Texas Slave Narrative
Temple "Tempie" Cummins
Tempie Cummins was born at Brookeland, Texas, sometime before the Civil War, but does not know her exact age. William Eeyland owned Temple and her parents. She now lives alone in a small, weather-beaten shack in the South Quarters, a section of Jasper, Tex.
They call me Tempie Cummins and I was born at Brookeland but I don' know jus' the 'xact date. My father's name was Jim Starkins and my mother's name was Charlotte Brooks and both of 'em come from Alabama. I had jus' one brudder, Bill , and four sisters named Margaret and Hannah and Mary and 'Liza . Life was good when I was with then and us play round. Miss Fennie Neyland , she Mis' Phil Scarborough now, she raise me, 'cause I was give to them when I was eight year old. "I slep' on a pallet on the floor. They give me a homespun dress each a year at Christmas time. When company come I had to run and slip on that dress. At other time I wore white chillens' cast-off clothes so wore they was ready to throw away. I had to pin them up with red horse thorns to hide my nakedness. My dress was usually split from hem to neck and I had to wear them till they was strings. Went barefoot summer and winter till the feets crack open. "I never seed my grandparents 'cause my mother she sold in Alabama when she's 17 and they brung her to Texas and treat her rough. At mealtime they hand me a piece or cornbread and tell me 'Run 'long.' Sometime I git little piece of meat and biscuit, 'bout once a month. I gathered up scraps the white chillens lef'. Marster was rough. He take two beech switches and twist them together and whip 'em to a-stub. Many's the time I's bled from them whippin's. Our old mistus, she try to be good to us, I reckon, but she was terrible lazy. She had two of us to wait on her and then she didn' treat us good . Marster had 30 or 40 acres and he raise cotton, and corn and 'tatoes. He used to raise 12 bales cotton a year and then drink it all up. We work from daylight till dark, and after. Marster punish them what didn' work hard enough.
The white chillen tries teach me to read and write but I didn' larn much, 'cause I allus workin'. Mother was workin' in the house, and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen to what the white folks say. When freedom was 'clared, marster wouldn' tell 'em, but mother she hear him tellin' mistus that the slaves was free but they didn' know it and he's not gwineter tell 'em till he makes another crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts. 'I's free, I's free.' Then she runs to the field, 'gainst marster's will and tol' all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her. Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the ravine and gits away with me.
A stout, pleasant faced colored woman, Tempie Cummins , lives alone in a small weather-beaten shack in the South Quarters of Jasper. She wears a clean white apron over a neat print dress, and the cloth on her head almost covers her kinky hair. She has just added to her health and appearance by the acquisition of a full set of false teeth of which she is very proud. But, she says, "I 'spects I'll be payin' on 'em 'til I die. Tempie keeps a few chickens and a cat and kittens for company. She recalls many details of her days of servitude under the Neylands and Brookeland , Texas, near Jasper, but cannot tell her exact age.
Dey call me Tempie Cummins . I was bo'n at Brookeland some time durin' d' wah. I don' know jes de 'zack date. It muster been 'bout 1862 but I don' know fo' sure. My father's name was Jim Starkins an' my mother's name was Charlotte Brooks . Bofe 'r' dem come from Alabama. I had jus' one brudder, Bill Starkins an' fo' (four) sister' name', Mar'gret , Hannah , Mary an' 'Liza . Life was good w'en I was wid dem. Us play' 'roun' an' had a good time an' was good t' one anudder. Miss Fannie Neylan', she Miz Phil Scarborough now, she raise' me. Mother gimme t' dem w'en I was eight year' ol'. I had a hard bringin' up. I slep' on a pallet on d' flo' (floor). Dey gimme a humspun dress onct a year at Crissmus time. W'en comp'ny come I had t' run an' slip on dat dress. At uder time I wo' (wore) d' w'ite chillun's cast-off clo's so wo' dey was ready t' frow away. I had t' pin dem up wid red horse thorns t' hide my nakedness. My dress was us'ully split t' d' neck an' we had t' wear dem 'til dey was strings. Sometime' I wash my dress fo' Sunday, an' sometime I didn'. Neber had no shoes. Went barefeet summer an' winter 'til my feet crack open. Mistus gimme a nice mek gingham dress fo' my weddin' dress, but nuthin' else tho' she allus sayin' she's gwinter. I neber see my gran'parents. Mother was sol' in Alabama w'en she was seventeen, an' dey brung her t' Texas an' treat her rough. I was too young t' wuk an' earn any money durin' d' wah. At meal time dey han' me a piece 'r' ca'n bread, an' tell me t' 'Run long.' Sometime I git a little piece 'r' meat an' a biscuit 'bout onct a mont'. I would gadder up an' eat d' scraps dat d' w'ite chillun lef'. D' slaves neber had time t' mek a gyarden 'r' dey own. I had a rough marster. He tek two beech switches, twist dem togedder an' whip 'em t' a stub. Many's d' time I's bled from dem whippin's. Our ol' mistrus she try t' be good t' us, I reckon but she was turrible lazy. She had two 'r' us t' wait on her an' den she didn' treat us good." "Marster an' Mistrus had nine chillun 'r' dere own. I nuss all 'um 'cept'n two. Will Neylan ' he was d' ol'es' son, an' Mamie Neylan' Patten she d' ol'es' daughter. Dey lib in a nice fo' (four) room house paint' yeller an' green.
Marster had a farm of thutty or fo'ty acres an' kep' from twenty t' fo'ty head 'r' niggers. He raise cotton, co'n, 'taters. He uster raise twelve bales 'r' cotton a year an' den drink it all up. We wuk from daylight 'til dark an' atter. Marster punish dose dat didn' wuk hard 'nuf. I neber saw no slaves sold, an' neber saw none in chains. Marster's w'ite chillun tried t' teach me t' read an' write, but I's forgot mos' 'r' it. I kin write my name w'en I tries. D' slaves had no chu'ch 'r' dey own. Sometime d' grown slaves went t' chu'ch at Gilgal, nor'wes' 'r' Jasper. Mistus she read d' Bible t' her chillun on Sunday an' I listen w'ile holdin' d' baby an' got a knowledge of God. I went t' chu'ch on'y twict w'ile I was growin' up. D' fus' time I went t' see my mother baptize' but dey put off d' baptisin'. Den I went ag'in w'en she were baptized. I don' 'member any slave songs. My mother she run 'way onct but dey got her back. Mother was d' house girl. She say she uster hide in d' chimney corner an' lissen t' w'at d' w'ite folks say. W'en freedom was 'clared, d' marster wouldn' tell 'em. But mother hear him tellin' Mistus dat d' slaves was all free now, but dey didn' know it, an' 'I not gwinter tell 'em 'til I mek anudder crop 'r' two.' Mother an' anudder woman had babies, an' one nuss bofe 'r' dem in d' mawnin' an' d' udder at noon an' so on. W'en Mother hear she was free, she say she slip out 'r' d' chimney corner, crack her heels togedder fo' (four) times shoutin', 'I's free. I's free.' Den she run t' d' fiel' gainst d' marster's will, an' tol' all d' udder slaves an' dey quit wuk.' Den she run 'way an' lef' me, her baby. All dat night I yell, dey say. Dere was a big ravine near d' house, an' she slip back dat night, an' sign t' d' udder woman w'at had a baby t' bring me t' her. But marster he come out wid his gun an' shot at Mother an' she run off again. Nex' night she come back ag'in, an' jus' as she tuk me out d' woman's arms, Marster shot ag'in an' jus' miss her head, but she run wid me down d' ravine an' git away.
