WILLIAM DAVIS was born near Kingston, Tennessee, on the first of April, 1845. His family were the only slaves owned by Jonathan Draper, Baptist minister. In 1869 William joined the army and was stationed at Fort Stockton, Texas. He has lived in Houston since 1870. William is active and takes a long, daily walk.
"Well, suh, jes' sit down in de chair yonder and I'll tell you what I can 'bout times back yonder. Let's see, now. I was born on de first day of April in 1845. De reason I knows was 'cause Miss Lizzie, our missy, told me so when we was sot free. Mammy done told me I was born den, on de Tennessee river, near Kingston. I heared her say de turnpike what run past Massa John's house dere goes over de mountain to Bristel, over in Virginny. Mammy and pappy and all us chillen 'long to de drapers, Massa Jonathan what us call Massa John, and he wife, Miss Lizzie, and we is de only cullud folks what dey owns.
"Massa John am de Baptist preacher, and while I'm sho' glad so see my folks sot free, I'll tell de truth and say Massa John and Miss Lizzie was mighty good to us. Dey have four chillen; Massa Milton, what am oldes' and kill in de first battle; Massa Bob and Massa George and Massa Canere. Oh. yes, dey have one gal, Missy Ann.
"Course us didn't have no last names like now. Mammy need Sophie and pappy named Billy. Sometimes de owners give de slaves last names 'cordin' to what dey de, like pappy was meat cook and mammy cook pies and cakes and bread, so dey might have Cook for de last name.
"We has a bigger family dan Massa John, 'cause dey eight of us chillen. I ain't seen none of dem since I lef' Virginny in 1869, but I 'member all de names. Dere was Jane and Lucy and Ellen and Bob and Salomon and Albert and John, and I'm de younges' de whole lot.
"I heared Miss Lizzie tell some white folks dat my mammy and pappy give to her by her pappy in Alabama when she get married. Dat de custom with rich folks den, and mammy 'long to de Ames, what was Miss Lizzie's name 'fore she marry. I heared her say when de stars falls. I think she say in 1832, she was 'bout eighteen, and dey think de world am endin'.
"Pappy was a Indian. I knows dat. He come from Congo, ever in Africa, and I heared him say a big storm druv de ship somewhere on de Ca'lina coast. I 'member he mighty 'spectful to Massa and Missy, but he proud, too, and walk straighter'n anybody I ever seen. He had scars on de right side he head and cheek what he say am tribe marks, but what dey means I don't know.
" 'Bout de first I 'members real good am where we am in Virginny and Massa John runs de Washington College, in Washington County. I 'member all de pupils eats at massa's house and dat de first job I ever had. 'Scuse me for laughin', but I don't reckon I thunk of dat since de Lawd know when. Dat my first job. Dey has a string fasten to de wall on one side de room, with pea fowl tail feathers strung 'long it, and it runs most de length de room, above de dinin' table, and round a pulley-like piece in de ceilin' with one end de string hangin' down. When mealtime come, I am put where de string hang down and I pulls it easy like, and de feathers swishes back and forth sideways, and keeps de flies from lightin' while folks am eatin'. 'Ceptin' dat, all I does is play round with Massa George and Missy Ann.
"Dey ain't no whuppin' on our place and on Sunday us all go to church, and Massa John do de preachin'. Dey rides in de buggy and us follow in de wagon. De white folks sets in front de church and us in back.
"I can't tell you how long us stay at de college, 'zactly, but us moves to Warm Springs to take de baths and drink de water, in Scott County. Dat two, three years befo' de war, and Massa John run de hotel and preach on Sunday. I think dere am three springs, one sulphur water and one lime water and one a warm spring. I does a little bit of everything round de hotel, helps folks off de stage when it druv up, wait on table and sich. When I hears de horn blow---you know, de stage driver blow it when dey top de hill 'bout two miles 'way, to let you know dey comin' --- I sho' hustle round and git ready to meet it, 'cause most times folks what I totes de grips for gives me something. Dat de first money I ever seed. Some de folks gives me de picayune - dat what us call a nickel, new, and some gives me two shillin's, what same as two-bits now. A penny was big den, jes' like a two-bit piece, now.
"But when war begin 'tween de Yankees and de South, it sho' change everything up, 'cause folks quit comin' to de Springs and de soldiers takes over de place. Massa Milton go to jine de South Army and gits kill. Morgan and he men make de Springs headquarters most de war, till de Yankees come marchin' through toward de last part. I know pappy say dem Yankees gwine win, 'cause dey allus marchin' to de South, but none de South soldiers marches to de North. He didn't say dat to de white folks, but he sho' say it to us. When de Yankees come marchin' through, de Morgan soldiers jes' hide out till dey gone. Dey never done no fightin' round Wark Springs. Lots of times dey goes way for couple weeks and den comes back and rests awhile.
"Den one mornin' --- I 'members it jes' like it yestiddy, it de fourth of July in 1865 --- Miss Lizzie say to me, 'William, I wants you to git you papa and de rest de family and have dem come to de porch right away.' I scurries round quick like and tells dem and she comes out of de house and says, 'Now, de Yankees done got you free and you can do what you wants, but you gwineter see more carpet baggers and liars dan you ever has seed, and you'll be worse off den you ever has been, if you has anythin' to do with dem. Den she opens de book and tells us all when us born and how old us am, give us have some record 'bout ourselves. She tells me I'm jes' nineteen and one fourth years old when I'm set free.
"She tell pappy Massa John want to see him in de house and when he comes out he tells us Massa John done told him to take a couple wagons and de family and go to de farm 'bout ten miles 'way on Possum Creek and work it and stay long as he wants. Massa has us load up one wagon with 'visions. Pappy made de first crep with jes' hoes, 'cause us didn't have no hosses or mules to plow with. Us raise jes' corn and some wheat, but dey am fruit trees, peaches and apples and pears and cherries. Massa John pay pappy $120 de year, 'sides us 'visions, and us stays dere till pappy dies in 1868.
"Den I heared 'bout de railroad what dey buildin' at Knoxville and I leaves de folks and gits me de job totin' water. Dey asks my name and I says William Davis, 'cause I knows Mr. Jefferson Davis am President of de South durin' de war, and I figgers it a good name. In 1869 I goes to Nashville and 'lists in de army. I'm in de 24th Infantry, Company G. and us sent to Fort Stockton to guard de line of Texas, but all us do am build 'dobe houses. Col. Wade was de commander de fort and Cap'n Johnson was captain of G. Co. Out dere I votes for de first time, for Gen. Grant, when Greeley and him run for president. But I gits sick at de Fort and am muster out in 1870 and comes to Houston.
"I gits me de deckhand job on de Dinah, de steamboat what haul freight and passengers 'tween Galveston end Houston. Den I works on de Lizzie, what am a bigger boat. Course, Houston jes' a little bit of place to what it am now---day wasn't no git buildin's like dey is now, and mud, I tell you de streets was jes' like de swamp when it rain.
"Long 'bout 1875 I gits marry to Mary Jones, but she died in 1883 and I gits marry 'gain in 1885 to Arabelle Wilson and has four girls and one boy from her. She died 'bout ten years back. Course, us cullud folks marry jes' like white folks do now, but I seen cullud folks marry 'fore de war and massa marry dem dis way: dey goes in de parlor and each carry de broom. Dey lays de brooms on de floor and de woman put her broom front de man and he put he broom front de woman. Dey face one 'nother and step 'cross de brooms at de same time to each other and takes hold of hands and dat marry dem. Dat's de way dey done, sho', 'cause I seed my own sister marry dat way.
"I has wished lots of times to go back and see my folks, but I never has been back and never seed dem since I left, and I guess day am all gone 'long 'fore new. I has jabbed at first one thing and 'nother and like pappy tell me. I has jobbed at first one thing and 'nother, and like pappy tells me. I has trials and tribulations and I has good chillen what ain't never got in no trouble and what all helps take care dere old pappy so I guess I ain't got no complainin' 'bout things.
"I dreams sometimes 'bout de peach trees and de pear trees and de cherry trees and I'd give lets to see de mountains 'gain, 'cause when de frost come, 'bout now, de leaves on de trees put on pretty colors and de persimmons and nuts is ready for pickin' and a little later on us kill de hawgs and put by de neat for de winter.
"De Lawd forgive me for dis foolishness, 'cause I got a good home, and has all I need, but I gits to thinkin' 'bout Virginny sometimes and my folks what I ain't seed since I left, and it she' make me want to see it once more 'fore I die.
Davis, William -- Additional Interview
William Davis, living at 2712 Conti St., Houston, Texas, was born near Kingston, Tenn., April 1, 1845, his family being the only slaves owned by Jonathan Draper, Baptist minister. Leaving his folks shortly after his father's death in 1868, Uncle William, as he is familiarly known, has lived in or near Houston since his discharge from the Army in 1870, and at the present age of 92 years, he is quite active, taking a long walk daily, weather permitting, and having an excellent memory regarding past events in his life.
"Well, suh, jes' sit down in de chair yonder an' I'll tell you what I can 'bout times back yonder. Lizzie, shet down dat machine (radio) so de gent'man can hear. Dere, dat's better.
"Well, suh, let's see now. I was born on de fust day of April in 1845. De reason I knows when I was born was 'cause Mis' Lizzie, our mistress, told me so when we was set free. Now, all de talk 'bout when I was born an' whar at, I tells you jes' like mamma an' de rest of de folks tell me, 'cause I don't 'member much 'bout anything 'cept from de time we live in Virginny. But, like I tells you, I was born April 1, 1845, near Kingston, Tenn., on de Tennessee river, 'bout two mile above whar 'nother river jines it. I hear mamma say de turnpike what runs past Marster John's house goes over de mountain to Bristol---over in Virginny. Dey calls roads turnpikes back dere.
"Mamma an' papa an' us children belong to de Drapers---Marster Jonathan an' Mis' Lizzie, his wife, an' we is de only cullud folks what dey own.
"Marster John is a Baptist preacher, an' while I'se sure glad to live to see my folks set free, I'll tell de truth and say Marster John an' Mis' Lizzie was mighty good to us.
"Le' me see now, 'sides Marster John an' Mis' Lizzie, dey has four boys an' one girl. Dere was Marster Milton, what was de oldest an' was kill in de fust battle of de War; den dere was Marster Bob an' Marster George an' Marster Canero an' Mis' Ann.
"'Course, in my own family, we don't have no last names like I has now. Dey jes' call us by de fust name. Mamma's name was Sophie and papa's name was Billy. Sometimes de owners give de slaves last names 'cordin' to what dey do, lika papa was de meat cook an' mamma cook de pies an' cakes an' bread, so dey likely had Cook for de last name.
"We has a bigger family dan Marster John 'cause dey is eight of us children. I ain't seen none of 'em since I left Virginny in 1869, but I 'members de names of all my sisters and brothers. Dere was Jane an' Lucy an' Ellen, dey was my sisters, an' Bob an' Solomon an' Albert an' John, 'sides myself, an' I was de youngest of de whole lot.
"I can't tell you a whole lot 'bout mamma an' papa, 'cause I don't know much. But I hear Mis' Lizzie say one day at de table to some white folks what was visiting, dat mamma an' papa was given to her by her papa in Alabama when she get married to Marster John. I has heard dat was de custom with de rich folks den, but 'course I don't know 'ceptin' what I has heard.
"But, I guess mamma was born in Alabama an' belong to de Ames, dat was Mis' Lizzie's name before she married Marster John, 'cause I hear her say when de stars fall, I think she say in 1832, she was 'bout eighteen, an' de cullud folks all thought de world was endin'.
"But, papa was a Indian. He come from Congo, over in Africa, but I don' know nothin' 'bout how come he to be here, 'cept I hear him say a big storm drive de ship somewhar on de Ca'lina coast. I 'members he's might respec'ful to Marster John an' Mis' Lizzie, but he's proud too, an' walks straighter'n any one I ever see. He has scars on de right side of his head an' cheek what he say is tribe marks, but what dey mean I don't know. I wish lots of times since I got older, I could talk to mamma an' papa an' find out things what I don't know 'bout. I reckon dey has some 'citin' times.
"'Bout de fust I 'members right good is whar we is in Virginny. Marster John runs de Washington College in Washington County. I 'members all de pupils eat at Marster John's house, an' I 'members now dat's de fust job I ever had. Ho, ho, ho, 'schuse me for laughin', but I don't reckon I'se thought of that since de Lord knows when.
"Lizzie, chile, come here, an yore gran'pap' tells you an'
dis gent'man 'bout de fust job I has.
"Like I tell you, de pupils all eat at Marster John's house, an' my job was to shoo de flies off while dey is eatin'. Yes, suh, dat was my fust job. Dey has a string fastened to de wall on one side of de room with pea powl tail feathers strung 'long it, an' it runs most de length of de room above de dinin' table, an' 'round a pulley-like piece in de ceilin' with de one end of de string hangin' down. When meal-time come, I is put whar de end of de string hangs down an' I pulls it easy-like, an' de feathers swish back an' forth sideways an' keeps de flies from lightin' while de folks is eatin'. Yes, suh, dat sure was my fust job. 'Ceptin' dat, all I do is play 'round with mostly Marster George an' Mis' Ann, 'cause dey is 'bout de same age as I is.
"Dey wasn't no whuppin' neither like I hear some cullud folks got, 'ceptin' from papa. An' Marster John have papa whup his children, too, jes' like us, if dey do somethin' wrong. 'Course he don't whup 'em hard as he do us, but he whup 'em, all right.
"On Sunday, we all goes to church, an' Marster John do de preachin'. He an' Mis' Lizzie an' de children ride in de big buggy, an' we follow in a wagon.
"De white folks sit up to de front of de church, an' we is in de back, but we sing 'long with them on de songs---le' me see now, we sing lots on 'Amazin' Grace', You Can Have This World, But Give Me Jesus', an' 'On Canaan's Shore I Stand', an' lots more what I 'members iffen I hears 'em, but what I forgets right now.
"I can't tell you how long we stays at de College, 'xactly, but I know we moves to Warm Springs, in Scott County, 'bout two or three years 'fore de War. Marster John run de hotel an' den preach on Sunday.
"You see, folks come from all over to Warm Springs to take de baths an' drink de water. I don't rec'lec' for sure now, but I think dere was three springs, one has de sulphur water, an' one has lime water, an' de next is a warm spring.
"I does a little bit of everything 'round de hotel---help de folks off de stage when it drives up, wait on de table an' jes' anything what Marster John tell me to. An' when I hear de horn on de stage blow---you know, dey blows it jes' when dey tops de hill 'bout two miles away to let you know dey is comin'---I sure hustle 'round an' get ready to meet it, 'cause most times de folks what I tote de grips for gives me something, an' I gets de fust money I ever see 'cause some of de folks give me a picayune, dat's what we calls a nickel, an' some gives me two shillin's, what is de same as two bits. A penny was big, jes' like a two-bit piece is now.
"But when de War begin 'tween de Yankees an' de South, it sure changed everything up, 'cause folks quit comin' to de Springs an' de soldiers take over most of de place, 'cause I 'members Marster Milton, what was Marster John's oldest boy, goes to jine de South Army an' gets killed in de fust battle. Morgan an' de soldiers make de place dere headquarters durin' most of de War, 'ceptin' de time de Yankees come marchin' through toward de las' part. I know papa say de Yankees gwineter win 'cause dey is always marchin' to de South, but you don't see none of de South soldiers marchin' to de North. 'Course he didn't say dat to de white folks, but he sure say it to us. An' when de Yankees come marchin' through, de Morgan soldiers jes' hide out 'til dey is gone. Dey never did no fightin' 'round Warm Springs. Lots of times dey goes way for a couple weeks 'n' den comes back an' rests awhile.
"Den one mornin', I 'members it jes' like it was yestiddy, it was de fourth of July in 1865, Mis' Lizzie say to me, 'William, I wants you to get your papa an' mamma an' de rest of de family an' have 'em come to de end of de porch right away'. I scurries 'round quick an' tells 'em what Mis' Lizzie has said, an' we all is standin' whar she said to, an' she comes out of de house an' says, 'Now, de Yankees has set you free an' you can do what you want to, but you is gwinter see more carpet baggers an' liars dan you ever has see, an' you'll be worse off dan you ever has been, if you has anything to do with 'em.' Den she opens a book an' tells us when we was all born an' how old we is, so we has some record 'bout ourselves. She tell me I's jes' 19 years old when I'se set free. Den she tell papa dat Marster John want to see him in de house, an' when he comes out, he tell us Marster John, what has a farm 'bout 10 miles away on Possum Creek, has told him to take a couple wagons an' de family an' go down to dis farm an' work it an' stay as long as he wants to. An' Marster John has us load up one wagon with provisions for us. An' we made de fust crop with jes' hoes, 'cause we didn't have no horses nor mules to plow with. We raise jes' corn an' some wheat, but we have some fruit trees on de place, too,---peaches an' apples an' pears an' some cherry trees, an' Marster John pays papa $120 a year 'sides our provisions. We stays on de farm 'til papa died in 1868.
"Den I hears 'bout de railroad what dey is buildin' at Knoxville, an' I leaves de folks an' gets me a job totin' water. Dey ask me my name an' I tells 'em William Davis, 'cause I knows Mr. Jefferson Davis is de President in de South durin' de War, an' I figgers it's a good name. Den in 1869, I goes to Nashville an 'lists in de Army. I'se in de 24th Infantry in Company G, an' we is sent out to Fort Stockton to guard de line of Texas, but all we did was build 'dobe houses. Col. Wade was de commander of de fort, an' Cap'n Johnson was captain of G. Company, and out dere I voted for de fust time for General Grant when Greeley an' him run for de President.
"But, I gets sick at de Fort an' I'se mustered out in 1870, an' comes to Houston. I gets me a deckhand job on de Dinah, de steamboat what hauls freight an' passengers 'tween Galveston an' Houston. Den I works on de Lizzie, too, what was a bigger boat.
"Course, Houston was jes' a little bit of place to what it is now---dey wasn't no big buildin's like dey is now, an' mud---
I tell you de streets was jes' like a swamp when it rain. You know 'bout what at Gray street is? When I come here dat was way out in de country---yes, suh, dat's a fac'.
"Den 'long 'bout 1875 I gets married to Mary Jones, but she died in 1883, an' I gets married again in 1885 to Arabelle Wilson an' has four girls an' one boy from her. She died 'bout 10 years back.
"'Course, we cullud folks marry jes' like white folks do now, but I has seen cullud folks marry 'fore de War an' de marster marry 'em dis way:- Dey goes in de parlor an' each carries a broom. Dey lays de brooms on de floor, an' de woman puts her broom in front of de man an' de man put his broom in front of de woman. Dey face one 'nother an' step 'cross de broom at de same time to each other an' take hold of hands an' dat marries 'em. Dat's sure de way dey uster do, 'cause I'se see my sister marry dat way.
"I has wished lots of times to go back an' see my folks, but I never has been back an' never see them since I left, an' I guess dey is all gone 'long 'fore now.
"I has jobbed at fust one thing an' 'nother, an' like my papa tell me, I'se had trials an' 'tribulations, but I'se got good children what ain't never got in no trouble, an' what all help care of dere ol' daddy, so I guess I ain't got no complainin' 'bout things.
"I dreams sometimes 'bout de peach trees an' de pear trees an' de cherry trees an' I'd give lots to see de mountains again 'cause when de frost come, 'bout now, de leaves on de trees put on de pretty colors, an de p'simmons an' nuts is ready for pick an' a little later on we kills de hawgs an' puts by de meat for de winter.
"De Lord forgive me for dis foolishness, 'cause I'se got a good home, an' has all I need, but I gets to thinkin' 'bout Vir ginny sometimes an' my folks what I ain't seen since I left, an it sure makes me want to see it once more 'fore I die."
B. E. Davis Madisonville, Texas District #8"