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Laurel County Slave Narratives

Contributed by Jamie Grimes 3/29/06


Slave Narratives:

A Folk History of Slavery in the United States

From Interviews with Former Slaves

Kentucky Narratives Author: Work Projects Administration

Release Date: 1941


TR: This volume contains a high number of misspellings and typing errors. Words that are apparent misspellings to render dialect, such as 'morster' for 'master', or that reflect spelling errors of a particular interviewer or typist, such as 'posess' for 'possess' or 'allegience' for 'allegiance', have not been changed; words that are apparent typing errors such as 'filed' for 'field', 'ot' for 'of', 'progent' for 'progeny', have been corrected without note, to avoid interrupting the narrative.]



Interviews 1936-1938




            Concerning slaves of this section of the country, I will quote experiences and observation of an old negro lady who was a slave, Mrs. Amelia Jones, living in North London, Kentucky. “Aunt Amelia” as she is known around here is eighty-eight years of age, being sixteen years of age at the close of the Civil War.

Mrs. Jones says, “I will tell as best I can remember, I was born eighty-eight years ago in Manchester, Ky. under a master by the name of Daw White. he was southern republican and was elected as congressman by that party from Manchester, Ky. He was the son of Hugh White, the original founder of Whitesburg, Ky. Master White was good to the slaves, he fed us well and had good places for us to sleep, and didn’t whip us only when it was necessary, but didn’t hesitate to sell any of his slaves, he said, “You all belong to me and if you don’t like it, I’ll put you in my pocket” meaning of course that he would sell that slave and put the money in his pocket. The day he was to sell the children from their mother he would tell that mother to go to some other place to do some work and in her absence he would sell the children. It was the same when he would sell a man’s wife, he also sent him to another job and when he returned his wife would be gone. The master only said “don’t worry you can get another one”.

            Mrs. Jones has a sister ninety-two years of age living with her now, who was sold from the auction block in Manchester. Her sister was only twelve years of age when sold and her master received $1,220.00 for her, then she was taken south to some plantation. Also her father was sold at that place at an auction of slaves at a high price, handcuffed and taken south. She never saw her father again. She says the day her father was sold there was a long line of slaves to be sold and after they were sold and a good price paid for each they were handcuffed and marched away to the South, her father was among the number.

The Auction block at Manchester was built in the open, from rough-made lumber, a few steps, and a platform on top of that, the slave to be sold. He would look at the crowd as the auctioneer would give a general description of the ability and physical standing of the man. He heard the bids as they came in wondering what his master would be like.

            Mrs. Jones claims she had no privileges, but had as before stated plenty to eat and wear, and a good place to sleep; but most masters treated them cruel and beat them most of the time. They were also underfed at most places, but since they had such a good master they did not want for a thing.

            Cemetery Hill as it is known to us here, being in London, Ky. was a hill on which a Civil War battle was fought. The trenches are still here. The hill was given to the north to bury their dead by Jarvis Jackson, a great grandfather of the Jarvis Jackson who is now city police of London, today. By some reason, the soldiers were taken up and moved to a different place only a few years ago. Mrs. Hoage says “the first daisies that were brought to this contry were put on that hill” and she can remember when the entire hill was covered with them.

The southern side had trenches on the east side of the Dixie Highway on and surrounding the site where the Pennington Hospital is now standing, which are very vivid today. The London City School being in the path bears a hole today from a cannon ball. Shot no doubt from the Southern forces. The new addition to the school hides the hole, but until recent years it could be seen being about ten inches in diameter.

            Zollie Coffer a southern general had camped at Wild Cat, Ky. but was forced to retreat when general Garrad and Lucas and Stratton two captains under him, all from Clay county, with a large crowd came in. He, on his retreat came through London and had a battle with an army of Ohioians camped on Cemetery Hill. Quoted a poem by Mrs. Hodges, which she remembered from those days:

“Just raise your eyes to yon grassy hill,
View the bold Ohioians working with skill,
Their bombs lying around them to spew fiery flames,
Among the seceders, till they wont own their names.”

