A Little History

Oklahoma Slave Narrative

  Plomer Harshaw

 I was born away down in Marshall County, Mississippi on August 10, 1852, at Holly Springs. My father was Plomer Jo Vann, and my mother was Gradey Dowden. She died right after I was born and my mistress raised me like I was her own child. My mother was carried over here from Africa on a slave boat, but I don't know where my father come from.  Daniel Harshaw was my first master's name. He was a good master and the mistress was too. She told me I had a brother name of Oliver and a half brother name of Plumer. Maybe there was a sister, or another brother. Anyway she said either a sister or brother was born in 1837.  That Civil War was bad business. The master leave out of Mississippi and the white people took all the slaves to Arkansas. There was about eighty slaves and we all tried to settle at work but the war kept us running from place to place all the time.  We make several trips from Arkansas down to Wood County, Texas. We went to Texas in wagons and I reckon most of them was pulled with oxen.  In Arkansas the master fixed himself up a fine double frame house with lots of outbuildings. In them days he was wealthy. The furniture was good; high-post beds and plenty to eat. His stock was good stuff until the war broke him up.  The mistress wouldn't let any of the slaves sing about Yankee songs. They let us have church meetings but no singing about the Yankees. One slave girl got a whipping for sometimes singing about that John Brown. They tied her to a tree and the lashing bloodied up the tree all around.  There was lots of mean things done in the slave days. Both the white people and the negroes was wrong part of the time. Like the time a white man Jim Standley, one of our neighbors, put one of his slaves in chains account of not doing something right. He sent the slave to work in the fields, chain and all. That evening when the work day was over that slave slipped up to where Jim Stanley was rocking his baby on the porch of his own house. The master didn't know the slave was around and never did know, for the slave man chopped him with an ax while some negroes in the yard looked on. He was dead. The slave run away, and how he got rid of them chains nobody know, they never saw that negro again.  The patrollers took up the chase but even the bloodhounds couldn't track him. One slave man was killed by a hound.  It happened on our own place. Master had a hickory club and was going to lay it on but the negro grabbed that stick and took it away from master. Then he run, out toward some bushes. But that was far as he got. The dogs leap on him and tear him to pieces. I saw it with my own eyes.  There was an old slave woman on the place in Arkansas who scared the young folks with her haunts. Me too. One time the master had a thrashing machine in the field. The old woman said to us, "Look at that big haunt! That's the biggest ghost I ever knowed about."  The master had told me what it was and I wasn't scared. "That ghost done the master lots of good," I told her, "just about thrashed out all the oats!" That made her so mad she took off her leather belt and most smother me down with it. Every New Year all the masters around the country have what they called a "nigger show." Just an auction for to get rid of the older slaves. The ones going to be sold was stripped down to show off the muscles. Like folks buy a horse, they look at the teeth. Down in Texas I worked in what folks said was "government service." Same as slavery, I couldn't see no difference. Got whipped just the same. Worked in a loom house. Girls and men working hard all the day but nobody get any money for that. Part of the time I worked in a brickyard. The boss kept us trotting or running all the day. Nobody have time to just walk. That was work! I didn't know the white people meant when they said "Free." My young master was a lieutenant in the army under Col. Monroe. When the war was over my young master got me and took me back to Arkansas with him. I rode a mule out of Pine Bluff. I been married three times and got so many grandchildren - must be nearly thirty-seven, and 15 great-grandchildren. They are all scattered, don't know where. I belong to the Baptist Church in Muskogee. That's all I remember of slavery.