Thomas Ruffin

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person Interviewed: Thomas Ruffin

1310 Cross Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 82 or 84

"I was born in North Carolina, Franklin County, near Raleigh. My

father's name really I don't know. Folks said my master was my daddy.

That's what they told me. Of course, I don't know myself. But then white

folks did anything they wanted to in slavery times.

"My mother's name was Morina Ruffin. I don't know the names of my

grandparents. That is too far back in slavery for me. Of course, old man

Ruffin my father's father, which would have been my grandfather, he died

way back yonder in slave times before the war. My father gotten kilt in

the war. His name was Tom Ruffin. I was named after him. He died trying

to hold us. That man owned three hundred slaves. He never married.

Carried my mother round everywhere he went. Out of all his niggers, he

didn't have but one with him. That was in slavery time and he was a fool

about her.

"I couldn't tell you exactly when I was born. Up until the surrender I

couldn't tell how old I was. I am somewheres around eighty-two years

old. The old lady is just about the same. We guesses it in part. We

figure it on what we heard the old folks say and things like that. I

remember plenty of things about slavery that I saw.

"I never did much when I was a boy. The biggest thing I remember is a

mule got to kicking and jumped around in a stall. She lost her footing

and fell down and broke her neck right there in the stall. I remember

her name as well as if it was yesterday. Her name was Bird. That was

just before the war. I know I must have been at least four years old

then. You can figure that up and see what it comes to.

"I never did any work when I was a child. I jus went to the spring with

the young Mistress and danced for them sometimes. But they never did

give me any work to do,--like they did the others. I lived right in the

biggest house the biggest portion of my time.

"That day and time, they made compost heaps. Mixed dirt with manure.

They hoed cotton and crops. They didn't know what school was. They

helped with washing and ironing. Did every kind of work they had

strength enough to do till they got big enough to go to the field. That

was what the children did.

"When they were about seven years old, to the best of my recollection

they would go to the field. Seven or eight. They would pick up corn

stalks and brush. And from that on when they were about eight or nine,

they would pick cotton.

"My mother never did have to do anything round the farm. She lived about

seventy-five miles from it, there where the master had his office. He

was a lawyer. After I was born, she didn't come out to see me but once a

year that I recollect. When she did come, she would bring me some candy

or cakes or something like that.

"I didn't see the soldiers during the time of the war. But I saw plenty

of them afterwards--riding round and telling the niggers they were free.

They had some of the finest saddles I ever seed. You could hear them

creaking a block off. No, I didn't see them while they was fighting. We

were close enough to hear the guns crash, and we could see the light

from them, but I didn't actually see the fightin. The Yankees come

through on every plantation where they were working and entered into

every house and told us we was free. The Yankees did it. They told you

you were free as they were, that you didn't have to stay where you was,

that you didn't have no more master, that you could go and come as you


"I got along hard after I was freed. It is a hard matter to tell

you what we could find or get. We used to dig up dirt in the smokehouse

and boil it and dry it and sift it to get the salt to season our food

with. We used to go out and get old bones that had been throwed away and

crack them open and get the marrow and use them to season the greens

with. Jus plenty of niggers then didn't have anything but that to eat.

"Even in slavery times, there was plenty of niggers out of them three

hundred slaves who had to break up old lard gourds and use them for

meat. They had to pick up bones off the dung hill and crack them open to

cook with. And then, of course, they'd steal. Had to steal. That the bes

way to git what they wanted.

"They had a great big kitchen for the slaves. They had what you call pot

racks they could push them big pots in and out on. They cooked hog slop

there. They had trays and bowls to eat out of that were made out of gum

wood. It was a long house used as a kitchen for the hands to go in

and eat. They et dinner there and for supper they would be there. But

breakfast, they would have to eat in the field. The young niggers would

bring it out to them. They would bring it about an hour after the sun

rose and the slave hands would eat it right out in the field; that was

the breakfast. You see the hands went to the field before sunup, and

they didn't get to eat breakfast in the kitchen and it had to be et in

the field. Little undergrowth of children--they had plenty of them on

the place--had to carry their meals to them.