Mrs. Hodge quotes another poem from memory about Gen. Coffer’s retreat from Wild Cat:

“Our tigers and bullpups to Wild Cat did go,
To fight our brave boys, tho our force they did not know.
When they come in gun shot distance, Schelf told them to halt,
We’re not Murphey’s honey, nor Alex Whites salt.

His orders to his men, was “go thru” or “go to hell”
But our Indiana hoosier bous, heard them too well,
In less than thirty minutes, they gave them many balls,
Wild Cat had had kittens, Oh; don’t you hear them squall.

They did not stay long, before they did retreat,
Went on double quick and left all their meat,
As they went back through Barbourville, they say Zollie did say
I’ve lost fifteen hundred killed or run away.

Away back in Mississippi, we’re forced to go
As for our loss you’ll never know
Slipped back when the union fell asleep
Hauled off our dead and buried them deep.

To fight against Garrad, it never will do,
Stratton and Lucas is hard to out do,
They conquered our tigers and bull pups too,
In spite of our force and all we could do.”

Coffer was killed by Colonel Frye at Mill Springs. A statue is erected to Zollie Coffer at Somerset, Kentucky.

            Both sides were cruel during the Civil War. Mrs. McDaniel who lives here tells a story of how her father was killed in Clay County, while eating dinner one day. Some federal soldiers drove up and asked what side he was on and upon saying the confederate side, they took him outside and shot him with a gun in his own yard.



            Mrs. Jenny McKee, of color, who lives just North of London can tell many interesting things of her life.

            “Aunt Jenny” as she is called, is about eighty-five years of age, and says she thinks she is older than that as she can remember many things of the slave days. She tells of the old “masters” home and the negro shacks all in a row behind the home. She has a scar on her forehead received when she was pushed by one of the other little slaves, upon a marble mantle place and received a deep wound in her head.

            The old negro lady slaves would sit in the door way of their little shacks and play with pieces of string, not knowing what else to do to pass off the time. They were never restless for they knew no other life than slavery.

            Aunt Jenny McKee was born in Texas though she doesn’t know what town she was born in. She remembers when her mother was sold into the hands of another slave owner, the name of the place was White Ranch Louisiana. Her mother married again, and this time she went by the name of Redman, her mother’s second husband was named John Redman, and Aunt Jenny altho her real name was Jenny Garden, carried the name of Redman until she was married to McKee.

            During the War her mother died with cholera, and after the war her step-father sold or gave her away to an old Negro lady by the name of Tillet, her Husband was a captain from the 116th regiment from Manchester.

            They had no children and so Aunt Jenny was given or sold to Martha Tillet. Aunt Jenny still has the paper that was written with her adoption by Mrs. Martha Tillet and John Redman, the paper was exactly as written below:


White Ranch September 10, 1866

To Whom it may concern, I, John Redman has this day given my consent that Mrs. Martha Tillet can have my child Jenny Redman to raise and own as her child, that I shall not claim and take her away at any time in the future.

x John Redman his mark


She has a picture in her possession of Captain Tillet in war costume and with his old rifle. After the war the Tillets were sent back to Manchester where he was mustered out, Aunt Jenny being with them. “I stayed with them” Aunt Jenny said, “until I was married Dec. 14, 1876, to David McKee another soldier of the 116th regiment”. She draws a pension now from his services.

David McKee was a slave under John McKee, father of the late John McKee of this place. He was finally sold to a man by the name of Meriah Jackson. “David’s masters were good to him” said Jenny “he learned to be a black smith under them”.

Aunt Jenny has the history of the 116th regiment, U.S.C. Infantry. Tillet was captain in this regiment and David McKee a soldier then was a lot of soldiers in this regiment from here. Tom Griffin being one, a slave who died a few years ago. The history was printed in 1866 and this particular copy was presented to Captain Tillet, and bears his signature.

            The first deed to be put on record in the Laurel County court was between Media Bledsoe of Garrad County of the first part and Daniel Garrard of Clay County of the second part. Being 4800 acres of land lying in Knox County on Laurel River and being that part of 16000 acres of land patented in the name of John Watts. One thousand dollars was the sum paid for this land. This is on record in Deed Book “A”, page 1. Date of September 30, 1824.



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