FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT
American Guide, (Negro Writers' Unit)
Martin D. Richardson, Field Worker
January 27, 1937
A VOLUNTARY SLAVE FOR SEVEN YEARS
The story of a free Negro of Connecticut, who came south to observe
conditions of slavery, found them very distasteful, then voluntarily
entered that slavery for seven years is the interesting tale that Samuel
Smalls, 84 year old ex-slave of 1704 Johnson Street, Jacksonville, tells
of his father Cato Smith.
Smith had been born in Connecticut, son of domestic slaves who were
freed while he was still a child. He grew to young manhood in the
northern state, making a living for himself as a carpenter and builder.
At these trades he is said to have been very efficient.
Still unmarried at the age of about 30, he found in himself a desire to
travel and see how other Negroes in the country lived. This he did,
going from one town to another, working for periods of varying length in
the cities in which he lived, eventually drifting to Florida.
His travels eventually brought him to Suwannee County, where he worked
for a time as overseer on a plantation. On a nearby plantation where he
sometimes visited, he met a young woman for whom he grew to have a great
affection. This plantation is said to have belonged to a family of
Cones, and according to Smalls, still exists as a large farm.
Smith wanted to marry the young woman, but a difficulty developed; he
was free and she was still a slave. He sought her owner. Smith was told
that he might have the woman, but he would have to "work out" her cost.
He was informed that this would amount to seven years of work on the
plantation, naturally without pay.
Within a few days he was back with his belongings, to begin "working
out" the cost of his wife. But his work found favor in his voluntary
master's eyes; within four years he was being paid a small sum for the
work he did, and by the time the seven years was finished, Smith had
enough money to immediately purchase a small farm of his own.
Adversity set in, however, and eventually his children found themselves
back in slavery, and Smith himself practically again enslaved. It was
during this period that Smalls was born.
All of the Florida slaves were soon emancipated, however and the
voluntary slave again became a free man. He lived in the Suwannee County
vicinity for a number of years afterward, raising a large family.
Personal interview with Samuel Smalls, ex-slave, 1704 Johnson Street,
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