Search billions of records on

Texas Slave Narrative

  Harry Johnson

Harry Johnson , age 86, whose real name is Jim , was born in Missouri where he was stolen by Harry Fugot at the approximate age of five and taken to Arkansas. He was given the name of Harry and remained with Fugot til near the close of the Civil War. Fugot sold him to Graham for 1,200 acres of land and he was brought to Texas to Coryell County, then to Calwell County, working in Texas two years before finding out that the slaves were free. He later went to McMullen County to work cattle, but eventually spent all of his time rearing ten white children. At the age of fifty-nine, he was married in Pearsall, where he is now living.

I come from Missouri to Arkansas, den to Coryell County in Texas. I was first owned by Louis Barker and my name was Jim Johnson but Harry Fugot stole me an' run me out to dis country an' changed my name to Harry . He stole me from Mississippi County in the south'n part of Missouri down close to de line of Missouri an' Arkansas. I was a boy twelve years old. De war lasted three or four years, so I was about fo'teen of fifteen when de war was over. Harry Fugot kept me till de war was about over, den sold me. He got twelve hundred acres of land for me when he sold me. My mother's name was Judie an' married a man by de name of Miller . My mother had three or four chillun, but ever' one of 'em died but me. When I wasn't big enough to pack a chip, Old Man Louis Barker wouldn't take four-hun'erd dollars for me. He said he wanted to make an overseer out of me. My mother an' me belonged to de same man an' he kep' her till I was about five or six years old an' den he sold her to a man named Miller . My daddy went off durin' de war. He was carried off wid de soldiers. He never did come back. After dat night, dat was de last we ever hyeard tell of 'im. Louis Barker had fo' or five grown slaves; about two families. Dey was about thirty or forty acres in de plantation in Missouri but I aint certain about it. You see, I'll tell you how it was when I was little. De old man dat owned me died an' I was jes' hired out from place to place. I was nothin' but a kid an' de man dat hired me put me to doin' anything he wanted me to do. I was hired out by de year. Once, I know, dey paid fifty dollars for me. I was small, but I done ever'thing dey was to do. I could do ever'thing an' help about de house too. As de ol' sayin' is, I was 'jack-of-all-trades an' good at nothin'.' I lived wid my mother til I was good sized, about ten or twelve, I guess. Den I was stole from her. She never did know what become of me. De man dat owned her took her and went to de no'th. He was a no'then man, but he was afraid to take me. I haven't heard of her but one time since.

Oh, my stars! I've seen hun'erds an' tousan's of soldiers durin' de war. No'then soldiers, what we called Yankees. Dey was marchin' goin' to battle an' drillin'. I've seen 'em strung out, I reck'n, a half-mile long, goin' to battle two an' three deep. Dey never did destroy any homes. Dey took off a little stuff. I went to mill one day an' had about five sacks of meal an' de soldiers come along an' taken me, meal an' all. Dey took three sacks an' sent me on. De maddest woman I ever saw was dat day. De soldiers come an' drove off her cows. She tol' 'em not to drive her cows off, dat her husban' was fightin an' she had to make a livin' off dem cows, but de cap'n tol' de man, 'Drive de cows on!' an' dey drove de cows on to camp an' killed about three of 'em. Dey sure done dat 'cause I was wid 'em. I had to go when dey said go. But down in Arkansas I saw de southe'n soldiers come one day. I was plowing for an old lady named Williams an' some soldiers come an' went in. After awile I seen 'em go to another house an' dey said dey were 'Green's men.' I don't know if dey was, but I know dey taken ever'thing dat old woman had dat dey wanted. Dey were robbin' houses an' stealin' what dey wanted. In slavery times I saw one or two run-a-way slaves. One of 'em was tied to a horses tail. Dey was bringin' 'im back an' was leadin' 'im an' had 'is hands tied to de hoss' tail. I think dey jes' runned off to keep from bein' slaves. Some of 'em tried to get to de no'th, but dey couldn't get dere. Dey had to cross de Miss'ippi River. I've seen de slaves whipped. Dey would tie 'em aroun' a tree an' take deir shirts off an' whip 'em on deir backs. De worst whippin' I ever got, my mother whipped me. Old Man Barker bought 'im a long, blue cowhide about dat long (three feet) jes' to whip niggers wid. Dere was one thing I could say, though, I never was mistreated much durin' slavery times. It don't look reasonable to tell it, but it is a fact  durin' slavery times if you lived here an' your mother lived jes' across de street, you couldn't go see her widout permission. You would get a whippin' if you did. He didn't whip you, but de padderollers would. I've seen 'em write out passes for 'em. Dere was a woman owned some slaves an' one of 'em went to her for a pass an' she wrote out a pass like dis:

