Slave Narratives

from the Rawick Papers, Series 5
Butlington, Charles
Warrensburg, Missouri

Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri

An old negro slave some ninety years old tells this story of a negro camp meeting in slavery days, "I member berry distinctly of a camp meetin' held close to my Marster place. The place was called Bell Air in Cooper County. The colored folk set up poles in the ground, cut from trees across the poles were laid more poles that fitted down in these four forked poles. These poles formed a foundation for a roof which was covered with brush to form a shelter from either the sun or rain. The seats were made by splitting a tree in two and smoothing it off. Then these were laid on blocks of wood to hold them up and made secure by wooden pins driven through holes bored in the seats and blocks. The lamps we used were known in that day as, drip lamps. They were made by tearing a piece of cloth in three strips, each strip from 8 to 12 inches long and about one-half inch wide. These three strips were platted together pushed down into the lamp saturated with grease poured over them. The grease was obtained either from meat fryings or if a hog died it was rendered into grease to be used to saturate these braids in the lamps. Part of this grease saturated strip hung over the side of the lamp and this was the part when lit that furnished the light as it dripped and burned. The lamps were made of heavy tin very similar to a miners lamp today. The lamp had four inches of chain with a sharp spear, this could be stuck in one of the poles. Preachers in that day conducted the services in the following manner. He would word out the song two lines at a time, the congregation committing this to memory would sing these two lines, then two more lines.were worded out and so on until that song

Butlington, Charles
Page 2

was ended. One of the songs used worded out as follows:

  1. Come let us now forget our birth and think that we must die--all sing.
  2. What are our best delights on earth, compared with those on high--all sing.
  3. 0 here the mortals weep no more and there the wearied rests."

Then the preacher held get up and call on some one to pray, just like today. Some could gather up something to say, others expected the Lord to do it all. By using such expressions as Lord Help, Lord make me what I orter be, I wants to be a Christian, Lord I believe, Lord pour down the Holy Ghost" etc. Then we'd sing some more such as "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Then pray again, using the same epxressions and others as Lord, don't you know me, I'm your follower, yes Lord, we adores the, Come Gabriel any time, we'se all ready to go. Had very little preaching mostly praying and singing. The men folks wore home made brown jean suits. The woman had home made linsey dresses with capes of the same class of goods. As a rule the women wore red bandanas tied around their heads and the men old slouch hats. They were mostly all in their bare feet. Shoes only being worn in the winter time and special occasions. Such a thing as blacking for polishing shoes was unknown at this time. These negroes walked from 5 to 6 miles to these camp meetings. They possessed but little book knowledge but their sincerity and trust in a Supreme Being was typical of the colored race of that day. Especially among those negroes, who were owned by Masters who treated their negros as human beings and not mere chattels. In these meetings there were no bickerings and every particle of knowledge possessed was used to the greatest advantage.


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Document scanned by Carol Robinson.