Interview of Mr. Charles Crawley, Ex-slave
By--Susie Byrd--Petersburg, Virginia
Date--February 20, 1937
THE STORY OF CHARLES CRAWLEY, EX-SLAVE
God knows how old I am. All I know is I wuz born 'fore de war.
Yes, I wuz a slave an' belonged to a family of Allen's in Luenburg
County, came here to dis Petersburg de second week of Lee's surrender.
My Marster and Mistess wuz good to me as well as all us slaves. Dey
owned 'bout fifty head of colored people. All de work I did wuz to play
an' drive cows, being only a boy worked around as chillun; doin' dis,
an' dat, little things de white folks would call me to do.
Marster Allen, owned my Mother, an' sister too; we emigrant (emigrated)
here, came to dis town of Petersburg after Lee's surrender, I mean you
now de ending of de Civil War. My mother, sister, and I came on down de
road in a box car, which stopped outside de outskirts; hit didn't go
through de city. Yes, I know when de first railroads were built, de
Norfolk and Western an' de Atlantic Coast Line, dey were run through
Petersburg an' in dem days it wuz called de Southern.
Mis and Mars' Allen didn't want us to leave dat part of de Country to
come to dis here place down de road, but we comed ourselves to make a
home fo' ourselves. Well now, we worked here an' dar, wid dis here man
an' dat man; O well, wid different people 'til we bought us selves a
home an' paid for it. Mother died right here in dis here house; twelve
years ago, dis comin' March 'leventh. I am yet livin' in dis same
house, dat she an' us all labored an' worked fo' by de sweat of our
brow, an' wid dese hands, Lord! Lord! Child dem days wuz some days.
Lemme finish, baby, tellin' you 'bout dis house. De groun' wad bought
from a lady (colored) name Sis Jackey, an' she wuz sometimes called in
dem days de Mother of Harrison Street Baptis' Church. I reccon dis
church is de ol'est one in Petersburg.
O, yes, honey, I can 'member when de Yankees came into dis town; dey
broke in stores an' told all de niggers to go in an' git anything dey
When slaves ran away they were brought back to their Master and Mistess;
when dey couldn't catch 'em they didn't bother, but let 'em go.
Sometimes de slaves would go an' take up an' live at tother places; some
of 'em lived in de woods off of takin' things, sech as hogs, corn, an'
vegetables from other folks' farm. Well, if dese slaves was caught, dey
were sold by their new masters to go down South. Dey tell me dem Masters
down South wuz so mean to slaves dey would let 'em work dem cotton
fields 'til dey fall dead wid hoes in dare hands, 'en would beat dem.
I'm glad to say, we had good owners.
There was a auction block, I saw right here in Petersburg on the corner
of Sycamore street and Bank street. Slaves were auctioned off to de
highest bidder. Some refused to be sold. By dat I mean, "cried". Lord!
Lord! I done seen dem young'uns fought and kick like crazy folks; child
it wuz pitiful to see 'em. Den dey would handcuff an' beat 'em
unmerciful. I don' like to talk 'bout back dar. It brun' a sad feelin'
up me. If slaves 'belled, I done seed dem whip 'em wid a strop cal' "cat
nine tails." Honey, dis strop wuz 'bout broad as yo' hand, from thum'
to little finger, an' 'twas cut in strips up. Yo' done seen dese whips
dat they whip horses wid? Well dey was used too.
You sed somethin' 'bout how we served God. Um, um, child, I tell you
jest how we use to do. We use to worship at different houses. You see
you would git a remit to go to dese places. You would have to show your
remit. If de Pattyrollers, caught you dey would whip yo'. Dats de wa'
dey done in dem da's. Pattyrollers, is a gang of white men gitting
together goin' through de country catching slaves, an' whipping an'
beatin' 'em up if dey had no remit. Marster Allen wouldn't 'llow no one
to whip an' beat his slaves, an' he would handle anybody if dey did; so,
Marster's slaves met an' worshipped from house to house, an honey, we
talked to my God all us wanted.
You know we use to call Marster Allen, Colonel Allen. His name was
Robert. He was a home general, an' a lawyer, too. When he went to court
any slave he said to free, was freed an' turned aloose. De white fo'ks
as well as slaves obeyed Marster Allen.
Did you know poor whites like slaves had to git a pass? I mean, a remit
like as slaves, to sell anythin' an' to go places, or do anythin'. Jest
as we colored people, dey had to go to some big white man like Colonel
Allen, dey did. If Marster wanted to, he would give dem a remit or pass;
an' if he didn't feel like it, he wouldn't do it. It was jes as he felt
'bout hit. Dats what made all feared him. Ol' Marster was more hard on
dem poor white folks den he was on us niggers.
I don't know but two sets of white folks slaves up my way; one was name
Chatman, an' de tother one Nellovies. Dese two families worked on
Allen's farm as we did. Off from us on a plot called Morgan's lot, there
dey lived as slaves jes like us Colored fo'ks. Yes de poor white man had
some dark an' tough days, like us poor niggers; I mean were lashed an'
treated, some of 'em, jes as pitiful an' unmerciful. Lord! Lord! baby, I
hope yo' young fo'ks will never know what slavery is, an' will never
suffer as yo' foreparents. O God! God! I'm livin' to tell de tale to
yo', honey. Yes, Jesus, yo've spared me.
For clothin' we were 'lowed two suits a year--one fer spring, an' one
fer winter, was all yo' had. De underclothes were made at home. Yo' also
got two pairs of shoes an' homemade hats an' caps. The white folks or
your slave owners would teach dem who could catch on easy an' dey would
teach de other slaves, an' dats how dey kept all slaves clothed. Our
summer hats were made out of plaited straw, underclothes made out of
sacks an' bags.
We had plenty of food such as 'twas--cornbread, butter milk, sweet
potatoes, in week days. Ha! Ha! honey, guess dat's why niggers don't
like cornbread today; dey got a dislike for dat bread from back folks.
On Sunday we had biscuits, and sometimes a little extra food, which ole
Mistess would send out to Mother for us.
Fer as I think, if slavery had lasted, it would have been pretty tough.
As it was, some fared good, while others fared common. You know, slaves
who were beat an' treated bad; some of dem had started gittin' together
an' killin' de white folks when dey carried dem out to de field to work.
God is punishin' some of dem ol' suckers an' their chillun right now fer
de way dey use to treat us poor colored fo'ks.
I think by Negro gittin' educated he has profited, an' dis here younger
generation is gwine to take nothin' off dese here poor white folks when
dey don't treat dem right, cause now dis country is a free country; no
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