from the Rawick Papers, Series 5
J. Tom Miles
Federal Writers' Project
Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri.
Note. Aunt Hannah, to date, is by far the oldest ex-slave that this
writer has interviewed. She claims to be 107 years old, having been born
on December 24th, 1830. When she made application for a marriage license
in Fredericktown in 1912, she gave her age then as 82, according to the
Madison County Recorder of Deeds. Since she receives an Old Age Pension
further proof is being made to verify her age through the Old Age
Assistance Office in Fredericktown.
From talking to some of the better informed persons in
Fredericktown, the idea is confirmed; they are agreed the "Aunt" Hannah
is probably 107 years old. She is still able to do the work around her
house and, at times, walks up town. She can see very well without
glasses and is not apparently feeble except for the fact that her feet
bother her at times.
In a former report sent in it was stated that "Aunt" Hannah is not
all Negro. Her grandfather was a white man and she is far from a black
person. Her face is comparatively free of wrinkles. Her bearing is
splendid and her mind active. Possibly health can be attributed to
several causes. She was treated well when young and a slave under the
ownership of the Bollingers. Being childless, she has never had to
experience the tortures of childbirth. She has been content to live on
the same spot for the last 71 years. And being a Negro, she naturally
does not take life too seriously but lives it as it comes.
Down in Pocahontas, Arkansas, a man had 400 slaves and the boss
would allow an old colored man to have meetings every Saturday night and
on Friday night they would have a class meeting. Several of them got
religion right out in the field and would kneel down in the cornfield.
The boss went home and told his wife he thought the slaves were losing'
their minds cause they was all kneeling down in the field. The boss'
daughter also got religion and went down to the mourners bench. The
colored church finally made the boss and his whole family get religion.
The ole white mistress would sing and pray while she washed dishes,
milked the cows and made biscuits. So they called the doctor and the
doctor come and said that God had got hold of her.
One of the darkies had a baby out in the field about eleven o'clock
one morning. The doctor came out there to her. She was sick a long time
cause she got too hot before the child was born. After this happened the
boss got to be a better man. This ole boss at first would not let the
darkies have any church meetings.
On Sunday there at home the colored folks could get all the water
that ran from the maple trees. The slaves would get through their work
for the boss and then there would sometimes be three days when they
could work for themselves. Then they would get paid for working for
others and then buy clothes. They had the finest boots.
They did not want the mistress to tell me when we were free cause
there was only two of us slaves left there. The other slaves had already
run off. I did not want to leave. When I was a slave I learned to do a
task right or do it over. I learned to sew, cook and spin. We set by the
fireside and picked a shoe full of cotton and then we could go to bed.
But you did a lot before you got that shoe full of cotton when it was
down. This was almost enough to pad a quilt with. The white children
would be getting their lessons then and they used a pine torch for a
light to see by.
I was paid nothin' after slavery but just stayed with the boss and
they gave me things like a calf, clothes, and I got to go to church with
them and to camp meetings and picnics. They would have big basket
meetings with pies, hogs, sheep etc. They did not allow me to go with
other colored girls if they had no character. We all set down and ate at
the same table with the white folks and tended the sick together. Today
if the parents would make their children do like they did in slavery,
then we would have a better race. I was better off than the free people.
I think that slavery taught me a lot.
In Fredericktown I worked for my mistresses sister and made $10.00
a month. My father told me to always keep myself clean and nice and to
comb my hair. When I lived in Fredericktown the people I worked for
always tried to keep me from going out with the low class. After I
washed the supper dishes, I would have to go upstairs and cut out quilts
and I did not like it but it was good for me.
My first husband gave $50.00 for this lot I am living on. This was
just at the end of the war. He hauled the logs and chinked and
whitewashed them and we had two rooms and a hall. It was a good, nice,
warm house. He was a carpenter. About twenty-five years later my husband
built him a frame house here and dug him a well. He had 4 dozen
chickens, 15 head of hogs, 2 horses, 2 wagons, and a buggy to go back
and forth to
church at Libertyville, New Tennessee, or Pilot Knob. We lived together
about fifty years before he died. He left me this home, three horses,
three milk cows, three hogs.
We had no children but adopted a little boy. He was my husband's
sister's child. The boy's mother took a notion that she wanted to work
out and she was just a young girl so we took the boy at about the age of
three and he was with us for about six years. He went to a colored
school then but a white teacher taught him. We adopted a girl too from
Marquand. The girl's father was a colored man but the mother was a white
woman. The woman then married a white man in Marquand and her husband
did not want the child so we took her at about three years old. We did
not have her no time 'til she died. We have helped to raise about a
dozen children. But I have quit doing that now. Mr. Allen is my second
husband; he always liked to have children around but we had none of our
When my first husband died he did not owe fifteen cents. He just
would not go in debt to nobody. He attended the Masonic lodge. After he
died I then went to work. I bought wood, washed, ironed and cooked. I
have made as high as $15.00 a week and board. I took care of a man's
children after he and his wife separated. We have had two houses burn
down right here. One of our houses was a little too close to Saline
Creek and it was condemned and we tore it down and built the one we have
now thirteen years ago. Harry Newberry has a mill and gave us the lumber
to build this house.
We have a lot in the colored graveyard. I have no insurance but Mr.
Allen had some kind of insurance, so if he gets hurt traveling he will
get something. We are getting together $25.00 in pensions a month. We
are living pretty well now. Some months we spend from seven to eight
dollars a month on food. Almost everything is cash for us. I've been
going barefoot for about ten years. I come very near going barefooted in
the winter time. We have been getting a pension for about two years and
were on relief for two or three years before that. Every two weeks we
would then get five or six dollars worth of food. Our biggest debt is a
doctor bill of about $60.00.
Some of the colored folks are better off today and some are worse.
The young race says we who was slaves are ten times worse off than they
cause we had bosses and couldn't read or write. But I say the young race
has got all this to go by and they ought to be much better off than they
are. We are better off in one sense than the young race cause about half
of them don't know how to raise their children and they don't know how
to do nothing. I think our folks have just as good a chance now as the
white folks but they don't get cultivated. They say today that I don't
know nothing cause I was a slave and all I learned was what the marster
told me. But I know enough to keep out of devilment. I think all this
speed shows that people ain't got no sense.
Return to Allen introduction.
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