Texas Slave Narratives

Texas Slave Narrative

  James Grumbles

James Grumbles , 80, was born a slave on March 4, 1857. He was the son of Nathaniel and Rachel Grumbles , and was their only child. Rachel , belonged to Jack Hamilton , who brought her as a free negro to Texas from Randolph County, Alabama. After the Civil War, Hamilton was appointed Governor of Texas by the Federal Government. Hamilton had been a union sympathizer and was forced to flee from Texas. When Hamilton was governor he tried in every way to give James any number of educational advantages but the boy refused, preferring to work in the fields. James ' father, Nathaniel , belonged to John Grumbles , who owned "nigger dawgs" for hire. During the Civil War all the free negroes had to choose guardians or leave the state. Rachel chose Aaron Burleson . Burleson owned a large cotton plantation on Rogers' Hill, Travis County. Rachel's job was to nurse the Burleson children, and especially Maggie , who was a chronic invalid. Rachel and Nathaniel separated and she married Robert Hornsby . In 1877, James married Carrie Williams from North Carolina. They had three children, two boys and one girl. Only one boy, James Jr ., is still living. James Jr . owns a small farm of twenty-nine acres near Rogers' Hill, Rural Route 1, Box 490, Austin, Texas. He receives a monthly pension of $11.00 from the State of Texas.

I'm eighty years old and I was bawn on March 4, 1857, on de Jack Hamilton place east ob Austin. De folks called me Jim , but my name is James Grumbles . Rachel Hamilton was my mammy. She died about twenty years ago. Her first husband, my pappy, was Nathaniel Grumbles , a old slavery-time man. Pappy belonged to old man John Grumbles . He lived in Travis County, and had a lot ob "nigger dawgs" dat he hired out to other men dat wanted to catch run-away slaves. He charged de men fo' usin' de dawgs. Dem dawgs was kept penned-up at other times. De folks always called old man Grumbles 'Captain';. Pappy called me Jimmy . Other folks called me Jim . I didn't stay wid Pappy all ob de time. I helped in de house, tended cattle, and done nigh anything dat come along. I was pappy's only child, and he separated f'om mammy. Pappy died when I was a grown man. After dey separated mammy married Robert Hornsby . He belonged to de Hornsbys at Hornsbys Bend. Dey had four chullun, and all ob 'em is dead but one. My stepfathaw died about twenty years ago. Befo' freedom come a law was passed dat all de niggers dat was called free niggers had to choose someone fo' a guardeen, or else leave de state. De white folks said dat de free niggers was ruinin' de other slaves. Mammy was called a free woman by her master. Mawster Jack Hamilton brought her to Texas f'om Randolph County, Alabama. Dey come to Texas in 1847. Little befo' de beginnin' ob de Civil War mammy left de Hamilton place, and hired out to other white folks. Mawster Jack said dat he wouldn't hold no claim against her 'cause he didn't believe in slavery. But befo' mammy left Mawster Jack's place I was bawn in a box cabin near de big house. Mammy was free so when dey passed dat law against free niggers she was put in jail at Austin until she would choose a guardeen. Dis jail was a two story rock buildin' near where de Calcasieu Lumber Company is now, on Second Street, and near de Colorado River. Mammy was in a upper cell. I didn't have to stay wid her 'cause I was only about four years old. A pusson could name anybody dat he chose, and dat pusson had to come and git him. But dat didn't cost de guardeen nothin', 'cept to feed and care fo' him. De same day dat she was put in jail mammy chose Aaron Burleson as her guardeen. He had a laghe cotton plantation at whut is now de new State Feeble-Minded School, up at Rogers' Hill, Travis County. Mawster Burleson had about twenty-five slaves, I think. He thought mo' ob his slaves dan most anyone I ever saw. He wouldn't allow no patrols on his place and dey had better not whoop any of his slaves widout consultin' him either. His slaves didn't have to have passes to go anywhere, he jus' give orders fo' people not to bother his niggers. He was a mighty fine man. Mammy was most ob all a nuss. Maggie Burleson was a little girl at dat time and she had a paralyzed back. Mammy's job most ob de time was to take care ob Maggie . I believe dat Maggie fell out ob a rope swing and hurt her back. Maggie lived to be a woman, but she never did marry. Mammy always pulled Maggie around everywhere in a little invalid's wagon. Maggie was very cheerful and quiet and she called mammy Rach . Mammy now had her guardeen and I was wid her; but uncle Henry Perry didn't choose nobody and he was allowed to leave de state. He jus' got up and left. When we heard f'om him and got a letter f'om him he was in de union army up in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I believe, is where he was stationed, and we never heard f'om him since. We don't know whether he was killed or not. When I was a kid I jus' played around de place. Mawster Burleson was married twice. De second time he was married to Jennie Tannehill . We called her Mistress Jennie . She was extra fine to us chillun. She was even better to us dan de old man. Every Saturday night food was rationed out to us. We had plenty ob meat 'cause de woods was full ob it, especially wild hogs and cattle. De wild cattle was dem big longhorns. After I growed a little bigger, I went huntin' a lot. When we was jus' kids, we went fishin' most ob de time. All dat we tood along was some bait and a piece ob string dat we had tied a bent pin on. De bent pin was our hook. We caught mo' fish dat way dan dey catch now wid a trot-line. We had to catch 'em quick so dey wouldn't come off de pin-hook. Sometimes we had mo' fish dan we could use. We would jus' leave and go home. We caught sun-perch, mud cats and clear-water cats. Sometimes a big beaver would come to de top and staht floppin' his broad tail and splash water all over me. Den us boys would run home and tell de older folks dat a alligator was after us. We was on de banks ob de Colorado River and dat river was full ob alligators. Yo' ought to stay away f'om dat river", mammy would say, "dem alligators ought to knock yo' in, yo' triflin' scoundrel yo!" We'd jus' look at her meek-like. Den some days we'd run off and go again. We'd always bring back plenty ob fish. We'd take de fish to de cabin ob some older pussons, and dey would fry de fish fo' us. De biggest fish dat I ever caught was a forty-five pound mud-cat. I was too young to pull him out and de older folks in de boat pulled him out. Dat fish run up and down dat river and took dat boat into de swift water lak a hoss pullin' a coach. Den he got tired out and we landed him. Den we took him home and divided him up. I'm de boy dat carried de news f'om Mawster Burleson to de niggers in de quarters, tellin' all de adult slaves dat dey was wanted at de big house. De slaves thought dat Mawster Burleson was goin' to give 'em some blankets or presents. He had been accustomed to doin' dat. He had a boy down in Old Mexico and he'd send a order down dere fo' a lot of fine Injun type blankets, den he would give 'em to his slaves. But dis time he never had no blankets. He was on de big front gallery ob de big house. He den read a paper and said dat all ob us was free, and dat we could leave and go where we wanted to, or dey could stay right on de place and work. Some ob de folks was so glad dat dey cried, other laughed, and some ob 'em was jus' plain lost and didn't know what to do. Dat was in June 1865. Some ob de folks stayed and helped gather de crops. Others stayed on de place and fahmed fo' theirsefs. He'd give 'em tools, cows, hosses, seed, and what dey needed to git a staht. Pappy and mammy separated. Mammy went to Austin and hired out to de rich white folks. I went wid her. It was when I was about fifteen years old dat mammy got married to Robert Hornsby . He was a fahmer, and mammy helped him and didn't hire out no mo'.

