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Texas Slave Narrative

  Jake Desso

Infectious laughter, scaling from a chuckling giggle to an incoherent guffaw, and combined with expressive movements of hands, eyebrows, and shoulders, make the good humor of Jake Desso contagious. His most striking characteristic is not his stooped spare body, nor his dragging feet, but his immense capacity for enjoying his own jokes and those of others. His red-rimmed eyes, despite a definite weakness, are alert and twinkling. Jake was a slave on the Colonel Floyd place in Duncan Woods, Orange County, but has been in Beaumont since his early boyhood.

I's bo'n on d' tent' 'r' May in 1863, sixteen mile' down d' ribber on d' Kunnel Floyd place in Duncan Woods. I dunno iffen you knows w'ere dat is but it ober in Orange County. Kunnel Floyd he was my marster. He hab a long, long ol' gray beard. Us chillen uster pull he whiskers fo' play but he didn' care. He laf' much's us did. Ol' marster hab two boys name Pres 'n' Charley . He hab lots 'r' uder slaves cep'n' me 'n' my brudders 'n' sisters. He hab my uncle 'n' aunt 'n' five cousin'. One dem cousin' still libin' ober at Orange. He d' ol'es' slave man w'at was bo'n in Orange county still libin' dere. He name' Andrew Moody . My daddy, he come from South Ca'lina. He name was David Desso . He uster be call David Floyd sometime' cause in dem day dey call d' slave by he marster' name. My mama' name was Jane . She come from Va'ginny. My daddy was a wagoner in slav'ry time. He drove t'ree (three) yoke 'r' oxen all d' time. He uster haul freight from Powder Ho'n (Horn ) t' Victoria. Mama she wuk d' loom 'n' weave d' clo'f fo' d' w'ite folks." My ol'es' brudder he lib in Wiergate now. He call hisse'f jis' Jeff Davis . He say dat he name 'n' dat d' name he gwine by, but it ain'. He sho' 'nuf name's Jeff Davis Desso . Dey gib him d' uder name befo' freedom. Dey was a practicin' him t' be a kerrige driber w'en freedom come, 'n' he ain' git ober bein' stuck up yit. I neber done nuthin' in dis worl' 'til I's mos' twe' year' ol'. Mos' I eber done was sorter look atter d' cows 'n' caffs 'n' eat clabber 'n' co'n bread 'n' 'lasses. Jis' po' (pour) d' 'lasses 'n' co'n bread in d' clabber 'n' go t' eatin'. Den I lay dere 'n' go t' sleep like a li'l pig in my shu't (shirt) tail. D' li'l niggers didn' wear no pants den, jis' dey shu't. W'en I wake up Marse John he say, 'Come on Jake , ain' you want some mo' clabber.

We uster play marble' w'en I was li'l. We'd jis' 'bout wear us fingers off shootin' d' marbles. Den nuder t'ing us uster play was t' git t'ree (three) li'l stakes 'n' sharp' dem on one en'. Den us hop t'ree hop 'n' eb'ry time us tek a hop us stick a stake down. Den dat see w'ich one mek d' mos' w'er his stake was. Den d' nex' he hop 'n' see w'at he mek. Us all seed w'ich could git d' stakes d' fusdes' (farthest) Sometime' us go out in d' woods 'n' fin' a nice size saplin'. Us ben' it ober 'n' see w'ich one kin hol' it down d' longes'. Sometime it git too hard t' hol' down 'n' den it fly up, 'bloop,' in d' air. 'N' iffen you didn' tu'n it loose in time, up you go wid it up in d' air.  Kunnel Floyd he neber whip he niggers. He was good t' dem. Dey was a man close by do' (though) dat was sho' mean t' he niggers. He whip dem 'n' one time one 'r' his niggers come 'long limpin'. He say he marster done cut d' leader in he leg so's he cain' run 'way. My marster say dat a man w'at treat' he niggers like dat orter be kill' 'n' he shore cuss him. Sometime dat uder marster mek niggers tek a darky w'at he mad at 'n' put he head down 'n' stick him in d' mud. Den w'en dey tek him outn' d' mud d' marster spit t'baccy juice in d' darky' face 'n' mouf' (mouth). Dat mek Marse Floyd cuss him some mo'. He say iffen he could he sho' kill him. Lots 'er time' he niggers run offn' come t' Kunnel Floyd . Kunnel Floyd tek keer 'r' dem sometime' long time 'n' gi' 'em (give them) sum'n' t' eat he so sorry fo' dem. Co'se he niggers hafter be in hidin'.

Dey uster come t' Beaumont up d' riber in a big skiff. Dey load it wid watermillion 'n' sugar cane 'n' sich. Dey hab long oar' 'n' niggers in d' skiff t' paddle d' oar'. Dey mek raffs, 'n' tek d' lumber t' Beaumont 'n' sell dem. Cotton was put on a sail boat dere 'n' sen' down t' Galveston   Us lib in a log house in slav'ry time'. Dey daub mud in d' crack 'tween d' logs. Den dey mek bo'd (boards) outn' log wid a maul 'n' a frow 'n' nail d' bo'd ober d' mud t' keep dem from fall out. D' w'ite folks hab a smoke house too, w'ere dey smoke meat. It sho' was black 'n' shiny in dere from smokin' d' meat so long. It was so shiny like a lookin' glass, you could' jis' 'bout see youse'f in it. Dey mek bo'd wid a frow 'n' maul 'n' draw knife, 'n' mek shingles outn' dem. Dey uster hab a big time at chimly daubin's. Dey buil' a big chimly outn' sticks. Folks on d' groun' dey fix up d' mud 'n' mek a big mudcat fo' t' daub on d' chimly. Den dose on d' groun' t'row it up t' d' mens w'ats buil'in' d' chimly. Dey sing a kinder song 'bout it w'en dey wuk but I done fo'git d' words. Dat night dey hab a big dance 'n' plenty t' eat 'n' drink. At d' dance dey hab a man t' call d' parts, 'Swing yo' corner, 'n' 'yo' pardner.' Den dey sorter sing fo' d' dancin'. Dey dance by d' singin'. Dey sing: 'My ol' mistus promise me, Shoo a la a day, W'en she die she set me free, Shoo a la a day. She lib so long 'til her head git bal' (bald) Shoo a la a day. She gib up d' idea 'r' dyin' a-tall, Shoo a la a day. Dey hab d' dancin' fo' d' young folks cause dey like d' 'citement 'r' dat. Dey hab cake 'n' coffee 'n' whiskey.  I 'member one time at d' dance I sho' git drunk. Me 'n' my brudder was out 'side 'r' d' house 'n' us seed dem hidin' d' whiskey bottle under d' step. Us git us some. I git so drunk I jis' manage t' git back outn' d' house. Outside I put my han' on d' wall 'r' d' house 'n' jis' walk. I ain' neber tu'n loose 'r' dat wall 'til daylight. I skeered iffen I lef' dat wall I fall down. I would 'r' of too. Den would my mama 'r' bresh my shu't tail. She wouldn' stan' fo' dat. Dey say, 'Jake , why don' you come in d' house. Come 'way from dat wall.' I say, 'No, I ain' tired.' But d' real reason I's skeer' t' leabe d' wall fo' fear I fall down. Us uster watch dem all time t' see w'er dey hide d' whiskey. Sometime dey put it in d' co'n crib 'r' under d' house 'r' no tellin' w'er. Den me 'n' my brudder go kotch us a 'roun'. My daddy lib t'ree year' atter freedom on Sabine Riber. He cut down dem ol' cypress log 'n' mek shingle. I stay 'roun' wid d' w'ite folks do' (though) 'n' didn' see much dif'rence 'bout freedom.Dey uster tell d' story 'bout two men in slav'ry time go t'roo a crack in d' co'n fiel' fence 'n' steal lots 'r' roas'in' yers (roasting ears). W'en dey gwine home dey pass by a grabeyard wid a big high fence 'roun' it. 'N' dey 'cide t' go in d' grabeyard 'n' 'vide out d' co'n. Dey drap two years (ears) by d' gate. 'Twarn' long befo' a nigger b'longin' t' d' ol' man w'at own d' lan' come by. He yere (hear) dem men in d' grabeyard say, 'You tek one 'n' I tek one,' 'n' he lit out 'n' run t' tell d' ol' marster dat d' Lawd 'n' d' Debbil in d' grabeyard 'vidin' out d' souls. Ol' marster say, 'I sho' wanter yere (hear) dat but I ain' able t' walk fo' twenty year'. You got 'r' tote me. D' nigger say, 'Ol' marster, I tote you.' So he tote him t' d' grabeyard gate 'n' he say, 'Sho' 'pears like you is right.' Well, 'bout dat time d' men wid d' co'n 'bout finish' dey 'vidin'. Dey on'y got two roas'n' yers lef'. Den one 'r' dem say, 'Well, now I tek dese two w'ats lef' 'n' you tek dem two w'ats ober by d' gate.' Right den dat nigger he drap he marster 'n' light out up d' hill t' d' house wuss'r' dan a skeered rabbit mekkin' fo' d' briar patch. W'en he git dere he ju'k d' gate open 'n' w'en he start t' shet it he yere he marster say right behin' him, 'Don' you shot dat gate, nigger, I's right yere too.' 'N' dat sump'n' cause dat ol' marster he ain' been strong 'nuf t' tek a step in twenty year.

One time ol' Bre'r Fox wanter git Bre'r Rabbit so he go'd t' Bre'r Elefant 'n' tell him t' mek out liken' he dead. Den he figure he git Bre'r Rabbit t' come t' see d' dead 'n' dey kotch him. So Bre'r Elefant lay down like he dead 'n' Bre'r Fox sot out fo' t' fin' Bre'r Rabbit. W'en he seed Bre'r Rabbit he say, 'Bre'r Rabbit, Bre'r Elefant he done die.' So Bre'r Rabbit pick up he walkin' stick 'n' start ober t' d' house w'er Bre'r Elefant 'spose'n' t' be dead. W'en he git dere he sorter put d' stick ag'in Bre'r Elefant, but Bre'r Elefant didn' move. Den Bre'r Rabbit say, 'W'en my daddy die he gib a long groan.' Den d' elefant he gib a big deep groan. Bre'r Rabbit he lit out 'n' he holler back 'Goo'bye, gennelmen, I neber yere (hear) no dead man groan. "One time Bre'r Rabbit he brag 'roun' dat Bre'r Fox uster be he ridin' hoss. W'en Bre'r Fox yere (hear) dat, he git so mad he go right off t' Bre'r Rabbit 'n' he say he gotta prove it fo' d' people he been tell it t'. Bre'r Rabbit he let out a groan 'n' say, 'O, Bre'r Fox, I so sick.' Bre'r Fox say, 'I don' keer. I gwinter tek you 'n' mek you prove your word. Iffen you so sick I tote you on my back.' Bre'r Rabbit say, "I fall off iffen I don' hab a bridle t' hol' t'. So Bre'r Fox he put d' bridle on. Den he say, 'I kain't set on your back 'thout no saddle t' set on.' Den Bre'r Rabbit say he kain' set stiddy in d' saddle atter Bre'r Fox put it on iffen he don' hab he spurs on t' keep him from slidin' too far t' one side 'r' 'tother. So den he put on spurs 'n' dey start. Den w'en dey git dere Bre'r Rabbit pull tight on d' reins 'n' say 'Giddup,' 'n' he stick he spur in Bre'r Fox 'n' ride him all 'roun' d' house 'n' tell dem, 'I tol' you Bre'r Fox uster be my saddle hoss 'n' I ride up yere 'n' all 'roun' fo' t' show you.  One time dey was a man w'at uster wuk he hoss all day 'n' ride him all night 'n' ain' neber gi' 'im (give him) nuthin' t' eat. So one day w'en he wukkin' d' hoss 'n' d' hoss tu'n 'roun' 'n' say t' 'im (to him), 'W'at fo' you wuk me all day 'n' ride me all night 'n' ain' neber gimme nuthin' t' eat? Dat git dat man so scare' he lit out 'n' run t' d' house t' tell d' ol' lady. He dog run 'long wid him 'n' he go 'long in d' house wid him. Soon's he git he bre'f (breath) he say t' d' ol' lady, 'Dat d' fus' time I eber yere (hear) a hoss talk t' a man.' Den d' dog he up 'n' say, 'Yessir, dat d' fus' time I eber did yere a hoss talk t' a man.' Den d' cat w'at was jis' settin' dere sunnin' herse'f she say, 'N' dat's d' fus' time I eber yere a dog talk t' a man.' Den d' ol' lady she say, 'Dat's d' fus' time I eber yere a cat talk t' a man.' But d' man he ain' yere w'at she say cause he done lit out 'n' lef'. I dunno w'at come 'r' dat feller cause w'en he lef' he ain' neber come back. Bout nine year atter d' war I lef' Duncan Woods 'n' come t' Beaumont. I uster wuk fo' Mister Johnnie Gilbert 'n' den later fo' Mister Johnnie Keith. Dey git me t' run erran's 'n' tek messages 'n' sich fo' dem. Dey uster wuk in d' sto' (store) 'n' I help dem dere too. Dey kep' me purty well dress' up. Sometime dey gimme new shoes. I jis' put dem new shoe on 'n' dey go 'squeak, squeak,' eb'ry time I tek a step. I go walkin' big wid dem on down d' street. Dem uder niggers dey look at me 'n' I say, 'Yere (here) I is comin' 'long wid dem cryin' shoes on. I git marry in 1886 'n' we part' in 1895. I ain' been marry since. I jis' been a bach'lor kinder. Us hab two chillen but dey bofe dead now. I got a gran'daughter right yere in Beaumont. She was a-libin' yere nine year befo' I knowed anyt'ing 'bout her.