Tom Singleton


TOM SINGLETON, Ex-Slave, Age 94

Athens, Georgia

Written by:

Sadie B. Hornsby

Research Worker

Federal Writers' Project

Athens, Georgia

Edited by:

Leila Harris


Federal Writers' Project

Augusta, Georgia

[Date Stamp: APR 27 1938]

Uncle Tom lives alone in a one room cabin, about two and one half miles

from town, on Loop-de-Loop road, not far from the Brooklyn section of

Athens. He states that he lives alone because: "I wuz raised right and

de Niggers dis day and time ain't had no raisin'. I just can't be

bothered wid havin' 'em 'round me all de time. Dey ain't my sort of

folkses." Uncle Tom says he will be 94 years old on May 15th of this

year, but many believe that he is much older.

When asked if he felt like talking about his experiences and observances

while he was a slave, he said: "I don't know, Missie; I got a pow'ful

hurtin' in my chest, and I'm too old to 'member much, but you ax me what

you want to know and I'll try to tell you. I wuz born in Lumpkin County

on Marster Joe Singleton's place. My ma wuz named Nancy Early, and she

belonged to Marster Joe Early what lived in Jackson County. My pa's name

wuz Joe Singleton. I don't 'member much 'bout my brothers and sisters.

Ma and Pa had 14 chillun. Some of deir boys wuz me and Isaac, Jeff,

Moses, and Jack; and deir gals wuz: Celia, Laura, Dilsey, Patsey,

Frankie, and Elinor. Dese wuz de youngest chillun. I don't 'member de

fust ones. I don't ricollect nothin' t'all 'bout my grandma and grandpa,

cause us wuz too busy to talk in de daytime, and at night us wuz so

whupped out from hard wuk us just went off to sleep early and never

talked much at no time. All I knows 'bout 'em is dat I heared folkses

say my gran'pa wuz 107 years old when he died. Folkses don't live dat

long now-a-days.

"De slave quarters wuz in rows and had two rooms and a shed. Dey had

beds made out of poles fastened together wid pegs and 'cross 'em wuz

laid de slats what dey spread de wheat straw on. Us had good kivver

'cause our Marster wuz a rich man and he believed in takin' keer of his

Niggers. Some put sheets dat wuz white as snow over de straw. Dem sheets

wuz biled wid home-made soap what kept 'em white lak dat. Udder folkses

put quilts over de straw. At de end of de slave quarters wuz de barns

and cow sheds, and a little beyond dem wuz de finest pasture you ever

seed wid clear water a-bubblin' out of a pretty spring, and runnin'

thoo' it. Dar's whar dey turned de stock to graze when dey warn't

wukkin' 'em."

When Tom was asked if he ever made any money, a mischievous smile

illumined his face. "Yes ma'am, you see I plowed durin' de day on old

Marster's farm. Some of de white folks what didn't have many Niggers

would ax old Marster to let us help on dey places. Us had to do dat wuk

at night. On bright moonshiny nights, I would cut wood, fix fences, and

sich lak for 'em. Wid de money dey paid me I bought Sunday shoes and a

Sunday coat and sich lak, cause I wuz a Nigger what always did lak to

look good on Sunday.

"Yes ma'am, us had good clo'es de year 'round. Our summer clothes wuz

white, white as snow. Old Marster said dey looked lak linen. In winter

us wore heavy yarn what de women made on de looms. One strand wuz wool

and one wuz cotton. Us wore our brogan shoes evvy day and Sunday too.

Marster wuz a merchant and bought shoes from de tanyard. Howsomever, he

had a colored man on his place what could make any kind of shoes.

"Lawdy! Missie, us had evvythin' to eat; all kinds of greens, turnips,

peas, 'tatoes, meat and chickens. Us wuz plumb fools 'bout fried chicken

and chicken stew, so Marster 'lowed us to raise plenty of chickens, and

sometimes at night us Niggers would git together and have a hee old

time. No Ma'am, us didn't have no gyardens. Us didn't need none. Old

Marster give us all de vittuls us wanted. Missie, you oughta seed dem

big old iron spiders what dey cooked in. 'Course de white folkses called

'em ovens. De biscuits and blackberry pies dey cooked in spiders, dey

wuz somethin' else. Oh! don't talk 'bout dem 'possums! Makes me hongry

just to think 'bout 'em. One night when pa and me went 'possum huntin',

I put a 'possum what us cotched in a sack and flung it 'cross my back.

Atter us started home dat 'possum chewed a hole in de sack and bit me

square in de back. I 'member my pa had a little dog." Here he stopped

talking and called a little black and white dog to him, and said: "He

wuz 'bout de size of dis here dog, and pa said he could natchelly

jus' make a 'possum de way he always found one so quick when us

went huntin'." The old man sighed, and looking out across the field,

continued: "Atter slav'ry days, Niggers turned dey chilluns loose,

an' den de 'possums an' rabbits most all left, and dere ain't so many

fishes left in de rivers neither."

Tom could not recall much about his first master: "I wuz four year old

when Marster Dr. Joe Singleton died. All I 'members 'bout him; he wuz a

big man, and I sho' wuz skeered of him. When he cotch us in de branch,

he would holler at us and say: 'Come out of dar 'fore you git sick.' He

didn't 'low us to play in no water, and when, he hollered, us lit a rag.

Dere wuz 'bout a thousand acres in Marse Joe's plantation, he owned a

gold mine and a copper mine too. Old Marster owned 'bout 65 Niggers in

all. He bought an' sold Niggers too. When Old Marster wanted to send

news, he put a Nigger on a mule an' sont de message.

"Atter Marse Joe died, old Mist'ess run de farm 'bout six years.

Mist'ess' daughter, Miss Mattie, married Marster Fred Lucas, an' old

Mist'ess sold her share in de plantation den. My pa, my sister, an' me

wuz sold on de block at de sheriff's sale. Durin' de sale my sister

cried all de time, an' Pa rubbed his han' over her head an' face, an' he

said: 'Don't cry, you is gwine live wid young Miss Mattie.' I didn't cry

none, 'cause I didn't care. Marse Fred bought us, an' tuk us to Athens

to live, an' old Mist'ess went to live wid her chilluns.

"Marse Fred didn't have a very big plantation; jus' 'bout 70 or 80 acres

I guess, an' he had 'bout 25 Niggers. He didn't have no overseer. My pa

wuz de one in charge, an' he tuk his orders from Marse Fred, den he went

out to de farm, whar he seed dat de Niggers carried 'em out. Pa wuz de

carriage driver too. It wuz his delight to drive for Marster and


"Marster and Mist'ess had eight chillun: Miss Mattie, Miss Mary, Miss

Fannie, Miss Senie, Mr. Dave, Mr. Joe, Mr. Frank and Mr. Freddy. Dey

lived in a big house, weather-boarded over logs, an' de inside wuz


"Marster an' Mist'ess sho' wuz good to us Niggers. Us warn't beat much.

De onliest Nigger I 'member dey whupped wuz Cicero. He wuz a bad boy. My

Marster never did whup me but onct. Mist'ess sont me up town to fetch

her a spool of thread. I got to playin' marbles an' 'fore I knowed it,

it wuz dinner time. When I got home, Mist'ess wuz mad sno' 'nough.

Marster cotch me an' wore me out, but Mist'ess never touched me. I seed

Niggers in de big jail at Watkinsville an' in de calaboose in Athens.

Yes Ma'am! I seed plenty of Niggers sold on de block in Watkinsville. I

ricollects de price of one Nigger run up to $15,000. All de sellin' wuz

done by de sheriffs an' de slave Marsters.

"Marster Fred Lucas sold his place whar he wuz livin' in town to Major

Cook, an' moved to his farm near Princeton Factory. Atter Major Cook got

kilt in de War, Marse Fred come back to town an' lived in his house


"No Ma'am, dey warn't no schools for Niggers in slav'ry time. Mist'ess'

daughters went to Lucy Cobb. Celia, my sister, wuz deir nurse, an' when

all our little missies got grown, Celia wuz de house gal. So when our

little missies went to school dey come home an' larnt Celia how to read

an' write. 'Bout two years atter freedom, she begun to teach school


"Us had our own churches in town, an' de white folkses furnished our

preachers. Once dey baptised 75 in de river below de Check Factory;

white folkses fust, and Niggers last.

"Oh! dem patterrollers! Dey wuz rough mens. I heared 'em say dey would

beat de stuffin' out of you, if dey cotch you widout no pass.

"Yes Ma'am! dar always wuz a little trouble twixt de white folkses an'

Niggers; always a little. Heaps of de Niggers went Nawth. I wuz told

some white men's livin' in town hyar helped 'em git away. My wife had

six of 'er kinfolkses what got clean back to Africa, an' dey wrote back

here from dar.

"Us had parties an' dances at night. Sometimes Mist'ess let Celia wear

some of de little missies' clo'es, 'cause she wanted her to outshine de

other Nigger gals. Dey give us a week at Christmas time, an' Christmas

day wuz a big day. Dey give us most evvythin': a knot of candy as big as

my fist, an' heaps of other good things. At corn shuckin's Old Marster

fotched a gallon keg of whiskey to de quarters an' passed it 'round.

Some just got tipsy an' some got low down drunk. De onliest cotton

pickin' us knowed 'bout wuz when us picked in de daytime, an' dey warn't

no good time to dat. A Nigger can't even sing much wid his head all bent

down pickin' cotton.

"Folkses had fine times at weddin's dem days. Dar wuz more vittuls dan

us could eat. Now dey just han' out a little somethin'. De white folkses

had a fine time too. Dey let de Niggers git married in deir houses. If

it wuz bad weather, den de weddin' wuz most genully in de hall, but if

it wuz a pretty day, dey married in de yard.

"I can't 'member much 'bout de games us played or de songs us sung. A

few of de games wuz marbles, football, an' town ball. 'Bout dem witches,

I don't know nothin'. Some of de folkses wore a mole foot 'roun' dey

neck to keep bad luck away: some wore a rabbit's foot fer sharpness, an'

it sholy did fetch sharpness. I don't know nothin' 'tall 'bout Rawhead

and Bloody Bones, but I heared tell he got atter Mist'ess' chillun an'

made 'em be good. Dey wuz pow'ful skeert of 'im.

"Old Marster an' Mist'ess looked atter deir Niggers mighty well. When

dey got sick, de doctor wuz sont for straight away. Yes Ma'am, dey

looked atter 'em mighty well. Holly leaves an' holly root biled together

wuz good for indigestion, an' blackgum an' blackhaw roots biled together

an' strained out an' mixed wid whiskey wuz good for diffunt mis'ries.

Some of de Niggers wore little tar sacks 'roun' dey necks to keep de

fever 'way.

"Yes Ma'am.' I wuz in de War 'bout two years, wid young Marster Joe

Lucas. I waited on him, cooked for him, an' went on de scout march wid

him, for to tote his gun, an' see atter his needs. I wuz a bugger in dem


"I 'members I wuz standin' on de corner of Jackson Street when dey said

freedom had come. Dat sho' wuz a rally day for de Niggers. 'Bout a

thousand in all wuz standin' 'roun' here in Athens dat day. Yes Ma'am,

de fust time de yankees come thoo' dey robbed an' stole all dey could

find an' went on to Monroe. Next to come wuz de gyards to take charge of

de town, an' dey wuz s'posed to set things to goin' right.

"Atter de War I stayed on wid Marse Fred, an' wukked for wages for six

years, an' den farmed on halves wid him. Some of de Niggers went on a

buyin' spree, an' dey bought land, hand over fist. Some bought eight an'

nine hundred acres at a time."

When asked to tell about his wedding, a merry twinkle shone in his eyes:

"Lawdy, Missie, dis ole Nigger nebber married 'til long atter de War. Us

sho' did cut up jack. Us wuz too old to have any chillun, but us wuz so

gay, us went to evvy dance 'til 'bout six years ago. She died den, an'

lef' me all by myse'f.

"Dat Mr. Abyham Lincoln wuz a reg'lar Nigger god. Us b'lieved dat Mr.

Jeff. Davis wuz all right too. Booker Washin'ton give a speech here

onct, an' I wuz dar, but de Niggers made sich a fuss over him I couldn't

take in what he said."

Asked what he thinks about slavery, now that it is over, he replied: "I

think it is all right. God intended it. De white folks run de Injuns

out, but dey is comin' back for sho'. God said every nation shall go to

deir own land 'fore de end.

"I just jined de church right lately. I had cut de buck when I wuz a

young chap, and God has promised us two places, heb'en an' hell. I

thinks it would be scand'lous for anybody to go to hell, so I 'cided to

jine up wid de crowd goin' to heb'en."

After the interview, he called to a little Negro boy that had wandered

into the house: "Moses! gimme a drink of water! Fotch me a chaw of

'bacco, Missie done tuck me up de crick, down de branch, now she's a

gwine 'roun'. Hurry! boy, do as I say, gimme dat water. Nigger chillun,

dis day an' time, is too lazy to earn deir bread. I wuz sorry to see you

come, Missie 'cause my chest wuz a hurtin' so bad, but now I'se sorry to

see you go." Out of breath, he was silent for a moment, then grinned and

said: "I wuz just lookin' at de Injun on dis here nickle, you done

gimme. He looks so happy! Good-bye, Missie, hurry an' come back! You

helped dis old Nigger lots, but my chest sho' do hurt."

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