On Christmas mornin’ we serenaded de master’s family.


Henry Rountree, 103 years old, of near Newsom’s Store in Wilson County.

“I wus borned an’ bred in Wilson County on de plantation of Mr. Dock Rountree. I wus named fer his oldest son, young Marse Henry. My mammy, Adell, my pappy, Shark, an’ my ten brothers an’ sisters lived dar, an’ aldo’ we works middlin’ hard we has de grandes’ times ever.

“We has two er three corn shuckings ever’ fall, we has wood splittin’ days an’ invite de neighbors in de winter time. De wimmen has quiltin’s an’ dat night we has a dance. In de col’ winter time when we’d have hog killin’s we’d invite de neighbors case dar wus a hundret er two hogs ter kill ‘fore we quit. Yes, mam, dem wus de days when folkses, white an’ black, worked tergether.

“Dar wus Candy pullin’s when we makes de ‘lasses an’ at Christmas time an’ on New Year’s Eve we has a all night dance. On Christmas mornin’ we serenaded de marster’s family an’ dey gived us fruits, candy an’ clothes.

“My marster had game cocks what he put up to fight an’ dey wus valuable. When I wus a little feller he had one rooster that ‘ud whup me ever’ time I got close ter him, he’d whup young Marse Henry too, so both of us hated him.

“One day we set down wid bruised backs ter decide how ter git rid of dat ole rooster, not thinkin’ ‘bout how much he cost. We made our plans, an’ atter gittin’ a stick apiece ready we starts drappin’ a line of corn to de ole well out in de barnyard. De pesky varmint follers de corn an’ when he gits on de brink of de well we lets him have it wid de sticks an’ pretty shortly he am drownded. Marse ain’t never knowed it nother.

“De missus had a ole parrot what had once ‘longed ter her brother who wus a sea captain. Dat wus de cussingest thing I ever seed an’ he’d Cuss ever’body an’ ever’thing. One day two neighborhood men wus passing when dey heard somebody ‘holler “Wait a minute.” Then dey turns ‘roun’ de ole parrot sez, “Go on now, I jist wanted ter see how you looks, Great God what ugly men!” ‘An’ de ole thing laughs fit ter bust.

“Dat ole parrot got de slaves in a heap of trouble so de day when de hawk caught him we was tickled pink. The hawk sailed off wid de parrot screamin’ over an’ over, “Pore polly’s ridin’. We laughed too quick case de hawk am skeerd an’ turns de ole fool parrot loose.”

“De war comes on an’ as de n*ggers l’arns dat dey am free dar am much shoutin’ an rejoicin’ on other plantations, but dar ain’t nothin’ but sorrow on ours, case de marster sez dat he always give us ever’thing dat we needs ter make us happy but he be drat iffen he is gwine ter give us money ter flingaway. So we all has ter go.

“Ole marster doan live long atter de war am over, but till de day dat he wus buried we all done anything he ax us.

“I has done mostly farm work all of my life, an’ work aroun’ de house. Fer years an’ years I lives on a part of Marse’s land an’ atter dat I lives here I ain’t got no kick comin’ ’bout nothin’ ‘cept dat I wants my ole age pension, I does, an’ I’d like to say too, Miss, dat de n*ggers ‘ud be better off in slavery. I ain’t seed no happy n*ggers since dem fool Yankees come along.”

— From Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves, Works Progress Administration (1941).


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