"They would usually give them collars [HW: collards] in green times,

potatoes in potato time. Bread,--they didn't know what that was. White

folks hardly knew theirselves. They didn't have butter and they didn't

have no sugar. Didn't know much about what meat was yet. They would give

the little bits of children pot liquor. That's the most I ever seed them

git. Of course I was treated differently. You couldn't judge them by

me. I was the only half-white youngun round there, and they said I was

half-brother to ol Marse's chillun. And the white chillen would git me

up to the house to dance for them and all like, and they would give me

biscuits or anything good they had. I never seed the others eatin nothin

but pot liquor.

"Most of the slaves lived in log cabins. You know they never had but

one door. In general where they had large families, they would have two

rooms with a chimney in the middle of the house. The chimney was built

out of mud and straw. I can remember them sawin the timber. Two pulled a

big ol crosscut saw. Didn't have no saw mills then. This world has come

from a long ways. They used to didn't have no plows. It was without

form. You made it at home.

"They had ol homemade bedsteads to sleep in. They had a little rope

that ran back and forth instead of slats. That was called a corded bed.

Cheers were all made at home and were split bottoms.

"They didn't many of the slaves have food in their homes. But when they

did, they would jus have a little wooden box and they would put their

food in it.

"It seems like the white people got to burying their money during the

time of the war. That never come out till after the war. Then they got

to wantin that money and started looking for it. There never was any

talk of buried treasure before the war.

"My folks didn't give me any schoolin before the surrender. I never

got any before the surrender and a mighty little afterwards. No nigger

knowed anything. I started to farming when I was thirteen years old. I

used to be a fertilizer, and then a cotton sower. That was the biggest

I knowed about farming when I was a boy. My mother lived about fifteen

years after slavery. I reckon.

"In the time of slavery, you couldn't marry a woman. You just took up

with her. Mother married the same man she had been going with after

freedom. She had four children after the surrender as fer as I can

tell--three girls and two boys.

"I moved from North Carolina to Louisiana. Stayed there one year and

then moved here. Bought forty acres of land. Bought it after I'd been

here a year. It took me four years to pay for that. Then next time I

bought eighty acres and paid for them. Paid them out in two years. Then

I bought eighty acres more and paid for them in two years. Couldn't pay

for them cash at first, but could have paid for the last eighty when I

bought them if I had a wanted to. Then I bought eighty more and then I

bought eighty again and then forty and on till I had five hundred and

three acres of farm land. I got the three over when I got the sorghum


"I left my farm and come to the city for doctor's treatment. My old

lady and I worked out five hundred and three acres of land. I got five

children living. I gave each one of them forty acres of land. Most of

the rest I sold. I got a fellow here that owes me for one of the places

now. He lives over on Third and Dennison. His name is Wright. My old

lady an me held on to that and didn't lose it even in all these hard


"My daughter kept after me to come here and she built this little house

out here where I could holler or do anything I wanted to do and not

disturb nobody. I couldn't feel at home up in a big house with other

people. Four or five months ago it would take two people to put me to

bed. I would get off from home and have to carry me back. But I

am gettin along fine now. This high blood pressure keeps me from

remembering so well. Ol lady where's my pipe? You didn't find it up to

daughter's? Ain't it in the kitchen? Can't you find it nowheres? What

didju do with it? Well, you needn't look for it no longer. It's

here in my pocket. That's my high blood pressure workin. That whut it

does to you.

"I belong to the Primitive Baptist Church and have been belonging to it

altogether about sixty-three years. I used to be a Missionary. I been a

member of the church a long time.

"I think times are jus fulfilling the Bible. The people are wiser now

than we ever known them to be and wickeder. I don't believe the times

you see now will be always. People are getting so wise and so wicked

that I think the end is near at hand. You notice the Germans now are

trying to make slaves out of the Jews. There's the Japans that is jus

slaughtering up the Chinese like they was nothin but dumb brutes. The

world is wickeder than it ever has been before.

"The young people today! I'd hate to tell you what I do think of them.

The business is going to fall."

Thomas Mcmillan Tillie Slave Daughter facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail