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Henry, Robert

Robert Henry, 84, was born a slave in Austin, Travis County. His mother, Hester Henry, was working for a Mr. Hollman in the old City Hotel, when Robert was born. Robert's father was Matt Henry, who was once owned by John Henry of Belton. Robert has been married twice: Mathilda Lee, one child; Laura Smith, eight children. Robert, when once he decided to talk about slavery, is a pleasant fellow; he owns two acres and a two-room shack, on a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River, about four miles east of Austin. An orchard produces enough fruit for canning purposes. Robert said he didn't know how they could live through the winter months if it wasn't for the products from the orchard. Robert lives on Rural Route #2, Box 260, and receives a monthly pension of $9.00 from the State of Texas.

HIS STORY:

"My fathaw was Matt Henry. He was of medium height. He was a hauler of goods fo' Mawster John Henry's store, at Belton. When he got older, he was bothered a lot wid de white swellin' and he carried a crutch and cane most of de time.

"My fathaw was paht Injun. He used to live in a settlement where de Injuns lived. He'd eat meat dat was half raw. Fathaw had good, long hair, and high cheek bones. He wasn't so lightcolored and he wasn't so black. Fathaw was eighty-five years old,

when he died about fifty years ago. He was settin' on top a wagon when it keeled over in a ditch and broke his neck.

"Hester Easter Henry was my mothaw. I don't know why dey called her dat, but everybody called her Easter. Maybe it was dat she was bawn on Easter day. I don't know.

"She was tall and not so heavy. She was married once and had a lot of chillun. I don't even remembah all of dere names. Den she had a lot of chillun dat she got f'om other places. Yo' see, folks in dem days didn't marry lak dey do now. She worked in de house fo' de white folks durin' slavery. It's been about forty years ago, since she died.

"My name is Robert Henry, and folks call me Bob. I was bawn about eighty-four years ago in de old City Hotel, dat was near de foot of Congress Avenue, Austin, and on de bank of de Colorado River. Dis was in 1854.

"Mothaw was workin' in de hotel, when I was bawn. I think dat my folks belonged to a Mr. Hollman at dat time. Den day was sold to Mawster John Henry of Belton. Fathaw and mothaw was lucky dat dey was sold together.

"De Civil War was almost endin' and fathaw was helpin' wid de haulin' of meat to de soldiers. It was while fathaw was at de big Brazos River dat he learned he was a free man.

"Mawster John Henry was good to his slaves. He never allowed no overseers around. Well, he didn't need none, 'cause he jes' had a store, and fathaw hauled things fo' him. Belton was a small place den, but dem desperadoes sure was bad up in dat country. Dey was jes' goin' around killin' people.

"After slavery fathaw had a fahm, near Belton. Dem desperadoes come to our cabin one moonlit night, and stayed all night on de outside, a tryin' to see if dey could kill somebody. We had a little one-room log-cabin, wid a little lean-to in de back. De lean-to was built of slab wood, or split logs.

"One of dem men shouted to us, 'Matt, we're goin' up to git some prisoners. We want dem arms dat yo' got in dere.'

"Not one of us said nothin' and none of us went outside. Den de man said, 'If yo' don't come out, Matt, we'll set yo' cabin a fire.'

"One of de men tried to set a piece of log a fire, but it jes' wouldn't burn. Dey couldn't kill us as long as we stayed in dat log cabin, unless dey burned us out. We jes' wouldn't go out, even when de men said dat dey knowed fathaw. Den, befo' mawnin', dey left and shot somebody's cattle. Dem desperadoes, when dey needed somethin' would shoot de white folks and colored folks. A lot of dem desperadoes was caught and put in jail, and den a lot of citizens got together and went to de jail and shot 'em down. It's been many a year since I left dat place, and I ain't never been back once.

"Fathaw had owned about fourteen acres on de prairie, near Belton. Land was mighty cheap den. I don't believe dat he paid more'n a dollah or two a acre fo' dat land.

