I hope you enjoyed reading Anna Parkes’ testimonial about her life as recorded in the Federal Writer’s Project. Again, my purpose in including her testimonial is, in some small way, to allow her voice to be heard once again. As wonderful a project as “Born in Slavery” was as undertaken by the government in the 1930s, it would be easy for these testimonials to be buried in the archive and neglected. Since I have a personal connection to Anna Parkes and Susan Castle, I feel a sense of responsibility to not only hear their voices, but to introduce them to the world in which I live.
Let’s now hear from Susan Castle. She and her family served my great-great-great grandfather, T. R. R. Cobb in Athens, Georgia. Let me offer a heads-up as we prepare to read her words: she frequently uses the n-word to describe herself and other black people. I thought about editing it out, but was loathe to do so because these are Susan’s words, and they are in a very real sense, sacred. We just need to bear in mind that this word was much more accepted in the time and context. We can also read the word and be reminded of the many ways in which African Americans were degraded as a race by slavery and by virulent racism during this period.
The picture above was taken at the turn of the twentieth century. As you’ll see in Susan’s testimonial, she continued on with the Hull family after the war. Susan is standing with her little boy on the left with the Hull children. My grandmother’s mother, Sally Hull, is among the children.
PLANTATION LIFE AS VIEWED BY AN EX-SLAVE
1257 W. Hancock Ave.
Written by: Sadie B. Hornsby
Edited by: Sarah H. Hall
John N. Booth
Federal Writers’ Project
On a beautiful morning in April, the interviewer found Susan sitting in the door of her cabin. When asked if she would like to talk about the old plantation days, she replied: “Yes Ma’am, I don’t mind tellin’ what I know, but for dat I done forgot I sho’ ain’t gwine make nothin’ up. For one thing, I ain’t never lived on no plantation. I was a house servant in town.” She added: “Do you mind me axin’ you one favor?” Consent was given and she continued: “Dat is, please don’t call me Aunt Susan; it makes me feel lak I was a hundred years old.
“I was borned in Clarke County, March 7, 1860; I believes dat’s what dey say. Mudder was named Fannie and Pappy’s name was Willis. Us chillum called ‘im Pappy lak he was de onliest one in de world. He fust belonged to Marse Maxwell of Savannah, Georgia. I was so little I disremembers how Pappy came by de name of Castle. In all de seben of us chillum, I didn’t have but one brudder, and his name was Johnny. My five sisters was Mary, Louvenia, Rosa, Fannie, and Sarah. All I ‘members ‘bout us chilluns was dat us played lak chilluns will do.
“In de quarters us had old timey beds and cheers, but I’ll tell you whar I slept most times. Hit was on a cot right at de foot of Mist’ess’ bed. I stayed at de big house most of de time at night, and ‘fore bedtime I sot close by Mist’ess on a foot stool she had special for me.
“All I recollects ‘bout my gran’ma was she belonged to General Thomas R. R. Cobb, and us called ‘im Marse Thomas. Gran’ma Susan wouldn’t do right so Marse Thomas sold her on de block.
“Us had evvything good to eat. Marse Thomas was a rich man and fed ‘is Niggers well. Dey cooked in a big open fireplace and biled greens and some of de udder vitals in a great big pot what swung on a rack. Meat, fish and chickens was fried in a griddle iron what was sot on a flat topped trivet wid slits to let de fire thoo. Dey called it a trivet ‘cause it sot on three legs and hot coals was raked up under it. Hoe cakes made out of cornmeal and wheat flour sho’ was good cooked on dat griddle. ‘Tatoes was roasted in de ashes, and dey cooked break what dey called ash cake in de ashes. Pound cake, fruit cake, light bread and biscuits was baked in a great big round pot, only dey warn’t as deep as de pots dey biled in; dese was called ovens. Makes me hongry to think ‘bout all dem good vitals now.
“Oh! Yes Ma’am, us had plenty ‘possums. Pappy used to cotch so many sometimes he jest put ‘em in a box and let us eat ‘em when us got ready. ‘Possums tasted better atter dey was put up in a box and fattened a while. Us didn’t have many rabbits; dey warn’t as much in style den as dey is now, and de style of eatin’ ‘possums lak dey done in slav’ry times, dat is ‘bout over. Dey eats ‘em some yet, but it ain’t stylish no mo’. Us chillum used to go fishin’ in Moore’s Branch; one would stand on one side of de branch wid a stick, and one on de udder side would roust de fishes out. When dey come to de top and jump up, us would hit ‘em on de head, and de grown folks would cook ‘em. Dere warn’t but one gyarden, but dat had plenty in it for evvybody.