The following interviews are part of the Federal Writers Project "Slave Narratives." The complete collection contains over 20,000 pages of interviews with more than 3,500 former slaves. In 1929, Fisk University in Tennessee and Southern University in Louisiana began to document the life stories of these former slaves. Kentucky State College continued the work in 1934 and from 1936-1939, the Federal Writer's Project (a federal work project that was a part of The New Deal) launched a coordinated national effort to collect narratives from former slaves. Only those pertaining to Jefferson County, Missouri are presented here.
"I'se 83 years old and was born in Ste. Genevieve County and my old slave-time place was in New Tennessee about 14 miles west of de town of Ste. Genevieve. My master had only my mother. my mother's brother, and an old lady by de name of Malinda. My mother had six children but only four of us lived to be grown. Father was owned by a Mr. Aubershon right dere at Coffman. Mother come from way south in Kentucky and she was owned by a Master Calvin dere and when him and de mistress died de slaves had to be divided up among de children. Den Iy mother's mistress left Louisville and brought her here to Missouri. When mother come to Missouri she was only 9 years old.
My old mistress, I can't say a hard word about her. Before I was borned she was left a widow and she treated us almost like white folks. She took care of us and raised us up. Mother died after she had six children and we was left in de care of dis old mistress. The Catholie people treated us like as if we was free. My mother and father was married by de priest and it was lawful. But dese other ones was married by de master hisself. When dey married de master could pick up any old kind of paper and call it lawfully married. An almanac or anything would do. But what was it? The colored people didn't know A from B and wasn't allowed to learn to read. If my master or mistress would see me readin' a paper dey would come up and say, 'What you know about reading a paper? Throw dat down.' Dis was done to keep us from learnin' to read anything.
After we got free what did we do to get lawfully married to our slove-time wife? Understand good now. Den de squire came around and we had to get married all over again under de new constitution. It would cost $5. When de master first married us he would say in de ceremony something like dis. "Now, by God, if you ain't treatin' her right, by God, I'll take you up and whip you." The girl's mistress would chastise her de same way. I would choose who I wanted to marry but I had to talk to my master about it. Den him and de owner of de girl I wanted would get together and talk it over.
Dere is lots of people right today who can't tell you how de new constitution come up. In slave time, young man, we was stock, like cattle and hogs. If I killed 50 men nothin' was said about jail, but we got whipped den. Dat was your sufferin' for what you done done. Man, I never got but one whippin' from my master. I can tell you just how it come. It was done through takin' care of an old cow. How, in dem times, son, dere was not gates like dere is now. You called dem 'slip bars', and would let down a rail fence called bars to let the cattle in. Understand, listen at it good now. Every mornin' I had to go up to de straw stack and drive de cows to de barn. To milk dem we had to drive dem down a lane to de house for de old cook woman to milk. As I drove dese cows dey all got through de gate but when de last cow come through she fell over de bottom rail and de master was standin' at de window and saw dis happen. De snow was about three feet deep. Now listen good. De old master was crippled and so here he come with a walkin' stick in one hand and a cowhide in de other.
He said, 'By God, I'm goin' to learn you, by God, how to let down bars'. I said, 'L'arster Jim, I let down every bar 'cept dat one on de bottom'. He jumped on me and got me down in dat snow till I couldn't see him at all. Every time he raised up an' come down with dat cowhide it cut through de snow and hit me. I didn't had nuthin' on 'cept an old pair of socks around my feet. You know if you was raised from birth like dis you could stand it. It come to me, I thought dat if I ever get to be a man I would pay de marster back for dat.
And so after dat when we got free I was growin' on 13 years of age. My aunt and brothers come and got me. My old master was a shoemaker, and one day my uncle told me to take a pair of boots and take dem over 'to have half-soled. I taken den over. I had not cove across the old master since de time we was free until dis day. But when I went in de house de family was around dere and I forgot about payin' Min back for de way he done treated me. Jim's mother who was dere said, 'Well, Feter, don't you wish you was back here livin' with us again?' I'said, 'No, mam.' Den I went in de kitchin and talked to Jim's wife. She was a Republican and said, 'wasn't dat hatefal what she said about you bein' back here egain?' De nezt time I met my old master, Mr. Galvin, was on de road. He was walkin' and could hurdly drag. I was ridin' my horse and thought about gettin' down and whippin' him but when I looked at him I thought I might as well be whippin' a year old child. I let him go.
Later on Jim got poor and one day I met him at de saloon in Staabtown. He wanted to get some leather from another store. He asked me if he could have my horse. I said rather sharp, 'No, I won't.' Den I thought and said, Mr. Jim, I'll go and get de leather myself.' So I got de leather and taken it to his home and set it in on de porch by his door. Den he said, 'Peter, I thank you a thousand times. Any time you need anything in de shoe line come to me.'
Later on he was down and out and he come to his sisters. Dey could not take care of him so dey put him in de asylum in Farmington. I met him in Farmington on lots of days, and felt like payin' him back for dat whippin'. But just looked like every time, God would say, 'No, don't do dat. He will pay for dat. He will come down'. And he sure did pay for it. He died in de asylum out from Farmington. I never mentioned about dat whippin' to Jim Galvin, not a nary time.
When I was freed I felt like I was goin' into a new world. It was de daughter of de old mistress what told me I was as free as dey was. It was dangerous around de house durin' of de warn So de old mistress broke up de old place and us boys was given to our godmother. Mary was my godmother and it was here I was told dat I was free. We was little and didn't know which way to go. My mistress said, 'Now Peter, you are free and de first chance we get we are going to send for your aunt to come and get you.' Dere were four of us brothers bein' taken' care of by four sisters, when we was free. My uncle was in de army and served two years and had come home. He asked my aunt, 'Where are dose boys?' My aunt said, 'Dey is still with de white folks.' So my uncle come to get us. When he come he rid up and we was so glad to see him we run out and met him. He said, 'Boys, I've come after you.'
