Mattie Gilmore


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Mattie Gilmore is a typical example of the by gone slave days, she lives in a little cabin on East 5th Avenue in Corsicana. Small in figure, and very feeble she lives in seclusion in her little home that her husband mowed lawns or cleaned houses or anything else that he could get to do to pay for their little place. She talks freely of slave days and often a smile comes to her lips as she recalls instances of those days seventy five years ago when she was a slave in Mobile Alabama. She has no idea how old she is but she can remember fleeing from the Yankees when she was a small girl, crossing the Mississippi in a skiff and traveling nights and covering their fires to keep the smoke from attracting attention. Her marster was Thomas Barrow, a Methodist preacher. He bought several wagons loads of slaves here from Alabama and settled near Athens Texas, and Aunt Mattie lived there until she married Las Gilmore. She had married the slave way during slavery and had had three children, but her husband and the children had all passed on before the close of the war. She lives alone in a modestly furnished little home on a small pension she gets from the government. Her mind wanders much in her talking, but she can tell many interesting stories and gruesome tales of happenings of the war period. She tells stories of seeing dead men both black and white and hearing the roar of the guns and the screams of the men in battle. She witnessed the hanging of one negro man and tells of seeing many whipped until they were almost lifeless. She has no living relatives and says she hopes to pass on before another war so she wont to have to see the suffering that follows such.

"I was bo'n in Mobile, Alabama, and I don't hab no idee when. Mah white folks never did tell me how ole I was and I don't know. Mah own dear mammy died 'fore I can remembah and mah step mamma didn't take time ter tell me anything. Mah step-mamma's name was Mary Barrow and mah papas name was Allison Barrow. Mah oldest sisters name was Rachel and den der was Lou and Charity and mah brother Allison.

Mah marster sold mah sister Rachel when she was just a girl. I shore did cry. They jest put her on a block and sold her off, I heard they got $1000. fer her, but I dont know fer shore iffen dat is right. I never seed her any more until after we was freed. A man by the name of Dick Burdon from Kaufman County bought her. After de war was ovah I heard she was sick so I went and brought her ter mah house, and had a doctor, but she was too fer gone. I dont know what was de matter wid her, been worked too much I reckon, fer she died and dat was de last of mah people.

When I was a slave we lived in a log house wid dirt floors. Dey was warm enough in de wintah, but dey was shore hot in de summah. Dey did not have any ceiling in dem and de sun could jest come right on through the roof. No screens er nuthin, jest home made doors. We jest had home made bed steads made outen plank dat dey picked up about de place. Mattresses nuthin, we had shuck beds and a good straw bed was a rarity. But anyway, you'se take it, we was bettah off den den we are now. Gettin a little money has made fools of mos of de niggers. Niggers use ter never speak ter a white woman, and nigger women didnt use ter be so sassy lak dey is now.

Mah marster never owned any of mah grandparents and I jest dont know anything bout dem. I was bound ter have had some around somewheres, but I never heard anything bout dem

I allus worked in de fiels til mah sister Rachel was sole, she allus worked in de house and done de house work, worked in de kitchen, and carried vituals ter de table, and fanned flies offen de table wid a great long limb, and den when dey sole her I had ter take her place. I laked dat. I got plenty ter eat and hit wasnt so hot. De missus made me watch de other niggers dat come ter de house, I had ter tell her ever time, I seed dem get anything den dey allus got a whippen and den mah step mother would allus whip me fer tellin. I membah she took me out in de woods once and tied me ter a limb by mah feet and whipped me wid peach tree limbs. Mah missus sure was mad. I tole mah mamma dat I had ter tell what I seed er de missus would whip me and mah step mamma said she would cut mah tongue out iffen I didn't quit tellin, so I jest got into hit ever way I went.

Well iffen any one says dat we got money fer workin, in slave days dey jest don't know what dey is talkin bout. I say money, I never had a piece of money in mah han ter call mah own til I was grown near bout. But den dat was slavery time and as I said before we was bettah off wid outten money, its made fools outen mos od dem.

