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Charlie Davenport

From: Mississippi

Charlie Davenport, Ex-slave, Adams County
Edith Wyatt Moore
Rewrite, Pauline Loveless
Edited, Clara E. Stokes

Natchez, Mississippi]

"I was named Charlie Davenport an' encordin'[FN: according] to de way I
figgers I ought to be nearly a hund'ed years old. Nobody knows my
birthday, 'cause all my white folks is gone.

"I was born one night an' de very nex' mornin' my po' little mammy died.
Her name was Lucindy. My pa was William Davenport.

"When I was a little mite dey turnt me over to de granny nurse on de
plantation. She was de one dat 'tended to de little pickaninnies. She
got a woman to nurse me what had a young baby, so I didn' know no
dif'ence. Any woman what had a baby 'bout my age would wet nurse me, so
I growed up in de quarters an' was as well an' as happy as any other

"When I could tote taters[FN: sweet potatoes] dey'd let me pick' em up
in de fiel'. Us always hid a pile away where us could git' em an' roast'
em at night.

"Old mammy nearly always made a heap o' dewberry an' 'simmon[FN:
persimmon]. wine.

"Us little tykes would gather black walnuts in de woods an' store 'em
under de cabins to dry.

"At night when de work was all done an' de can'les was out us'd set
'roun' de fire an' eat cracked nuts an' taters. Us picked out de nuts
wid horse-shoe nails an' baked de taters in ashes. Den Mammy would pour
herse'f an' her old man a cup o' wine. Us never got none o' dat
less'n[FN: unless] us be's sick. Den she'd mess it up wid wild cherry
bark. It was bad den, but us gulped it down, anyhow.

"Old Granny used to sing a song to us what went lak dis:

'Kinky head, whar-fore you skeered?
Old snake crawled off, 'cause he's afeared.
Pappy will smite 'im on de back
Wid a great big club--ker whack! Ker whack!'

"Aventine, where I was born an' bred, was acrost Secon' Creek. It was a
big plantation wid 'bout a hund'ed head o' folks a-livin' on it. It was
only one o' de marster's places, 'cause he was one o' de riches' an'
highes' quality gent'men in de whole country. I's tellin' you de trufe,
us didn' b'long to no white trash. De marster was de Honorable Mister
Gabriel Shields hisse'f. Ever'body knowed 'bout him. He married a

"Dem Surgets was pretty devilish; for all dey was de riches' fam'ly in
de lan'. Dey was de out-fightin'es', out-cussin'es', fastes' ridin',
hardes' drinkin', out-spendin'es' folks I ever seen. But Lawd! Lawd! Dey
was gent'men even in dey cups. De ladies was beautiful wid big black
eyes an' sof' white han's, but dey was high strung, too.

"De marster had a town mansion what's pictured in a lot o' books. It was
called 'Montebella.' De big columns still stan' at de end o' Shields
Lane. It burnt 'bout thirty years ago (1937).

"I's part Injun. I aint got no Nigger nose an' my hair is so long I has
to keep it wropped[FN: wrapped]. I'se often heard my mammy was
redish-lookin' wid long, straight, black hair. Her pa was a full blooded
Choctaw an' mighty nigh as young as she was. I'se been tol' dat nobody
dast[FN: dared] meddle wid her. She didn' do much talkin', but she sho'
was a good worker. My pappy had Injun blood, too, but his hair was

"De Choctaws lived all 'roun' Secon' Creek. Some of 'em had cabins lak
settled folks. I can 'member dey las' chief. He was a tall pow'ful built
man named 'Big Sam.' What he said was de law, 'cause he was de boss o'
de whole tribe. One rainy night he was kilt in a saloon down in 'Natchez
Under de Hill.' De Injuns went wild wid rage an' grief. Dey sung an'
wailed an' done a heap o' low mutterin'. De sheriff kep' a steady watch
on' em, 'cause he was afeared dey would do somethin' rash. After a long
time he kinda let up in his vig'lance. Den one night some o' de Choctaw
mens slipped in town an' stobbed[FN: stabbed] de man dey b'lieved had
kilt Big Sam. I 'members dat well.

