Various Slave Narratives
with connections to the Yancey Family

Source: Works Project Administration. Federal Writers Project. Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Washington, D.C.: n.p.

Extracts below:

Robinson, Cornelia

Her mother and father were George and Harriett Yancy, belonged to Mrs. Baugh first then sold to Dr. Trammel, of near La Fayette, Ala.

Her brother and sisters were Charlie, Willie, Albert, Ann Yancy, one of her grand-mothers was Anna Mosely. Cornelia remembers those high four poster beds she used to climb in with a stool, and things did smell so good cooking on the fireplace, the mud fireplaces were far back, deep and very wide, about six feet wide; all the little niggers were fed milk with bread crumbled in it and pot-licker and greens.

"Our clothes wus muslin and calico for hot weather and den in winter us had linty cloth, part wool and part cotton, homespun, and us raised the sheep too, didn't wear no clothes hardly in hot weather.

Us sho did have a good Master and mistress, dey give us all the clothes and food us needed and give us medacine and took good keer of us when sick, us wore asafetida and metal coins around our necks to help us not to get sick.

Dey taught my Mother to read and write too, not many done that and too she'd read the Bible to us little niggers and gave prayer. After slavery dey had schools and George Hawkins and wife taught it.

If the slaves went off the plantation without a pass the patrollers

would ketch um and nearly beat um to death, if the niggers could out run the patrollers and get home fust dey couldn't be whupped. Dey had dogs called "Nigger Hounds", too, would track the slaves and bring dem back home.

I remember my mother going to cornshuckings, course dey put us little niggers to bed but dey sho sounded lak dey wus having a big time, hollering and singing. Us went to church at de white folks church in de afternoon and the Reverend Gardner wus a mighty good preacher. And when any of us niggers died Master wus good to us and let all dem quit work and attend de burial. Dey made de coffins at home and would black dem with soot for paint.

One time I remembers a storm us had; it wus a harricane, I calls it, but hit wus de Yankees come through and cleaned up de smoke house, even cleaned out de lard bucket clean as your hand, Master took his best horses and mules to big swamps. The raid took everything off wid dem, and destroyed de balance, took one little boy and horse off wid um, dey poured all de syrup out and hit run down the road lak water. One little boy wus so sceered dat when he went to get up de cows he couldn't find some of dem and laid down in a hollow stump to hide so he froze and when dey did find him he wus nearly froze and had to put him in de branch to thaw him out and hit made him sick and he wus no count after dat. Mistress hid all her valuable things amongst us niggers.

Us had a old quack herb Dr. on de place and some bad boys went up to his house one night and poured whole lot of his medacine down him

and you know dat old man died too next day.

Atter I got grown I married Robert Benson and had four children and several grandchildren.

Cornelia lives in Opelika, Ala. with one of her grand children now, at 22 West ____.

"One time I 'members a storm us had. I calls it a harricane; but it wuz really de Yankees comin' through."

Quaint, little Cornelia Robinson was anxious to give all the facts she could remember about slavery days; but she was only about four years old during the latter days of that period, and must depend a great deal on what has been told her.

"Chile, dem Yankees come through an' cleaned out de smokehouse; even lef' de lard bucket as clean as yo' hand. 01' Marster tuk his bes' horses an' mules to de big swamp, an' de Yankees couldn't fin' 'em. But dey tore up everything dey couldn't take wid dem. Dey poured all de syrup out an' it run down de road lak water.

"One pore little nigger boy was so skeered dat when he went out to git up de cows an' when he couldn't fin' some of 'em, he laid down in a hollow stump an' nearly froze to death. Dey had to thaw him out in de branch, but he wuz powerful sick. He war'nt no 'count for nothin' atter dat.

"I 'members dat Ol' Mistus saved all her jewels an' sech frum de Yankees. She brung 'em out to de nigger cabins an' hid 'em amongst us."

Cornelia, forever smiling, wears her gray hair in two short braids down the back. She says her father and mother were George and Harriett Yancey, who belonged first to a Mrs. Baugh and who were later sold to a Dr. Trammell, of near Lafayette. Her brothers and sisters were Charlie, Willie, Albert and Ann.

"I 'members de high, four-poster beds us useter sometimes sleep on," she said. "I wuz so little dat I had to crawl into 'em

wid de help of a stool. I 'members dat de mud fireplaces of early times wuz far back, deep an' wide. All de little niggers wuz fed milk an' bread, wid de bread crumbled in. Us also had pot licker an' greens.

"Our clothes was muslin an' calico for de hot weather; an' den in winter us had linty cloth, part wool an' part cotton, homespun. Us raised de sheep, too, but us didn't wear no clothes hardly in hot weather.

"Us sho' did have a good marster an' mistis. Dey give us all de clothes an' food us needed an' gived us medicine. Us wore aszifidity an' pennies aroun' our necks to help us not to git sick.

"Dey taught my mother to read an' write, too. Not many done dat. She'd read de Bible to us little niggers an' give prayers. Atter slavery, us had schools. I 'members dat George Hawkins an' his wife taught it."

Cornelia recalls some of the happenings of slavery times.

"If de slaves went off de plantation widout a pass, de patterollers would ketch 'em an' beat 'em powerful bad. If de niggers could outrun de patterollers an' git home fust dey couldn't be whupped. Dey had dogs called 'nigger hounds', same like dey had bird dogs, an' dey would track de slaves an' bring dem back home.

"I 'members my mother goin' to corn shuckin's. 'course dey got us little niggers to bed 'fore dey went but dey sho' sounded lak dey wuz havin' a big time, hollerin' an' singin'. Us went to de white folks church in de afternoon, an' de Reverend Gardner wuz mighty good preacher. When any of us niggers died, Marster wuz good to us an' let all de niggers quit an' attend de burial. Dey made de coffins at home an' would black dem wid soot.

"Us had a ol' quack herb doctor on de place. Some bad boys went up to his house one night an' poured a whole lot of de medicine down him. An honey, dat ol' man died de next day.

"Atter I got grown I married Robert Benson an' us had four chillun and several grandchillun."

Cornelia, beaming and apparently happy every minute of the day, lives with one of her grandchildren in Opelika.


Mattie Williams

Mattie Williams, 84, was born a slave in 1854, on the John Amos Richardson cotton plantation, at Memphis, Tennessee. Mattie was a house-girl during slavery days. She says her master, who was nicknamed Doc, was good to her folks; but the overseer was rough at times. Her father was Henry Richardson, a man who was so tall and heavy that neighbors referred to him as double jointed. Henry was a field worker. Mattie's mother was Mary Jane Richardson, who was a field woman. She was known as a great cotton picker. She had eight children, two boys and six girls. Doc Richardson brought his slaves to Texas about a year and a half prior to 1865. He settled at Webberville, Travis County where he rented his slaves out to other plantation owners. Mattie has been married four times: Sandy Jones, Jerry Moore, Ab Yancey and Perry Williams. She said rather sadly that although she's been married four times, she has never been a mother. Mattie is a short, very black negro. She is of a serious type, but enjoys a joke as much as anyone. She lives with her sister, Diana Johnson - a buxom, cheerful person - in a small, frame house on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River, east of Austin, on Rural Route 2, Box 261. These two sisters have a clean house, and a large front yard where many flowering plants and shurbs grow. Mattie has rheumatism now and then, and it prevents her from doing her daily chores. She receives a monthly pension of seven dollars from the State of Texas.

"When I was a girl, my name was Mattie Richardson. I was bawn in about 1854, and I'm eighty-four years old. I was bawn on Mawster John Amos Richardson's cotton plantation, back in Memphis, Tennessee. Folks always called our mawster "Doc."

"Mawster Richardson was putty good to us. He had a overseer dat was putty cruel to us at times; but de mawster never did believe in sellin' us.