We had plenty ter eat, sech as it was, hit was jest food ter make you stand up and work hit wasnt any of de good foolish things we have now. We had bread, peas, beans, milk and sorghum lasses. We never had any butter though. We had flour bread fer breakfast on Sunday morning. De ole marster would give us a gallon bucket full of flour and dat was all we got and iffen dat didn't fill us up, well, we jest went lank. Sometimes we had possum and rabbits and fish iffen we could ketch dem on Sunday. And den we had ter have a pass ter go ter de creek. Our marster was a preacher and he didnt lak fer us ter go fishin on Sunday. But you knows niggers, they shore laks fish. I have seed mah missus parch coffee in a skittle and hit was good coffee too. We couldnt go ter de store and buy things den lak we do now. I believe I lak Irish potatoes bettah den any kind of vegetables, but I shore laks bacon too.

Marster Barrow had a big garden and when dey wanted us ter have any vegetables, dey would tell us what we could have and dats all we got too. We wasnt allowed ter have any garden of our own. Marster said we fool roun too much in dem.

We allus wore home made clothes, spun and wove and made all on de plantation. Shucks I could spin er weave either. I heard dat dey had a spinning wheel up here in one of de stores and iffen I could walk up der, I knows I could run hit as good as I ever did. Mah ole fingers jest kinda tingles when I thinks of it. I shore would lak ter have a chance at it. We had a little extry clothes ter wear ter church on Sunday. And we allus had plenty of warm clothes ter wear in de wintah. Sometimes de white folks would give me some old shoe but mos allus in de summah we went bare-footed. Weddins didn't mount ter much in de slavery times so we didnt have no extry clothes.

Our marster was Thomas Barrow, a Methodist preachaha. His wife de missus, was named Mary. Their oldest daughter was named Margared, and de next girl was Jane, and den Nancy and one boy Franklin William Barrow. He went ter war ter help kill the Yanks. Dey lived in a big five or six roomed house, made outten planks. Hit wasnt even painted though hit was a nice house fer dem days. Dey only had common furniture, I dont know why dey didnt have any bettah. I knows dey had plenty of money.

Dey had a white man fer an overseer all he had ter do was ride around on a big horse and see dat de niggers worked. Dey had a colored drivah, he was an ole colored man and he jest had ter lead de hands. When dey was hoeing cotton or corn ever body had ter keep up wid de drivah, dey didnt have ter hurry so fast, jest keep workin steady. Some of de women dat had suckin babies would leave dem in de shade while dey worked and let dem nurse in between times. I members one time a big bald eagle flew down by one of dese babies and picked hit up and flew away wid hit. De mamma couldnt stop workin ter go and try ter get her baby and we never heard of hit again. De poor mamma cried til she couldnt cry but hit didnt do no good.

Marster Barrow brought his slaves from Mobile, Alabama and settled near Athens Texas. I well remembers de trip over here. Before we left our home in Mobile, we heard de Yankees was cumming, but Marster Barrow didnt get around fast enough. Dey got all der gold together and Miss Jane called me one day and tole me ter come in her room and she give me a whole sack of pure gold and silver, der wasnt no green backs in hit and hit was all I could carry. She tole me ter take hit out in de orchard and bury it, I shore was skeared but I done what she said. Dey had some more gold in a big desk in de same room, hit was jest a little while after dat, de Yanks got der, dey pulled de top off de desk and got de money and Miss Jane had a purty gold ring on her finger, and de captain yanked hit off. Directly I asked, "Miss Jane, is dey gwine ter give your ring back"? All she said was shet your mouf, shet your mouf and dats what I did. Dey got their money dat dey buried and we left out dat night. We jest traveled at night and rested in de day time. And when we want ter cook we was skeared ter make a fire afraid de yanks would see us. We had ter be careful, when we did make a fire to keep de blaze covered. Dat was awful times. Then we got ter de Mississippi River, der was dead men jest layin ever where, black and white a-lak, dat was worse den a skeary time. While we was waitin ter go over on a skift a big white man come up and marster Barrow how many niggers he had and he counted ever one of us. All of us niggers was skeared dat he would say dat part of us couldnt go, iffen he had tole me dat he might jest as well shot me case I was near dead of fright anyway.