We walked up to de house. Den de white folks was just as glad to see Uncle Julius as if he had been their brother. Den Uncle Julius said to my godmother, Mary, 'Well, Miss Evely, I come after Pete.' She said, 'Julius, I'm awful glad you've come to get him, I hate to give him up, but take him and take good care of him.' Julius was told de same thing by all de other godmothers of my brothers. All of dese sisters had de winter clothes for us cut out but dey wasn't made. De white women said, 'All your aunt has to do is to make dem'. We had between nine and ten miles to go to get down to my aunt's home.
My aunt's husband was freed at least 15 years before de war started. His master died and he was freed by a will when the master went to de court house in Ste. Genevieve. Now, just listen good. Dis master willed 800 acres to his slaves who divided up de farm. Before he died he put down in a way dat his daughters and sons-in-laws could not break it 'cepting dey would raise several thousand dollars. De old slaves would sit down and tell us about it. De master turns in and pays de taxes up for 100 years. One of de trustees for de will was a Dr. Herdick and Henry Rozier both of Ste. Genevieve. My uncle's part was 40 acres and it was dis farm where I want when I come out from under de shelter of de whitefolks. De colored would sell 2 or 3 acres at a time and all dis farm is now sold. I was 13 when I got free and went to dis farm and there was my home until I was right at a grown man. De only taxes we had to pay was on household goods and stock. Every year when de personal taxes come doe I would go into Ste. Genevieve to pay de taxes. As long as Dr. Herdick and Henry Rozier lived as overseers we was well protected on de farm. Bat Ed Rozier, a lawyer, tried to get us to pay de other kind of taxes.
I was goin' on 20 or 21 before I left de farm. De old lady and Uncle died about de same time. Dey took de old lady to de River Aux Vases Catholic Church to bury her and I stayed with de old man and he died before dey got back from de funeral. We sold our forty acres and dere was six heirs. Den I went to work on a farm of Mr. Aubushon for $10 a month for 15 years. When I quit Aubershon I went den out in Washington County at Fotosi and stayed with my two uncles out dere. I served in a iron factory dere for about two years. Sometimes I would get $5 a day. Den when de price would fall off I would get less. Den I come back to Ste. Genevieve County and worked by de day and den want to St. Louis. I worked dere from one iron factory to another and so den I quit dat.
Den I 'run the river' three straight years from St. Louis to Cairo and Memphis, and Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. I den quit de down trade and rested up and made de northern trip from St. Louis to St. Paul. Everything had to be sent from de South out to California. Dat boat had nothin' on it cept eatin' things. So my aim was to get out to California to dig gold. I got defested in dis way.
De river got so low dut we would be tied up for 3 or 4 days before we could unload it. And we never made it to de port where we could unload it to send it to California. From dese ports you went by land with a covered wagon and oxen or males. It would sometimes take 6 months to get to California from de time we left de river. My way would have been free because I could drive a team out to California. But I never Cot to go cause de river got so low. I quit de river work and done some farming for first one den another down in Ste. Genevieve County for a couple of years.
Dey was just startin' up at Crystal City. Dere was lots in de paper about it. Now and den William Kimer, who was livin' in Jefferson County, wrote me to work for him. I would work for him from May to December durin' de wheat cuttin', thrashing, corn pullin' and wheat sowin'. Den dere was no more summer work, so Crystal City was just startin' up and dere was no railroad and dey got everything by boat and teams hauled de things from de river up to de plant. Sometimes there was from 50 to 60 farm teams down at de river haulin' de coal, brick, etc. for de company. Sometimes we would make $15 a day for de farmer man and he would pay me $10 a month and board. Den I went to Crystal City and worked 13 straight years. De most dat ever I got dere was five or six dollars a day. Dis would be about every three months w'en we tore down de furnace and built it back. At other times I would get about $4.50 a day. I done everything. Made mortar, carried de hod and brick and when quittin' time come you was tired. After I quit Crystal City I went down in Ste. Genevieve County and farmed and got married and had two children. My wife end one child, a little girl, is dead. I live here with my son and his wife. My son has been workin' for de St. Joe here for 12 or 13 years. I had to quit work when I lost my eye-sight.
I was grubbin' hazel-nut bushes in dem rich bottoms in Ste. Genevieve County; and one day I was runnin' and fell down on a stob and it went through my left eye. Dis happened about 40 years ago. De other eye was good till I was 45 and den I had de loss of both eyes and been blind ever since. I'se been gettin' a blind pension for 22 years. It is $75 every three months.
Dere is only one colored family here dat owns their house. All de others rent from the company. I vote at every presidential election, but dat's about all I ever do vote. I been votin' for every president election since I was 21 years old. From de beginning to de end its always the same, the Regublican ticket. Dey joke me a good deal around here 'bout voting one way.
As I look back on it, people ought never to have been slaves. Dat was the low downest thing dat ever was. De first startin' of slavery was when a white man would go over to Africa and de people over dere was ignorant and de white man would hold up a pretty red handkerchief and trade it for one of de Negro women's children. De Negroes in Africa was too ignorant to know better and dis is de way slavery started. I always said like dis, when de older ones that knowed de things, doy ought have learned de slaves their names as dey was in Africa. Lots of us don't know what our grandparents was in Africa. Slavery didn't teech you nothin' but how to work and if you didn't work your back would tell it. Slavery taught you how to lie, too. Just like your master would tell you to go over and steel dat hog. Den de other master from who I stole de hog would say, 'Peter, why I've lost a hog; did you ever see him anywhere?' I would say, 'No, suh'. Of course if I did not lie I would get a whippin'.
De white people did not want to put us in a state to ourselves after de freedom 'cause dey couldn't do without us. De colored people done come up too high now to back 'em and dey got a better chance. De conditions now of de colored people is of course better now cause dey is somebody. But every day dey is tryin' to starve us out and give de white man a job on de state roed. Dey do dat to keep us down. Dat's done more now dan ever before. Its been worse since Roosayelt got in dere. When Highway Gl was out in from St. Louis down to Festus de colored man had a part to do. Since Roosevelt got in dey won't even let a colored man walk down de highway."
"My mastuh's name was Peter Burns and we lived out in Cape County, close to the Houck place. My daddy's name was Charles Lee. Mamey's name was 'Lizabeth, and old mastuh bought her from de Catholie priests. Old mastuh had a big white frame house and it had lots of trees 'round it. There was a saw-mill jes' across de road.
