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Texas Slave Narrative

  William Irving

This story of a slave born in the days of antebellum tells of life in the quarters, and some of his personal experiences and memories of the Civil War. I was born in Walker County, near de town of La Fayette, Georgia, in de year 1850. I was one of four chillun. My mother was a slave of Tom Martin in North Carolina. He brought her to Georgia an' sold her to Judge Easterling who later bought me. My father was a slave of Tom White , from whom he took his name. He was sold w'en he was a young man to Judge Easterling , de man who bought my mother, an' so they lived together an raised a fambly of four chillun, three girls, an' one boy, I was de boy.

My first 'membrance was livin on Judge Easterlin's place, an' seeing him going in his buggy an' on horse-back to La Fayette to his office. We lived in de quarters. Dey was log cabins, built of de logs dat was cut from de big trees, an' de cracks was chinked wid clay. We lived about fifty or a hundred yards from de big house whar de Judge lived. De overseer lived between de cabins, an' de Judge's house. He was a white man, an' de Judge had him to tell us what to do an' to see dat hit was done. If de slaves did'nt work, or if dey run away, de overseer set de dogs on dem or had de patty-rolles to ketch dem. De patty-rollers was somthin' like w'at dey call de law here. Hit was dey business to ketch de run-a-way slaves an' others who had done something dey needed to be taken to de law for. W'en dey ketch de run-a-way nigger, dey lock him up, or de overseer whip him. How de slaves was treated depended on de kind of man de owner was, an' de overseer; if de owner was a good man, as a rule he saw dat de slaves was treated right, although sometimes de overseer did not always let de owner know all he did wid de slaves. W'en our white folks went to church dey always carried some of de slaves an' dey sit on de back seat at de church. We always belong to de same church de Massa's folks belong to. W'en de slaves go away from de plantation, dey takes dey passes to show dey has de permission of de owner to be away. De white folks raise corn, cotton, wheat, rye, barley, oats, hogs, sheep, cattle, an' fruit, an' vegetables. De hogs run wild in de woods. Dey had some wild game like dey has in Texas but not so much. But we had so many creeks an' rivers, dey was plenty of fish. De wimmen would knit, spin an' weave on de loom. Durin' de Civil War, w'en de ports was blockaded, dey had to make dey own clothes. De slave wimmen would help in de fiel's, an' plow, hoe, pick cotton, an' pile de brush for de men to burn. Dis is de way we was livin w'en de Civil war broke out. We was livin' a happy life, an' our Master was kind an' good to us. We never thought about any 'sonsibility of how de money was to cum from. We would have been satisfied to live dis way de rest of our lives.

Our master did not trade de slaves very much; an' w'en dey traded dem, dey most always trade to some one dat live close by, or some town not very far away. He usually let de chillun stay wid dey mammy till dey was big enough to be taken away. He did not like to let us go, an' hit was w'en he needed de money bad, dat he would sell one of de slaves. I 'member w'en Judge Easterling took my mammy, my pappy an' myself jes fore de war, to Greensboro, an' put us on de auction block, an' sold us. De auction block was in front of de Court House. He sold my mammy to a man by de name of Lewis Lundy . I does not know who he sold my daddy to; an' he sold me to a man named David Irvin . De man I took my name from. I lived wid dis man until freedom. I worked wid him at his shoe shop, an' helped him make shoes for de soljers. My new Master took me an' went down to Crawfordsville, Georgia whar I worked for him, an' he paid me every Saturday night. W'en freedom cum he called me an' told me I was free. An' as my mammy was old, an' needed me, I went back to Greensboro, an' stayed wid her until I married an' had a fambly of my own. Mr. Irvin paid twenty-one-hundred dollars for me, because I knew how to help him in his business, an he had a good business making shoes for de government. W'en de war cum, he makes de shoe for de rebel soljers, an' de Confederacy pays him. We made de shoes out of leather, an' he taught me how to patch dem. W'en de blockade was on, an' hit was hard to git de leather, we buy de hides, w'en dey kill de beeves for de army, an' at de markets, an' make de shoes wid hit. W'en I lived at Crawfordsville, I lived in a few blocks of Alexander H. Stephens , de Vice President of de Confederacy, an' I knew him well. I has made shoes for him, an' his body servant, Henry Stephens took care of his home, an' w'en Mr. Stephens was away he looked after his things an' would tell us all about his Master w'en he would git a letter. Dat is how I know so much more about de war, dan I would have. Alexander H. Stephens was a little man, an' old bachelor. He had a very high-pitched voice, but he was one of de smartest men dat Georgia ever sent to public office. I always knew w'en he was at home, an' I would mos' always see him. Sometimes he would tell us about de war, an' what dey was doin'. He was for States Rights first; an' dey say had a big debate wid a big man by de name of Toombs in Georgia, befo' Georgia seceded, Stephens was agin' Georgia secedin' an Toombs was for hit. After dis, Georgia seceded any how an Alexander Stephens went wid his State. He always put de State first, an' de day dat Georgia seceded, he cums home, an' cusses dem out for seceding but in a few days he goes back an' takes de oath to de Confederacy wid Georgia. Dis was de nineteenth of January, 1861.

All de folks dat has studies de history of de Civil War know dat six states delegates met in Montgomery, Alabama on de 4th day of Febuary, to organize a new Confederate Government. Texas cums in an' made de seventh state, but dey did not git to Montgomery in time for dem to be represented w'en dey organized. Dey called hit de "Provisional Government of de Confederate States of America", an' dey elected Jeff Davis of Missippi de President, an' Alexander H. Stephens de Vice President, an' de folks in de little town of Crawfordsville was so proud dat all dat could git dar went to see him inaugurated. On de evening of Saturday de 16th of February, Mr. Davis git to Montgomery, an' Mr. Yancy presents him to de cheerin' crowd wid dese words  De man an' de hour have met,  Monday was de day for de inauguration. W'en dey waitin', dis Monday mornin' for de inauguration, de military companies paraded all over de city. Dey was a good many military companies in de city, some was passin thro' an some was jes organized. De military guards from Colombus, Georgia puts on a drill, an dey fires de signal for de parade to start. An' here dey cums, first de infantry soljers, some was wearin red jackets, bottle green jackets, an' gray jackets den cums de calvary wid dey gleamin swords an' bayonets, an' de bands. Den cum's de President Jeff Davis , an' de Vice President, our own Alexander H. Stephens , in a carriage drawn by six beautiful gray horses. W'en dey reach de capitol dey is sworn into office by Howell Cobb of Georgia, as de President an Vice President of de Provisional Government, but after de war has been goin on for some time dey moves de capitol to Richmon' an' in a year, dey has another Inauguration. Dey calls hit now de "Permanent Government of de Confederacy." W'en dey has de second inauguration for de permanent government of de Confederacy, dey has hit on George Washington's birthday, de 22nd of February 1862. Dis one was in Virginia, but de folks from Alexander Stephens, an' Jeff Davis home towns was there, only more of dem dis time. De procession was a bigger one, an' more like a sure nuff inauguration. Dey marched from de House of Delegates of Virginia jes befo' noon, an' went thro de snow, across Capitol Park, to de statue of Washington whar dey had de inauguration. How we did wish dat we could all go from de little town de Vice President cum's from; but dey tell us 'bout dis one too, an' dis was for six years an' dey did not serve but 'bout half, an' de Confederacy was no more. Dis procession was headed by de Grand Marshall an' his aides, an' by de Committees dat has de arrangments of hit; den cum's President Davis, an' his new President of de Senator, an' behin' dis, cum's our little Alexander H. Stephens wid his partner, de Speaker of de House of Representatives. Den cum's de cabinet, an' dat is all I kin think of. Us niggers does not keep up wid dem all, but we still keeps up wid Mr. Davis an' Stephens. I has heard dem talk 'bout Mr. Reagan from Texas since I cum's to Texas. He was de Postmaster General, an' I 'members 'bout him too, in dis way, dat durin de war, we hears de folks talkin all de time 'bout how hard hit is to buy stamps. Hit was five cents for a letter, an' den dey could not git a stamp half de time. Yer see de Yankees took de stamps an' everything dat de government at Washington had furnished de postmasters away from all de ones dat had dey offices in de Confederacy.

Kin I tell yer 'bout any of de battles? I heard de guns firing at de battle of Chickamauga. Yer see I was helpin' ter make de shoes for de soljers, an' we went to take dem some, an' w'en we git to La Fayette, Georgia whar I used to live, not far from Chickamauga Creek, General Bragg had fallen back to LaFayette, an' was waitin for de rest of his re-enforcements to cum, is de way I 'members hit. We see de rebel cumin' to join Braggs army, an' we kin hear dem singin songs, some of dem like dis one, Our wagon is de very bes, de runnin' gear is good, Stuffed round de sides wid cotton, an' made of piney woods, Carolina is de driver, wid Georgia by her side, Virginia holds de flag up, while we all take a ride. Oh wait for de wagon, wait for de wagon, Wait for de wagon, an' we'll all take a ride." Dis was in de autumn of 1863, an' w'en de Yankees see dat Bragg has fallen back towards La Fayette, dey thin's at first he is retreatin', but he follows dem, an' dey has de battle of Chickamauga, in de valley of dis creek, dat de Indians used to call de "River of Death". Jes as de rebels had de Yankees all runnin' every which way, de Yankee General Thomas stopped dem. President Davis cum's to see why Bragg did'nt follow de Yankees w'en dey was retreatin' but no one ever did know. We is at our old Masters', Judge Easterling , an' w'en de rebels retreated from de battle of Lookout Mountain, he is skeered de Yankees will cum after de retreatin' rebels, an he has us to hitch up de teams to de old wagons, an' pile everything in dem, an' he refuged to Greensboro. W'en de battle of Chickamauga was goin' on for three days, we could hear de poppin' of de guns, an' de sound of de canon as dey go, boom, boom, boom, wid a stop long enough to load again w'en dey is empty. Dey sounded like de tollin of de bells. I kin 'member how dey camp fires shone on de mountain befo' de battle of Chattanooga. Far away, we kin see de smoke from de fires, and de fires dat light de distant hilltops as dey brightened up de whole country. De way de Yankees scaled old Lookout Mountain, and broke de rebels lines dat caused dem to start dey retreat, was one of de biggest things dey did. Dey own Generals was surprised dat dey goes on to de top, dey had orders, hit seemed to keep dem busy fightin whilst de Yanks in some other point was doin' dey part, but up dey went, an dey did'nt stop until dey gits to de top. I thinks hit was ole Joe Hooker dat took dis mountain, an' anyway w'en dey did, de people in de valley's thought hit was time to git out of de way of de Yankee's, an' dat is w'en Judge Easterlin ' refugeed to Greensboro. While dey was a fightin over in Chattanooga, de folks back in Georgia was in a wrangle over keepin Hood in de state to try to stop General Shermans march on Atlanta. Seems dat Bragg or some of de Generals wanted Hood, but General Sherman on de Yankee side was doin' plenty of harm in Georgia. I kin 'member w'en his army passed by on his March to Atlanta, dey burned all de barns, an' took all de corn dey could carry an' did'nt leave de people anything, befo' dey git to Atlanta. We lived close by whar he passed on dis march. General Hood finally decides to go up in Tennessee to try to draw Gen. Sherman after him to git him out of Georgia, but Sherman does not follow him an' w'en he burns de city of Atlanta, dey leave hit wid de bands a playin; an' de city burnin', dey soljers singing  John Browns' Body.  Dis was de beginning of de march through Georgia dat dey was to write de song about, "Marchin' Through Georgia". Dis is a very beautiful song but hit does not tell about de homes dat was burned, an' de cold an' de hunger. I jes mus' tell yer er little 'bout Hood from Texas, dat had been in Georgia, an' made his raid in Tennessee to try to draw Sherman off. Dey say he had a little success an' was camped for long time aroun Nashville, an' de Yankees finally attacked him, an' won de battle, an' he had to retreat to de Tennessee River. His soljers was ragged an' bloody dey say, an' widout food, w'en de Yankees was following dem, dey had to put de infantry men in de wagon for dey feet was barefooted an' dey had to stop long enough fer dem to skin a mule or cow dat had been killed to get de hide to make dey sandals. Dey even took dey felt hats, if dey had any, to make moccasons for dey feet. Wid all dis, dey was so rejoiced w'en dey git back across de river dey sing a song dey made up to de tune of de "Yellow Rose of Texas." Dis was jes three days befo' Christmas, an' dey feel almos' like dey is gittin back to Texas, for most of dem was Texas boys. Dis is de song: And now I'm goin southward, For my heart is full of woe I'm goin' back to Georgia, To find my Uncle Joe , Uncle Joe " was Joe Johnston an officer the southern soljers loved You may sing about your dearest maid, And sing of Rosalie, But de gallant Hood of Texas, Played Hell in Tennessee. Dis was Christmas, 1863. De war news was all dat we talked about. De Yankees destroyed de salt mines at Saltville, whar de Confederate salt supply was, but dey tried to caputre Fort Fisher de Fort dat guarded Cape Fear River entrance, de entrance to de port of Wilmington, whar de ships can cum an' bring supplies, but dey failed. General Butler exploded a powder ship dat was towed along by de fort but hit did'nt do any bad damage.

