Susan Mcintosh

PLANTATION LIFE as viewed by ex-slave


1203 W. Hancook Avenue

Athens, Georgia

Written by:

Sadie B. Hornsby

Federal Writers' Project

Athens, Ga.

Edited by:

Sarah H. Hall


John N. Booth


Leila Harris


April 28, 1938

[Date Stamp: MAY 6 1938]

A driving rain sent the interviewer scurrying into the house of Susan

McIntosh who lives with her son, Dr. Andrew Jones, at the corner of

Hancock Avenue and Billups Street.

Susan readily gave her story: "They tell me I was born in November

1851," she said, "and I know I've been here a long time 'cause I've seen

so many come and go. I've outlived 'most all of my folks 'cept my son

that I live with now. Honey, I've 'most forgot about slavery days. I

don't read, and anyway there ain't no need to think of them times now. I

was born in Oconee County on Judge William Stroud's plantation. We

called him Marse Billy. That was a long time before Athens was the

county seat. Ma's name was Mary Jen, and Pa was Christopher Harris. They

called him Chris for short. Marster Young L.G. Harris bought him from

Marster Hudson of Elbert County and turned him over to his niece, Miss

Lula Harris, when she married Marster Robert Taylor. Marse Robert was a

son of General Taylor what lived in the Grady house before it belonged

to Mr. Henry Grady's mother. Pa was coachman and house boy for Miss


"Marse Billy owned Ma, and Marse Robert owned Pa, and Pa, he come to see

Ma about once or twice a month. The Taylor's, they done a heap of

travellin' and always took my Pa with 'em. Oh! there was thirteen of us

chillun, seven died soon after they was born, and none of 'em lived to

git grown 'cept me. Their names was Nanette and Ella, what was next to

me; Susan--thats me; Isabelle, Martha, Mary, Diana, Lila, William, Gus,

and the twins what was born dead; and Harden. He was named for a Dr.

Harden what lived here then.

"Marse Billy bought my gran'ma in Virginia. She was part Injun. I can

see her long, straight, black hair now, and when she died she didn't

have gray hair like mine. They say Injuns don't turn gray like other

folks. Gran'ma made cloth for the white folks and slaves on the

plantation. I used to hand her thread while she was weavin'. The lady

what taught Gran'ma to weave cloth, was Mist'ess Gowel, and she was a

foreigner, 'cause she warn't born in Georgia. She had two sons what run

the factory between Watkinsville and Athens. My aunt, Mila Jackson, made

all the thread what they done the weavin' with. Gran'pa worked for a

widow lady what was a simster (seamstress) and she just had a little

plantation. She was Mist'ess Doolittle. All Gran'pa done was cut wood,

'tend the yard and gyarden. He had rheumatism and couldn't do much.

"There ain't much to tell about what we done in the slave quarters,

'cause when we got big enough, we had to work: nussin' the babies,

totin' water, and helpin' Gran'ma with the weavin', and such like. Beds

was driv to the walls of the cabin; foot and headboard put together with

rails, what run from head to foot. Planks was laid crossways and straw

put on them and the beds was kivvered with the whitest sheets you ever

seen. Some made pallets on the floor.

"No, Ma'am, I didn't make no money 'til after freedom. I heard tell of

ten and fifteen cents, but I didn't know nothing 'bout no figgers. I

didn't know a nickel from a dime them days.

"Yes, Ma'am, Marse Billy 'lowed his slaves to have their own gyardens,

and 'sides plenty of good gyarden sass, we had milk and butter, bread

and meat, chickens, greens, peas, and just everything that growed on the

farm. Winter and summer, all the food was cooked in a great big

fireplace, about four feet wide, and you could put on a whole stick of

cord wood at a time. When they wanted plenty of hot ashes to bake with,

they burnt wood from ash trees. Sweet potatoes and bread was baked in

the ashes. Seems like vittuls don't taste as good as they used to, when

we cooked like that. 'Possums, Oh! I dearly love 'possums. My cousins

used to catch 'em and when they was fixed up and cooked with sweet

potatoes, 'possum meat was fit for a king. Marse Billy had a son named

Mark, what was a little bitty man. They said he was a dwarf. He never

done nothing but play with the children on the plantation. He would take

the children down to the crick what run through the plantation and fish

all day. We had rabbits, but they was most generally caught in a box

trap, so there warn't no time wasted a-huntin' for 'em.

"In summer, the slave women wore white homespun and the men wore pants

and shirts made out of cloth what looked like overall cloth does now. In

winter, we wore the same things, 'cept Marse Billy give the men woolen

coats what come down to their knees, and the women wore warm wraps what

they called sacks. On Sunday we had dresses dyed different colors. The

dyes were made from red clay and barks. Bark from pines, sweetgums, and

blackjacks was boiled, and each one made a different color dye. The

cloth made at home was coarse and was called 'gusta cloth. Marse Billy

let the slaves raise chickens, and cows, and have cotton patches too.

