William Ward

[HW: Dist. 5

Ex-slave #111



[Date Stamp: 10-8-1937]

In a small one-room apartment located on one of Atlanta's back streets

lives William Ward, an ex-slave, whose physical appearance in no way

justifies his claim to being 105 years of age. He is about five ft. in

height with a rather smooth brown complexion. What hair he has is gray.

He moves about like a much younger person. For a person of his age his

thoughts and speech are remarkably clear.

On a bright sunny afternoon in September this writer had an opportunity

of talking with Mr. Ward and in the course of the conversation some very

interesting things were learned regarding the institution of slavery and

its customs. Ward took a dip of snuff from his little tin box and began

his story by saying that he is the son of Bill and Leana Ward who were

brought to this country from Jamaica, B.W.I. The first thing he

remembers was the falling of the stars in 1833. From that time until he

was 9 years old he played around the yard with other slave children.

Then his parents were sent back to Jamaica by their master, the former

Governor Joseph E. Brown. While he was in bondage he carried the name of

his masters instead of Ward, his parents' name.

From the age of 9 until he was old enough to do heavy work, he kept the

master's yard clean.

Although Mr. Brown owned between 50 and 75 slaves, he had no plantation

but hired his slaves out to other men who needed more help but were not

able to own as many slaves as their work required.

Mr. Ward and his fellow slaves lived in one-room houses in the rear of

the master's home. The furnishings consisted of a bed which was known as

a "Grand Rascal" due to its peculiar construction. The mattress made in

the form of a large bag was stuffed with hat and dried grass.

At daybreak each morning they were called from these crude beds to

prepare for the day's work. Breakfast, which consisted of white bacon,

corn bread, and imitation coffee, was served before they left for the

scene of their day's work. Incidentally the slaves under Mr. Brown's

ownership never had any other form of bread than corn bread.

This imitation coffee was made by putting corn meal in a pan, parching

it until it reached a deep golden brown and steeping it in boiling

water. At noon, dinner was brought to them in the field in wash tubs

placed on carts drawn by oxen. Dinner consisted of fat meat, peas and

corn bread. Often all laundry was done in these same tubs.

The only time that this diet ever varied was at Christmas time when the

master had all slaves gathered in one large field. Then several hogs

were killed and barbecued. Everyone was permitted to eat as much as he

could, but was forbidden to take anything home. When some one was

fortunate enough to catch a possum or a coon, he had a change of food.

On Sundays the slaves were permitted to have a religious meeting of

their own. This usually took place in the back yard or in a building

dedicated for this purpose. They sang spirituals which gave vent to

their true feelings. Many of these songs are sung today. There was one

person who did the preaching. His sermon was always built according to

the master's instructions which were that slaves must always remember

that they belonged to their masters and were intended to lead a life of

loyal servitude. None of the slaves believed this, although they

pretended to believe because of the presence of the white overseer. If

this overseer was absent sometimes and the preacher varied in the text

of his sermon, that is, if he preached exactly what he thought and felt,

he was given a sound whipping.

Mr. Brown was a kind person and never mistreated his slaves, although he

did furnish them with the whip for infractions of rules such as

fighting, stealing, visiting other plantations without a "pass", etc.

Ward vividly recalls that one of the soundest thrashings he ever got was

for stealing Mr. Brown's whisky. His most numerous offenses were

fighting. Another form of punishment used in those days was the stocks,

such as those used in early times in England. Serious offenses like

killing another person was also handled by the master who might hang him

to a tree by the feet or by the neck, as he saw fit.

Few slaves ever attempted to escape from Mr. Brown, partially because of

his kindliness and partically because of the fear inspired by the pack

of blood hounds which he kept. When an escaped slave was caught he was

returned to his master and a sound beating was administered.

As far as marriage was concerned on the Brown estate, Mr. Brown, himself

placed every two individuals together that he saw fit to. There was no

other wedding ceremony. If any children were born from the union, Mr.

Brown named them. One peculiarity on the Brown estate was the fact that

the slaves were allowed no preference or choice as to who his or her

mate would be. Another peculiarity was these married couples were not

permitted to sleep together except when the husband received permission

to spend the night with his wife. Ward is the father of 17 children

whose whereabouts he does not know.

At this point Ward began to smile, and when he was asked the cause of

his mirth, he replied that he was thinking about his fellow slaves

beliefs in conjuring one another. This was done by putting some sort of

wild berries in the person's food. What he can't understand is why some

of this black magic was not tried on the white people since they were

holding the Negroes as slaves.

Ward recalls vividly Sherman's march through Georgia. When Sherman

reached the present site of Hapeville, he bombarded Atlanta with cannon,

afterwards marching through and burning the city. The white residents

made all sorts of frantic attempts to hide their money and other

valuables. Some hiding places were under stumps of trees and in sides of

hills. Incidentally Sherman's army found quite a bit of the hidden

wealth. Slaves were never allowed to talk over events and so very few,

if any, knew about the war or its results for them before it actually

happened. At the time that Sherman marched through Atlanta, Ward and

other slaves were living in an old mansion at the present site of

Peachtree and Baker Streets. He says that Sherman took him and his

fellow slaves as far as Virginia to carry powder and shot to the

soldiers. He states that he himself did not know whether Sherman

intended to keep him in slavery or free him. At the close of the war,

his master, Mr. Brown, became ill and died later. Before His death he

informed the slaves that they could remain on his property or go where

they wanted to. Ward was taken to Mississippi where he remained in

another form of slavery (Peonage System) for 40 years. He remembers when

Atlanta was just a few hills without any buildings. Some of the

buildings he worked on are the Herman Building and the original Kimball

House, a picture of which is attached.

He attributes his old age to his belief in God and living a sane life.

Whenever he feels bad or in low spirits, a drink of coffee or a small

amount of whisky is enough to brace him. He believes that his remedy is

better than that used in slavery which consisted mainly of pills and

castor oil.

With a cheerful good-bye, Ward asked that the writer stop in to see him

again; said that he would rather live in the present age under existing

conditions than live in slavery.

William Walters William Ward facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail