In this segment, Susan tells us more about life as a slave of T. R. R. Cobb in Athens, Georgia. Here she tell us about Cobb’s family, that he sometimes whipped his slaves, and about his funeral after he was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg. Cobb was killed by stray shrapnel near the end of the day’s fighting, but there were rumors that he was shot by his own men out of spite. Susan’s perspective on Cobb’s death is interesting.
Susan was a child in the waning years of slavery, but the work was still hard. We get a sense of the never-ending labors endured by slaves, even from the standpoint of a child slave.
A must-read on the history of slavery from women’s perspective is Deborah Gray White’s Arn’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. Slave women had to endure the crushing weight of racism, but also had to deal with sexism as well. White’s book was first published in 1985 and the second edition appeared in 1999, but it is a classic work on the subject of women in slavery.
“In summer time us wore checked dresses made wid low waistes and gathered skirts, but in winter de dresses was made out of linsey-woolsey cloth and underclothes was made out of coarse unbleached cloth. Petticoats had bodice tops and de draw’s was made wid waistes too. Us chllun didn’t know when Sunday come. Our clothes warn’t no diffu’nt den from no udder day. Us wore coarse, heavy shoes in winter, but in summer us went splatter bar feets.
“Marse Thomas was jest as good as he could be, what us knowed of ‘im. Miss Marion, my Mist’ess, she won’t as good to us as Marse Thomas, but she was all right too. Dey had a heap of chillum. Deir twin boys died, and de gals was Miss Callie, Miss Sallie, Miss Marion (dey called her Miss Birdie), and Miss Lucy, det Lucy Cobb Institute was named for. My mudder was Miss Lucy’s nuss. Marse Thomas had a big fine melonial (colonial) house on Prince Avenue wid slave quarters in de back yard of his 10-acre lot. He owned ‘most nigh dat whole block ‘long dar.
“Oh! dey had ‘bout a hundred slaves I’m sho’, for dere was a heap of ‘em. De overseer got ‘em up ‘bout five o’clock in de mornin’ and dat breakfast sho’ had better be ready by seben or else somebody gwine to have to pay for it. Dey went to deir cabins ‘bout ten at night. Marse was good, but he would whup us if we didn’t do right. Miss Marion was allus findin’ fault wid some of us.
“Jesse was de carriage driver. Carriages was called phaetons den. Dey had high seats up in front whar de driver sot, and de white folks sot in de carriage below. Jesse went to de War wid Marse Thomas, and was wid him when he was kilt at Fredericksburg, Virginia. I heard ‘em say one of his men shot ‘im by mistake, but I don’t know if dat’s de trufe or not. I do know dey sho’ had a big grand fun’al ‘cause he was a big man and a general in de War.
“Some of de slaves on Marse Thomas’ place knowed how to read. Aunt Vic was one of de readers what read de Bible. But most of de Niggers didn’t have sense enough to learn so dey didn’t bother wid ‘em. Dey had a church way downtown for de slaves. It was called Landon’s Chapel for Rev. Landon, a white man what preached dar. Us went to Sunday School too. Aunt Vic read de Bible sometimes den. When us jined de chu’ch dey sung: “Amazing Grace How Sweet de Sound.”
“Marse Thomas had lots of slaves to die, and dey was buried in de colored folks cemetery what was on de river back of de Lucas place. I used to know what dey sung at fun’als way back yonder, but I can’t bring it to mind now.
“No Ma’am, none of Marse Thomas’ N*****s ever run away to de Nawth. He was good to his N*****s. Seems like to me I ‘memberrs dem patterrollers run some of Marse Thomas’ N*****s down and whupped ‘em and put ‘em in jail. Old Marse had to git ‘em out when dey didn’t show up at roll call next mornin’.
“Marse Thomas allus put a man or de overseer on a hoss or a mule when he wanted to send news anywhar. He was a big an and had too many slaves to do anything himse’f.
“I ‘spect dey done den lak dey does now, slipped ‘round and got in devilment atter de day’s wuk was done. Marse Thomas was allus havin’ swell elegant doin’s at de big house. De slaves what was house servants didn’t have no time off only atter dinner on Sundays.”