Texas Slave Narrative
is half American Indian and half Negro. He was born a slave to John Williams
, of Petersburg, Va., became a "free boy", then was kidnapped and sold in a Virginia slave market to a Texas ranchman. He now lives at 323 N. Olive St., San Antonio, Texas. I never knowed my age till after de war, when I's set free de second time, and then marster gits out a big book and it shows
I's 25 year old. It shows I's 12 when I is bought and $800 is paid for me. That $800 was stolen money, 'cause I was kidnapped and die is how it come: My mammy was owned by John Williams
in Petersburg, in Virginia, and I come born to her on dat plantation. Den my father set 'bout to git me free, 'cause he a full-blooded Indian and done some big favor for a big man high up in de courts, and he gits me set free, and den Marster Williams
laughs and calls me 'free boy.' Then, one day along come a Friday and that a unlucky star day and I playin' round de house and Marster Williams
come up and say, 'Delia
, will you 'low Jim
walk down de street with me?' My mammy say, 'All right, Jim
, you be a good boy,' and dat de las' time I ever heared her speak, or ever see her. We walks down whar de houses grows close together and pretty soon comes to de slave market. I ain't seed it 'fore, but when Marster Williams
says, 'Git up on de block,' I got a funny feelin', and I knows what has happened. I's sold to Marster John Pinchback
and he had de St. Vitus dance and he likes to make he niggers suffer to make up for his squirmin' and twistin' and he the bigges' debbil on earth. We leaves right away for Texas and goes to marster's ranch in Columbus. It was owned by him and a man call Wright
, and when we gits there I's put to work without nothin' to eat. Dat night I makes up my mind to run away but de nex' day dey takes me and de other niggers to look at de dogs and chooses me to train de dogs with. I's told I had to play I runnin' away and to run five mile in any way and then climb a tree. One
of de niggers tells me kind of nice to climb as high in dat tree as I could if I didn't want my body tore off my legs. So I runs a good five miles and climbs up in de tree whar de branches is gettin' small. I sits dere a long time and den sees de dogs comin'. When dey gits under de tree dey sees me and starts
barkin'. After dat I never got thinkin' of runnin' away. Time goes on and de war come along, but everything goes on like it did. Some niggers dies, but more was born, 'cause old Pinchback
sees to dat. He breeds niggers as quick as he can, 'cause dat money for him. No one had no say who he have for wife. But de nigger husbands wasn't de only ones dat keeps up havin' chillen, 'cause de marsters and de drivers takes all de nigger gals dey wants. Den de chillen was brown and I seed one clear
white one, but dey slaves jus' de same. De end of dat war comes and old Pinchback
says, 'You niggers all come to de big house in de mornin'. He tells us we is free and he opens his book and gives us all a name and tells us whar we comes from and how old we is, and says he pay us 40 cents a day to stay with him. I stays 'bout a year and dere's no big change. De same houses and some got
whipped but nobody got nailed to a tree by de ears, like dey used to. Finally old Pinchbeck
dies and when he buried de lightnin' come and split de grave and de coffin wide open. Well, time goes on some more and den Lizzie
and me, we gits together and we marries reg'lar with a real weddin'. We's been together a long time and we is happy. I 'members a old song like dis: Old marster eats beef and sucks on de bone, And give us de gristle To make, to make, to make, to make, To make de nigger whistle.' Dat all de song I 'member
from dose old days, 'ceptin' one more I goes to church in early morn, De birds just a-sittin' on de tree Sometimes my clothes gits very much worn 'Cause I wears 'em out at de knee. I sings and shouts with all my might. To drive away de cold And de bells keep ringin' in
gospel light. Till de story of de Lamb am told.
James Green is half American Indian and half Negro, who believes in Fate, and indeed his nearly half century of life has been so crowded with the unexpected that there is little wonder he considers himself a victim of destiny. He was born a slave, then became a "free boy", only to be kidnapped and sold in a Virginia slave market to a Texas ranchman. His mind is remarkably clear and his reminiscences are interesting, not only because of his own eventful experiences, but because they shed colorful light upon the moral conditions that existed in Texas slave colonies. This old ex-slave is a strange appearing black Redskin with an intense expression, piercing eyes, and long white hair the texture of cotton. A research worker discovered him sitting on the porch of a comfortable San Antonio house at 323 North Olive Street, chatting away like a youngster to his wife. He is ninety-seven and his wife, Lizzie , is eighty-six. During the Civil War they slaved on adjoining ranches in Columbus, Texas. But thereby hangs a tale which can best be told in the old man's own words:
I never knew my age until after de Civil War when I was set free for de second time. Then my marster gets out a great big book and it showed dat I was twenty-five years old. It shows more too: It shows I was twelve when I was bought and $800 was paid for me. Dat $800 was stolen money, cose I was kidnapped. Dis is about how it come: My mother was owned by John Williams of Petersburg, Virginia. I come born to her on a plantation, and den my father went about getting me free. He was a full blooded Indian, and had done some big favor for a big man high up in de courts, and by and bye Mr. Williams comes to my mother and says I am a 'free boy'. I never knowd what was mixed up in it, but Mr. Williams used to laugh and call me 'free boy, Jim '. I never had to do much work for nobody but my mother. Then, one day, along comes a Friday. Friday is my unlucky star day, and it is my lucky star day, too. I was playin' around de house, and Mr. Williams comes up and says: Delia , will you let Jim walk down the street with me?' All right, moster,' says my mother. 'And, Jim , you be a good boy.' Dat was de last time I ever heard my mother speak, or ever see her. We walks down where de houses grows close together, and pretty soon we comes to de slave market. I ain't ever seed one before and didn't knowd what it was. Mr. Williams says to me to get up on de block. It was about so high (three feet). I gets up like I was told. As soon as I stood straight I got a funny feelin'. I knows somehow what was happenin'. But I just stood there. In a few minutes they told me to get down and turned me over to a man named John Pinchback . Pinchback was my new master. He had St. Vitus dance. It seems he likes to make niggers suffer to make up for his own squirmin' and twistin'. He was the biggest devil on earth. We starts to leave right away for Texas. My master lives there on a ranch in Columbus. It was a part plantation and part wild country, and it was owned by two men, Pinchback and Wright . I was put to work when we got there without eating. I was told to carry de water for de stock. Dat night I makes up my mind to run away. But de next day they drives me and some other new slaves over to look at the dogs. The dogs lived in a fine house with a fence around it. Den they chooses me to train de dogs with. I was told I had to play the part of a runnin' away slave. Before I start they tells me to run any direction I want and after I had run five miles to climb up in a tree. I didn't know what it meant, but one of the nigger drivers tells me kind of nice to climb up as high in de tree as I could if I didn't want my body to be tore off my legs. So I runs a good five miles and climbs up in a tree where the branches was gettin' small. I sits there a long time. Den I sees the dogs comin'. They had their heads down not lookin' where they was runnin'. When they gets under my tree they stops and runs around. Den they looks up and sees me and starts to bark. After dat I never got thinkin' of runnin' away, and I don't believe no slave ever escaped from Texas in spite of all de stories de niggers tells. Time goes on and de war comes along. Half of it must have been over before I knows about it. Everythin' goes on just like it did. No change come in our life at all.
Sometimes slaves die and get put in a box. De driver would go and tell Pinchback and he would come out and tell someone to dig a hole. He'd say: 'De rest of you niggers get out on de field and go to work.' It didn't make no difference if it was a mother or what dat died. De chillen had to go out and work and not even see where the hole was dug. But more slaves was gettin' born dan dies old Pinchback would see to dat himself. He breeds de niggers as quick as he can, like cattle, cause dat means money for him. He chooses de wife for every man on the place. No one had no say as to who he was goin' to get for a wife. All de weddin' ceremony we had was with Pinchback's finger pointin' out who was whos' wife. If a woman wern't a good breeder she had to do work with de men, but Pinchback tried to get rid of women who didn't have chillen. He would sell her and tell de man who bought her dat she was all right to own. But de nigger husbands wern't the only ones dat keeps up havin' chillen. De masters and the drivers takes all de nigger girls day want. One slave had four chillen right after the other with a white moster. Their chillen was brown, but one of 'em was white as you is. But dey was all slaves just de same, and de niggers dat had chillen with de white men didn't get treated no better. She got no more away from work dan de rest of 'em. One day I sees Lizzie workin' in de field when she was a girl. She was owned by Pinchback's brother. But dat William Pinchback was a kind master. Well, I likes her and she likes me. But nobody could marry any one dat didn't belong to de same moster. It was many years before fate fixes things so we comes together and marries. But my first wife was a good woman too. Her name was Mary Hardy . I never had no chillen by her. She dies of pneumonia two years after I marries her. After a while de end of de war came. We didn't know nothin' about it. They was about 125 niggers workin' out in the field when old Pinchback come limpin' along. All he says to us was: You niggers come on in. Don't do nothin', but be around, and in the mornin' all of you comes to de big house.' Well we gets talkin' and figurin' and we decides dat maybe we was free. It was on a Friday again, and I tells 'em the war was sure over and we was goin' to get freed. Saturday mornin' comes and we all stands around waitin'. Den out comes Pinchback carrin' a great big book. He tells us: All you niggers is free just as damn free as I am. Den he opens his book and gives us all a name. I had my own name dat was give to me by my father. He tells us all about ourself where we come from and how old we was. After he got dun with this he says he will pay any of us niggers forty cents a day to work for him. He says that those niggers who don't want to stay can get out by sundown. About half the niggers stays on and about half of 'em starts scattering in different directions. I stayed on for some over a year and got my forty cents like he promises.
No great change come about in de way we went on. We had de same houses, only we all got credit from de store and baught our own food. We got shoes and what clothes we wanted, too. Some of us got whipped just de same but nobody got nailed to a tree by his ears. De white men in de habit of havin' Negro girls still goes on havin' them. I don't know how much dey paid 'em for it, but they got treated better. But after de war folks, white and black folks, looks down on white men and black women who had children together. Before we was free nobody thought nothin' about it. It wasn't long before old Pinchback dies himself. And what do you think? When he was buried de lightnin' came and split de grave and de coffin wide open times goes on some more. Den comes along another Friday. On dat Friday Lizzie here she comes along over. She looks just like she did when I seed her in the field. We gets together and we marries regular with a real weddin'. And today is Friday, and my son-in-law, is gettin on good. The old ex-slave seemed to think that this was a very fitting place to end his narrative and he settled back in his chair, thoroughly pleased with his efforts. However, the old man was pressed further and was asked if he could remember any songs the Negroes sang in Civil War days. This was the only one he could recall: Old moster eats beef and sucks on de bone, And gives us de gristle To make, to make, to make, to make, To make de nigger whistle. The song ended, accompanied by gay laughter from Lizzie , and then the researcher turned to Mollie Huff , the aged couples daughter. She was asked what she thought about her father's story. "Right fair enough", she thought it was, but she took exception to her father's claim that he was half Indian. It was fortunate, however, that she was present for she remembered an old Negro song that her mother sang to her when she was a child: I goes to church in de early morn, De birds just a-sittin' on de tree Sometimes my clothes gets very much worn, Caus I wears dem out at de knee. I sings an' I shouts wid all my might To drive away de cold An' de bells keep a-ringin' in de gospel light, Till de story of de Lamb is told.
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