"As I said b'fore, I growed up in de quarters. De houses was clean an'
snug. Us was better fed den dan I is now, an' warmer, too. Us had
blankets an' quilts filled wid home raised wool an' I jus' loved layin'
in de big fat feather bed a-hearin' de rain patter on de roof.

"All de little darkeys he'ped bring in wood. Den us swept de yards wid
brush brooms. Den sometimes us played together in de street what run de
length o' de quarters. Us th'owed horse-shoes, jumped poles, walked on
stilts, an' played marbles. Sometimes us made bows an' arrows. Us could
shoot 'em, too, jus lak de little Injuns.

"A heap of times old Granny would brush us hide wid a peach tree limb,
but us need it. Us stole aigs[FN: eggs] an' roasted 'em. She sho'
wouldn' stan' for no stealin' if she knowed it.

"Us wore lowell-cloth shirts. It was a coarse tow-sackin'. In winter us
had linsey-woolsey pants an' heavy cow-hide shoes. Dey was made in three
sizes--big, little, an' mejum[FN: medium]. Twant no right or lef'. Dey
was sorta club-shaped so us could wear 'em on either foot.

"I was a teasin', mis-che-vious chil' an' de overseer's little gal got
it in for me. He was a big, hard fisted Dutchman bent on gittin' riches.
He trained his pasty-faced gal to tattle on us Niggers. She got a heap
o' folks whipped. I knowed it, but I was hasty: One day she hit me wid a
stick an' I th'owed it back at her. 'Bout dat time up walked her pa. He
seen what I done, but he didn' see what she done to me. But it wouldn'
a-made no dif'ence, if he had.

"He snatched me in de air an' toted me to a stump an' laid me 'crost it.
I didn' have but one thickness 'twixt me an' daylight. Gent'men! He laid
it on me wid dat stick. I thought I'd die. All de time his mean little
gal was a-gloatin' in my misery. I yelled an' prayed to de Lawd 'til he

"Den he say to me,

'From now on you works in de fiel'. I aint gwine a-have no vicious boy
lak you 'roun de lady folks.' I was too little for fiel' work, but de
nex' mornin' I went to choppin' cotton. After dat I made a reg'lar fiel'
han'. When I growed up I was a ploughman. I could sho' lay off a pretty
cotton row, too.

"Us slaves was fed good plain grub. 'Fore us went to de fiel' us had a
big breakfas' o' hot bread, 'lasses, fried salt meat dipped in corn
meal, an' fried taters[FN: sweet potatoes]. Sometimes us had fish an'
rabbit meat. When us was in de fiel', two women 'ud come at dinner-time
wid baskets filled wid hot pone, baked taters, corn roasted in de
shucks, onion, fried squash, an' b'iled pork. Sometimes dey brought
buckets o' cold buttermilk. It sho' was good to a hongry man. At
supper-time us had hoecake an' cold vi'tals. Sometimes dey was sweetmilk
an' collards.

"Mos' ever' slave had his own little garden patch an' was 'lowed to cook
out of it.

"Mos' ever plantation kep' a man busy huntin' an' fishin' all de time.
(If dey shot a big buck, us had deer meat roasted on a spit.)

"On Sundays us always had meat pie or fish or fresh game an' roasted
taters an' coffee. On Chris'mus de marster 'ud give us chicken an'
barrels o' apples an' oranges. 'Course, ever' marster warnt as free
handed as our'n was. (He was sho' 'nough quality.) I'se hear'd dat a
heap o' cullud people never had nothin' good t'eat.

"I warnt learnt nothin' in no book. Don't think I'd a-took to it,
nowhow. Dey learnt de house servants to read. Us fiel' han's never
knowed nothin' 'cept weather an' dirt an' to weigh cotton. Us was learnt
to figger a little, but dat's all.

"I reckon I was 'bout fifteen when hones' Abe Lincoln what called
hisse'f a rail-splitter come here to talk wid us. He went all th'ough de
country jus' a-rantin' an' a-preachin' 'bout us bein' his black
brothers. De marster didn' know nothin' 'bout it, 'cause it was sorta
secret-lak. It sho' riled de Niggers up an' lots of 'em run away. I sho'
hear'd him, but I didn' pay 'im no min'.

"When de war broke out dat old Yankee Dutch overseer o' our'n went back
up North, where he b'longed. Us was pow'ful glad an' hoped he'd git his
neck broke.

"After dat de Yankees come a-swoopin' down on us. My own pappy took off
wid 'em. He j'ined a comp'ny what fit[FN: fought] at Vicksburg. I was
plenty big 'nough to fight, but I didn' hanker to tote no gun. I stayed
on de plantation an' put in a crop.

"It was pow'ful on easy times after dat. But what I care 'bout freedom?
Folks what was free was in misery firs' one way an' den de other.

"I was on de plantation closer to town, den. It was called 'Fish Pond
Plantation.' De white folks come an' tol' us we mus' burn all de cotton
so de enemy couldn' git it.

"Us piled it high in de fiel's lak great mountains. It made my innards
hurt to see fire 'tached to somethin' dat had cost us Niggers so much
labor an' hones' sweat. If I could a-hid some o' it in de barn I'd
a-done it, but de boss searched ever'where.

"De little Niggers thought it was fun. Dey laughed an' brung out big
armfuls from de cotton house. One little black gal clapped her han's an'
jumped in a big heap. She sunk down an' down' til she was buried deep.
Den de wind picked up de flame an' spread it lak lightenin'. It spread
so fas' dat 'fore us could bat de eye, she was in a mountain of fiah.
She struggled up all covered wid flames, a-screamin',' Lawdy, he'p me!'
Us snatched her out an' rolled her on de groun', but twant no use. She
died in a few minutes.

"De marster's sons went to war. De one what us loved bes' never come
back no more. Us mourned him a-plenty, 'cause he was so jolly an'
happy-lak, an' free wid his change. Us all felt cheered when he come

"Us Niggers didn' know nothin' 'bout what was gwine on in de outside
worl'. All us knowed was dat a war was bein' fit. Pussonally, I b'lieve
in what Marse Jefferson Davis done. He done de only thing a gent'man
could a-done. He tol' Marse Abe Lincoln to 'tend to his own bus'ness an'
he'd 'tend to his'n. But Marse Lincoln was a fightin' man an' he come
down here an' tried to run other folks' plantations. Dat made Marse
Davis so all fired mad dat he spit hard 'twixt his teeth an' say, 'I'll
whip de socks off dem dam Yankees.'

"Dat's how it all come 'bout.

"My white folks los' money, cattle, slaves, an' cotton in de war, but
dey was still better off dan mos' folks.

"Lak all de fool Niggers o' dat time I was right smart bit by de freedom
bug for awhile. It sounded pow'ful nice to be tol':

'You don't have to chop cotton no more. You can th'ow dat hoe down an'
go fishin' whensoever de notion strikes you. An' you can roam' roun' at
night an' court gals jus' as late as you please. Aint no marster gwine
a-say to you, "Charlie, you's got to be back when de clock strikes

"I was fool 'nough to b'lieve all dat kin' o' stuff. But to tell de
hones' truf, mos' o' us didn' know ourse'fs no better off. Freedom meant
us could leave where us'd been born an' bred, but it meant, too, dat us
had to scratch for us ownse'fs. Dem what lef' de old plantation seemed
so all fired glad to git back dat I made up my min' to stay put. I
stayed right wid my white folks as long as I could.

"My white folks talked plain to me. Dey say real sad-lak, 'Charlie,
you's been a dependence, but now you can go if you is so desirous. But
if you wants to stay wid us you can share-crop. Dey's a house for you
an' wood to keep you warm an' a mule to work. We aint got much cash, but
dey's de lan' an' you can count on havin' plenty o' vit'als. Do jus' as
you please.' When I looked at my marster an' knowed he needed me, I
pleased to stay. My marster never forced me to do nary thing' bout it.
Didn' nobody make me work after de war, but dem Yankees sho' made my
daddy work. Dey put a pick in his han' stid[FN: instead] o' a gun. Dey
made' im dig a big ditch in front o' Vicksburg. He worked a heap harder
for his Uncle Sam dan he'd ever done for de marster.