Some more soljers for de rebels made de Yankees retreat. Dis was one sign of good luck for de rebels, for Wilmington was de last port open for dem to git dey supplies, an' hit was saved a little longer, an' dis gave dem somethin to be thankful for dat Christmas. De last year of de war de Confederate Government talked about lettin' de slaves fight wid dem. De slaves dat had not run away wanted to do dis. Dey claim dat de Yankees had two hundred thousand niggers fightin for dem, an' de slaves dat stayed wid dey Masters said dey had rather fight for dey Masters dan for strangers. President Davis an' some of de Governors wanted Congress to free de slaves for fightin, but some how dey never did do anything in Congress about hit. In some places dey did have dem to work on de breastworks when dey have dem whar dey could use dem. In most of de rebel army whar de young boys dat was slaves could be spared from home, dey went wid dey young master, an' cooked an' waited on dem, dey was dey body guards. By dis time I is back at Crawfordsville, workin' for my Master in de shoe factory, an' we hears a lot of talk about peace. Alexander Stephens is tryin' to git de Confederate Government to call a convention of de states, an' try to work out somthin' 'bout a new plan for de government. Den dey has de Hampton Roades Conference. De Confederacy send Stephens , an' two others to meet de President Lincoln, an' his Secretary Seward, but de President Lincoln would not agree to stop de war unless de Confederacy have de rebels to disband, an' free de slaves, so dat put an' end to de peace conference, an' dey jes fight on, w'en hit looked like dey was jes a waistin dey time, an' de lives of de ones in de battles, for de Yankees jes had de rebels already whipped so hit looked to mos' of de South.

Yes, Maam, I lived thro de reconstruction days, but I had tolk yer enough, I does not believe de South would have had such a hard time in dem days if Lincoln had been living. De folks aroun' me begin to cum to Texas after de war, an' some of my neighbors tell Mr. J. R. Collier , who used to live at Mumford, Texas, about me. An' he sends me three hundred an' fifty dollars to move my family, an' cum to Texas to work for him. I cum's an' brings dem, an' works for him for a good many years on his farms. He later moved to Waco, Texas whar he died. I is eighty seven years old, an' had lived to see many changes in the times, an' in my own life as well as de lives of other people. I has often been homesick for Georgia, but hit has been a good place to live in Texas an' mos' of de old folks dat I knew, is done gone on to de future life. Dey is lots dat I has seen in Texas, but dat is another story.