While we was waitin ter be loaded on de skift de guns began ter go boom, boom, boom and you could hear de man screamin, dey was dat close and dat was jest too close to be comfortable. I hopes I never lives ter see another war, de sufferin and privations is awful. I can close mah eyes now as long as hit has been and still see de awful things we seed dat day.

When we got on de skift I never was so skeared in all mah life, hit would flop up one way and den de other and hit would almost turn over. I held on ter mah step mother and tried ter let on lak I wasnt skeared but I can tell you I was. After we crossed de rivah we went down in a long hole, a tunnel I guess. Hit was so dark dat you'se couldnt seed your hand in front of you'se and you'se couldn't seed no sky, I don't know what it was fer. No sah, I shore dont wants ter seed anuther day lak dat one. Wal we traveled on fer lands knows how long, we had ter travel in de night and stay hid in de day time. We shore get tired fore we settled close ter Athens Texas. Marster Barrow bought lots of land. I dont membah how many slaves he brought from Alabama but he had a heap of dem.

Marster Barrow would blow a horn his own self ter wake us up, and he got up in plenty of time ter git our breakfast and fer de women dat had nursin babies ter tend ter dem. Dey was give milk and bread tween meals, de missus seed ter dat, she allus said dat iffen you'se didnt feed de chilluns how'd you'se spect dem ter grow up big and strong, ter sell and ter do hard work. We allus got ter de field tween good day light and sun up and we never quit at night til sun down. We had ter leave de fiel in time ter pick up chips, roots, or anything dat we could cook suppah wid. We didn't have no stoves, jes open fire places, and dey shore did make de house hot at night time.

Marster Barrow did not have us whipped much but when he did you'se could shore nuff tell you had a whippen. I never did git but one whippin and dat was all I needed, hit done me de res of mah life. How come dat ter happen, Miss Jane tole mer ter do sumpin and I sassed her and she started ter whip me and I jest began to fight her back and laws help us she calls Marster Barrow and er made me pulls off all mah clothes, I shore did hate to fore all dem people, but I had hit ter do. Dey made me lay down on mah belly and dey whippen me wid a big long strap dat had holes in hit and when I got up I was glad ter do what Miss Jane said fer me ter do, and I shore never did try ter fight her any more.

Now iffen you'se shore wanted ter git a whippen, jes sass a white person, and you'd shore git one, and some niggers is bad ter steal and dey would shore whip dem iffen dey ketched dem pickin up anything. I never did see de blood whipped outten anybody, but one time. Mah uncle was accused of puttin poison in his white folks coffee. Dey died and a mob get him and beat him awful. Dey made us niggers go ter seed him hanged, dey had him standin in a wagon and de blood was jes runnin down his legs. Dey had de rope round his neck and throwed ovah a limb, dey asked him iffen he had anything ter say fer his self and he said dat he wanted ter seed his wife. She come ter de wagon wid de baby and he tole her ter be good and raise de baby right and den he kissed de chile and her and den he tole de crowd dat he was innocent dat he never done what dey said he did and den he prayed and den he said he was ready ter die, and dey whipped de team up.

Den dey whipped de team up and jerked de wagon out from under him and he was jes left danglin der. We all had ter stand right der and watch dem do dat ter him. Dey wouldnt let his wife take him down fer bout an hour, and den dey took him down and jest put him in a box and stuck him in de ground. I dont know if he was guilty er not, but he shore got punished iffen he was er wasnt.

No I never heard of a jail in dem days. Dat's one reason I argue dat niggers was better off in slavery time den day is now. I guess dey had penitentiary den but we never heard of dem. When niggers done sumpin dey wasnt sposed to dey jest give dem a real good whippin and dat was all der was to hit and dey didnt need no jail. And I jest believes dat people was jest naturally better in dem days den dey is now. People didnt fight, kill and get drunk den lak dey do now.

Us niggers hardly ever seed other slaves sole, but I seed mah sister Rachel sole I cried til I jest couldnt cry but hit didnt do no good. Dey made her pull off part of her clothes so dat dey could see dat she was strong and all right. A man from Kaufman County bought her. I heard dat he give $1000.00 fer her but I dont know iffen dat is so er not. I never seed her any more til after slavery was ovah and den I heard dat she was sick so I goes and gits her but she died any way.

I heard of speckulaters but I guess I never seed any. I'se heard of niggers being drove jest lak cows but I aint never seed anything lak dat.

Don't talk ter me bout school and learnin ter read and write. Laws man, we never got ter do anything but work, work. Learnin ter read and write jes never was thought of. We was jes niggers and I reckons dat dey thought dat we would never need ter learn anything anyway.

Yas sah, we went ter church in brush arbors and had logs ter sat on, so we couldnt go cept in de summah time. Sometimes in de wintah we would have prayer meetins at one of our cabins. Marster Barrow would read the Bible ter us and splain it and pray wid us. He would sit on his steps and us niggers would sit roun on de ground and listen fer hours at him talkin. We never had no baptisms til after slavery time, but I'se went ter lots of dem after we was free.

When a slave died dey didnt no body stop work but jest his own family, all de res had ter work. Dey had a nigger cemetery though. Marster Barrow give us nuff ground ter bury our dead. De coffins was allus home made and sometimes dey was covered in black cloth and sometimes dey was jes plain boxes. Dey would jes sing and pray a little and dat was all der was to hit, and as soon as dey get home dey had ter go right ter de fiel.

Heavens yas sah, de slaves would sometimes run off, but mos generally dey come back. I have had lots of folks run off and stay in de woods a few days. Marster Barrow never did hunt fer dem, he allus jes waited and mos of de time dey come strayin in.

You'se knows den de country was not very well settled and hit was hard ter git anything ter eat so when de runaways got hungry nuff dey come home fer sumpin ter eat. I had heard of owners chasin runaways with dogs, but our marster never did do dat.

De slaves did not visit from one plantation ter another very much, dey had ter have a pass, and go and come right on de dot. Dey mos allus tole all dey knowed and me too. White folks never would know hit anyway and de niggers never got together often and dey talked hard and fast when dey did visit.

After our work was done at night, durin de week, we would jest set around and talk a little while and den go right ter bed cause we was too tired ter stay up long. On Satidy mornin we generally had ter shell corn ter take ter mill ter make corn bread out off. Den on Satidy evenin was wash day fer de slaves. Dat was de only time we had ter wash our clothes. Sometimes we went ter church on Sundays when der was any ter go ter and sometimes we went down on de creek fishin. We had ter have a pass ter go down der. Marster Barrow was a preachah you knows and he didnt lak fer us ter go fishin on Sundays, but we did any way when he would give us a pass.

Sometimes on Satidy nights we would have parties and dances, but dey wasnt messes lak dey have now, dey didnt git drunk and holler round and act crazy, dey behaved dem selves.

At Christmas time hit was jest lak any other time wid de slaves. We never had anything extry. Marster Barrows allus had big dinnah but dey never done us any good. Mah step mamma cooked fer dem all de time and on extry times lak dat I had ter help her. New Years day was allus a big day of work. We had ter work harder dat day den any other gos we would work hard all de year. We allus eat black eyed peas and hog jowls fer good luck and sos we would have money all de year, only we never had any. Marster Barrow did though. We had no holidays der was too much ter do. We never had ter rush wid our work, jest so it was done, and work steady ever day.

When Miss Jane got married she had a big weddin and I had ter help cook de dinnah. Dey invited all de white folks from all around. Her dress was made from cotton goods, mos all de nice dresses dem days was made from cotton. I don't membah any death in marster Barrows family while I was ser slave. Weddins among de slaves was de same as no weddin at all. Iffen a slave owner had a grown nigger boy and a grown nigger girl he jest tole de boy he could live wid dat girl and have her fer his wife. I had ter marry dat way and mah slave husband lived on another plantation. We jest went ter livin together on our plantation. We had three chilluns but de all died.

We chilluns played jes lak any other colored chilluns, little ring games, one I membahs:

Always from Kare, never spent a dime, Savin all mah change ter pay mah babies fine".

Another one was:

"Go away ole man and leave me alone, I'se a poor girl and a long ways from home."

Der was lots of other songs we would ring up and sing. Some of de colored folks believed in charms. Mr. Towns at Malakoff ketched rabbits and cut der front feet off and wore hit around his nec, he says he knows hit brings good luck, I believe hit do too.

