Back to Articles Index
Commentary by B L Merrill
Some "Politically Incorrect" First Hand Accounts of Slavery in Charleston from the Slave Narratives
As part of President F D Roosevelt's "WPA" project before World War II, the "Slave Narratives" were created. Interviewers were sent all over the country in an effort to document the days of slavery from those who lived it first hand ... the ex-slaves themselves. In addition, some children of slaves also recounted their parent's tales of the institution. Some of those interviewed were well into their 90's and 100's, but still spoke with strong voices about the days before and during the War.
What may be surprising to many is what they had to say. With constant media bombardment about the evils and cruelties of slavery in the South, they seem to forget that many slaveowners in the Old South were very benevolent to their slaves, and their slaves have never forgotten it by evidence of their interviews in the "Slave Narratives." The mainstream would have us believe that whippings were everyday occurances and starvation and exposure were an accepted part of the institution.
This publication is by no means an endorsement of the institution, just an effort to bring more of the truth to light. In fact, I found it to be a very strange feeling as a descendant of slaveowners (Northern and Southern) 130+ years removed from the institution to abhor the practice of human slavery more than those who were actually active participants as slaves! I have found a new perspective on the relationship between master and slave from the slaves very own words, the "Slave Narratives."
What is more is I realized that the slaves were not fawning over the arrivial of the Yankees, and in fact were abused by many of the invaders as they passed through. Some have even shown disgust of them during Reconstruction, in which they would have had time to decide for themselves what they thought of the Union soldiers and possibly dispel the notions given them by their masters. Some even tell of their service to the Confederacy, or the service of relatives.
The following are excerpts from the "Slave Narratives." These are only a small sampling of the collection that consists of many volumes. These are from those who were slaves in the Charleston, SC area. Out of about twenty-five I went through word for word, I only found one that spoke first hand of "mean" masters, with one other telling of a second hand account, but was quick to point out that, "my master was a good man." Everything presented here is word for word as found in the SN, with the exception of my comments which are in parenthsis, preceded by my initials, and in italics.
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 2, Page 221
"Yassuh, ole Maussa treat us good."
William L. Dunwoody
Slave Narratives: Volume 2, Part 2, Pages 225-226
"My father was killed in the Civil War when they taken South Carolina ... My father was a free man and my mother was a slave."
"The slaves ate just what the master ate. They ate the same on my master's place."
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 2, Pages 225-232
"A man come here about a month ago, say he from de Government, and dey send him to find out 'bout slavery ... He ask me all kind of questions. He ask me dis and he ask me dat, didn't de white people do dis and did dey do dat but Mr. Fuller was a good man, he sure good to me and all his people, dey all like him, God bless him, he in de ground now but I ain't going to let nobody lie on him."
"If you want chickens for fat (to fatten) you got to feed dem," she said with a smile, "and if you want people to work dey got to be strong, you got to feed dem and take care of dem too. If dey can't work it come out of your pocket." "I goin' down now tuh see my people I use to cook fuh." (BLM: At 104 years of age, Ms. Hamlin still visits her old masters.)
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 2, Pages 91-92 "I never got a slap from my mistress; I was treated like a white person; if my mistress talked to me to correct me, I want to cry."
"There was no bad treatment of our people. Some neighbors that never owned any slaves, hired negro help and ill-treated them - old mistress felt so bad about this."
"'Old Mausa, Mr. T. L. Bissell, (voic lowered) was a Yankee, but he lived long before the War, 'with an indulgent smile, and in a lowered voice, with his hand up to his mouth he continued as though communicating a dangerous confidence, "Oh, yes, Ma'am - but he was a Yankee."
Susan Nelson (on her father, Paris Forest)
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 3, Pages 214-216
"But though he was treated well he was so homesick that he couldn't stay. He thought of his mistress and of the old home, and of his mother, and he ran away and came back to the Plantation. Mas Charles was so mad when he came after him that he was ready to whip him; but when he saw how happy they were he agreed to give Forest his freedom."
(BLM: Forrest was nearly killed as a free man by a Federal shell that crashed through his apartment during the bombardment of Charleston's civilian population.)
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 3, Pages 151-153
"I loved dem days, I loved dem people. We lived better..." "I had thousands of dollars in Confederate money when the War broke up. If we had won I would be rich."
"The time Capt. Wade Hampton was stumping I followed him all over the State; I led 500 head ... led 500 negroes through the county; I was Captain of them; I rode 'Nellie Ponsa' and wore my red jacket and cap and boots; I had a sword too..."
Mary Frances Brown
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 1, Page 131
"We didn't have any hard times, our owners were good to us - no over share (overseer) and no whippin' - he couldn't stand that."
"My white people were Gentile." (Her tone implied that she considered them the [acme] of gentle folks).
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 1, Pages 118-119
"My two brothers were a lot older than me, and were in the war." (BLM: he doesn't indicate which side they served on ... possibly Confederate) "My father, Abram Brown, was the driver or head man at Rose plantation. Dr. Rose thought a heap of him..."
"The Yankees told him that they thought he was lying, and if he didn't tell the truth they would kill him..."
"Then his son Dr. Arthur Barnwell Rose had the plantation. Those was good white people, good white people."
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 3, Page 197
"My mudder died w'en I was almost uh baby ... De missus promise my ma to tek care of me, and she sho' did ... I hardly miss my ma, no mudder couldn't treat me better dan I treat."
"I been spoiled and didn't hab no interest in worryment."
Slave Narratives: Volume 3, Page 156-158 "Honey I aint know I was any diffrunt fum de chillen o' me mistress twel atter de war. We played and et and fit togetter lak chillen is bound ter do all over der world."
Pearl Randolph (Mrs. Harriett Gresham's interviewer) "While they must work hard to complete their tasks in a given time, no one was allowed to go hungry or forced to work if the least ill." "Harriett remembers her master as being exceptionally kind but very sincere when his patience was tried too far. Mrs. Bellinger was dearly loved by all her slaves because she was very thoughful of them."
"She still corresponds with one of the children of her mistress, now an old woman living on what is left of a once vast estate at Barnwell, South Carolina. The two old women are very much attached to each other and each in her letters helps to keep alive the memories of the life they shared together as mistress and slave."
Slave Narratives: Volume 14, Part 4, Page 198
"...an dey good to me an gib me nuf to keep my soul an body together." "De Yankee been go in de colored people house, an dey all mix up, an dey do jus what dey want. Dey been brutish."