They would sell butter, eggs, chickens, brooms, made out of wheat straw

and such like. They took the money and bought calico, muslin and good

shoes, pants, coats and other nice things for their Sunday clothes.

Marse Billy bought leather from Marster Brumby's tanyard and had shoes

made for us. They was coarse and rough, but they lasted a long time.

"My Marster was father-in-law of Dr. Jones Long. Marse Billy's wife,

Miss Rena, died long before I was born. Their six children was all grown

when I first knowed 'em. The gals was: Miss Rena, Miss Selena, Miss

Liza, and Miss Susan. Miss Susan was Dr. Long's wife. I was named for

her. There was two boys; Marse John and Marse Mark. I done told you

'bout Marse Mark bein' a dwarf. They lived in a big old eight room

house, on a high hill in sight of Mars Hill Baptist Church. Marse Billy

was a great deacon in that church. Yes, Ma'am, he sho' was good to his

Negroes. I heard 'em say that after he had done bought his slaves by

working in a blacksmith shop, and wearin' cheap clothes, like mulberry

suspenders, he warn't goin' to slash his Negroes up. The older folks

admired Mist'ess and spoke well of her. They said she had lots more

property than Marse Billy. She said she wanted Marse Billy to see that

her slaves was give to her children. I 'spose there was about a hundred

acres on that plantation and Marse Billy owned more property besides.

There was about fifty grown folks and as to the children, I just don't

know how many there was. Around the quarters looked like a little town.

"Marse Billy had a overseer up to the time War broke out, then he picked

out a reliable colored man to carry out his orders. Sometimes the

overseer got rough, then Marse Billy let him go and got another one. The

overseer got us up about four or five o'clock in the morning, and dark

brought us in at night.

"Jails! Yes, Ma'am, I ricollect one was in Watkinsville. No, Ma'am, I

never saw nobody auctioned off, but I heard about it. Men used to come

through an buy up slaves for foreign states where there warn't so many.

"Well, I didn't have no privilege to learn to read and write, but the

white lady what taught my gran'ma to weave, had two sons what run the

factory, and they taught my uncles to read and write.

"There warn't no church on the plantation, so we went to Mars Hill

Church. The white folks went in the mornings from nine 'til twelve and

the slaves went in the evenings from three 'till about five. The white

folks went in the front door and slaves used the back door. Rev. Bedford

Lankford, what preached to the white folks helped a Negro, named Cy

Stroud, to preach to the Negroes. Oh! Yes, Ma'am, I well remembers them

baptizings. I believe in church and baptizing.

"They buried the slaves on the plantation, in coffins made out of pine

boards. Didn't put them in two boxes lak dey does now, and dey warn't

painted needer.

"Did you say patterollers? Sho' I seen 'em, but they didn't come on our

plantation, 'cause Marse Billy was good to his Negroes and when they

wanted a pass, if it was for a good reason, he give 'em one. Didn't none

of Marse Billy's slaves run off to no North. When Marse Billy had need

to send news somewhere, he put a reliable Negro on a mule and sent him.

I sho' didn't hear about no trouble twixt white folks and Negroes.

"I tell you, Honey, when the days work was over them slaves went to bed,

'cep' when the moon was out and they worked in their own cotton patches.

On dark nights, the women mended and quilted sometimes. Not many worked

in the fields on Saturday evenin's. They caught up on little jobs aroun'

the lot; a mending harness and such like. On Saturday nights the young

folks got together and had little frolics and feasts, but the older

folks was gettin' things ready for Sunday, 'cause Marse Billy was a

mighty religious man: we had to go to church, and every last one of the

children was dragged along too.

"We always had one week for Christmas. They brought us as much of good

things to eat as we could destroy in one week, but on New Year's Day we

went back to work. No, Ma'am, as I ricollect, we didn't have no corn

shuckings or cotton pickings only what we had to do as part of our

regular work.

"The white folks mostly got married on Wednesday or Thursday evenin's.

Oh! they had fine times, with everything good to eat, and lots of

dancing too. Then they took a trip. Some went to Texas and some to

Chicago. They call Chicago, the colored folks' New York now. I don't

remember no weddings 'mongst the slaves. My cousin married on another

plantation, but I warn't there.

"Where I was, there warn't no playing done, only 'mongst the little

chillun, and I can't remember much that far back. I recall that we sung

a little song, about:

'Little drops of water

Little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean

And the pleasant land.'