His shirt is rough an' his back is tough, Do, pray, Mr. Padderoller, give 'im enough!' An' dey said de padderollers nearly beat 'im to death. "I remember a whippin' a man got. He said he got one-hun'erd lashes. Dis fella was out visitin' an' got one of de work mules an' rode 'im off dat night an' while he was dere, de mule (Ol' Pusher) got loose an' run off an' Cain couldn't find 'im. So, he had to go home without de mule. Next mornin', de marster wanted to know where de mule was an' some of de Niggers on de place tol' 'im dat Cain took de mule off an' it got loose from 'im. Dat's what he got de whippin' about. I tell you what's a fact! Cullud people in slavery times was treated like brutes. Dey was a big overseer right dere on de San Marcos River, Clem Polk , him an' de marster together killed sixteen Niggers in one day. De marster couldn't keep an overseer. De Niggers wouldn't let 'im whip 'em an' dis overseer says, 'I'll stay dere,' cause de marster couldn't get an overseer dat could stay. So he couldn't whip 'em either an' jes' killed 'em. One nigger nearly got 'im an' would have killed 'im if de marster hadn't got dere when he did. De Nigger had an axe raised to come down on Polk's head and' de marster stepped in an' stopped 'im jes' in time, an' den Polk shot de Nigger in de breast wid a shot gun. Dey had co't dem days, an' when court met, dey passed a bill, 'Keep dem Niggers at home.' Some of dem could go to church an' some of 'em couldn't. Dey wasn't no cullud church in dem days. Dey had to go to de white folk's church. A cullud man tol' me once he was at church an' dey all got down to pray an' dey was a cullud girl an' she got down on her knees too, an her marster come in an' walked up to her an' kicked her in de side as hard as he could, an' de girl had to hold her side an' was all bent over when she lef'. He kicked her awful hard. Dey would let de cullud people be baptized. But dey was very few wanted to be baptized. Dey didn't understan' it enough. I could have been educated  that is, had a good education, but I wouldn't do it. My marster, a man by de name of Graham , said he was goin' to whip me cause I wouldn't study my books. Dat made me mad an' I throwed 'em down an' didn't study 'em any mo'. A white man tol' me I was jes' spitin' myself. Graham had a rule dat if he whipped one chile on de place he would whip ever' one of 'em. So he whipped his own boy dat evenin' an' turned 'round an said, 'I'm goin' to whip Harry too.' His wife said 'What are you goin' to whip Harry for? He hasn't done anything.' He said 'Because he won't study his books.' Dat made me mad, but I know now dat ever'time he went to whip me, he missed me. He never did strike me a good lick.

We lived in a little ol' frame house facin' west. Dey was a well of water on de east side of de house. I was sleepin' on de floor right in de house wid my master. All slep' in de same room. De thieves came, an' I was asleep. Dey shook me an' tol' me to get up an' put my clothes on. My master's wife was in bed an she began cryin' an' tol' 'em not to take me but dey took me anyway. We called 'em 'Guerillas.' Dey was thieves. Dey was white men an' one of 'em, I had knowed all my life. He had lived right in de county all his life. He let me carry a gun an' I thought I was a man. He taught me how to fight de Yankees an' I thought I could shoot a Yankee right down. Dey aint but one thing I want to shoot down now. Dat's de temptation to de devil. Well, I was wid dem thieves an' could hear 'em talking about killin' Yankees an' I didn't have better sense  I wanted to shoot de Yankees too. Dem thieves kep' me in de south part of Missouri a long time. I didn't do anything but sit around de house when I was wid dem but after I left 'em, I worked. Dat was when Fugot sold me to a man by de name of Graham for twelve-hun'erd acres of land. I didn't have to come to Texas, cause I was free, but I didn't know dat. I was freed in Arkansas. I was out here in de western country two years befo' I knowed I was free. De other darkies 'round about tol' me. A white woman tol' me directly after de war, but I didn't believe it. I thought she was jes' talkin'. Down in Caldwell County is where de bondage was lifted off me an' I found out I was free. When de darkies tol' me I was free, I jes' stayed on dere an' worked like I did befo'. My marster give me a promise dat I would get a hoss an' saddle an' one-hun'erd dollars in money when I was twenty years old, but de didn't do it. He give me a little pony an' a saddle dat I sold for three dollars, an' about eight or nine dollars. He had me blind-folded; I thought I was goin' to get a good hoss an' saddle an' some money. We slep' in old-fashioned beds wid rope cords for slats, but we had a good feather bed to sleep in. We wore what you call low-cut shoes; brogans we call 'em. De man I belonged to had 'em made. I would go in my shirt tail awile, den wear pants awile. De shirt tails was made out of dis stripped stuff an' some out of duckin'. De women made de cloth. I have seen many a loom. If we had one of 'em now, it would be a show. Ever'body would be here lookin' at it.