I believes in ghos. I knows der is ghos, I has seed dem mah self. Yassah, you'se cant make me believe dat der aint. Why when I was in de hospital when I had mah leg cut off, I woke up one night wid sumpin goin roun mah bed singin. Dat almos skeared me ter death, I calls de nurse and she says why auntie der aint nuthin der, but I reckons I knows what I can sees. She tole me ter go back ter sleep but everytime she would git out of the room, I could hear sumpin rubbin on de walls out side mah room. Tells me der aint no ghos, dey had got after me several times.

Calomel grows ovah east in low watery places, and he use ter make us go and dig hit up and eat de bottom part of de stalk and make tea outten de roots. He allus said hit made healthier and better chilluns.

Yassah, I members well de war dat brought our freedom. I members hearin de bugles playin. Hit was jest de first year of de war dat we come ter Texas. We had allus heard what a fine place dat Texas was and we found out it was all dat we had heard bout hit. I shore lak Texas.

When de paper come dat made us free, marster Barrow calls us up ter de front yard and reads de paper ter us. Some of de slaves was laughing and some was cryin, hit was funny place ter be. He said if any of us wanted ter stay he would pay us fer everything dat we done and we would have ter take de money and buy ever thing dat we got. Hit was bout de middle of de evenin when he tole us dis and Miss Jane said well you will have ter git some one ter cook fer us, so marster asked mah mamma iffen she would stay and git suppah and do de cookin after dat and he would pay her for hit. I had always waited on Miss Jane so I stayed on too. We stayed der four er five years. Some of de slaves left de same day, but marster Barrow shore was fair ter dem. He give each one sumpin some he give a hog, others a cow, he did not let one leave wid out sumpin ter start on. Some of de marsters jest put dem out wid out a thing.

But de trouble wid mos of de niggers dey never had had ter do any managing and dey didnt knows how ter take care of anything and some jest spent der money plum foolish lak. Yassah de niggers suffered from de war iffen dey did git their freedom from hit.

De Ku Klux Klan use ter be a dreadful thing right after de war. Dey would go roun in der long white robes and whip de niggers and sometimes rob dem of everything dat dey had. Der use ter be lots of dem but I aint heard so much of dem in de las few years.

I had already married de slave way back in Alabama, but mah husband died fore de war was ovah. We had three chilluns. De oldest one a boy died from a horse kicking. We had three chilluns, and the other two girls dey died when dey was babies. So after we was freed I married Las Gilmore. We went ter de court house in Athens and married de white folks way. We never had any chilluns. Mah husband has been dead fer several years and I have no livin kin folks as I knows of. When we moved ter Corsicana mah husband mowed lawns, done yard work er anything he could git ter do. He worked hard and bought our little home, hits all paid fer but I cant pay taxes on hit, but surely de white folks wont put me out. Mah husband and I was coming from Athens on de train years ago and we had a wreck and I got mah leg cut off, sos I'se not able ter work. Course I'se too ole ter work any way. I don't has no idee how ole I is.

I knows dat we come ter Texas de first year of de war, I guess bout 1861 and I done married de slave way. Since mah husband has died de relief has helped me, and now I draws a small pension. I'se afraid ter stay here alone sometimes, but I has ter do that. I aint got de money ter hire anyone ter stay sos I jes has ter tuff hit out. Der was a colored man ovah on de west side dat tried ter claim dat I was his auntie, but I dont believe any sech thing, he jes wanted a place ter hang out but he didnt git hit.

I aint never voted I dont believe in women votin in any way, and corse I couldnt cause I cant read or write.

I think de younger generation is awful, looks lak wid all de good schools and all dey would be a little better but dey aint. Der is a big school right across de street from me, but dey have ter have white directors, de niggers jest aint got sence enuff ter run hit. Dey jes aint got no management and a little money that dey have makes a fool outten dem. And people jest dont make de chilluns mind lak dey use ter, dey now do jest ter suit dem selves and dat aint generally very good.

I got lots of friens, both white and colored. I'se always tried ter live right cause I wants ter go ter heaven when I die.

SOURCE
WPA Slave Narrative Project, Texas Narratives, Volume 16, Part 2

COLLECTION
Federal Writer's Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox