Anna Parkes on “Negroes,” Food, and Being a Child in Slavery

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As we continue with this “Slaves of My Ancestors” series, I’ll recommend some reading along the way. For starters, take up the Slave Narratives put out by the Library of America series. You’ll find writings from Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, William W. Brown, Sojourner Truth, and numerous others. It is an indispensable collection of primary sources.

Anna’s testimonial continues. For the first part of her story, go here; for some context for the series, go here and here. The full Slave Narratives website, “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936-1938” at the LOC is here.

“What else did you buy with the money?”, she was asked.

“Nuffin’ else,” was the quick reply. “All a piece of money meant to me in dem days, wuz candy, and den mo’ candy. I never did git much candy as I wanted when I wuz chillun.”

“You see I didn’t have to save up for nuffin’. Ole Marster and Ole Miss, dey took keer of us. Dey sho’ wuz good white folkses, but den dey had to be good white folkses, kaza Ole Marster, he wuz Jedge Lumpkin, and de Jedge quz bound to take evvybody do right, and he gwine do right his own self ‘fore he try to make udder folkses behave deyselves. Ain’t nobody, nowhar, as good to dey Negroes as my white folkses wuz.”

Who taught you to say ‘Negroes” so distinctly?” she was asked.

“Ole Marster,” she promptly answered, “He ‘spained dat us wuz not to be ‘shamed of our race. He said us warn’t no ‘niggers’; he said us wuz ‘Negroes’, and he ‘spected his Negroes to be de best Negroes in de whole land.

“Old Marster had a big fine gyarden. His Negroes wukked it good, and us wuz sho’ proud of it. Us lived close in town, and all de Negroes on de place wuz yard and house servants. Us didn’t have no gyardens ‘round our cabins, kaze all of us at de big house kitchen. Ole Miss had flowers evvywhar ‘round de big house, and she wuz all time givin’ us some to plant ‘round de cabins.

“All de cookin’ wuz done at de big house kitchen, and hit wuz a sho’ ‘nough big kitchen. Us had two boss cooks, and lots of helpers, and us sho’ had plenty of good sompin’ teat. Dat’s de Gawd’s trufe, and I means it. Heap of folkses been tryin’ to git me to say us didn’t have ‘nough teat and dat us never had nuffin’ fittin’ teat. But ole as I is, I cyan’ start tellin’ no lies now. I gotter die fo’ long, and I sho’ wants to be clean in de mouf and no stains or lies on my lips when I dies. Our sompin’ teat wuz a heap better’n what us got now. Us had plenty of evvything right dar in de yard. Chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, tukkeys, and de smoke’ouse full of good meat. Den de mens, day wuz all time goin’ huntin’, and fetchin’ in wild tukkeys, an poddiges, and heaps and lots of ‘possums and rabbits. Us had many fishes as us wanted. De big fine shads, and perch, and trouts; dem wuz de fishes de Jedge liked mos’. Catfishes won’t counted fittin’ to set on de Jedges table, but us Negroes wuz ‘loved to eat all of ‘em us wanted. Catfishes mus’ be mighty skace now kaze I don’t know when ever I is seed a good ole river catfish a-flappin’ his tail. Day flaps dey tails atter you done kilt ‘em, and cleaned ‘em, and drap ‘em in de hot grease to fry. Sometimes dey nigh knock de lid offen de fryin’ pan.

“Ole Marster buyed Bill Finch down de country somewhar’, and dey called him ‘William’ at de big house. He wuz a tailor, and he made clo’es for de young marsters. William wuz right smart, and one of his joos wuz to lock up all de vitals atter us done et much as us wanted. All of us had plenny, but dey won’t nuffin’ wasted ‘round Ole Marster’s place.

“Ole Miss wuz young and pretty dem days, and Ole Marster won’t no old man den, but us had to call ‘em ‘Ole Miss,’ and ‘Ole Marster,’ kaze dey chilluns wuz called “Young Marster’ and ‘Young Mistess’ f’um de very day dey wuz born.”

When asked to describe the work assigned to little Negroes, she quickly answered: “Chilluns didn’t do nuffin’. Grownup Negroes done all de wuk. All chilluns done was to frolic and play. I wuz jes’ ‘lowed ter tote de key basket kaze I wuz all time hangin’ ‘round de big house, and wanted so bad to stay close to my ma in de kitchen and to be nigh Ole Miss.

“What sort of clo’es did I wear in dem days? Why Lady, I had good clo’es. Atter my little mistresses wore dey clo’es a little, Ole Miss give ‘em to me. Ma allus made me wear clearn, fresh clo’es, and go dressed up good all de time so I’d be fittin’ to carry de key basket for Ole Miss. Some of de udder slave chilluns had homemade shoes, but I allus had good sto’-bought shoes what my young mistess done outgrowed, or what some of de comp’ny gimme. Comp’ny what had chilluns ‘bout my size, gimme heaps of clo’es and shoes, and some times dey didn’t look like dey’d been wore none hardly.

“Ole Marster sho’ had lots of Negroes ‘round his place. Deir wuz Aunt Charlotte, and Aunt Julie, and de two cooks, and Adeline, and Mary, and Edie, and Jimmy. De mens wuz Charlie, and Floyd, and William, and Daniel. I disremembers de res’ of ‘em.

“Ole Marster never whipped none of his Negroes, not dat I ever heard of. He tole ‘em what he wanted done ,and give ‘em plenny of time to do it. Dey wuz allus skeert effen dey didn’t be smart and do right, dey might git sold to some marster would beat ‘em, and be mean to ‘em. Us knowed dey won’t many marsters as good to dey slaves as Ole Marster wuz to us. Us would of most kilt ourself wukkin’, fo’ us would have give him reason to wanna git rid of us. No Ma’am, Ole Marster ain’t never sold no slave, no whilst I can ‘member. Us wuz allus skeert dat effen a Negro git lazy and triflin’ he might git sold.

“No Negro never runned away f’um our place. Us didn’t have nuffin’ to run f’um, and nowhar to run to. Us heard of patterrollers but us won’t ‘fraid none kaze us knowed won’t no patterroller gwine tech none of Jedge Lumpkin’s Negroes.

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