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Texas Slave Narrative

  Ella Belle Ramsey

Ella Belle Ramsey was born in Richmond, Va., in 1842, a slave of the Inskip family. She was sold to the Goldsmith family of Atlanta, Ga., when ten years old. After the war she married and lived in Atlanta until her husband's death. She re-married several years later and came to Galveston, Tex., where she now lives at 1228 Ave. I (rear).  

Honey, I is ol' an' my mind's 'bout wore out. Some things I can't 'member a-tall. Sometimes when I lie in bed at night it all comes back to me, but I is ol' an' sick now an' my mind's 'bout gone. Like de pension lady tol' you I is 'most a hundred years ol' now. De nurse out at de Sealy Hospital say I is a hundred years ol' but she's wrong 'bout dat. I know how ol' I is. I was ten years ol' when Mr. Inskip sold me out of de jail to Mr. Goldsmith . Dat's been a long time 'go an' sometimes I can't 'member nothing 'bout it. Den 'gain it all comes back to me an' I can even see dere faces.  All my people is dead now. I had a sister an' brother but if dey is in de land of de living I don' know where dey is at. I ain' seen 'em since I got sold. I out-live 'em all I guess, but dat was 'cause I was always taken wonderful care of, wonderful care. I ain' never seen a plantation 'til de war when Mr. Goldsmith sen' me dere  to git me out of de way of de Federals. I always call myself free 'cause I was 'most free. My white folks treat me like I drop from heaven. Where I was born, in Richmond, Virginny, de white folks keep a lot of slaves even if dey jes' live in town like de Inskips did. My mother was de Inskip's house girl, an' dey had a lot more 'sides her. Dey all live in de Inskip's back yard. De Inskips had a big place, it take up over a block I guess. Great big nice house all trimmed up. Dey was shore good to dere slaves. I don' 'member 'em ever beating anybody, an' I know dey was good to my mother. I use to stay out in de back dere an' take care of my little sister an' brother while my mother was working. Dey use to send us something to eat out dere an' give us clothes an' furniture for de house. We had a nice place, not pretty, but nice. I always slept in de bed 'longside my mother. My little sister slept on de other side of her an' my little brother slept on de floor. I don' never 'member nothing 'bout my Daddy. My mother never talk 'bout him dat I know 'bout.   Like I start to tell you 'bout, one night I woke up an' reach out an' my mother wasn't dere. I got up an' look for her an' couldn't find her. Den I notice a light burning in de Inskip's house an' I think maybe Mis' Inskip call my mother 'cause dere was sickness in de family or something. But de nex' morning Mr. Inskip come out an' look for her an' she wasn't dere yet. She had run 'way to de free country in de night. Mr. Inskip say to me, 'I didn' think  Mary would do us dis way.' He was all cut up over it. He ask de other slaves what do dey know 'bout it an dey say dey don' know nothing. My mother was de only one dat was gone. But den Mr. Inskip got mad. He say we know where she is at but we won' tell, but dat he got ways dat he can make us tell. So he took all de slaves he had an' put 'em in jail. He say dat he was going to cure dat 'fore it start.  De sheriff try to make us tell where my mother was at, but we don' know. Den Mr. Inskip say dat he had got 'nough of looking at me an' my brother an' sister an' brought a man to de jail to look us over an' see if he wan' to buy us. De man say he wouldn't buy nobody but me. He didn' wan' my sister an' brother 'cause dey was too little, but he need a nurse for his chillun an' I was de right size so he buy me. I ain' never seen or heard from my mother or my brother or sister from dat day to dis one. I don' know what happen to 'em. I don' even know if dey is alive or not. I don' know nothing 'bout 'em.    Mr. Goldsmith , dat was de man's name dat bought me, took me to Atlanta in Georgia. Dey say dat it's a big place now, but it wasn' much den. Mr. Goldsmith own a nice place dere an' a few more slaves 'sides me. He own a plantation in de country, too, but he live in de town an' somebody else run de plantation for him.   He had 'bout three chillun an' I took care of 'em an' nurse 'em. Den he ask me one day how I like to go to school an' learn how  to read and write. I say yes, an' he say all right den he would send me. Dey had a colored school den in Atlanta where dey taught de colored chillun. I don' 'member de name of de place, but it was a nice school. It was a regular school where dey teach how to read an' write an' count an' spell an' all like dat. I didn' go to school long though. When de chillun git bigger de Mistress need me at home. I use to have a wonderful education but I jes' throwed it 'way. Seem like a shame when I think 'bout it now. Dere I was educated an' standing up in somebody's cook pot. Mr. Goldsmith an' de Mistress was always giving big dinners an' parties an' all like dat. Some of de biggest men in de country et in dat house.

