Slave Narratives

from the Rawick Papers, Series 5
EDITORIAL FIELD COPY
BY
Mrs. Florence Angermiller, P. W.
 
Ex-slave Autobiographies -- John Barker
KINNEY COUNTY, District #15

John Barker, age 84, was born on a plantation close to Cincinnati, Ohio,
the property of the Barker family, who took him and his grandparents to
Sedalia, Misoouri, to another plantation, later to Texas where they
continued farming, close to Houston. After the slaves were freed, he
stayed with the Barkers several years before going to work for himself.
His first marriage took place in Galveston, and after the death of his
wife, he went back to Missouri to work. He married there, but was
divorced and returned to Texas.  Marrying again, he took his wife to the
Seminole camp near Brackettville.  They worked for the army officers at
Fort Clark until they procured employment at a private residence in
Bracketville, where they have worked the last twenty-three years.

Ex-slave Autobiography--John Barker
Page 2

    "I was a slave, yes ma'am an' I was born a slave in Cincinnati,
Ohio. I ain't one of these Seminoles; I am a 'Malagasser'(Madagascar?)
nigger. I seen lots o' slave times up dere. We went to Sedalia, Mo. from
there and den to Texas. Settled clost to Houston, at a place dey called
Stafford Point. But my mother, she died on de bed when I was about two
mont's old. De Barkers was my white folks and brought me to Texas an'
brought me up. I'm still goin' by dat name. Mis' Barker was like my own
mother; I wouldn' knowed no diffunce but she brought me up tellin' me
she wasn't my own mother but she would have to be my mother from now on.

         "Yes'm, I 'member all about dem times. I 'member de old people
well. I would ride de ol' long-eared mules when I was a little kid and
we would shell co'n by de sacks and t'row it on de mule an' I would have
to go as fuh as from heah to Spofford to mill. Dat was in Cincinnati,
Ohio, an' I wish it was so she could kept me in Cincinnati, Ohio, today.

         "Talk about times! De blood houn's on deir trail! Dey had what
you call de common houn's and when you couldn' get 'em by de common
houn's, you put de blood houns dat don't make no racket a-tall on deir
trail. Dey run my gran'fadder ovah one hun'erd miles and never caught
'im till about t'ree or fo' days an' nights an' dey found 'im under a
bridege. What dey put on him was e-nuf. I have seen 'em whip 'em till de
blood run dowm deir backs and den dey would put common salt in de places
where dey whipped 'em an' dey would have to go right on nex' mawnin' and
do deir tasks dey puts on 'em. I've seen 'nuf o' dat' Yes, ma'am, dat
was up in Ohio I seen all dat. Oh, yes'm, 

Ex-slave Autobiography -- John Barker
Page 3

dey had slaves up dere too. Maybe dey puts you on a task dis mawnin' and
dat dare task got to be finished seben o'clock dis evenin' an' if it
ain't, dey whip you. I have seen many a nig -- person go out in de
mawnin' and deir backs cut jus' like it was cut wid a knife. De overseer
was a white man,'an he rode hossback and wo'(wore) dese big tall beaver
hats an' had a wide strap hangin' dowm from de saddle, wide as yo' han'.
Jus' like a belt 'round yo' waist, only wider, you know. No, it didn'
have no holes in it, but it raised a blister, jes' de same, an' cut yo'
back like a knife.

         "I wasn't old 'nough an' big 'nuf to be a slave like my mother
an' gran'mother. I know my gran'mother had been whipped lotsa times. In
dese days an' times you see dese hawned toads dat runs ovah de worl'. My
gran'father would gather dese toads and lay 'em up in de fireplace till
dey dried an' den roll 'em wid bottles till dey get Jes' like ashes an'
den dey take it an' rub it on de bottom of de shoes. Dey take det powder
and t'row it as fuh (far) as dey could jump an' den jump ovah it, an' do
dis again till dey use all de powder, den when dey make de last jump,
dey is gone. Dat would t'row de common houn's off de trail all togedder.
But When dey put de 'hell houn's' on de trail, dey would come right up
to de do' (door) an' take de trail an' you nevah heah 'em say a word,
dey was quiet, an' dey could pick up dat trail. I ust to ask my
gran'father, 'What you gonna do wid dat powder?' an' he say, 'You will
know some day when you is old enough. I'm gwine put it on my shoes!' You
see, dat stuff don't stick all togedder on de shoes, it stick to dat
track. When you make dat jump, you gonna threw dat stuff right in front
o' you.

    "I ust to say dat when I got to be a man, I was goin' to kill

Ex-slave Autobiogrphy -- John Barker
Page 4

ever'body I saw. Oh, I tell you, I saw enough o' dem slave times!

        "Plantations! I should say' Cotton and co'n. I have seen de time
de rows would be fudder dan Mrs. Bitters' house, yonder (about 250
yards). Dey kep' 'em workin' all de time. I guess dey was about fo'ty or
fifty acres in dem plantations. Dey worked, worked, an' wasn't allowed
to go to church dem days ; not allowed to have no exercise atall. Dances
nothin'!  What did we know about dances in dem times? Dey had no time to
go out an' make no money wid nobody. Dey had to be right at dat place
where dey had 'em. Some of de people whar I tote water down in de field
fo' 'em, dey would give me a nickel, or piece o' money 'bout as big as a
dime piece. I would buy candy and stuff like dat till it give out.

        "My master's an' Missus' house was nice, about like you see
aroun' here, but it was a log house. They had big fireplaces dat would
hold great big chunks o' wood an' keep a fire all night. An' dey roast
dese here old-fashioned sweet potatoes. Dey keep us in de back, little
bit o' house no bigger'n a chicken house where you eat and sleep. If my
gran'father an' gran'mother wasn't up at a certain time, dey would go
and make 'em get up. De overseer was hahd on 'em.  He didn't let 'em
even give de Lawd thanks in deir own home. Dey couldn't make a garden,
no nothin'. Dey was a slave till dey was plumb set free.

        "We made de kind o' beds we had in dem days. You see dese here
posts here?  Well, you take t'ree or fo' of 'em put togedder and make a
bed out of dat and you take dis bark off trees an' make slats out of dat
an' dese here towsacks an' sew 'em togedder. You put shucks in dat to
make  de mattress an' make de pillows de same way. In dem days

Ex-slave Autobiography -- John Barker
Page 5

an' times, you had dese little trunnel (trundle) beds an' at night,
after six o'clock, we wasn't allowed to be up but we was put in that
trunnel bed an' shoved under dat big bed. An' you had to lay dere an' be
quiet.

         "I have knowed girls to work all week, maybe, to get Saturday
off in de afternoon to do deir washin' an' ironin' . Didn't know no
dressin' like de girls do now. Didn't know what brass-toed boots an'
shoes was. Dem hoop skirts -- you couldn't tell whether dey was a person
or not. Dey always give 'em plenty clothes an' shoes an' stockin's, but
not jus' like dey have 'em now. No girls nineteen or twenty didn't know
what a pair o' fine shoes was den.

         "I've seen slaves sold up in dere aroun' Cincinnati, Ohio.  You
see dey keep 'em yoked togedder and dey would have 'em fixed in a way
till dey have to go de same direction an' dey would sell 'em by de pair
fo' so much. Maybe sometimes all de way from a thousand to t'ree and fo'
thousand dollars. Dey would put 'em up on a auction block, sometimes
t'ree and fo ' at a time. Dey was biddin' 'em an' whoever make de
highest bid, he would get 'em. Probably once a year, or even two years,
dey would sell 'em. Dey wasn't allowed to marry. But if dey seen you
talkin' to somebody like you was makin' love, whether you love 'em or
not, dey make you live wid 'em. Dat was marryin' each other, all right,
but you ain't got no papers an' t'ings like dat. Dey wouldn't have no
license.

         "We played stick horses an' hoop-horses when we was little an'
we make dese swings you know. We would dig holes in de groun' an' play
'button.' We shoot marbles den. I never hardly played many games. De
biggest mystery I done was dancin'. I would walk from

Ex-slave Autobiography -- John Barker
Page 6

here to Spofford to dance an' we danced too.  We didn't schottishe or
waltz an' dem kind o' dances -- we danced! Reg'lar jig dances. You could
send me on ern (errands) an' you would see me goin~ down dere, all
right, but I had to stop an' dance on de way. I fin'ly got back, but
myse'f, I had to dance. But I found out dey is more better ways in
servin' de Lawd den dancin'. Now I am  'black Baptist' an' try to
persuade all dem dat wants to dance not to dance.

         "We ust to eat 'possums. Sho'. An' we had dese old-fashion
coons dere too. Dere was rabbits, fish, squirrels, ducks an' wild
turkeys -- plenty of 'em. First concern of eatin', outside of squir- rel
or rabbit, a duck was the onliest kind of meat I would eat. No, I didn't
know anythin' about dese goats till I come to Texas. I've seen 'em kill
kid goats fo' picnics and de little tings cry like a child. I don't want
to ever see no mo' goats killed wid deir throats cut. When I was young,
we had lotsa prairie chickens an' dese long- necked t'ings -- cranes,
too.
                                   
     "I got my freedom up here on the other side of Houston (Texas),
about twenty-five miles from Houston. I was wid de Barkers. You see I
never was a slave to be freed like de rest of 'em an' after freedom was
declared, I wasn't so large as I was old. I was 'bout eleven years old.
De fourth day of June, my gran'mother was sent notice dey was all freed.
Dey said we was free all togedder now. My father lived quite a while
after dat -- till I was a good size. I could 'member 'im and notice 'im
well.  My father an' my mother was Good- mans an after my mother died,
she (Mrs. Barker) took me to de cou't house an' adopted me. Dey had a
plantation down at Houston. Dey was plenty of work and plenty of room.
After I got my freedom, I still

Ex-slave Autobiography -- John Barker
Page 7

worked for 'em. Dey kep' me under deir care till after I was twenty-
five years old. I could go to dances but dey didn't allow me to get off
nowheres by myse'f. I fin'ly went to work for myse'f. Cookin' was my
trade. I have cooked in my times at hotols for 150 to 200 people. I went
back to Missouri where my mother an' father (the Barkers) had gone an'
stayed wid dem awhile. I worked cookin' back dere for she learned me all
de work I ever knew.

         "I guess I was about twenty when I married de first time. lt
was a big blow-out an' I was scared de whole time. First time I ever
tackled marryin'. Dey had a big paper sack o' rice an' t'rowed it all
over her an' I. 'Nough rice to last a person t'ree or fo' days --
t'rowed away jes' fo' nothin'. I had on a black, alpaca suit wid frock
tail coat an' de pants was jes' black. If I ain't mistaken, I had on
a right white, white shirt. I know I did. My wife had on a great,
white train on her dress an' dem t'ings you call a 'reaf' (wreath) an'
about eight or ten bridal maids. We married right in her mama's house.
I wo' (wore) de loudes' shoes I could find; what you call de patent
leather. She had on what you call dese here ladies' slippers, jes'
black shoes.

         "Dis here is my third wife. I was first married in Galveston,
Texas. Glara Ctilliams was her name. She wasn't no more dan eighteen or
nineteen years old. We had one boy child an' my wife died an' his
gran'mother raised 'im. Dat's de onliest one we had, cause my second
wife, we separated in Missouri. Her name was Bell Haley. Den I mar- ried
again an' we come from Eagle Pass up here to de Seminoles here on de
reservation an' stayed down dere till my wife an' I got a job ovah in de
post wid de officers. When dey got ready to be sent away.

Ex-slave Autobiography -- John Barker
Page 8

dey recommended us to Mr. Peterson an' come ovah dere an told 'im jes'
what we was an' we went to work fo' 'im an' my wife, she has been wid
'im twenty-t'ree years past.

     "Ghos'es? I 'member de first time I ever come acrost a ghos'. I was
takin' care of a white man after he died an' dey had 'im away back in a
little room an' de house was a great, long house. Dey puts me to watch
de cats off'n 'im. De moon was shinin' dat night an' I watched de room.
I don't know what mistake I made, but I looked in dere to see if any
cats was dere an' I seen somet'ing about dat high (three feet) all black
an' woolly. I nevah seen dat man no mo'. No'm, I didn't run; I couldn't.
Dey found me an' de doctah was wid me two or t'ree days. I don't know, I
reckin I must a' fainted, but I ain't ever heard of a nigger faintin'. I
don't know what dat t'ing was; dey say a dead person's ghost comes back
where he dies. De Seminoles wont stay in de house fo' two or t'ree weeks
after one of deir family dies. Dey say dey is still dere.

         "On dark nights, right up here on dis hill, I see ghos'es but
dey don't have no head. You see 'em in diffunt ways an' when you do see
'em wid de heads on, dey look like dey is wild an' dey is all in dif-
funt performance. I can meet 'em anywheres an' de darker de night is, de
better I can see 'em. Like when I am goin' down dat road an' feel a hot
steam an' look back ovah my shoulder, an' I can see 'em plain as I cnn
see you-all standin' there. Dey nevah bothers me an' nevah bothers
nobody else. Right here, I can look out my bed-room window at nights an'
see 'en all dressed in diffunt colors an' I tell my wife, 'Look out
here, see dem people?' An' she say 'Where?' But she couldn't see 'em.
Some people ain't gifted to see 'em. No'm, I wont drap off

Ex-slave Autobiography -- John Barker
Page 9

befo' you gets back, I hope, If I do, you'll find my ghos' 'round
here if you look fo' me!"

         One would not guess John Barker to be more than forty years
old. His black face is not wrinkled and his black hair does not show the
scattered gray. Not until he gets up to walk does one realize his age.
His shuffling gait is not springy; rather, it is suggestive of a slight
limp caused by rheumatism. He is an undersized, wirey, af- rable darky,
calling himself a "Malagassa nigger," which I interpreted as Madagascar.

        He and his wife live in a new-looking, painted, well-screened
cottage in the northeast part of town, where flowers, fruit trees,
turkeys and chickens give it a homey air. One notices, immediately,
the utter cleanliness and orderliness of his place. His vegetables
in the front yard are in neat rows and beds; his pot plants are
freshly watered and blooming; rocks, which he dug out of the yard to
make room for growing things, are piled beside the fence neatly; his
front porch scrubbed and the garden hose lying in a neat coil on one
end of it.
                            - 30-

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