"Oh! Yes, Ma'am, Marse Billy was good to his slaves, when they got sick.

He called in Dr. Jones Long, Dr. Harden, and Dr. Lumpkin when they was

real sick. There was lots of typhoid fever then. I don't know nothing

about no herbs, they used for diseases; only boneset and hoarhound tea

for colds and croup. They put penrile (pennyroyal) in the house to keep

out flies and fleas, and if there was a flea in the house he would shoo

from that place right then and there.

"The old folks put little bags of assfiddy (assafoetida) around their

chillun's necks to keep off measles and chickenpox, and they used

turpentine and castor oil on chillun's gums to make 'em teethe easy.

When I was living on Milledge Avenue, I had Dr. Crawford W. Long to see

about one of my babies, and he slit that baby's gums so the teeth could

come through. That looked might bad to me, but they don't believe in old

ways no more."

She laughed and said: "No, Ma'am, I don't know nothing about such low

down things as hants and ghosts! Rawhead and Bloody Bones, I just

thought he was a skelerpin, with no meat on him. Course lots of Negroes

believe in ghosts and hants. Us chillun done lots of flightin' like

chillun will do. I remember how little Marse Mark Stroud used to take

all the little boys on the plantation and teach 'em to play Dixie on

reeds what they called quills. That was good music, but the radio has

done away with all that now.

"I knowed I was a slave and that it was the War that sot me free. It was

'bout dinner time when Marse Billy come to the door and called us to the

house. He pulled out a paper and read it to us, and then he said: 'You

all are free, as I am.' We couldn't help thinking about what a good

marster he always had been, and how old, and feeble, and gray headed he

looked as he kept on a-talkin' that day. 'You all can stay on here with

me if you want to,' he 'lowed, 'but if you do, I will have to pay you

wages for your work.'

"I never saw no Yankees in Athens, but I was in Atlanta at Mrs.

Winship's on Peachtree Street, when General Sherman come to that town

'parin' his men for to go home. There was about two thousand in all,

white and black. They marched up and down Marietta Street from three

o'clock in the evening 'til seven o'clock next morning. Then they left.

I remember well that there warn't a house left standing in Atlanta, what

warn't riddled with shell holes. I was scared pretty nigh to death and I

never want to leave home at no time like that again. But Pa saw 'em soon

after that in Athens. They was a marching down Broad Street on their way

to Macon, and Pa said it looked like a blue cloud going through.

"Ma and me stayed on with Marse Billy 'bout six months after the War

ended before we come to town to live with Pa. We lived right back of

Rock College and Ma took in washin' for the folks what went to school

there. No, Ma'am I never saw no Ku Kluxers. Me and Ma didn't leave home

at night and the white folks wouldn't let 'em git Pa.

"Major Knox brought three or four teachers to teach in a school for

Negroes that was started up here the first year after the War. Major

Knox, he was left like a sort of Justice of Peace to get things to going

smooth after the War. I went to school there about three months, then Ma

took sick, and I didn't go no more. My white teacher was Miss Sarah, and

she was from Chicago.

"Now and then the Negroes bought a little land, and white folks gave

little places to some Negroes what had been good slaves for 'em.

"I didn't take in about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. A long time after the War,

I heard 'em say he got killed. I knowed Mr. Jeff. Davis was President of

the Confederacy. As for Booker Washington, I never saw him, but I heard

his son whan he was here once and gave a musical of some sort at the

Congregational Church.

"I was a old gal when I married 'bout thirty or forty years after the

War. I married George McIntosh. Wedding clothes!" she chuckled, and

said: "I didn't have many. I bought 'em second hand from Mrs. Ed. Bond.

They was nice though. The dress I married in was red silk. We had a

little cake and wine; no big to do, just a little fambly affair. Of our

four chillun, two died young, and two lived to git grown. My daughter

was a school teacher and she has been dead sometime. I stays wid my only

living child. My husban' died a long time ago.

"I cooked and washed for Mr. Prince Hodgson for thirty years. Miss Mary

Franklin used to tell me 'bout all them strange places she had been to

while she was paintin'. There never was nobody in this town could paint

prettier pictures than Miss Mary's.

"I'm glad slavery is over. I'm too old to really work anymore, but I'm

like a fish going down the crick and if he sees a bug he will catch him

if he can.

"I joined the church 'cause I believe in the Son of God. I know he is a

forgiving God, and will give me a place to rest after I am gone from the

earth. Everybody ought to 'pare for the promised land, where they can

live always after they are done with this world."

After the interview, she said: "Honey, this is the most I have talked

about slavery days in twelve years; and I believe what I told you is

right. Of course, lots has faded from my mind about it now."

Susan Matthews Susan Snow facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail