Uncle Moble Hopson
THE STORY OF "UNCLE" MOBLE HOPSON.
Interview Saturday, November 28th at his home on the Poquoson River.
(Recorded from memory within 1 hour after "being talked to by him.")
Uncle Moble hobbles unsteadily from his little shade beside the outhouse
into the warm kitchen, leaning heavily on the arm of his niece. He looks
up on hearing my voice, and extends a gnarled and tobacco-stained hand.
He sinks fumblingly into a chair. It is then that I see that Uncle Moble
"No, don't mind effen yuh ast me questions. Try tuh answer 'em, I will,
best ways I kin. Don't mind et all, effen yuh tell me whut yuh want to
know. Born'd in fifty-two, I was, yessuh, right here over theer wheer
dat grade big elum tree usta be. Mammy was uh Injun an' muh pappy was uh
white man, least-ways he warn't no slave even effen he was sorta
"Ole pappy tole me 'bout how cum the whites an' the blacks an' the
Injuns get all mixed up. Way back 'long in dere it war, he [SP: be]
nevuh tell me jes' what year, dey was a tribe uh Injuns livin 'long dis
ribber. Dey was kin to de Kink-ko-tans, but dey wasn't de same. Dey had
ober on the James de Kink-ko-tans an' dey had dis tribe ober here.
"Well, de white man come. Not fum ober dere. De white man cum cross de
Potomac, an' [HW: den he] cross de York ribber, an' den he cum on cross
de Poquoson ribber into dis place. My pappy tell me jes' how cum dey
cross all uh dose ribbers. He ain't see it, yuh unnerstand, but he hear
tell how et happen.
"Dis whut de white man do. He pick hisself a tall ellum long side de
ribber an' he clumb to de top an' he mark out on de trunk wid he ax uh
section 'long 'bout, oh, 'long 'bout thirty-fo'ty feet. Den he cut de
top off an' den he cut de bottom off so de thick trunk fall right on de
edge uh de ribber. An' den he hollar out dat ellum log tell he make
hisself uh bout an' he skin off de bark so et don't ketch in de weeds.
Den he make hisse'f uh pattle an' dey all makes pattles an' dey floats
dat boat an' pattles cross to de udder side.
"Well, dey cross de Potomac an' dey has tuh fight de Injuns an' dey
cross de York an' fit some more tell dey kilt all de Injuns or run 'em
way. When dey cross de Poquoson dey fine de Injuns ain't aimin' tuh
fight but dey kilt de men an' tek de Injun women fo' dey wives. Coursen
dey warn't no marryin' dem at dat time.
"Well dat's how cum my people started. Ah hear tell on how dey hafta
fight de Injuns now an den, an' den de Britishers come an' dey fit de
"An' all uh dat time dere warn't no black blood mixed in 'em, least
wise, not as I heer'd tell uh any. Plenty blacks 'round; ah seen 'em. My
pappy nevuh would have none. My oncle had 'em, ober on dat pasture land
dere was his land.
"Why I usta get right out dere many uh day and watch 'em [HW struck out:
at] workn' [HW: in de 'baccy fields.] Big fellars dey was, wid
cole-black skins ashinin' wid sweat jes' lak dey rub hog-fat ober dere
faces. Ah ain't nevuh bothered 'em but my bruther--he daid now sence
ninety-three he got uh hidin' one day fo' goin' in de field wid de
[HW: Insert] "Well we all heer tell uh de was, [HW: an ah listen to de
grown folk talk on et,] but dey ain't paid so much mind to et. Tell one
day de blacks out in de field an' dey ain't no one out dere tuh mek 'em
work. An' dey stand 'round an' laugh an' dey get down an' wait, but dey
don' leave dat field all de mawning. An' den de word cum dat de Yankees
was a comin,' an' all dem blacks start tuh hoopin' an' holl'rin', an'
den dey go on down to deer shacks an' dey don' do no work at all dat
"An' when do Yanks [HW: git heer] dey ain't non uh de slave-holders no
whers round. Dey all cleared out an' de blacks is singin' an' prayin'
an' shoutin' fo' joy cause Marse Lincoln done set em free.
"Well, dey tuk de blacks an' dey march em down de turnpike to Hampton,
an' den dey put em tuh work at de fort. Ah ain't nevuh go ober dere but
ah heer tell how de blacks come dere fum all 'round tell dey git so many
dey ain't got work fo' 'em tuh do, so dey put 'em tuh pilin' up logs an'
teking 'em down agin, an' de Yankees come and go an' new ones come but
dey ain't troublin nothin' much 'ceptin' tuh poach uh hawg or turkey now
"Ah was jes' a little shaver gittin' in my teens den but ah 'member
clear as day all ah dat. An' ah heer tell uh uh big battle up Bethel
way an' dey say dey kilt up dere uh bunch uh men, de 'federates an' de
Yankees both. But ah ain't seed it, though Oncle Shep Brown done tole me
all 'bout et.
"Oncle Shep Brown lived down aways on de ribber. 'Long 'fore de Yankees
come he jined up wid de 'federates. He fit in dat battle at Big Bethel
but he ain't get uh scratch. He tell me all 'bout de war when he come
back home. He tell me all 'bout de fall uh Richmond, he did.
"Was one day down [HW: en] de lower woods in de shade he tell me 'bout
Richmond, Oncle Shep did. Why, I remember et jes' lak it was yestiddy.
Was whittlin' uh stick, he was, settin' on uh stump wid his game laig
hunched up ontuh uh bent saplin'. He was whittlin' away fo' uh 'long
time 'thout sayin' much, an' all at once he jump in de air an' de
saplin' sprang up an he start in tuh cussin.
"'Gawdammit, gawdammit, gawdammit,' he kept sayin' tuh hisse'f an'
limpin' round on dat laig game wid de roomatissum. Ah know he gonna tell
me sompin den cause when Oncle Shep git ehcited he always got uh lot
"'Gawdammit,' he say, 'twas de niggahs tak Richmond.'
"'How dey do dat Oncle Shep?' ah ast, though ah knowed he was gonna tell
"'De niggahs done tuk Richmond,' he keep on sayin' an' finally he tell
me how dey tak Richmond.
"'Ah seed et muhse'f,' he say, 'my comp'ny was stationed on de turnpike
close tuh Richmond. We was in uh ole warehouse,' he told me, 'wid de
winders an' de doors all barred up an' packed wid terbaccy bales
awaitin' fo' dem Yanks tuh come. An' we was a-listenin' an' peepin' out
an' we been waitin' dere most all de ev'nin'. An' den we heer [HW: uh]
whistlin' an' uh roarin' like uh big blow an' it kep' gittin' closer.
But we couldn't see nothin' uh comin' de night was so dark. [HW struck
out: But] Dat roarin' kep' a-gittin' louder an' louder an' 'long 'bout
day break there cum fum down de pike sech uh shoutin' an uh yellin' as
nevuh in muh born days ah'd heerd.'
"'An' de men in dat warehouse kept askinkin' away in de darkness widdout
sayin' nothin', cause dey didn't know what debbils de Yankees was
alettin' loose. But ah stayed right there wid dem dat had de courage tuh
face et, cause ah know big noise mean uh little storm.'
"'Dar was 'bout forty of us left in dat ole warehouse ahidin' back of
dem bales uh cotton an terbaccy, an' peepin out thew da cracks.'
"'An' den dey come. Down de street dey come--a shoutin' an' aprancin'
an' a yellin' an' asingin' an' makin' such uh noise like as ef all hell
done been turn't loose. Uh [HW: mob uh] nigguhs. Ah ain't nevuh [SP:
nevub] knowed nigguhs--even all uh dem nigguhs [SP: niggubs]--could mek
sech uh ruckus. One huge sea uh black faces filt de streets fum wall tuh
wall, an' dey wan't nothin' but nigguhs in sight.'
"'Well, suh, dey warn't no usen us firin' on dem cause dey ain't no way
we gonna kill all uh dem nigguhs. An pretty soon dey bus' in de do' uh
dat warehouse, an' we stood dere whilst dey pranced 'rounst us a hoopin'
an' holl'rin' an' not techin' us at all tell de Yankees soljers cum up,
an' tek away our guns, an' mek us prisoners an' perty soon dey march us
intuh town an' lock us up in ole Libby Prison.'
"'Thousings of 'em--dem nigguhs.' he say, 'Yassir--was de nigguhs dat
tuk Richmond. Time de Yankees get dere de nigguhs [SP: niggubs] done had
got de city tuk.'"
[HW: Why Uncle Moble is a Negro]
Uncle Moble is a noble figure. He turns his head toward me at my
questions, just as straight as if he actually is looking at me.
"Yuh wanta know why I'm put with the colored people? [HW: Sure, ah got
white skin, leastwise, was white las' time ah' see et.] Well, ah ain't
white an' ah ain't black, leastwise not so fur as ah know. 'Twas the war
done that. Fo de war dere warn't no question come up 'bout et. Ain't
been no schools 'round here tuh bothuh 'bout. Blacks work in de fields,
an' de whites own de fields. Dis land here, been owned by de Hopson's
sence de fust Hopson cum here, I guess, back fo' de British war, fo' de
Injun war, ah reck'n. Ustuh go tuh de church school wid ole Shep Brown's
chillun, sat on de same bench, ah did.
"But de war changed all dat. Arter de soljers come back home, it was
diff'runt. First dey say dat all whut ain't white, is black. An' [HW:
den] dey tell de Injuns yuh kain't marry no more de whites. An' den dey
tell usen dat we kain't cum no more tuh church school. An' dey won't let
us do no bisness wid de whites, so we is th'own in wid de blacks.
"Some [HW: uh our folk] moved away, but dey warn't no use uh movin'
cause ah hear tell et be de same ev'y wheer. So perty soon et come time
tuh marry, an' dey ain't no white woman fo' me tuh marry so ah marries
uh black woman. An' dat make me black, ah 'spose 'cause ah ben livin'
black ev'y sence.
"But mah bruther couldn't fine no black woman dat suited him, ah reckon,
cause he married his fust cousin, who was a Hopson huhse'f.
"Den dere only chile married hisse'f uh Hopson, and Hopsons been
marryin' Hopsons ev'y sence, ah reck'n."
Uncle Moble Tells Where to Dig A Well
"That well out dere? Naw, dat ain't old. Dat ain't been dere mo'un
fifteen-twenty year. De ole well, she was ole, though she nevuh war much
good. Paw ain't dug et in de right place. Old Shep Brown tolt him, but
my old man ain't nevuh pay no mine to old Shep.
"But old Shep sho' did know how tuh dig uh well. Ah kin see now him ah
comin' up de lane when paw was adiggin'. Moble [SP: Mobile] he say--my
paw an' me had de same name--Moble [SP: Mobile], ye ain't diggin' dat
well de right place.
"'Diggin' et wheer ah wants et,' answers paw, a diggin' away en de hole
"'Well, ye ain't gonna git much water. Oughta got yo'se'f uh ellum
"'Don' need no ellum stick. Diggin' dis well in my own youd an' ah'm
gonna dig et jes' wheer ah wants et. Go haid an' dig yo' own well.'
"Well, old Shep musta got sorta mad, cause he goes home an' de nex' day
he digs hisse'f uh well.
"Ah seen him. Ah watched him when he figgered wheer tuh dig dat well.
Sho' nuf old Shep got hisse'f uh prime ellum stick fum ah good sized
branch dat was forked. First he skint all de bark off.
"'Kain't fine no water lessen ye skin de bark off,' he tell me. Long
'bout 2-3 feet on each limb, et was. Well, old Shep tek dat ellum stick
wid one fork in each hand an' de big end straight up in de air an' he
holt it tight an' started tuh walk around, wid me followin' right on his
heels. An sho' nuff, perty soon ah seed dat branch commence tuh shake
an' den et started tuh bend an' old Shep let et lead him across de field
wid et bendin' lower all de time tell perty soon de big end uh dat ellum
stick point straight down.
"Old Shep marked de spot an' got his pick an' commence tuh dig out dat
spot. An' fo' old Shep had got down mo'un five uh six feet ah be dawg ef
he don' hit uh stream uh water dat filt up de well in uh hurry so dat he
git his laigs all wet fo' he kin clamb out.
"An' yuh moughten believe et but ah know dat tuh be uh fac', cause ah
tuk dat ellum stick in muh own han's an' ah felt dat stick apullin' me
back tuh dat water. No matter which way ah turn, dat stick keep
atwistin' me roun' toward dat water. An' ah tried tuh pull et back an'
old Shep tuk hole uh et wid me an' tried tuh hole et up straight but de
big end uh dat ellum branch pult down and pointed tuh dat well spite uh
both uh us.
"Still dere? Nawsuh, ah reckon dat old well been crumbled in an' filled
up long time now. Old Shep died back en 93, ah reckon. His old shack
blowed down, an' ah reckon dat ole well all covered up. But dat was some
well while she lasted. Gave mo' water dan all de udder wells in
Poquoson, ah reckon."
Uncle Marion Johnson Uncle Pen Eubanks