It was sometime in 1877 dat I was married to Carrie Williams . She had come f'om North Ca'olina. We had three chillun, two girls and a boy. Dey is all dead 'cept de boy, James Jr . Mrs. Volney Taylor , a daughter ob Mawster Burleson , was a teacher. She's de one dat showed me my A B C's and de first arithmetic. She'd make me come up to de big gallery and learn my lessons. I did lak to study until I got up to de hard lessons, den I quit. After slavery, when Mawster Jack Hamilton got to be Governor ob Texas, he offered me all ob de schoolin' dat I wanted, but I run away and come back out here to de country. I had been stayin' on de Hamilton place fo' awhile after slavery and Mawster Jack built hissef a laghe two-story brick mansion. I didn't have to pay fo' my board and room, and I didn't even have to work. But I run away f'om dere. I come out into de country and stahted to doin' any field work, gin work, and den I helped build de road-bed fo' de old H. S. & T. C. railroad, when it stahted buildin' into Austin, in about 1870. De first train den come in about 1871. I like dat work very much and got about a dollah and a half a day, fifty cents a day was charged fo' room and board. But I didn't mind it 'cause we got good eat and plenty ob it. And dere was no workin' on Sundays. I liked dat work so much dat when de Katy railroad or de M. K. & T. was buildin' toward Austin, I worked on it, too.