Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri
Emma Knight, living at 924 North Street, Hannibal, Missouri, was born in slavery on the farm of Will and Emily Ely, near Florida, Monroe County. The following is her story as she told it:
"We lived on a Creek near Florida. We belonged to Will Ely. He had only five slaves, my father and mother and three of us girls. I was only eight or nine years old. The Ely's had eight children. There was Paula, Ann, Sarah, Becky, Emily, Lizzie, Will, Ike, and Frank. Lizzie was the oldest girl and I was to belong to her when she was married.
"The master of the house was better to us than his mistress. We didn't have to work very hard, because we was so young, I guess. We cut weeds along the fences, pulled weeds in the garden and helped the mistress with the hoeing. We had to feed the stock, sheep, hogs, and calves, because the young masters wouldn't do the work. In the evening we were made to knit a finger width and if we missed a stitch we would have to pull all the yarn out and do it over. The master's girls taught us to read and write. We didn't have hardly any clothes and most of the time they was just rags. We went barefoot until to got real cold. Our feet would crack open from the cold and bleed. We would sit down and bawl and cry because it hurt so. Mother made moccasins for our feet from old pants. Late in the fall master would go to Hannibal or Palmyra and bring us shoes and clothes. We got those things only once a year.
I had to wear the young master's overalls for underwear and linseys for a dress.
"My father was taken away. My mother said he was put up on a block and sold because master wanted money to buy something the the house. My mother told me she came from Virginia or down south some place. They brought her in a box car with lots of other colored people. There were several cars full, with men in one car, women in another, and the younger ones in another, and the babies in another with some of the women to care for them. they brought them to Palmyra and sold them. Master Ely bought my mothers. I don't know where my father came from.
"Mistress always told us that if we run away somebody would catch us and kill us. We were always scared when somebody strange came. The first we knew there was war was when some soldiers come through. We were sure scared then. Once a man came and we thought he was a patroller but he asked for something to eat. Mother took him to the mistress. She gave him something to eat wrapped in a paper and told him to get off the place.
"Some Union soldiers came and told us that we were free like they were and told us not to be afraid, they wouldn't hurt us. They told us the war was over.
"The master told mother not to go away, that if she stayed a while he would give her a couple hundred dollars. We stayed a while but never got any money.
"We came to Hannibal in an ox wagon. We put up at the barracks
and then mother went to live with Hiram Titchner. He lived right where the post office is now. I hired out to Mrs. James across the street for my clothes and schooling. Mrs. James had two girls. One girl taught me not to be such a tomboy and not to be so rough. I tell you I was a bad girl when I was young. I could climb every tree on master's farm and my clothes was always in rags from being so rough. My mother used to whip me most every day with a broom stick and even hit me with chairs. I guess I was bad. If I had a dollar for every broom handle that was laid across my back I would have lots of money. i tell you we was raised tough them days.
"The young folks can't stand such raising these days. They couldn't go through what we went through. The young folks now just couldn't do it at all. We never were allowed on the street after nine o'clock. We sure run for home when the church bell rang on the hill at nine o'clock. Now-a-days the young folks stay out half the night and they steal and even kill each other over little things. I know it because I see them do those things. I 'spose their parents are a lot to blame.
"I was married when I was young, less then twenty I guess. I had one girl, but she is dead now. Her boy lives with me. I get a pension, seven dollars a month, for about a year now. This little old check belongs to me. I go to the Baptist Church over on Center Street when ever I can. We used to go to church over on the corner across from the post office. There is a big store there now."