Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) presents us with the authentic, transcribed narrative of William Adams- a folk history of slavery.
WILLIAM M. ADAMS, spiritualist preacher and healer, who lives in Ft. Worth, Texas, was born a slave on the James Davis plantation, in San Jacinto Co., Texas. After the war he worked in a grocery, punched cattle, farmed and preached. He moved to Ft. Worth in 1902.
“I was bo’n 93 years ago, dat is whut my mother says. We didn’ keep no record like folks does today. All I know is I been yere a long time. My mother, she was Julia Adams and my father he was James Adams. She’s bo’n in Hollis Springs, Mississippi and my father, now den, he was bo’n in Florida. He was a Black Creek Indian. Dere was 12 of us chillen. When I was ’bout seven de missus, she come and gits me for her servant. I lived in de big house till she die. Her and Marster Davis was powerful good to me.
“Marster Davis he was a big lawyer and de owner of a plantation. But all I do was wait on ole missus. I’d light her pipe for her and I helped her wid her knittin’. She give me money all de time. She had a little trunk she keeped money in and lots of times I’d have to pack it down wid my feets.
“I dis’member jus’ how many slaves dere was, but dere was more’n 100. I saw as much as 100 sold at a time. When dey tuk a bunch of slaves to trade, dey put chains on ’em.
“De other slaves lived in log cabins back of de big house. Dey had dirt floors and beds dat was made out of co’n shucks or straw. At nite dey burned de lamps for ’bout an hour, den de overseers, dey come knock on de door and tell ’em put de light out. Lots of overseers was mean. Sometimes dey’d whip a nigger wid a leather strap ’bout a foot wide and long as your arm and wid a wooden handle at de end.
“On Sat’day and Sunday nites dey’d dance and sing all nite long. Dey didn’ dance like today, dey danced de roun’ dance and jig and do de pigeon wing, and some of dem would jump up and see how many time he could kick his feets ‘fore dey hit de groun’. Dey had an ole fiddle and some of ’em would take two bones in each hand and rattle ’em. Dey sang songs like, ‘Diana had a Wooden Leg,’ and ‘A Hand full of Sugar,’ and ‘Cotton-eyed Joe.’ I dis’member how dey went.
“De slaves didn’ have no church den, but dey’d take a big sugar kettle and turn it top down on de groun’ and put logs roun’ it to kill de soun’. Dey’d pray to be free and sing and dance.
“When war come dey come and got de slaves from all de plantations and tuk ’em to build de breastworks. I saw lots of soldiers. Dey’d sing a song dat go something like dis:
Jeff Davis rode a big white hoss
Lincoln rode a mule
Jess Davis is our President
Lincoln is a fool
“I ‘member when de slaves would run away. Ole John Billinger, he had a bunch of dogs and he’d take after runaway niggers. Sometimes de dogs didn’ ketch de nigger. Den ole Billinger, he’d cuss and kick de dogs.
“We didn’ have to have a pass but on other plantations dey did, or de paddlerollers would git you and whip you. Dey was de poor white folks dat didn’ have no slaves. We didn’ call ’em white folks dem days. No, suh, we called dem’ Buskrys.’
“Jus’ fore de war, a white preacher he come to us slaves and says: ‘Do you wan’ to keep you homes whar you git all to eat, and raise your chillen, or do you wan’ to be free to roam roun’ without a home, like de wil’ animals? If you wan’ to keep you homes you better pray for de South to win. All day wan’s to pray for de South to win, raise the hand.’ We all raised our hands ’cause we was skeered not to, but we sho’ didn’ wan’ de South to win.
“Dat night all de slaves had a meetin’ down in de hollow. Ole Uncle Mack, he gits up and says:
‘One time over in Virginny dere was two ole niggers, Uncle Bob and Uncle Tom. Dey was mad at one ‘nuther and one day dey decided to have a dinner and bury de hatchet. So day sat down, and when Uncle Bob wasn’t lookin’ Uncle Tom put some poison in Uncle Bob’s food, but he saw it and when Uncle Tom wasn’t lookin’, Uncle Bob he turned de tray roun’ on Uncle Tom, and he gits de poison food.‘
“Uncle Mack, he says: ‘Dat’s what we slaves is gwine do, jus’ turn de tray roun’ and pray for de North to win.’
“After de war dere was a lot of excitement ‘mong de niggers. Dey was rejoicin’ and singin’. Some of ’em looked puzzled, sorter skeered like. But dey danced and had a big jamboree.
“Lots of ’em stayed and worked on de halves. Others hired out. I went to work in a grocery store and he paid me $1.50 a week. I give my mother de dollar and keeped de half. Den I got married and farmed for a while. Den I come to Fort Worth and I been yere since.
Source: Slave Narratives: a Folk History of Slavery in the United States from interviews with former slaves, Texas Narratives, Part 1, Work Projects Administration, 1941.
Note: Typewritten records prepared by the Federal Writers’ Project,1936-1938, assembled by the Library Of Congress Project, Work Projects Administration for the District of Columbia, sponsored by the Library Of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1941, Volume XVI, Texas Narratives, Part 1
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