"I hear'd tell 'bout some Nigger sojers a-plunderin' some houses: Out at
Pine Ridge dey kilt a white man named Rogillio. But de head Yankee
sojers in Natchez tried 'em for somethin' or nother an' hung 'em on a
tree out near de Charity Horspital. Dey strung up de ones dat went to
Mr. Sargent's door one night an' shot him down, too. All dat hangin'
seemed to squelch a heap o' lousy goin's-on.

"Lawd! Lawd! I knows 'bout de Kloo Kluxes. I knows a-plenty. Dey was
sho' 'nough devils a-walkin' de earth a-seekin' what dey could devour.
Dey larruped de hide of'n de uppity Niggers an' driv[FN: drove] de white
trash back where dey b'longed.

"Us Niggers didn' have no secret meetin's. All us had was church
meetin's in arbors out in de woods. De preachers 'ud exhort us dat us
was de chillun o' Israel in de wilderness an' de Lawd done sont us to
take dis lan' o' milk an' honey. But how us gwine a-take lan' what's
already been took?

"I sho' aint never hear'd' bout no plantations bein' 'vided up, neither.
I hear'd a lot o' yaller Niggers spoutin' off how dey was gwine a-take
over de white folks' lan' for back wages. Dem bucks jus' took all dey
wages out in talk. 'Cause I aint never seen no lan' 'vided up yet.

"In dem days nobody but Niggers an' shawl-strop[FN: carpet baggers]
folks voted. Quality folks didn' have nothin' to do wid such truck. If
dey had a-wanted to de Yankees wouldn' a-let 'em. My old marster didn'
vote an' if anybody knowed what was what he did. Sense didn' count in
dem days. It was pow'ful ticklish times an' I let votin' alone.

"De shawl-strop folks what come in to take over de country tol' us dat
us had a right to go to all de balls, church meetin's, an' 'tainments de
white folks give. But one night a bunch o' uppity Niggers went to a
'tainment in Memorial Hall. Dey dressed deysef's fit to kill an' walked
down de aisle an' took seats in de very front. But jus' 'bout time dey
got good set down, de curtain drapped[FN: dropped] an' de white folks
riz[FN: arose] up widout a-sayin' airy word. Dey marched out de buildin'
wid dey chins up an' lef' dem Niggers a-settin' in a empty hall.

"Dat's de way it happen ever' time a Nigger tried to git too uppity. Dat
night after de breakin' up o' dat' tainment, de Kloo Kluxes rid[FN:
rode] th'ough de lan'. I hear'd dey grabbed ever' Nigger what walked
down dat aisle, but I aint hear'd yet what dey done wid 'em.

"Dat same thing happened ever' time a Nigger tried to act lak he was

"A heap o' Niggers voted for a little while. Dey was a black man what
had office. He was named Lynch. He cut a big figger up in Washington. Us
had a sheriff named Winston. He was a ginger cake Nigger an' pow'ful
mean when he got riled. Sheriff Winston was a slave an', if my mem'ry
aint failed me, so was Lynch.

"My granny tol' me 'bout a slave uprisin' what took place when I was a
little boy. None o' de marster's Niggers' ud have nothin' to do wid it.
A Nigger tried to git 'em to kill dey white folks an' take dey lan'. But
what us want to kill old Marster an' take de lan' when dey was de bes'
frien's us had? Dey caught de Nigger an' hung 'im to a limb.

"Plenty folks b'lieved in charms, but I didn' take no stock in such
truck. But I don't lak for de moon to shine on me when I's a-sleepin'.

"De young Niggers is headed straight for hell. All dey think' bout is
drinkin' hard likker, goin' to dance halls, an' a-ridin' in a old rattle
trap car. It beats all how dey brags an' wastes things. Dey aint one
whit happier dan folks was in my day. I was as proud to git a apple as
dey is to git a pint o' likker. Course, schools he'p some, but looks lak
all mos' o' de young'n's is studyin' 'bout is how to git out o' hones'

"I'se seen a heap o' fools what thinks 'cause they is wise in books,
they is wise in all things.

"Mos' all my white folks is gone, now. Marse Randolph Shields is a
doctor 'way off in China. I wish I could git word to' im, 'cause I know
he'd look after me if he knowed I was on charity. I prays de Lawd to see
'em all when I die."

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