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Jesse Davis

From: South Carolina

Project #1655
W. W. Dixon
Winnsboro, S. C.


Jesse Davis, one of the fast disappearing landmarks of slavery times,
lives with his wife and son, in one of the ordinary two-room frame
houses that dot, with painful monotony, the country farms of white
landowners. The three attempt to carry on a one-horse farm of forty
acres, about thirty acres in cotton and the remainder in corn. The
standard of living is low. Jesse is cheerful, his wife optimistic with
the expression that the Lord will provide, and their son dutiful and
hopeful of the harvest. Their home is about ten miles southwest of
Winnsboro, in the Horeb section of Fairfield County.

"Dere is some difficulty 'bout my age. Nigh as I can place it, I was
born befo' de Civil War. I 'members 'tendin' to and milkin' de cows, and
keepin' de calf off, drawin' water out de well, and bringin' in wood to
make fires. I 'spects I's eighty-five, mountin' up in years.

"I lives on Mr. Eber Mason's place wid one of my chillun, a son name
Mingo. Us all work on de place; run a farm on shares. I can't do much
work and can't support myself. It's mighty hard to be 'pendent on others
for your daily rations, even if them others is your own bone and flesh.
I'd 'preciate sumpin' to help my son and wife carry on. Dats why I wants
a pension. Do you 'spect God in His mercy will hear de prayer of dis
feeble old believer? I don't beg people but de Bible give me a right to
beg God for my daily bread. De Good Book say: 'Take no consarnment 'bout
your raiment'. You can see from what I's got on, dat me nor nobody else,
is much consarned 'bout dis raiment.

"My mammy b'long to de Smiths. My master was Dr. Ira Smith. My mistress
was him wife, Miss Sarah. Deir chillun was: Marse Gad, Marse Jim, and
Marse Billie. Marse Jim was de baker of dis town all his life, after de
way of old-time oven-cookin', 'til Boy bread and Claussen bread wagons
run him out of business. Him is now on de 'lief roll and livin' in de
old McCreight house, de oldest house in Winnsboro.

"Dere was my young misses, Miss Lizzie and Miss Lennie. My mammy name
Sarah, just lak old mistress name Sarah. Her b'long to marster and
mistress but my pappy no b'long to them. Him b'long to de big bugs, de
Davis family. Him was name Mingo, and after slavery him and all us take
de name, de secon' name, Davis, and I's here today, Jesse Davis. See how
dat work out to de name? Good Book again say: 'Good name better than
riches; sweeter to de ear than honey-comb to de tongue.'

"You is well 'quainted wid Marse Amos Davis, ain't you? Well, his people
was pappy's people. I had a brudder name Gabriel, tho' they called him
Gabe. Another one name Chap; he got kilt while clearin' up a new ground.
Sister Fannie marry a Ashford nigger. Marse Ira, de doctor, have a
plantation near Jenkinsville, S. C.

"When de Yankees come thru, they come befo' de main army. They gallop
right up, jump down and say: 'Hold dese hosses! Open dat smoke-house
door!' They took what they could carry 'way. 'Bout dat time marster rode
up from a sick call him been 'tendin' to. Course you know him was a
doctor. They surround him, take his watch, money, and hoss, and ride

"De main army come nex' day, Saturday mornin' 'bout 8 o'clock. They
spread deir tents and stay and camp 'til Monday mornin'. When they leave
they carry off all de cows, hogs, mules, and hosses. Then they have us
ketch de chickens, got them all, 'cept one old hen dat run under de
house, and they didn't wait to git her. Marster have to go 'way up to
Union County, where him have kin folks, to git sumpin' to eat.

"My marster was not big rich lak de Davises, de Means, and de Harpers,
but him have all them people come to see him. Him know a heap of things
dat they 'preciate. De way to dye cloth was one of dese secrets. Marster
have a madder bed. Him take de roots of dat madder put them in de sun
just lak you put out pieces of apples and peaches to make dried fruit.
When them roots git right dry, him have them ground up fine as
water-ground meal. He put de fine dust in a pot and boil it. When he
want red cloth, he just drop de cloth in dat pot and it come out all red
to suit you. Want it blue, him have a indigo patch for dat.

"I never hear anything 'bout alum dese days. Well, de slaves could take
peach tree leaves and alum and make yellow cloth and old cedar tops and
copperas and make tan cloth. Walnut stain and copperas and make any
cloth brown. Sweet-gum bark and copperas and make any cloth a purple
color. I 'member goin' wid one into de woods to git barks. One day old
marster come 'cross a slippery elm tree. Him turn and command me to say
right fast: 'Long, slim, slick saplin' and when I say long, slim, sick
slaplin', him 'most kill hisself laughin'. You try dat now! You find it
more harder to say than you think it is. Him give me a piece of dat bark
to chew and I run at de mouth lak you see a hoss dat been on de range of
wild clover all night and slobberin' at da bits.

"Yes sah, I b'longs to de church! My wife and son, Mingo, just us three
in de house and de whole household jined de Morris Creek Baptist Church.
What's my favorite song? None better than de one dat I'll h'ist right
now. Go ahead? I thanks you. Listen:

'Am I born to die
To lay dis body down
A charge to keep I have
A God to glorify.'

"You lak dat? Yes? You is praisin' me too highly I 'spect, but since you
lak dat one just listen at dis one; maybe you change your mind, 'cause
I's gwine to h'ist it a wee bit higher and put more of de spiritual in
it. Ready? Yes? I stand up dis time.

'All de medicine you may buy
All de doctors you may try
Ain't gonna save you from de tomb
Some day you got to lay down and die.
De blood of de Son can only
Save you from de doom!
Some day you got to lay down and die.'

"You lak dat one? You just ought to hear my wife, Mingo, and Me, singin'
dat 'round de fire befo' us go to bed.

"Well, I'll toddle 'long now. Good-bye."

Next: Lizzie Davis

Previous: Henry Davis

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