Atter wuk hours, d' slaves had t' wash dere clo's, cook an' any udder wuk fo' deyse'fs. Dey didn' hab much t' eat. On Sundays dey gib dem a little pan 'r' meal, a little piece 'r' meat, an' a oyster can 'r' syrup, an' dey bettah not ax fo' no mo' 'til d' nex' week. Dey had t' wuk Sat'day atternoon an' be in bed by nine o'clock. My husban' come from Ga'gia. Said he nevah was whip' dere. Dey had hol'days on Crissmus, New Year's Day an' Fo'th 'r' July, w'en dey had a big barb'cue an' d' darkies dance all night. Befo' freedom, dey didn' hab no cullud weddin's, dey jus' put a couple togedder an' let 'em raise a fam'ly W'en I was a chile we play all kinds 'r' games. We like t' ketch d' lightnin' bugs an' put dem in bottles. We uster play 'William Trimbletoe,' an' sing: "William Trimbletoe, He a good fisherman; He ketch his hens, An' put dem in pens. Some lay eggs An some lay none." I see lots 'r' ghostes w'en I was young. I couldn' sleep fo' dem. Mother uster tell me if I didn' go sleep she paddle me. I's kinda outgrowed dem now. But one time, my younges' boy an' me was comin' ober t' d' Souf Quarters t' chu'ch. Right near d' dippin' vat is two big gates. W'en we git 'bout dem gates, out come a big ol' w'ite ox, wid long legs and long horns. W'en he git 'bout half way 't us, he turn' t' a man wid a Pan'ma hat on, an' a seersucker coat slung ober he lef' sho'der. He follers us t' d' Sandy Creek bridge. W'en he git close my boy he say, 'Good ebenin',' De ghos' he didn' say nuthin' but went back in d' woods. W'en we git furder on we hear a woman scream, 'O, my mamma's gone, my mamma's gone.' I say, 'Yes, some w'ite folks dyin' an' dat's d' spirit come fo' her.' Sometime at night I see dat same spirit sittin' on dat Sandy Creek bridge yit. I hab seen people walkin' 'roun' d' house in long gowns 'til I couldn' sleep. "My ol' man said, in slavery time, in fodder-pullin' time w'en he was twenty-one, he had t' pass a place w'er d' patterroles whipped d' slaves an' had kilt some dere. He was a sittin' on a big load 'r' fodder an' right w'ere he had t' thru' two gates, dere come a big light, wavin' down d' road an' scarin' d' team. D' hosses drag him an' 'bout near kilt him. Said dat sho' was d' spirits. "I don' 'member none 'r' d' wuk songs. I tuk care 'r' d' little w'ite chillun an' uster sing dem t' sleep wid: 'Go tell Aunty Nancy, Go tell Aunt Nancy, Go tell Aunt Nancy, Her ol' gray goose is dead. D' one she was savin' D' one she was savin' D' one she was savin' T' mek a feather bed.' "Boss an' Mistus look atter d' slaves w'en dey was sick.
W'en I was eight I uster slip out an' eat d' dirt out 'r' d' chimbly 'til I got a hole 'could mos' crawl troo (through). Marse tol' me it would kill me but I wouldn' stop. Ol' Doctor Neylan ' he put sumpthin' on d' chumbly an' I see d' green flies blowin' it. I git a stick an' rake' off w'at he put on it an' et d' dirt anyhow Den he whip' me good. Said, 'Bu'n you, I will stop your.' So he go t' town an' git sumthin' else an' smear dat on d' chimbly. Atter I git up, I et mo' dirt an' den he gib me castor oil an' turpentine ebery time he ketch me an' dat broke me Bill Cummins , dat was my husban', he was twenty-one durin' d' wah. He haul bread t' d' sojers fo' we was marry. He had been marry befo' an' had five chillun. We was marry w'en I was sebenteen. Us had a good weddin'. Uncle Bud Adams he marry us down d' country toward Beech Grove. I hab had ten chillun. His fus' wife's mother raise' his fus' chillun. I hab twelve gran' chillun, an' two great-gran' chillun. Babe Rawl's wife is my ol'es'. She wash fo' a libin'. Arlie , libin' in Call, Texas, she wash too. George Cummins wuks at d' mill at Call. Cora is marry an' libes in Goose Creek. Hab anudder boy in Beaumont unloadin' ship. Hab a gal in San Augustine, d' mother 'r' seben boys an' one gal. Won't she hab help? Seymour an' Jane libes up No'th. My youn'es' boy is marry lately an' gone t' Roganville t' buil' him a house." "I hopes dem pictures w'at you's takin' is good 'cause I want one t' sen' t' each 'r' dem chillun.