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Salena Taswell

From: Florida

The American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)

Cora N. Taylor
Frances H. Miner, Editor
Miami, Florida
May 14, 1937


Salena Taswell, 364 NW 8th St., Miami, Fla.

1. Where, and about when, were you born?

In Perry, Ga. in 1844.

2. If you were born on a plantation or farm, what sort of farming
section was it in?

Ole Dr. Jameson's plantation near Perry, Ga. north of Macon.

3. How did you pass the time as a child? What sort of chores did you do
and what did you play?

I worked around the table in my Massy's dining room. I didn't play. I
sometimes pulled threads for mother. She was a fine seamstress for the

4. Was your master kind to you?

Yes; I was the pet.

5. How many slaves were there on the same plantation or farm?

He must have had about 400 slaves.

6. Do you remember what kind of cooking utensils your mother used?

We had copper kettles, crocks, and iron kettles. "I waited on de table
when Lincum came dare. That day we had chicken hash and batter cakes and
dried venison."

7. What were your main foods and how were they cooked?

We had everything that was good (I ate in my Massy's kitchen) Sweet
potatoes biscuits, corn bread, pies and everything we eat now.

8. Do you remember making imitation or substitute coffee by grinding up
corn or peanuts?

No, we always had the best of Java coffee. I used to grind it in the
coffee mill for my Massy.

9. Do you remember ever having, when you were young, any other kind of
bread besides corn bread?

Yes. Batter cakes, biscuits and white bread.

10. Do you remember evaporating sea water to get salt?

No. We did not live so far from Macon and the Ole Doctor he was rich and
bought such things. That is how he come to be so rich. He didn't charge
the poor folks when he doctored them, but they would be so glad that he
made them well that they kep' a givin' him things, bed quilts, chickens,
just ever' thing. Then he had such a big plantation about 200 or 300
acres, but I didn't live on the plantation. I worked in his home.

11. When you were a child, what sort of stove do you remember your
mother having. Did they have a hanging pot in the fire place, and did
they make their candles of their own tallow?

My mother did not cook,--she was a special seamstress servant. They had
fireplaces on the plantation and they always used tallow candles at the
doctor's place until after the 'mancipation, then the doctor was one of
the first ones to buy coal oil lamps.

12. Did you use an open well or pump to get the water?

No, we went to the spring to get the water. We toted it in cedar
buckets. The spring was boxed into a well shaped hole, deep enough to
dip the water out of it. It was the best water. They had a town pump at

13. Do you remember when you first saw ice in regular form?

Yes. They had icicles in Georgia.

14. Did your family work in the rice fields or in the cotton fields on
the farm, or what sort of work did they do?

My father was a blacksmith. He did all kinds of blacksmithing. He even
made plows.

15. If they worked in the house or about the place, what sort of work
did they do?

My mother was one of the best seamstresses; she sewed all day long with
her fingers. She made the finest silk dresses and even made tailored

16. Do you remember ever helping tan and cure hides and pig hides?

They did those things on the plantation. They cured goat skins and sheep
skins, too. The sheep skins would dry so slowly that they would let the
slaves lie on them at night to keep them warm and hasten the drying.

17. As a young person what sort of work did you do? If you helped your
mother around the house or cut firewood or swept the yard, say so.

I cleaned and dusted and waited on the table, made beds and put
everything in order, washed dishes, polished silverware and did the most
trusty work.

18. When you were a child do you remember how people wove cloth, or spun
thread, or picked out cotton seed, or weighed cotton, or what sort of
bag was used on the cotton bales?

I did not need to spin but I used to play with the spinning wheels. They
ginned the cotton on the plantation. They used a horse to pull the gin.

They weighed the cotton with a beam and weight. A good slave picked 200
lbs of cotton in a day. Nancy could pick 300 or 400 lbs in a day. She'd
go out early in the day and run in ahead of the sun and no one would
know she had been out. That's how she would get ahead of the rest.

19. Do you remember what sort of soap they used? How did they get the
lye for making the soap?

They made soft soap boiled in a big kettle. They made the lye out of
ashes packed in an old barrel that had a hole in the bottom. They would
make a hollow in the top of the barrel and pour rain water in it. This
would gradually soak through the ashes and seep out of the bottom of the
barrel which they tipped up so that it would drain the lye out into a
vessel. Then they would take the lye and boil it in the kettle with old
grease and meat rinds. The lye was very strong. They had to be careful
not to get any of it on their hands or it would take the skin off. As
they would stir the grease and lye it would foam and cook like a jelly
and when it cooled we had soft soap. It would sure chase the dirt, but
it was hard on the hands.

20. What did they use for dyeing thread and cloth, and how did they dye

They would dig indigo roots and cook the roots and branches for blue
dye. For purple they mixed red and blue. They would pick the berries off
the gallberry bushes for red. The robin's yellow and mixed yellow and
red for orange; and yellow and blue for green.

21. Did your mother use big, wooden washtubs with cut-out holes on each
side for the fingers?

Yes. We made cedar tubs on the plantation. And we had some men who made
large wooden bowls out of juggles cut from logs of the tupla tree. They
would run them through a machine and they would come out round and then
they would smooth them down. They mixed bread in those big bowls.

22. Do you remember the way they made shoes by hand in the country?

Yes, all our shoes were made on the plantation.

23. Do you remember saving the chicken feathers and goose feathers
always for your featherbeds?


24. Do you remember when women wore hoops in their skirts, and when they
stopped wearing them and wore narrow skirts?

Yes. The doctor's folks were so stylish that they would not let the
servants wear hoops, but we could get the old ones that they threw away
and have a big time playing with them and we would go around with them
on when they were gone and couldn't see us.

25. Do you remember when you first saw your first windmill?

Never did see one.

26. Do you remember when you first saw bed springs instead of bed ropes?

Yes. When I was a slave, I slept in a gunny sack bunk with the sacks
nailed against the wall on two sides, in a corner of the room and then
there was a post at the corner of the bed and two poles nailed from the
post to the walls and the gunny sacks were nailed to those poles. My bed
was a two-story bed. There was another gunnysack bed above me with poles
fastened to the same post. We tore old rags and made rag rugs for quilts
to cover us with. I worked in the doctor's house in the daytime but I
had to sleep in the shed at night. Then after I wasn't a slave no more,
I never slept on anything else but a rope bed. When springs come I
wondered what anyone wanted wid 'em. Rope beds was good enough.

27. When did you see the first buggy and what did it look like?

The doctor, he had the best of such things. He had a regular buggy and
sometimes he driv two horses in hit. Uncle Albert, he wuz his driver.
When the doctor wanted to put on great style, and go to the station to
meet some rich company he had one of the fancy cabs with the driver
sittin' up high in front, but when he went to see his patients, he'd
take his feet to go around. He had two saddle packs with a strap that he
would throw over his shoulder. He would have one pack hanging in front
and the other hanging behind.

28. Do you remember your grandparents?

No, my mother's mother was taken from her and sold when she was a baby.
So I never seed my grandmother and I don't know any more about my
grandfather than a goose about a band box.

29. Do you remember the money called "shin-plasters?"

I've seen plenty. I guess my master had barrels of them.

30. What interesting historical events happened during your youth,--such
as Sherman's Army passing through your section? Did you witness the
happenings and what was the reaction of the other Negroes to them?

Sherman's army went through Perry but they did not do any damage there.
They expected them to come and buried lots of food and valuable things,
and when they came they took them to the smoke houses and told them to
help themselves. They did not burn any houses there.

31. Did you know any Negros who enlisted or joined the northern army?

Yes, plenty went with their boss, but ran off to Sherman's army when he
came along. One woman's husband I knowed, Mr. Bethel, he stayed with his
master and didn't run off with the Northern army. When he was given his
freedom, his master give him nice house.

32. Did you know any Negroes who enlisted in the Southern Army?

About all I knew.

33. Did your master join the Confederacy? What do you remember of his
return from the war? Or was he wounded or killed?

His two sons joined the army. James was killed, but Bud, he would never
get through telling war stories when he came back.

34. Did you live in Savannah when Sherman and the Northern forces marked
through the state, and do you remember the excitement in your town or
around the plantation where you lived?


35. Did your master's house get robbed or burned during the time of
Sherman's march?


36. What kind of uniforms did they wear during the civil war?

Blue and gray.

37. What sort of medicine was used in the days just after the war?
Describe a Negro doctor of that period.

We never got sick. Sometimes they would give us oil with a drop or two
of turpentine in a big spoonful. They put turpentine on cuts and sores.

38. What do you remember about Northern people or outside people moving
into a community after the war?

Yes, Jake Enos, he was a colored teacher. He was sent down to teach the
colored school. He taught around from Atlanta to Florida. He took yellow
fever and died My brother, he teached school, but I never went to
school. I larned my ABC's from my massy's children. I aint never
forgot 'em. I could say 'em now.

39. How did your family's life compare after Emancipation with it

I had it the same. I had it good with my massy, but the rest wuz paid
some little wages. Our plantation was called a free place. Some of the
slaves worked so well and made money for the massy and gained their
freedom even befo' 'mancipashun. I heard one come to him and say I howe
dat man $10 an' he retched down in his pocket an' paid hit.

40. Do you know anything about political meetings and clubs formed after
the war?

I heered about de Kuklux but I never did see none.

41. Do you know anything regarding the letters and stories from Negroes
who migrated north after the war?

I hear talk 'bout some massys goin' arter dem an' bringin' back mor'n
dey had in de fust place.

42. Were there any Negroes of your acquaintance who were skilled in any
particular line of work, if so give details?

The Turners made furniture wid knobs an' bumps on just like that stand
and bed. They made fancy chairs an' put cowhide seats stretch-across

43. What sort of school system was there for the instruction of the
Negro? Were there any Negro teachers in your community?

Yes. My son, he went to Negro school three months a year. The son said
that he studied Webster's Speller, Harvey's Reader, learned his ABC's
and studied some in history, geography and arithmetic.

44. How old were you at the close of the civil war?

21 years.

45. Describe the type of early religious meeting, the preachers, etc.

I went to town to my massy's church. I sat 'long side on 'em and held
the baby. My father, he held meetings on the plantation and prayer
meetings just like they have now.

46. Do your friends believe in charms and conjure bags, and what has
been their experience with magic and spells?

I guess some claim dey believe in sech things, but I don't know whether
they do or not.

47. Did you ever use an ox to plow with? What sort of plow?

Yes, I see 'em plow wid hoxen. Dey used the kind of plows they made on
the plantation. I didn't plow, but I used to have fun a goin' roun' in
the old ox two-wheel wagon cart. I'd go down de hill in it; we'd get in
the dump cart and holler an' have a big time.

48. How much did various foods and drinks and commodities cost just at
the end of the war and afterwards?

I don't know what things cost.

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