I was just a little feller during de war, but I can remember dat when de Rebel sojers come by our place old mastuh had de table set for 'em, and treat 'em fine--'cause he's a rebel--den when de 'Yankee's come along he give dem de bes' he had, and treat 'em fine 'cause he's a 'Yankee'. Old Jadge Ranney live on de next place and he and old mastuh was good friends--but he was such a hot southerner he couldn't stand old mastuh to not like dat. In a way I guess old mastuh was right for none of de sojers never bother nuthin' on de place.
One time de blue-coats was coming by de jadge's place. De jedge had lots of turkeys and dey was roosting up in de trees. I don't think de sojers was bothering nuthin', but something must've akeered den turkeys for dey commonced making a awful racket. Den de jedge, he come out, ask what dey doing to his turkeys--and he raise a big fuss. So den de sojers druv' into de barn--dey was a great big barn with a drive through de middle. Dey jes' drove in de wagons, loaded 'em with corn and hay--and dey caught some chickens and dey take all de jedge's best hosses. De jedge jes' stand there and watch 'em. He can't do nuthing 'cause de more he say de more dey takes. But dey never bother old mastuh's place none--cause he make friends with both sides.
One time de Rabel sojers was there. Old mastuh had de table all set with everything fine to eat. And de Rebels was jes' getting ready to eat when we hear de big guns from de forts, at de Cape, and word come dat de Yanks was coming. I can jes' see dem Rebel sojers yet--how doy rolled out of there. Most of 'em was a-wearin' coonskin caps with de tail a-hangin' down. And how dey did go! Dat was de time Mahmaduke was a-tryin' to take de Cape. I hear de Yanks overtook him about Allenville and had a skirmish there.
No'm I don't much believe in ghosts and de like--and yet one time out there by Benton Hill--you know dey always say Benton Hill's ha'nted--well I was comin' along there one evening 'bout dark--and from across de road come two men--dey was dressed in kind of white suits and had big, floppy hats on. Doy didn't say nothing and cross de road, right in front of me--with dey heads hanging down. When I gets a little past 'em I thinks--wonder where dey's going? So I looks back and see's 'em start up dat hill and then jest plum disappear. I studies 'bout that, and next morning when I goes back, I goes to look and see where de tracks go. De clay on dat hillside were so soft if you'd put your hand down it would leave a track, but dey warn't a sign of a track whar I seed dem men walk up dar and disappear. After dat I always carry me a lantern when I goes by dar, at night, and when folks tells me 'bout spirits dey seen I don't never tell 'em I don't believe 'em.
I was born near Fayette, Missouri, not far from New Florence on September 2, 1850. Dat makes me right at 87 years old. My father's name was Stephen Estol and Mother's was Agnes Swiney. My grandfather's name was Albert McCee and he was borned in Virginia. He was a carpenter. My grandmother's name was Emily and she was a slave in Glasgow, Howard County, Missouri. I was born just three miles northwest of Glasgow. My boss den is now a banker in Kansas City. His name is James Alwald Swiney. Once he was a preacher in St. Louis and I saw him preachin' dere once. He seen me going along de street one day. I never would have knowed him only he said: 'Hey boy, where you from? Where did you hail from?' I said: 'I hails from Howard County.' He said: 'Come in.' I went in and stayed dere mighty near all day and ate dinner with dem. He come out on de porch and told me not to call him master but to call him Mr. Swiney. We talked all evening and he told me to be a good boy and to be truthful.
You know Abraham Lincoln offered $300 a head before de war for all de slaves but de people would not sell any more dan you would cut your shade tree down in your yard. So dey elected Jefferson Davis President. A man by de name of Grigsby was a slave buyer. It was like you would want a hog or cow and dey would put slaves on de block and 'cry them off'. You have got to make profit on de deal. A good strong man would sell for $300 and some for $100. A house slave was worth more dan a field slave.
Dey wouldn't sell my mother. De old mistress would not allow my mother to be sold. I had only one sister and two brothers. One brother died when I was a baby. De Rebel soldiers taken me. I was a waiter. When Price's raid come they took me off de farm. After dey left Pilot linob dey come up through Missouri and fired on Glasgow and only 900 militia and regular soldiers could not fight 90,000 rebels. So dese 900 ran and blew up de powder magazine and it sounded just like thunder and looked like a black cloud. De rebels went on across de river and said dey was going to make de niggers smell hell. De soldier said, 'Hey, little nigger, we want you to go with us and wait on de Captain.' I was light as a feather almost and dey boosted me up on a horse behind one of de soldiers and took me to Glasgow the a eatin' place. Dey had hard tack made without any salt or any shortnin' about em. There was planty springs up there. I had to clean off de horse, and played marbles and turned handsprings and dey had me for a monkey. I could walk on my hands. Lots of times dey would chip in and pay me a little. When I left and was free I had $18 in nickels and dimes and had only one piece as big as a quarter. I was as 'fraid of a Union soldier as of a rattle snake. Horace Swiney come to town and begged de soldiers to let me come back so he brought me back on his horse. I was in Clasgow about three days.
One day young Swiney come out and told us we was free and for us to call him Mr. Swiney and not master. Dere was only one colored family who left the farm here of 800 acres. All de rest of us stayed right dere. He had about 70 slaves. De old man made a talk and said dese was plenty of land dere and we could all stay and work as we had been. After de freedom dey paid me 10 cents a day or $3 a month and board. Man, I done everything. I carried water on my head. Seel my head is flat and I din't got no sense. I had to carry water in 'piggins', something like a well buckst with one handle so you could catch it with one hand and set it up on your head. Dese buckets was made out of wood on de place dere by a good carpenter. De piggins would hold 2 gallons of water.
I've had 12 children and I was married 55 years when my wife died. I only got 6 children livin' now, 4 boys and 2 girls. One of my girls, Alice, is a teacher in de college in St. Louis. She went to four colleges, at Champaign, Illinois; Lincoln University, Jefferson City; University of Chicago and at Honolulu University where she is dis summer. She has been teaching about 5 or 6 years. She teaches geography and mathematics. I went naked, barefooted, and hungry and send my daughter to school. She went to grade school right here in Festus. Alice is 42 now and she wants to marry and have four children. Bessie is my other daughtor, and she has taught school for 18 years. She is a graduate of Lincoln University and taught at Cape Girardeau 4 years, at Lost Creek in Washington County 2 years, in Festus for 6 years, and in Appleton, Missouri, too. Bessie is married now and she don't have any children. I stays right here with her.
My son, Granville McGee, lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and works on de Northern Pacific Railroad and is a waiter between Chicago and Seattle. He's been with dem 17 years. His is a six day run and he has 6 children. Another son, W. C. McGee, lives in Lansing, Michigan. He is a Democrat, When de Democrats is in power I is a Democrat and when de Republicans is in power I'se a Republican. Dat's de way it generally goes. My son up in Lansing is editor of the Lansing Eye Opener, and has been editor for several years. He is another one who had a pretty good education and is a graduate of Lincoln University, too. He was a porter for a railroad before he was a editor. You got to have a pretty fair education to be a porter now. My oldest son, 61, lives in Rockford, Illinois. He was born in Crystal City and when he was here he was an inspector in de sand mines. He is a furnace man over at Rockford in a glass factory. He has been working for de glass company ever since he was big enough to walk. He is married and has one child. My son, Oscar, is a railroader and lives in St. Louis and is a porter on a train what runs between St. Louis and down in Kexico. He is married and has no children and never will have none. His wife had a accident.
After I was free I come to St. Louis and done a little of everything and worked for my step-father and worked harder for him dan for my master. I sawed wood and drove a cart. We had a coal and wood yard. I did not get paid but could eat. I worked for him until one day I met my father's sister on de street and she asked me some questions on Morgan Street in St. Louis.
Den I went with Uncle Jim McGee to live and he took me down to Greenville, Mississippi and picked cotton and worked as a porter at de hotel dere. I got $12 a month and board. I didn't stay down dere very long and come back to St. Louis and worked at Billing's Bank dat was a saloon and was paid $18 a month and made extra about $25 on tips. I worked for him for about two years plumb 'till I come down in Jefferson County. I worked 30 years over in the plate glass factory in Crystal City and had to quit dere on account of my eyes. I was firing in de furnace. I sometimes made $4 a day and board at de factory. Den I worked for 27 years for de Festus Mercantile Company and done a littls bit of everything. I gets $11, a month now as an old age pension.
I was 21 or 2 when I first voted. My first vote was for U. S. Grant for President at Hematite, Missouri. My last vote was for F. D. Roosevelt. Lots of dem wanted to pay me to vote a certain way but I never paid any attention to dem. I'm a Democrat now. I don't think a man ought to be allowed to vote unless dey know what dey doin.'
I'se went to school only three days in my life. De missus learned me my A, B, C's and all de rest I learned myself. I paid $1.50 a month to go to night school in St. Louis for three months and learned to read and spell, but I just can't write. If I had de chance dat de young folks have now I would go as high as you could go. I can talk some German cause I worked for a Dutchman once. De young generation of colored people ain't goin' to amount to nothin'. Dey don't want to work, but one out of a thousand might do something. Dey all think dey know too much and don't want to learn no more. My other boys will never know what my son knows. De young ones don't sppreciate their advantages. Booker T. Washington had a hard time. We will never have no more like him. Some of de slave holders treated de slaves better than dey is today. De young generation is about at their best now. Dey think too much about their pleasire. Dey don't have enough work to do. I used to work 16 hours a day. Now dey is got it down to 6 hours a day. I think it was good for some of de colored people to be slaves.
I think it would be better if some of the ones now were slaves and it would teach dem to work. My young nistress treated me good and I went with her right behind a horse called Andrew. She thought a heap of me and I thought a heap of her.
Dere ain't but two classes of people, good and bad, and dey been tryin' to separate de black people from de white people but de line has already been cut. Colored women is havin' white children. I think dat is wrong. Dey ought not to mix dem up, but I ain't coin' to try to separate 'em. Dat is de reason I voted for de Lincoln Bill. If people do wrong let 'em be punished accordin' to law no matter what color.
Slavery hurt de men who owned de slaves. De Negro was only de shade tree. De master would set back in de shade and tell de Negro what to do. I hear so many say, 'I'm freel but there is only one person who is free and he or she is de one dat God has set free. God set forth in de heart of Abraham Lincoln dat every man should earn his bread by de sweat of his brow. Man is his own free agent. De masters measured out bad measure and dey got worser in de end dan de slaves. What is rainin' dis country is de love for money. God is goin' to rule dis world."
"I was born right here and was about four years old at de time of de war. We was owned by the Hill's at Farmington. My mother plowed in the fields, and hauled wood in de snow. We had no shoes and made tracks of blood in de snow. Us little tots had to go all over de field and pick up feathers. De mistress would go along with a stick and say, 'Here is another feather to pick up.'
When de soldiers came we had a good meal. De soldiers had on blue coats, and when dey came we would be switching off de flies with a long pole with paper on the end. De soldiers would then say 'We don' need that, come on and eat with us'.
We were linsie dresses and all slept together and were bound to keep warm. When de war was over we was free to go but de only thing we had was a few rags. So we walked to Valle Mines, twenty-four miles north in Jefferson County. We walked it twice 'cause we would carry a few rags a little piece and den go back after de rest.
At Valle Mines we could make a little money digging ore and selling it to de store. De mines were on de surface and mother dug in de mines. After we had gone to Valle Mines, Overton Hill, de son of de Hill's, came up dere and asked mother where she had hid de money and silver during de war. She told him but after three weeks he came back in a buggy and took mother with him to de plantation and she showed Overton where to dig close to a cedar tree to find de money and silver."
"I did not get to see my daddy long. He served in de first of de war and come home sick and died at Cadet. I was born at Cadet. I lives here in Festus and am 90 years old. My mother was Arzella Casey and was a slave in Cadet. Tom Casey owned both my mother and father. De master had a pretty good farm end dat was where I worked when I was a boy. Mr. Casey never hit me a lick in my life. He was sure good to us. I had an uncle John and dey had to sell him 'cause dey could not do anything with him. Dey took him to Potosi before dey sold him. He did not want to be drove. Mr. Casey said if he had 100 niggers he would never sell another one. He said he never had any more good luck since he sold John. Losing his children was his bad luck.
"Before freedom we had our own house and stayed here after freedom. My master said, 'Well, Joe you are your own boss.' I said: "How come?' He said: 'I'll help you.' Dey would not turn us out without a show. We stayed dere free and I went out in de diggin's in de tiff at Valle Mines. Some days I made $5 and den some days made $2. White folks would come and get ma and she would go to help kill hogs and clean up de lard. Dey paid her good. We must have stayed about 3 years at Casey's after de freedom and den want to Mineral Point and worked for de tiff and mineral. I married up dere and had about 13 children by 2 wives. I ain't got no wife now. Dey is both dead. My children is scattered so I don't know how many is livin'. I got a boy dat went to this last war and I think he is out west somewhere. I got two boys here. One is workin' for de factory in Crystal City. De other one knows lots about cement. I got another child in New York. They don't write to me. I can't read or write. Dere was no school for niggers dem days. I has to make a cross mark every time I do anything. I went to school one week and my mother had to clean tiff to make a livin' for dem children and get grub so I had to go to work. I had about seven sisters and brothers altogether. I done worked at everything--steamboating, cutting wheat in Harrisonville, Illinois. I was here when dis was all woods, man. Me and a saloon keeper have been here a long time, more'n 50 years I guess. I pay $5 a month rent or just what I can give 'em. My two boys lives here with me now and I get $12 pansion.
"Dat's when my old master run when dem blue jackets come. Dey made me kill chickens and turkeys and cook for 'em. De lieutenant and sergeant would be right dere. De master would go out in de woods and hide and not come out till they rung de bell at de house.
"I voted since I been 21. I voted for Roosevelt twice. Some thinks he is goin' to get in again. What's the use of takin' money from a man for votin' a certain way? If I like you and you have treated me good all my life den I'll vote for you.
"I don't know what I think about de young Negroes today. Dey is all shined up and goin' 'round. If dey can read and write dey ought to know de difference between right and wrong. I don't think dey will amount to much. Some of 'em ain't got no sense. My mother would not let me stay out. Now, dat is all dey doin'. Last night de policeman put a knot on my boy's head; he was drinkin' and got into it with a coon. De young colored people is fightin' all de time. I don't get out. Just go to de store and come back home again. Dere is a house right near where dey has a big time every night. De whites and black ones was mixed up here till I stopped it. Right down in dat hollow I'll bet you'll find one-third white women livin' with black men. Most all de colored people around here is workin' in the works here at Crystal City. Dey will get up a war here if they keep on, you just watch, like they did in Illinois when dey burnt up a heap of coons. It's liable to get worse de way dey is goin' on."
"I was born in Valle Mines in the northern part of St. Francois County. My mother's name was Sophie McGuire. She was a slave of Henry Bisch and my father was named Philiy McGuire and was owned by John McGuire. I lives here in Herculaneum and am 74 years old. My father worked in de mines and my mother worked in and around de house and cooked. She was more of a house girl. I had three brothers and seven sisters. All my sisters is dead 'cept two. One of dem lives in De Soto and de other in St. Louis. One of my brothers lives at Crystal City and one has worked for over 20 years for de St. Joe Company here at Herculaneum.
I'se heard my mother and father talk about what a hard time dey had when dey was set free and went to housekeeping. First dey moved in a house dat was already built and den dey built a log cabin. My father dug de zine and lead ore to make a living at Valle Mines. He would get so much a ton and would sometimes make $2 a day and den sometimes he would not make anything. I lived at Valle Mines till I come of age and den moved to St. Louis where I worked for 30 years. I worked in a boiler room, in de steel works, and drove a team. I hauled sand, cinders, lumber, dirt, etc. I got about $1.50 a day when I worked in St. Louis. I was married for about 35 years and my wife is dead and didn't have any children. When I left St. Louis I worked in de mines at Fletcher and den came over here and have been 'sealaway gin' around since I been here.
I 'membered how my mother used to tell about an old colored man who ground her scissors and he ground dem on both sides and dey would not cut anything. Dat sure made her mad. I used to have to turn de old grindstone for my father to get his ax sharp. He like to wore me out. I feel like I growed up with more freedom now since we has no slavery. I believe if de colored people had never been brought to dis country dey would be further developed dan dey is this way. Our people has been under bondags in dis country for over 200 years. Being in de bondage has been a great hardship on our race. Dis condition might have some effect today with some people. Dey might say, 'Well, dis fellow will never amount to nothin' 'cause his parents was slaves.'
I can read and write and went to school in Valle Mines at night and paid for it. It cost $1 a month and I went a part of two terms. I learned to read and write from my father. My father's master would not allow him to have any books, but de master's son would steal a book and when dey was in de mines working I had some free time. My father and de master's son would go off in one side of de mine and dere learn to read and write.
In some ways I think de young generation is much better off dan I am or was. But, on de other hand, it seems to me like dey is more rude but as de younger ones grows up maybe dey will be better. De younger generation has a greater opportunity, but dey is behind in doing things against the law. You all knows such like as stealing, killin', robbing and swindling is going on now more dan when I was a boy. We have some mighty rude colored children. Dere is several reasons for dis rudeness. It's caused by letting children go as day wants to go. De perants gets so dey feels dat their child is too good to correct. Another reason is a whole lot de breeding of de children. I think dat since slavery de Negro would have been better off if he had been put on a reservation to hisself. It would have come more natural to civilize de Negro dat way dan de way it is now. Dere is a lot of white men get Negro women and a lot of white women get Negro men. Dat would never have happened if de races had. been separated. I'se been down in Southeast Missouri and de colored race is treated pretty bad down dere."
