William Curtis

Oklahoma Writers' Project


[Date stamp: AUG 19 1937]


Age 93 yrs.

McAlester, Oklahoma

"Run Nigger, run,

De Patteroll git ye!

Run Nigger, run,

He's almost here!"

"Please Mr. Patteroll,

Don't ketch me!

Jest take dat nigger

What's behind dat tree."

Lawsy, I done heard dat song all my life and it warn't no joke

neither. De Patrol would git ye too if he caught ye off the plantation

without a pass from your Master, and he'd whup ye too. None of us

dassn't leave without a pass.

We chillun sung lots of songs and we played marbles, mumble peg, and

town ball. In de winter we would set around de fire and listen to our

Mammy and Pappy tell ghost tales and witch tales. I don't guess dey

was sho' nuff so, but we all thought dey was.

My Mammy was bought in Virginia by our Master, Hugh McKeown. He owned

a big plantation in Georgia. Soon after she come to Georgia she

married my pa. Old Master was good to us. We lived for a while in the

quarters behind the Big House, and my mammy was de house woman.

Somehow, in a trade, or maybe my pa was mortgaged, but anyway old

Master let a man in Virginia have him and we never see him no more

'till after the War. It nigh broke our hearts when he had to leave and

old Master sho' done everything he could to make it up to us.

There was four of us chillun. I didn't do no work 'till I was about

fifteen years old. Old Master bought a tavern and mammy worked as

house woman and I went to work at the stables. I drove the carriage

and took keer of the team and carriage. I kept 'em shining too. I'd

curry the horses 'till they was slick and shiny. I'd polish the

harness and the carriage. Old Master and Mistress was quality and I

wanted everybody to know it. They had three girls and three boys and

we boys played together and went swimming together. We loved each

other, I tell ye.

Old Master built us a little house jest back of de tavern and mammy

raised us jest like Old Mistress did her chillun. When I didn't have

to work de boys and me would go hunting. We'd kill possum, coon,

squirrels and wild hogs. Old Master killed a wild hog and he give

mammy her ten tiny pigs. She raised 'em and my, at the meat we had

when they was butchered.

They had lots of company at de Big House, and it was de only tavern

too, so they was lots of cooking to do. They would go to church on

Sunday and they would spread their dinners on the ground. My, but they

was feasts. We'd allus git to go as I drive the carriage and mammy

looked after the food. We had our own church too, with our own


We had a spinning house where all the old women would card and spin

wool in de winter and cotton in de summer. Dey made all our clothes,

what few we wore. Us boys just wore long tailed shirts 'till we was 12

or 13 years old, sometimes older. I was 15 when I started driving the

fambly carriage and I got to put on pants then.

Our suits was made out of jeans. That cloth wore like buckskin. We'd

wear 'em for a year before they had to be patched.

We made our own brogan shoes too. We'd kill a beef and skin it and

spread the skin out and let it dry a while. We'd put the hide in lime

water to get the hair off, then we'd oil it and work it 'till it was

soft. Next we'd take it to the bench and scrape or 'plesh' it with

knives. It was then put in a tight cabinet and smoked with oak wood

for about 24 hours. Smoking loosened the skin. We'd then take it out

and rub it to soften it. It was blacked and oiled and it was ready to

be made into shoes. It took nearly a year to get a green hide made

into shoes. Twan't no wonder we had to go barefooted.

Sometimes I'd work in the wood shop, dressing wagon spokes. We made

spokes with a plane, by hand on a bench.

I didn't have much work to do before I was 15 except to run errands.

One of my jobs was to take corn to the mill to be ground into meal.

Some one would put my sack of corn on the mule's back and help me up

and I'd ride to the mill and have it ground and they'd load me back on

and I'd go back home.

I remember once my meal fell off and I waited and waited for somebody

to come by and help me. I got tired waiting so I toted the sack to a

big log and laid it acrost it. I led my mule up to the log and after

working hard for a long time I managed to get it on his back. I

climbed up and jest as we started off the mule jumped and I fell off

and pulled the sack off with me. I couldn't do nothing but wait and

finally old Master came after me. He knowed something was wrong.

Old Master was good to all of his slaves but his overseers had orders

to make 'em work. He fed 'em good and took good keer of 'em and never

made 'em work iffen they was sick or even felt bad. They was two

things old Master jest wouldn't 'bide and dat was for a slave to be

sassy or lazy. Sometimes if dey wouldn't work or slipped off de farm

dey would whip 'em. He didn't whip often. Colored overseers was worse

to whip than white ones, but Master allus said, "Hadn't you all rather

have a nigger overseer than a white one? I don't want to white man

over my niggers." I've seen the overseer whip some but I never did

get no whipping. He would strip 'em to the waist and whip 'em with a

long leather strop, about as wide as two fingers and fastened to a


When de war broke out everthing was changed. My young Masters had to

go. T. H. McKeown, the oldest was a Lieutenant and was one of the

first to go. It nigh broke all of our hearts. Pretty soon he sent for

me to come and keep him company. Old Master let me go and I stayed in

his quarters. He was stationed at Atlanta and Griffin, Georgia. I'd

stay with him a week or two and I'd go home for a few days and I'd

take back food and fruit. I stayed with him and waited on him 'till he

got used to being in the army and they moved him out to fighting. I

wanted to go on with him but he wouldn't let me, he told me to go back

and take care of Old Master and Old Mistress. They was getting old by

then. Purty soon Young Master got wounded purty bad and they sent me

home. I never went back. I got a "pass" to go home. Course, after the

war nothing was right no more. Yes, we was free but we didn't know

what to do. We didn't want to leave our old Master and our old home.

We stayed on and after a while my pappy come home to us. Dat was de

best thing about de war setting us free, he could come back to us.

We all lived on at the old plantation. Old Master and old Mistress

died and young Master took charge of de farm. He couldn't a'done

nothing without us niggers. He didn't know how to work. He was good to

us and divided the crops with us.

I never went to school much but my white folks learned me to read and

write. I could always have any of their books to read, and they had

lots of 'em.

Times has changed a lot since that time. I don't know where the world

is much better now, that it has everthing or then when we didn't have

hardly nothing, but I believe there was more religion then. We always

went to church and I've seen 'em baptize from in the early morning

'till afternoon in the Chatahooche river. Folks don't hardly know

nowadays jest what to believe they's so many religions, but they's

only one God.

I was eighteen when I married. I had eight chillun. My wife is 86, and

she lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

William Byrd William Davis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail