African Americans in Saline County
Slave Narratives of Saline County
|Isabelle Henderson, Gilliam, Missouri|
The subject of this sketch is one of the oldest negroes in Saline County. He claims to be ninety-seven years old and lives in the little town of Nelson.
His humble dwelling, a gray and weathered frame building of about four rooms and two porches, sets in a square of yard thick with blue grass, old fashioned flowers like holly hocks, flowering pinks and marigolds making bright spots of color. Heavily laden fruit trees; apples, peaches, plums and pears shade every part of the plot. A splendid walnut tree, towers over the smaller fruit trees, the house and the porch while at the side of the house a garden spot contains a fine variety of vegetables.
As I approached, the old man was seated on a cot on the little porch. The wall back of him was hung with all kinds of tools, a saw a hammer, bits of wire, a piece of rope part of a bridle and a wing, apparently from a big gray goose. His long curling, gray hair neatly parted and brushed and he wears a mustach and short beard or chin whiskers, an unusual thing among negroes in this part of the country. His skin is a light brown color and his eyes bright with his second eyesight which enables him to look on the world without glasses.
the house and dowr. the hill, is a well equipped slaughter house,
where for many years this old man has taken care of the
butchering of the meat for his white friends and neighbors. He is
too old now to
take charge of this work, but the house and equipment is still in good repair.
This aged negro has been for many years a highly respected preacher of the gospel. His own account of his life and adventure follows:
"Yas'm I remembers befo de wah, I remember bein a water-boy to de field hands befor I wer big enough to wuk in the fields. I hoed tobaccer when I wus about so high", (measuring with his hands about three and one half feet from the floor.)
"Yas'm dey threshed me once, made me hug a tree and whup me, I had a tarrible temper, I'm part Choctaw Indian. We went to de white folks church on Sundays, when we went to camp meeting we all went to de mourners bench together. De mourners bench stretch clear across de of de Arbor; de whites and de blacks we'all jest fell down at de mourners bench and got religion at de same place. Ole Marsa let us jine whichever church we wanted, either de Methodist or Baptist."
"No, I never went to no school, de Colonel's daughter larnt me to write my name, that was after de wah".
"No'm dey didnt care ef we had dances and frolics. We had de dances down at de quarters and de white folks ud come down and look on. Whenever us niggas on one plantation got obstreporous, white folks hawns dey blowed. When de neighbors heard dat hawn hyar dey come to hep make dat obstreporous nigga behav. Dey blowed de hawn to call de neighbors ef enybody died or wer sick too".
In response to the question as to where he joined the Federal Army?
you see I wus a runaway nigga; I runaway when I wus about grown
and went to Kansas. When de wah broke out I jined de 18th United States Colored Infantry, under Capt'n Lucas. I fit three years in de army. My ole Marsals two boys jist older than me fit for de south. Dey wus mighty good boys, I liked dem fine."
Marshall, Missouri has a life-long negro citizen who was born in slavery, but was too young to remember actual slave conditions. He is Ed Craddock, born a few years before the Civil War, the son of slaves owned by leading pioneer families. Craddock lived through the hard days of reconstruction. His own father was a school building janitor in Marshall in the 1870's, and Ed Craddock was apprenticed under his sire, finally, upon death of the latter, succeeding to the job, which he has held for forty-seven years. Years ago he married and reared a large family. Craddock belongs to the Methodist Church, serving as "second minute-man", which he explains is something like a secretary, and also belongs to the Colored Masonic Lodge. Craddock's brother is a practicing physician in St. Louis.
"Stories told me by my father are vivid", Craddock said in an interview. "One especially, because of its cruelty. A slave right here in Marshall angered his master, was chained to a hemp-brake on a cold night and left to freeze to death, which he did. My father said slaves had to have a pass to go places. 'Patrollers' usually went in groups of three. If they caught a slave off his plantation without a pass the patrollers often would flog them".