"I's borned on October 13, 1858 on the southeast side of Farmington, Missouri, My Muthah, Rose Hill, was borned in Virginia. She kum ta Missouri as a girl an frum dat time on she was a slabe fur John Hill, our boss. She worked thar till our freedom. Our family had three boys, Peter, William, and me an two girls, Sallie and Malinda. We bunked up in a cabin with one room. All us kids ate on da flo frum da sameplate an da biggest dog got da mos. Ne generally wore a straight slip like a nightgown an hit fastened round the neck. (In the old South boys were dressed in this fashion until about ten years old and were called "shirttail boys".) Tak dis off an we war naked. The ole lady, the wife ob da Boss was da devil's sister. Hername was "Whip". She beat da ole folks mor'n tha kids. She used tha cowhide an we got a lickin' whether we did any nothin' or not. we had ta git up early an after given supper we war put ta bed an did not pilfer round. We had ta go on Sunday te the Boss' Church, tha Camelite or Christian Church. Da muthuh was no han ta tell big yarns an so I know no ghost stories. We was raised very sensible. Tha white folks did not help us ta read an write. I larned that after we war free. I never did go ta school. Our games was Wolf on the ridge, an King-Kong-Ko. We always had ta be doin' somethin', even if it war pickin' up kindlin'.
I member when Price's army kum thro here in '64 or '65 on their way ta Pilot Knob. I was bout six or seben years ole. I an ma sisther had bin down ta the white childr'n school ta take them dinner. We had ta bring tha basket bak an we set down in tha corner ob da graveyard ta eat whut was left in da basket. Da graveyard was nex to da Fredreicktown town road and jus across frum our house. All at one't I heard the mos' turrible noise. an saw soldiers kum up da road. We war sure scared. We jumped uo, ran cross da road, jumped over da fence an begun ta tak out fur da house. Da soldiers laughed an said somethin: One soldier on a horse kum up ta de fence, tore off da top rail, an with his horse jumped ober da fence, an took out after us, but he nebber cud catch us. We was she runnin' I was carrying' de basket an if I had a throned it down we would a show'd that soldier somerunnin. Da soldier turned his horse round but we went straight to da house to da Missus. She say dat dey was only havin' a good time an would not hurt us. We wood at da house an looked, an it took bout all afternoon fu da soldiers to pass. Mar war horses, wagons and cannons. Da soldiers durin' da war took all da Ross' horses away an he had only a yoke ob oxen lef.
After da freedom we all had ta get out an work. We had a big family. I word'd at da lead smelter at Mine Le Kotte in 1872 an work'd thar fur six years. I made $2.50 a day an dat was good wages then. I batched thar. I larned ta read at Mine La Matte when a white man taught me in evenine at da mine between shifts. Afterards I work'd in Bonne Terre at da smelter but got lead colic an quit thar.
I think slavery waz a curse on human nature. I believe in nobody bein' in bondage ob no kind. Da Almighty was not a goin' ta let slavery las' much longer. You know but He did about da people in Egypt.
I was too young to know what to expect from freedom. My mother picked up and left de white folks in de night and took us kids with her. Dat was after we was free but dey wouldn't let her get away in de daytime very handy. Dey did not pay my mother anything after she was free. In dem days kids didn't question de old folks like they does now, so I didn't find out much. Dere was two sisters, two brothers and myself what left dat night with my mother. We all had some bundles, and when we left de old mistress in de dark we went to some neighbors several blocks away. We didn't have to go far away 'cause day could not force you to go back after we was free. But my mother did go back and work for de mistress a good while but she got paid don. We stayed here for quite awaile and den went up to Valle Mines.
I piddled around and hired out for first one and den another and did what a kid could do. When you earned any money den days you had to give it to your mother and dida't know what she done done with it. About de first work I done was for Mr. Hoyer, a Frenchman, up in Valle Mines in de diring's. I dug mineral, zine, etc. I got 50 cents a day. He did all de diggin and I 'concked' it from de head of the drift to de shaft. I had a little car on wheels dat run on a wooden track. I reckon I worked for him 'bout two years. My mother would go out to de big dirt pile called 'serappin' and would pick out de zine and lead chunks and little pieces.
'Purt near every Saturday we would take de ore down to Furnace Town and get it weighed and get a check for it. Den we come back to Farmington after several years and lived with my sister's husband and worked around at a little bit of everything. I was gettin' to be a pretty good sized boy and went to Mine La Motte and worked on de furnace. My first work at dat place was at $2 a day and later on I became a 'charger' and got $2.50 a day. I stayed with dem six or seven years. After I left dere I went to Ronne Terre and got married and got mine sickness or lead colie from workin' in de furnace and had to quit. I come back to Farmington and is been here ever since. Den I worked at sawing wood, chopping wood, and at a soda factory and beer depot and peddled ice and delivered soda and beer to Fnob Lick, Synite, Graniteville and Bonne Terre. I worked here for a long time.
I'se had four children and two is livin. De boy is in Los Angeles, California and the girl is in Seattle, Washington. My boy is a chauffeur for an old, rich feller by de name of Clark and he has been in de same job for 16 years. He gets $100 a month, room and board. He's been wanting to quit but de old man won't let him. My son's daughter does de cooking for dis rich guy. My son is 56 years old now.
My daughter is 54 and is married. What whe does is more dan I can tell you. Her husband was a soldier in de regular army, in de 10th Calvary, and was in de Philippines, and Cuba and so my daughter is been around some. She been away from here for about 23 or 24 years.
I think de young Negroes need settling down and have more education and not so much good time. I didn't have much of a chance. We was turned loose barefooted and had no schools den and when dey had schools I had to work. But in Mine La Motte a Mr. McFarland would come over to our cabin and teach me readin', writin' and 'rithmetic. He was an awful drinker but was smart. I would give him a little something to drink for teachin' me. I took lessons for 'bout a year. I sure do like to read de newspapers now and can write letters. The young generation thinks too much about goin' and having a good time. A little 'task master' wouldn't hurt de young people. I wasn't in de slavery long enough for it to hurt me none. I was free when I was 8 years old. My mother, however, was worked like an old horse and de best part of her life was spent in bondage.
I believe de government should have made some provision for de slaves when dey turned dem loose. De government could have compelled slave-holders to give slaves a little track of land, a cow and a horse and give 'em a start. De slave had made what de white man had. I actually believe de Negroes would be better off today if they had done dis. My old mistress just had oodles of land. Of course de white folks was not used to work and dere was plenty for de Negroes to do if dey wanted to work.