I didn' do nothing but keep de chillun quiet an' put 'em to bed, an' when dey wen' to sleep I use to peep over de banisters an' see 'em all sitting at de table eating an' talking. It shore was nice den. Every Sunday Mr. Goldsmith took us to de white folks' church. The white folks sit in front an' we sit in de back wit' de other people's slaves. Mr. Goldsmith an' de Mistress was good Christians. Every time de church bell rang dey was dere. I guess dat's why dey was so good to dere slaves. Dey never whip nobody an' never punish nobody dat I can 'member. Mr. Goldsmith use to talk to 'em an' if dat didn' do no good, he sen' 'em back to de plantation. Nobody wan' to go back dere. Dey work 'em hard dere. You don' git to loaf when you live in de country.  After de War commence de Mistress make me help her prepare for  de soldiers. Atlanta was crawling wit' soldiers den. Confederates was everywhere 'round dere. Dey open a soldiers' hospital dere an' de ladies take turns waiting on de sick soldiers. Mis' Goldsmith was one of de first ladies to help 'em. I use to go to de hospital wit' 'em an' carry her stuff. She always take 'em something to eat jes' like everybody do when dey go to a hospital. But I always hate to go dere. It was jes' a little wood building wit' cots in it for de soldiers to lay on, but de men was always screaming an' groaning an' taking on an' it stuck in my ears. I could hear 'em all night when I wen' dere in de day time. De ladies knit socks an' sweaters for de soldiers an' Mis' Goldsmith done her share dere too an' den some more. During de War things was so high dat you couldn't 'ford to buy nothing. I 'member one time Mis' Goldsmith fuss 'cause dey try to charge her five dollars for a little dab of sugar. I hear her say dat somebody tol' her dat dey sell potatoes an' carrots for a dollar each one. But people got to eat. Dey always bring us things to eat from de plantation. People use to take de Confederate money an' bury it in dere yard an' in dere garden an' when de War was over it wasn' even worth digging up. Dey bury all dere good things like dat when de Yankees come, 'cause if dey didn' de Yankees take 'em. De Yankees come in your house an' take what dey wan' out of it. Dey rob you but you can't do nothing 'bout it. After de War wen' on for a spell Mr. Goldsmith say he was sorry but he got to sen' us to de country 'cause de Federals was coming to Atlanta. Dey say dey tol' de people who was in Atlanta when de Federals  come in to git out of dere an' go some place else. You see, both de Confederates an' de Federals wan' de place.

I don' know why dey wan' it but dey do. De ones dat didn' leave had to be 'sponsible for what happen to 'em. I know I don' wan' to be in no place wit all dat fighting going on. Mr. Goldsmith send us to his plantation somewhere 'round Atlanta in a wagon, an' we stay dere 'til after de War. De plantation wasn' no way like Mr. Goldsmith's house in Atlanta. Dey whip dere slaves without thinking twice 'bout it. De overseer whip 'em wit a long whip hisself out in de yard. I never watched him do it but I know he done it. Dey work hard in de fields dere too. It seem funny but I don' 'member any Federals 'round dere. Maybe dey was dere an' forgit 'bout 'em being dere. I can't 'pend on my mind for nothing no more. On Sunday a traveling preacher come by an' hold services in one of de cabins. He ride 'round from place to place 'round de country dere I guess an' do de Lord's will. De overseer use to make us go to services. If dere was any marrying to be done de preacher done it den. We never had none of dat jumping over de broom foolishness you hear 'bout in other places. Mr. Goldsmith wouldn't of stood for it. I cook an' help in de kitchen 'til Mr. Goldsmith brought de Mistress an' de chillun to de plantation an' den I nurse de chillun. Dey didn' make no medicine dere. I know dat. Mr. Goldsmith give 'em medicine an' kept de medicine dere for 'em to take when dey need it. If dey make any more medicine nobody knowed 'bout it. I don' know 'bout any run'ways. I know some of de field hands run 'way to de Yankees when de War start, but de Yankees put 'em in de soldier Army an' put 'em to work fighting, so dey didn' like dat so much. Most of 'em stay wit' Mr. Goldsmith . I 'member hearing 'em talk 'bout de colored soldiers rising up somewhere an' killing all de white men officers. Den dey say dat in de town where de colored Federals was, dey come in de white folks' house an' take what dey wan' an' treat de women bad. Lots of de Federals didn' like colored soldiers theirself. De white men dat wen' in de Army bring dere slaves wit' 'em. De Confederates made 'em work helping 'em build bridges an' things dey need. I don' know why Mr. Goldsmith never wen' in de Army, 'cept maybe he was sick. He die 'bout time de War was over. He come to me an' say, 'Ella , I ain' long for dis world. But I'm leaving some wonderful ones behind me.' Right after dat he die. One day de Mistress come to de door of de kitchen an' tell me dat I was free. She was crying an' say dat now she didn' have nothing left, but dat she wan' me to be happy an' not to forget her. I ain' forgot her 'til yet. Every night when I say my prayers I mention her name an' rec'mend her to de Lord.

Everybody like de Mistress an' kind of hate to leave her in one way, but dey all wan' to be freed. We never had no celebration over freedom though. I jes' wen' back to Atlanta an' got married. Dere was a lot of talk 'bout de Klu Kluxes an' fire crosses dat dey burn on de hills at night time an' all like dat, but I never hear  much 'bout 'em an' never seen none of 'em an' I don' know nothing 'bout 'em. Maybe dey did an' maybe dey didn' do what everybody say. I don' know. Den my husband die. My little baby die jes' 'fore he did an' now I didn' have nobody lef'. I hired out an' cook for some white folks who come down from de North an' den I marry 'gain. De man I marry dis time live in Galveston, so he took me here wit' him. When I firs' got here Galveston ain' much to look at. De whole west end was jes' sand. De beach was flat an' de white sand come up to past where de Boulevard is now. All back of de hospital an' in de east end dere was water. It was what dey call swampy out dere an' dey say dere was alligators out dere. I 'member when a man caught one back dere an' brought it to de court house an' it go loose.   Dat's de way it was 'til de 1900 Storm. I work for Mis' Alvey den. She live in dat big house right in front of you dere. She give me a room in de house to stay in an' I stay dere during de Storm. 'Fore de Storm de sky was cloudy an' hazy looking for a couple days an' people 'round here say it was stormy weather, but dey wasn't scared. Everybody 'round here got so use to de storms dat dey don' mean nothing. But when it start raining like it did everybody know dere was something coming. It come up so sudden-like though dat you didn' have much time to do nothing. People run to all de places where dey thought was strong 'nough to stand de blow.   Dere was a big crowd 'round at de ol' St. Mary's College 'cross de street dere. We was right 'cross from de ol' church on 13th Street.   Mis' Alvey say we stay in de house 'cuase it's a good strong house an' can stand a lot. We nail de blinds shut an' git de candles lit an' wait.   Bout time we got settled de wind come up an' den de water come. Chile, I can't tell you how dat water come. It jes' come pouring in. Dere wasn' nothing to stop it den. We wen' on upstairs 'cause de water come in de downstairs. I was praying to de Lord an' I never think 'bout nothing else.   We couldn't hearing nothing but de wind, but all of a sudden we hear a loud noise. Mis' Alvey say dat de big Sacred Heart Church 'cross de street had fell down or maybe it was de college. Next day we found out dat it was de church. Dey use to say dat dat was de biggest church in Texas. I don' know if it's true but dat's what dey say. But I never knowed nothing 'bout what was happening outside den. Sometimes I hear a loud noise like something falling, but dat was all dat I knowed 'bout it den. Den after de storm let up we could see outside an' see de church all down in a pile an' trees tore up by de roots an' houses washed 'way. But by ten 'clock de moon was shining bright as day outside. De next' morning  I hope I never see nothing like dat 'gain. De whole town was tore up. Dere wasn't any place dat didn' have something de matter wit' it. Some of 'em was washed 'way an' dere wasn' nothing lef' where dey use to be. An' dead people was all over de street an' everywhere.   Mis' Alvey try to help de people but dere wasn' nothing dat  nobody could do. Dey bring in de soldiers an' dey take charge an' collect de dead people. Dey say dat if dey catch anybody going 'bout de houses dat didn' belong dere, dey was going to shoot 'em. Dey kill a couple of colored men, but it wen' on jes de same. Dey put some of de dead people upstairs in Levy's. Dey was de undertakers den. Dey had a place on 22nd and Church or Post Office, I forget which, den. Dey took de whole upstairs an' put de dead people dere. De people who lost anybody wen' dere an' see if dey was dere. But it didn' take no time for de place to git filled up an' dey make 'em stop bring de dead people dere. Dere wasn't nothing to eat anywhere. Dat water ruin everything. When dey got de trains to running dey bring in something for de people to eat an' give it out to 'em. It didn' take long for 'em to git straightened out an' den dey talk 'bout building de Seawall.   I 'member when dey build dat. It take 'em a long time an' we use to walk down dere at night an' watch 'em work on it. I ain' been afraid of no storm since I seen how deep dey bury dose pilings. Dat seawall start from way down in de ground. Ain' no water nor nothing dat can hurt it. Den dey start grade-raising. Dey dig a canal 'round Sixth Street, I think it was, an' make de people raise up dere houses up in de air while dey fill up de ground. Some of de houses was setting so high in de air, dat de people who live in 'em had to climb up on ladders 'til dey could build de steps to walk on. 'Course dey lower 'em a little bit when dey finish up filling up de ground. Dat's why de houses 'round here set up so high.

When de Storm come in 1915 it was pretty bad too. I live out here in dis place den. I had a bureau dat had six drawers out here setting in dat corner over dere by de wall an' de water come up so high it cover four of 'em. Dey say it was worse dan de 1900 Storm but de seawall save us. Dey had a lot of water but dere wasn't nobody killed dat I ever hear 'bout.   I live through a lot, but I is an' ol' woman now, ol' an' sick. I ain' able to do nothing no more. If it wasn't for de pension de gov'ment give me, I don' know what I'd do. All my white folks is gone, but I got some good friends 'round here who look out for me. 'Tween dem an' de Lord dey take care of me I guess.