz allus de bestes kind of fun.



"I ain't lak mos' ob dese yere flibberty-gibbet niggers. I don' believe

in hants an' ghostes, but they's some things which I does think is signs

of death. Ef somebody brings a axe in de house hits a sho sign. Yer

better watch when a cow lows arter dark, or a dog barks at de moon in

front uv yer do', or ef yer sneezes whiles eatin', caze hit mout mean

dat de death angel is hangin' roun'. Ef somebody in de house dies yer

better stop de tickin' uv de clock an' kiver all de lookin'-glasses wid

white cloth or else dey's liable to be another death in de fam'ly.



"Yer can take dis or leave it, but whutever yer does, don' never take

ashes out doors arter dark, caze hits sho to bring yer bad luck. Now I

done tol' yer all I knows so let me finish cookin' dis yere mess of

vittals so I kin git back to de cotton patch."



Thus dismissed, we took our departure, gingerly picking our way down the

rickety steps. The last we heard of Uncle Robert was a snatch of Negro

ballad sung in a high-pitched, nasal voice.





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