I voted as soon as I got a chance. De first time I voted was in 1880. I'se hud 'em try to pay me to vote but I told dem my vote was not for sale. Yon know you ain't dictated to unless you is 'wishy washy'. Once, a feller asked me how I voted. I said, 'Just to suit myself.' I generally look over de field and vote for what I think is de best timber. Dey is goin' to have a hot time in 1940, for dem that lives to see it. It's a free country and a man should not have to own proberty in order to vote. Dey ought not to oppress anyone."
"Note--Louis Hill lives in a very nice home. He is a quiet negro, and escept for a short time, has spent his entire life in Farmington. He receives an Old Age Pension. I did not inquire about his marriage, for, from knowledge I have gained, he lives with a colored woman to whom he is not married. How he traded liquor for lessons in reading, writing, and arithnotie is one of the interesting facts of his younger life recalled in an interview recently obtained from Louis Hill, an ex-slave, now living in Farmington, Fissouri. Louis believes that the goverment should have made some provision for the aid of the Negroes during the early struggle following their emancipation.Regarding the part which he takes in polities, Louis declares that his invariable rule is to "look over de field and vote for what he thinks is de best timber."
"I was born out by Caledonia and is 75 years old. My mother came from another family. My old master bought her from another man. She died when I was about eight years old and my father died about forty years ago. His name was George Bryant but he went by de name of Brock. I was livin' in Pilot Knob when Price's raid come through. De government gave de old man a tean to make it to St. Louis. Me and my mother and my brother who was deaf and dumb went with dem but de soldiers captured us and de old man jumped off de mule and high tailed it to de woods. My mother got out of de wagon and took my brother to de woods too. De soldier rid up to do wagon and said, 'Little boy, you don't need to be afraid, I'm after your father.'
I started to get out of de wagon and fell down under de mule and dere I was on de ground. I got up and made for de woods and got in a hols where de hogs was a-wallerin'. I had on a dress and was standin' in de mud up to my knees. I got lost out in de woods for three days. I just laid around and slept behind a log at night and durin' de day I played in dat mud-hole. If I see'd somebody comin' in de woods I would go and hide.
A colored lady found me after three days and called me and took me along. I stayed with her three weeks before my mother found me. I like to eat up everything dey had when I first got something to eat after hein' in de woods so long. We went from one place to another and along about 2 o'clock in de night you would heaf something hit de house like hail. Den we had to come out of dere and hit for de woods. We would go to another house 'bout eight or nine miles away and I'll be switched if dere would not be heil fallin' on dat house about 2 o'clock in de mornin'. It was them bushwhackers again. We kept runnin' for about three weeks. We would go to peoples' houses for food and some of dem would give us anough food to eat for two or three days.
I'll show you now how my mother happened to find me. One night we was in a old house and we didn't dare talk loud 'cause we was afraid de soldiers would hear us. We was afraid to light a light. All at once my mother who was in one side of de room said: 'I wish I could find my little boy.' Den de lady I was with said: 'I found a little boy playin' in de hole where de hogs wallowed. Come over here and see if dis is your boy'. So my mother come over and said: 'I can't see him but I sure can tell by puttin' my hand on his head'. So she put her hand on my haid and said: 'Yes, dat's sure 'nough my boy.
But I wouldn't go with her. I wouldn't leave dat other woman. About 2 o'clock dat night de hail began to hit de house and we had to git out. So I went with de other woman and it was about two or three days before I would go with my mother. Two or three days later we all met again and my mother said: 'Don't you know your mother.' I knowed it was my mother 'cause my brother what was deaf and dumb was with her. Den I went on with her. I would talk to my brother with signs.
Den we went to a little place away, away from Pilot Knob. Den my mother was free and she said, 'Robert, we is all free.' I was too young to know anything 'bout it. After we was free we put in a little stuff in de ground. We had to go to de woods to get some brush and make a brush fence around de garden to keep de cattle out. We got peraission from a man dat owned a farm to build our own log house. It took two or three days to build a one room house. We made up some mud with water and made it stiff enough to stick to de chinckin'. Den we cut a big hole in one end of de building and got some flat rocks and made a fireplace. We put mud on de inside and outside of de chimney. Sometimes de chimney would catch on fire and we had to run to de branch to get water and put it out. Sometimes it would catch on fire twice or three times in one night.
We took old gunny secks and put leaves in dem to make a bed and we slept on de floor and had a old spread and de white folks gave us some old quilts. To make a fire we got some spunk out of a log and then took two flint rocks and to-reckly it would make a spark and estch that spunk. We banked de fire at night.
We never had no doctor. My mother would go out in de woods and get herbs and if I had de stomech ache we would put a little bit of turpentine one a piece of sugar. If I had de headache we would put a piece of brown paper and vinegar on horse radish leaves on de head. In two or three hours us kids would be out playin' and kickin' up our heels. We would go out and get some goose grass and make a little bit of tea and pour it down for de stomach ache. We would get dis black root for constipation. We used a turnip and scraped it and would bind de foot when it was frost bit
I'se been married four times and had children by two wifes had eight children altogether and all are girls but two. Ain't but one living and dat is Ed McFadden what's livin' in Fredericktown, Mo. He works for Deguire at de lumber mill and has been workin' dere for about 30 years. Most of my children died young, but three girls lived to get married. I'se married three times by a preacher and once by de squire.
I steamboated six years on de Mississippi between St. Paul and New Orleans. I got $1 a day and board, and we sure would pack dem sacks and sing dem songs. De old mate would holler at us: 'Cive me a song boys'. And den we would start out. It 'peared like de work went ahead easier when we was singin'. It would take us four weeks to make de rounds before we got back to St. Louis. We hauled potatoes, sheep, wheat, corn, cattle, horses, and cotton. There was 45 of us altogether. I never got hit but one time on de boat. De mate with knucks on hit at another feller for 'cause he was loafin' and hit me and knocked me and my load in de river. I couldn't swim but dey fished me back in de boat and rolled me over and over to run dat water out of me. I run on de 'Bald Bagle' and de 'Spread Eagle'. My mamma got after me to quit and when I got hit she got uneasy about me, but I would hear dat whistle blowin' my feet'd begin to itch and I could not help but go down to de old boat again. De old mate had my name 'doubled up'. It was Bob Rob.
