W Kerns

Interviewer: Samuel S. Taylor

Person interviewed: Mrs. A. (Adrianna) W. Kerns

800 Victory Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

Age: 85

"When they first put me in the field, they put me and Viney to pick up

brush and pile it, to pick up stumps, and when we got through with

that, she worked on her mother's row and I worked on my aunt's row

until we got large enough to have a row to ourselves. Me and Viney

were the smallest children in the field and we had one row each. Some

of the older people had two rows and picked on each row.

"My birthday is on the fourth of November, and I am eighty-five years

old. You can count back and see what year I was born in.


"My mother's first child was her master's child. I was the second

child but my father was Reuben Dortch. He belonged to Colonel Dortch.

Colonel Dortch died in Princeton, Arkansas, Dallas County, about

eighty-six miles from here. He died before the War. I never saw him.

But he was my father's first master. He used to go and get goods, and

he caught this fever they had then--I think it was cholera--and died.

After Colonel Dortch died, his son-in-law, Archie Hays, became my

father's second master. Were all with Hays when we were freed.

"My father's father was a white man. He was named Wilson Rainey. I

never did see him. My mother has said to me many a time that he was

the meanest man in Dallas County. My father's mother was named Viney.

That was her first name. I forget the last name. My mother's name was

Martha Hays, and my grandmother's name on my mother's side was Sallie

Hays. My maiden name was Adrianna Dortch.

A Devoted Slave Husband

"I have heard my mother tell many a time that there was a slave man

who used to take his own dinner and carry it three or four miles to

his wife. His wife belonged to a mean white man who wouldn't give them

what they needed to eat. He done without his dinner in order that she

might have enough. Where would you find a man to do that now? Nowadays

they are taking the bread away from their wives and children and

carrying it to some other woman.


"A Negro couldn't leave his master's place unless he had a pass from

his master. If he didn't have a pass, they would whip him. My father

was out once and was stopped by them. They struck him. When my father

got back home, he told Colonel Dortch and Colonel Dortch went after

them pateroles and laid the law down to them--told them that he was

ready to kill 'em.

"The pateroles got after a slave named Ben Holmes once and run him

clean to our place. He got under the bed and hid. But they found him

and dragged him out and beat him.


"I had three aunts in the field. They could handle a plow and roll

logs as well as any man. Trees would blow down and trees would have to

be carried to a heap and burned.

"I been whipped many a time by my mistress and overseer. I'd get

behind with my work and he would come by and give me a lick with the

bull whip he carried with him.

"At first when the old folks cut wood, me and Viney would pick up

chips and burn up brush. We had to pick dry peas in the fall after the

crops had been gathered. We picked two large basketsful a day.

"When we got larger we worked in the field picking cotton and pulling

corn as high as we could reach. You had to pull the fodder first

before you could pull the corn. When we had to come out of the field

on account of rain, we would go to the corn crib and shuck corn if we

didn't have some weaving to do. We got so we could weave and spin.

When master caught us playing, he would set us to cutting jackets. He

would give us each two or three switches and we would stand up and

whip each other. I would go easy on Viney but she would try to cut me

to pieces. She hit me so hard I would say, 'Yes suh, massa.' And she

would say, 'Why you sayin' "Yes suh, massa," to me? I ain't doin'

nothin' to you.'

"My mother used to say that Lincoln went through the South as a beggar

and found out everything. When he got back, he told the North how

slavery was ruining the nation. He put different things before the

South but they wouldn't listen to him. I heard that the South was the

first one to fire a shot.

"Lemme tell you how freedom came. Our master came out where we was

grubbing the ground in front of the house. My father was already in

Little Rock where they were trying to make a soldier out of him.

Master came out and said to mother, 'Martha, they are saying you are

free but that ain't goin' to las' long. You better stay here. Reuben

is dead.'

"Mother then commenced to fix up a plan to leave. She got the oxen

yoked up twice, but when she went to hunt the yoke, she couldn't find

it. Negroes were all going through every which way then. Peace was

declared before she could get another chance. Word came then that the

government would carry all the slaves where they wanted to go. Mother

came to Little Rock in a government wagon.

"She left Cordelia. Cordelia was her daughter by Archie Hays. Cordelia

was supposed to join us when the government wagon came along but she

went to sleep. One colored woman was coming to get in the wagon and

her white folks caught her and made her go back. Them Yankees got off

their horses and went over there and made them turn the woman loose

and let her come on. They were rough and they took her on to Little

Rock in the wagon.

"The Yankees used to come looking for horses. One time Master Archie

had sent the horses off by one of the colored slaves who was to stay

at his wife's house and hide them in the thicket. During the night,

mother heard Archie Hays hollering. She went out to see what was the

matter. The Yankees had old Archie Hays out and had guns poked at his

breast. He was hollering, 'No sir. I don't.' And mother came and said,

'Reuben, get up and go tell them he don't know where the horses is.'

Father got up and did a bold thing. He went out and said, 'Wait,

gentlemen, he don't know where the horses is, but if you'll wait till

tomorrow morning, he'll send a man to bring them in.' I don't know how

they got word to him but he brought them in the next morning and the

Yankees taken them off.

"Once a Rebel fired a shot at a Yankee and in a few minutes, our place

was alive with them. They were working like ants in a heap all over

the place. They took chickens and everything on the place.

Master Archie didn't have no sons large enough for the army. If he

had, they would have killed him because they would have thought that

he was harboring spies."

Interviewer's Comment

Mrs. A. (Adrianna) W. Kerns is a sister to Charles Green Dortch. Cross

reference; see his story.

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