Craddock relates that his father suffered from chills and fever which, quinine, the only remedy known then, failed to cure. Someone advised him, next time the chill came on, to plunge into a deep and cold hole in the river. Ed says his father, out of desperation, tried the (Page 2) suggested cure, and it worked, in a way squaring with the modern medical theory of setting up a counter-irritant in certain cases.
Craddock's mother was owned by the family of Marmadukes, one of whom was an early-day governor of Missouri.
Ed Craddock, Janitor, Saline County Court House, Marshall,
Western Historical Manuscripts Collection University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri
Isabelle Henderson, an ex-slave, at least 90 years old., lives alone in a small, four room, frame cottage in the village of Gilliam, Saline County, Missouri, on a plot of land provided her in the will of her former master, Judge Gilliam.
The cottage was once painted white. The old fashioned green shutters still hang at the windows but time and weather have removed much of the paint.
A tiny porch shelters the front door and there is room at one end a small porch swing.On.the other side a weather'beaten chair affords a resting place. The yard is entirely enclosed by a fancy wire fence. and a concrete side walk leads to the front porch.
An aged Negro woman answered the door when the interviewer knocked and asked for "Isabelle."
"Yes'm", she replied, I am Isabelle Henderson will y ou' come 'in?"
She lead the way to the parlor, a tiny room with a serviceable Brussels rug on the floor and panel, lace curtains at the windows. The only pictures on the walls are enlarged "crayon" photographs of Isabelle's husband and their sons and daughters.
Bible, yellowed with age, reposes on the small table reserved for
prized possessions. Within this Bible is a complete record of
births, marriages and deaths among people, both black and white,
with whom Isabelle's past life was concerned.
"My work in slave times was in the house of my master and mistress," Isabelle replied in answer to a question.
"I was taught to sew and had to help make clothes for the other slaves. I nursed all the children of my mistress and one time I was hired out to the white preacher's family to take care of his children when his wife was sick."
"I remember j'inin' the white folks church in.old Cambridge. They had a gallery for the slaves." Isabelle grinned, "And sometimes the slaves did funny things."
"There was one old woman named Aunt Cindy", she related. "One Sunday she got 'happy' and commenced shoutin' and throwin' herself about. White folks in the seats below hurried to get out from under the gallery, fearin'.Aunt Cindy, was goin' to lose her balance and fall on them.
Isabelle's speech, even when relating awesome things and doings of the "hants" was almost correct grammatically, attributable to the circumstance that as a slave she had been a house servant, with contacts largely among white people of culture.
Isabelle's most vivid recollection of slave life bears upon incidents growing out of superstition, especially the imagined "hants" that kept Negro folks and some of the whites in a state of fearful expectancy.
Isabelle is a firm believer in "hants" and related several local manifestations with much relish.
I was a girl, the adjoining plantation was owned by my master's
brother-in-law and on this plantation was the big old tobacco
where the tobacco from several plantations was hung and prized."
"What does prized mean?" "That means prized into casks; packed in tight."
"The slaves on master's plantation said this factory was hanted. None of lem would go near this factory after nightfall. When the nights was still and the moon was full, you could hear lem workin' in the factory. You could hear the ting-ting-ting of the lever all night long and the voices of the slaves a cryin' out and complainin'. An' you knew there wasn't anybody there at all. Jest hants. That's all."
Following the Civil War and freedom, Isabelle was the neighborhood midwife. Once, while attending a white neighbor on the occasion of a birth she had another experience with "hants".
"I was carin' for a lady that had just had a second child", she related. "They 1ived in a cottage with a full basement under it. The father was to take full care of the other child, a little boy, at-night, and they was to sleep in the basement for two or three nights."
Isabelle paused impressively, then went on in an awed tone of voice. "But father couldn't sleep. Somethin' bothered him, as if it was restless spirits abroad."
"Then one mornin' I was standin' by the door., and I heard a voice, low and vibrant, sayin', 'No sleep here! Cant sleep here!' I looked around but there was nobody there but me, and the mother and the two children. Then I knew it was hants."
"Yes'm it was hants. It was proved to me. A few months later the skeleton of a man was found under the basement floor."