My old marster died when I was small an' we stayed out in de Nigger cabin but I remember one thing. Nearly every Sunday mornin' was a great mornin' cause we got bisket (biscuit) bread to eat. Dey all had cooks. Some of de cullud women done de cookin'. My mother was a reg'lar cook. I remember de peach cobblers an' apple dumplin's she cooked. In dem days, dey would take co'n meal an' mix it wid water an' pat 'em out an' cook 'em an' dey called 'em co'n dodgers. Dey was awful nice wid plenty of butter. We had lots of hog meat an' when dey killed a beef, a man would tell all his neighbors to come 'round an' get some meat. It wasn't like it is now. Times was much better dan dey are now. Dey would give a big supper an' give a quiltin' an' quilt out a quilt in one night. De cullud forks an' white folks, both, give 'em. But if de cullud folks give a quiltin' dey had to get permission from de white folks in slavery times. Dey always had a big supper. De quilt had to be done, first, den dey had a big supper an' dance. All de slaves on de place would have Christmas week off. We were free den an' visited 'round all over de country. In dem days dey had 'padderollers'. When Christmas week came, de padderollers didn't bother you but after dat, you had to have a pass. We had dances all week. We had square dances an' round dances too. Dere was fiddle music. I never seen no kind of music but a fiddle till I was grown. I used to love to dance. I have danced all night many a night, den rode thirty miles home next day. I had no boss or no wife either; I was a free man. You know what de old man said? 'If I was a young man I wouldn't co't no one a-tall, I'd live a single life an' keep a bachelor's hall! How happy is a man dat keeps a bachelor's hall, he's got no wife to scold 'im, an' no chillun to squall!' I never seen no weddin's from de time I was bo'n till I was eighteen or nineteen years old. They had de squire marry 'em but we never seen it. We never paid no 'tention to it. Always had to be married befo' de squire.

Right after de war, times was pretty hard. I have taken beans an' parched 'em an' got 'em right brown an' meal bran, too, to make coffee out of it. We had old-fashioned brown sugar. The white people had plenty of it but de Niggers didn't. For awhile, things was pretty hard to get. You know I never believed in ghos'es, but one night I seen a woman comin'. She had on a white dress an' when I went meetin' her, she disappeared. Den, one night I was ridin' along an' dere was a pocket hankchuf (handkerchief) lyin' in de road, an' my hoss saw it an' got scared at it an' it flew up at de side of de road. When I come back, de hoss got scared at de same thing again, but do you know what I think it was? It was a white owl, or somethin'. I don't believe in ghos'es much. I was ridin' along on de prairie wid some white men once an' two of 'em says, 'Look yonder, what is dat thing?' An' dey broke toward it to see what it was behind dat bush an' it was gone. I never did see a thing. I was scared real bad once in my life. I believe de worst I ever had. I was jes' a little boy an' dey sent us kids back into de field after de basket of cotton in de evening. Always in de evenin' we had to go to de fiel' an' bring up our cotton we had been pickin' an' as I got to de basket an' picked it up, my dog run up on de other side of de basket an' I thought it was a ghost an' I jumped an' run an' hollered  my goodness, I reck'n I did holler. I didn't fly cause I didn't have wings. I got to de end of de cotton row an' dere was a big tree dere an' I started up de tree an' looked back to see how close de ghos' was to me an' it was my dog. I was nearly scared to death. I never did carry no charms or even wear asafoetida but I tell you what I did carry. I carried an Irish potato in my pocket for rheumatism till it petrified. I never did do no good. Where I come from, dey killed fifteen or sixteen hogs in de winter. Now, I tell you what I've seen. I've seen 'em kill a big fat calf an' if de meat wasn't eat when dey moved camp, dey would leave dat meat layin' dere an' kill another big fat calf at de next camp. I tell you what I've done. We've killed a big fat calf an' I've cut up tallow an' put it in de fire an' kep' de light for 'em to play by. De day I was married, I was fifty-nine years old. My wife is about sixty years old now. You see, I lived all my life among white people an' jes' worked in first one place den another. I raised ten white chillun; raised ten of 'em myself. I raised nine of de Lowe chillun an' dey would mind me quicker'n dey would deir parents. Dat was in McMullen County. Dey had a mother, but dey mother didn't know much about dem chillun. When she wanted dem chillun to do anything, an' dey didn't do it, she'd say, 'Now you do dis, or I'll call Harry.' Of course, I spanked 'em. Dem chillun had me to mind. De last twenty years I have jes' piddled aroun'  no reg'lar work, Before I was married, I had work at de oil mills. It's been forty years since I was a cowboy, 'cause I quit cattle-huntin' twenty years before I was married. I married here in Pearsall when I was fifty-nine years old. Married right here in de church house. My Goodness, I nursed my wife when she was a baby, an' ust to co't my wife's mother when she was a girl.