Den I went to wheelin' iron ore at Sulphur Springs. All day long I worked with 16 men loading barges with wheel barrows. Every time you took a load it had 800 pounds, and I'se telling you allk dat's some iron. This iron ore came from dat big hill down in Pilot Knob. We had straps over our shoulders and dey saved our hands and arms. It took about a day and a half to load a barge and we got paid by de ton. I did dat for about a year.
I give my wife all my money and all de time she was givin' it away to another man. So dat was when I left her flat and went Town to Charleston, Cairo, and Kentucky and stayed three years. I was workin' in de tobscco for three years. Dere was too much stoopin' in dat and I decided to come back to St. Louis. We only got $12 a month in de tobacco fields and worked from 4 o'clock in de morning to 8 or 9 o'clock in de night. time. Dere was 9 or 10 in de tobscco field.
Den I worked in de iron foundry in a St. Louis furnace. I carried iron and hustled in de casting hole. Dey paid pretty good and we got $1.50 to $1.75 a day. I worked up dere two years and den come to Sulphur Springs and went on de farm and got $26 a month. I got to be a trusty and dey put it in my hands. I worked here five years for old Mike Green. I was single den. I went down on John Coffman's farm in Ste. Genevieve County to work for him. Worked on his farm for 'bout 15 years and got $26 a month and board. He had a gang of 'em working' for him. He had rows of cabins 'most a mile long. Dat was where I got married a second time.
After I left dere I went down below Fredericktown and went on a farm again and stayed right dere for seven years. I lost my wife at dat place and sold my land. I paid $90 for 40 acres dere and had paid 'bout half on it. So I sold it back to de man what I bought it from for $45 and went to Bonne Terre and worked for de St. Joe Lead Co. and worked on de lead well and den went to tappin'. I got $1.60 for 12 hours. I worked dere until dey moved de works up here and den I followed de works right up here. Den I worked 'bout 30 years here doing de same kind of work with the same pay.
When I quit workin' here it was about 13 years ago and I was about 62 years old. De comany just laid me off on account of age. Den de supervisor dere got me a job as janitor at de colored school here at $7.00 a month. I've been janitor ever since. Dere is ten colored families in Herculaneum, and about 50 colored people here now but dere used to be mostly all colored but most of 'em done left. I lived here in dis house a little more dan 5 years without payin' rent. Den after my son got on the WPA dey begins to take $3.85 rent a month. We been payin' rent 'bout two years. The St. Joe Company owns all de houses here. We gets our water free. I'se been gettin' a pension about a year now.
I shot a fellow once in de leg. It was de man who my wife was givin' my money to. I had a trial at Kirmswick before de Justice of Peace and served three months in de county jail at Hillsboro. The white folks come down and got me out and it didn't cost me a thing.
A man has got more his own say now dan he did have. We can do more what we want to and don't have to go to de other fellow. Slavery might a done de other fellow some good but I don't think it ever done de colored people no good. Some of dem after freedom didn't know how to go out and work for demselves. Down at old John Soffran's lots of den stayed with him right along same as if dey wasn't free. Ley didn't want to leave here 'cause dey didn't think dey could live if dey left him. But when dey pot away up here in St. Louis dey know they can make a livin', without I arse John, but they got to "go up against it." Deyendin' on somebody else is poor business. When I was workin' I depended on myself. If dey would have freed de slaves and give den a piece of ground I think dat would been a heap better dan de may dey did. Look at de Indians! They're all livin'. I'se always been able to eat and sleep.
I can't hardly tell about de younger generation, I can say dat if it was not for de old generation today de young ones would go up 'salt creek'. Dey don't want to work. Some of dem is pretty smart. Pride is de reason dey don't want to work. Dey dress up and strut out and have a good time. De old folks is de cause of it. Dey say, 'I don't want my boy to do dat; I don't want him to work hard'. I say, let him make out de same as us old folks did.
If de colored people don't pick up and see about business dey is going to be behind. Desa young people won't go to charch. You can't get dem in dere. Dot's de place dey ought to go. I'se been going to church since I was a boy. Colored folks did not raise me. White folks learned me to so to church. Mrs. Baker, at Cook's Settlement, would read de Rible every night at 9 o'clock and she would 'splain it to me. If she was not able, her daughter read it. We need a workhouse for de young people.
De first time I ever east my vote was for Cerfield who got killed. It was in Kimmswick. Been votin' ever since, and vote all through dem all. I'se been talked to lots of times, tallin' he how to vote. Dey even give me a ballot and show he how to vote. I would stick dat in my pocket and note like I pleased. I ain't never sold my vote but I'se been offered $10 for it. But I say if you is goin' to set beat, I say you is just beat. You ain't no man to go over there and cast your vote. You got to stand for your point.
De first automobile I ever seen had buggy wheels. It made a terrible racket. Mrs. Baker told me dat people was goin' sometime to be ridin' in automobiles and in de air."
George Washington Brooks
George Washington Brooks, a Negro, who was born in slavery 83 years ago, and who died of infirmities Thursday, at the home of Mrs. Herman A. Jensen, 4130 Lafayette Avenue; great-granddaughter of his first owner, the late Capt. James Brooks, of Jefferson County, was buried yesterday at French Village, St. Francois County, where he was freed at the start of the Civil War.
When he was 7 years old Brooks was given as a wedding present to Mrs. Luella Brooks Au Buchon, of French Village. After she freed him he remained as a paid servant. He helped rear her six children and became known in the community as "the shepherd of the flock".
On one occasion during the war, George Brooks, then 9 years old, rode a horse from French Village to Brooks Place, in Jefferson County, through woods in which guerillas were reported, with $1,000 in gold hidden in his boots. Later, when troops were approaching French Village, he buried family valuables in the orchard and helped Mrs. Au Buchon to conceal her personal jewelry in a ball of yarn. Soldiers ransacked the house and threw the ball of yarn across a room, cracking a mosaic pin, now an heirloom. George had been at the Jensen home four years.
(Western Historical Manuscripts Collection University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri; St. Louis Post-Dispatch January 18, 1937)