"I had to do de housework in dem days. My sistah, Harriett, was a nuss fo' de chillun in de big-house.

"Mammy's name was Mary Jane Richardson. She was a field woman. She was a medium size, and weighed about one hunnert and fifty pounds. When I growed up, me and mammy could wear de same clothes, but none of de other girls could. Mammy had eight chillun, two boys and six girls. Me and Diana and Arch is de only ones livin' today. Mammy has been dead fo' about forty-seven years.

"Pappy's name was Henry Richardson. He was a tall, heavy-built man, and he was double-jointed. Why, it was against de law fo' him to hit anybody. He was a field worker. He was no good cotton picker, but mammy was de good picker.

"Folks had to do whut yo' called a task each day, and yo' had to finish it befo' yo' was through fo' de day. Pappy was sich a poor picker, dat mammy had to drop cotton in his row, so he'd have enough to make up fo' his task each day.

"Den pappy had to haul stuff wid oxen. He hauled groceries and sich f'om San Antonio to de mawster's place. Dis was after we was brought to Texas. Pappy had a whoop dat yo' could hear fo' about a half a mile. He could curl his tongue up in a way dat made his whistle sound a long ways off.

"When we'd hear dat whistle, we'd say, "Dat's pappy comin' down de road.'

"I believe dat we den moved to Arkansas. We left Arkansas and come to Texas about a year and a half befo' we was set free. We was brought down to Webberville, east of Austin.

"Mawster Richardson never had no plantation here, but he hired us out to other fahmers. De men folks was hired out to plow, plant, gather crops, split rails, cut wood, and do a little of everything; de wimmen was hired out fo' cooks, nusses, and sich.

"One day, Mawster Richardson made all of his men quit work in de other fahmer's fields, and told 'em to help him kill some hogs. He

said dat all of us was goin' to have a big dinner. My grandmammy, Peggy Turner, was de cook. When we got through washin' our faces, we set down by a long table, right in de yard at de big-house. We had meat, cakes, pies, and everything. I'll never forgit dat dinner. When we got through eatin', Mawster Richardson read to us f'om a paper.

"'Yo' folks is free today. I haven't got nothin' to give yo'.... yo'all will have to go and find a place. And now yo'all is free.'

"When Mawster Richardson's slaves found out dat dey was free, a lot of 'em went back to Arkansas. De biggest bunch of 'em stayed here in Texas.

"I was only thutteen years old when I got married in 1867. Girls in dem days had to marry young, so dey would have a place to stay. Yo' see, de day when freedom rung out, our pappy went one way, and our mammy went another way. In a way, pappy had two wimmen durin' slavery. It seemed lak dat when one woman had a child, den de other'n would have a child. I want to tell yo' de plain facts.

"On de day of freedom, pappy left, and mammy took her chillun and walked four and a half miles to de Bell place. De Bells had a fahm. We got to de place at sundown. Dey didn't know us, but mammy went up to de house.

"'Whut do yo' want?' asked Mrs. Bell.

"'A job,' mammy said.

"We was allowed to stay here fo' de night. De next day Mrs. Bell hired us. She give us a room, our eats and clothes. We had to do a little of everything.

"It was after dis dat mammy got married to my stepdaddy, Tom Richardson. Dey got married by marriage license. Yo' see pappy and mammy had been married jes' by havin' pappy jump backwards across a broomstick, dat was placed across de open door.

"My first husband's name was Sandy Jones. He was a fahmer. Me and him made some good crops. I was a putty good cotton picker, and picked close to three hunnert pounds of cotton a day. But I never could git my three hunnert. Sandy was a putty good husband, but he got sick and died in 1901.

"Jerry Moore was my second husband. He was a fahmer, too. Jerry had done been married three times befo' I got him. He done had about ten or twelb chillun. Me and Jerry lived together f'om 1902 to 1914. He dropped dead f'om heart trubble.

"My third husband was Ab Yancey. We got married in September, 1922. He done had six grown chillun when we got married. We married in September, and by March of de next year, we got separated. He claimed dat he couldn't make a livin' fo' me. He told me to go back home. I didn't have no home to go to. One day I was told dat Ab wanted to see me in Bastrop, about thutty-one miles east of Austin. It cost me a dollah and a half to go in a car to see him.

"'I want yo'-all to sign somethin'' he said.

"'Whut is it yo' want me to sign, Ab?'

"'Well I might die and I want yo' to sign dis. If yo'll sign it, I got some money fo' yo'.'

"I fooled around wid him f'om ten in de mawnin' to about four in de afternoon.

"'Well,' I said, 'Yo' neednt to act lak dis, if yo' don't want me, I don't want yo'. I was goin' to write to yo' anyhow.

"I looked at his lawyer, and asked, 'Whut does he want me to sign?'

"'He's talkin' to yo'. I reckon dat he kin tell yo'.'

"'I kain't read or write,' I told de lawyer, 'kin jes' make a cross fo' my name. If I got two bits comin' give it to me.'

"I signed de paper and didn't know whut I was signin'. Ab den give me ten dollahs. It wasn't until some other folks told me about it, dat I knowed I singed my divorce. I never saw him no mo'e. Ab lost his mind a few months after dis.

"After a year and a half later, I was married to Perry Williams. He wasn't no good husband. I have been married four times, and I ain't never been no mothaw. We lived together on and off fo' about five years. Den we separated, and got a divorce. He is still livin' in town. Perry done almost any kind of work dat he could git. He never was no fahmer.

State of Arkansas resources:

All of William L. Dunwoody's Narratives::

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"I come on then and got against Miss Yancy's. She had a son, a man named Henry Yancy. He had a sore leg. He asked me what I said. I told him that the Yanks were coming. He called for Henry, a boy that stayed with him, and had him saddle his horse. Then he got on it and rode up town. When he got up there, he was questioned bout how did he know it. Did he see them. He said he didn't see them, that Celas Keal saw them and the doctor's mother's boy brought the massage. Then he taken off.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"Jeff Davis went on. The Confederates went on. They all went on. Then the Yanks passed through.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"The first fight they had there, they cleaned up the Sixty-Ninth Alabama troops. My young master had been helping drill them. He went on and overtook the others.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"I am not sure just what we did immediately after freedom. I don't know whether it was a year or whether it was a year and a half. I can just go by my mother. After freedom, we came from Auburn, Alabama to Opelika, Alabama, and she went to cooking at a hotel until she got money enough for what she wanted to do. When she got fixed, she moved then to Columbus, Georgia. She rented a place from Ned Burns, a policeman.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
When that place gave out, she went to washing and ironing. Sterling Love rented a house from the same man. He had four children and they were going to school and they took me too.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"I fixed up and went to school with them. I didn't get no learning at all in slavery times.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"I don't know whether all the whites did it or not; but I know this---when they quit fighting, I know the white children called we little children and all the grown people who worked around the house and said, 'You all is jus' as free as we is. You ain't got no master and no mistiss,' and I don't know what they told them at the plantation.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"Right after the War, my mother worked---washed---for an old white man. He took an interest in me and taught me. I did little things for him. When he died, I took up the teaching which he had been doing.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"At first I taught in Columbus, Georgia. By and by, a white man came along looking for laborers for this part of the country. He said money grew on bushes out here. He cleaned out the place. All the children and all the grown folks followed him. Two of my boys came to me and told me they were coming. We hoboed on freights and walked to Chattanooga, Tennesee. We stayed there awhile. Then a white man came along getting laborers. I never bapt the year nor nothin'. He brought us to Lonoke County, and I got work on The Food Bar Plantation. Squirrela, wild things, cotton and corn, plenty of it. So you see, the man told the truth when he said money grew on bushes.

State: Arkansas Interviewee: Dunwoody, William L.
"I taught and farmed all my life. Farming is the greatest occupation. It supports the teacher, the preacher, the lawyer, the doctor. None of them can live without it.