"I was about twenty when I hired out. I was doin' plowin' on de Andy Davidson fahm, on whut was den called Birdie's Prairie, near where I live here now. I was gittin' fifteen dollahs a month fo' my work. My folks lived in a house wid me. Fathaw was rentin' land f'om Mr. Davidson on de thirds and fourths.

"We made good crops nigh every year. We raised cotton and cawn, but never no cane. Dere was enough grass fo' all times fo' de cattle. We'd cut de wild bottom grass and cure it fo' de winter's use. Dat grass would grow to waist high.

"I think dat we stayed on de Davidson fahm fo' about a year. We den rented a fahm next door and on de thirds and fourths. We stayed dere about three years. We sure made good cotton crops, and de cotton was sellin' fo' about five and six cents a pound. Dere was times when it would go up to ten cents a pound. When we heard dat cotton was ten cents a pound, and would bring about fifty dollahs a bale, we'd load up de wagon wid bales and go to town.

"De pay fo' cotton pickin' was about four bits a hunnert pounds. I seen 'em plow under better cotton in dem days, 'cause dey was tired of pickin' it, dan dey make and pick nowadays. When we'd go to gin de cotton, we'd throw all of de seeds on de side of de ginhouse. If yo' wanted seed to plant, yo' jes' had to rake off de top of de pile, and yo' would have plant seeds fo' de year.

"Gins is run by steam now, but when I was a boy, I had to drive mules around and around under de gin-platform, so we could git a bale of cotton ginned. I drove as many as eight mules at one time at dat gin. I didn't have to use no lines 'cause dem mules jes' had to go around and around. I didn't have to whip 'em much. Sometimes I would quit walkin' behind de mules and git on and ride one.

"Many a man at de gin neglected his business, and got some fingers cut off. If a man got his fingers cut off, he would jes' dip de hand into kerosene, and wrap it up and go home. If yo' was careless enough to let it happen to yo' it was yo' own fault.

"I turned many a spinnin' wheel. Dem big wheels would hum jes' lak a gin. Dere was striped shirts dat was made on de loom, and we called 'em hickory shirts. We'd go to de bottom lands to git de barks fo' makin' de dyes fo' de hickory shirts.

"Befo' I married, I bought myself a hoss. I would ride him to town. I think dat he cost me about twenty dollahs, and he would cost about a hunnert nowadays.

"I was in my early thutties befo' I got married. De older folks in dem days jes' wouldn't let dere chillun know when dey had growed up. We was lak young folks up to our thutties.

"Mathilda Lee was de name of my first wife. She lived near our place. I'd go and see her on Wednesday nights and talk wid her, and on Sundays I'd go and see her again. We got engaged, and den got married. We had jes' one child, a boy. De boy was named Johnny. We lived together fo' about three years, and den Mathilda and de boy died.

"I stayed single fo' about three years. Den I went wid another girl. She was very much younger'n me. Her name was Laura Smith. She saw how good I had been to Mathilda, and she got stuck on me. Den we got married. We had eight chillun, and dey is all still livin'.

"I have found life fine, and I used to be a man, and I could go out and git somethin' to do, but now its hard to do.

"I reckon dat I went to school fo' about a month in my life. I had to stay home and help fathaw, 'cause he was gittin' to be a cripple. I kain't read and write. I don't even know how to sign my name. I wish now dat I had got some learnin' in my earlier days.

"I rented land f'om Mr. R.M. Castleman, near here, fo' about fifty years. In de early days, dey built me a house to live in. Dey never fussed at me once durin' all of de time dat I knowed 'em. Mr. Castleman used to say, 'Dis is a black renter of mine, but he sure is a good man.'

"Mr. Castleman has been dead now fo' about thutteen years, and no finer man ever lived.

"I'm eighty-four years old now, and I ain't ever been arrested, or had to pay a fine. Dat's a putty good record, ain't it?

"Dere was one time, when I was a boy, dat I did do a wrong thing. I saw a wagon load of fine apples standin' on de street in Austin. I didn't have no money, but I sho' did want dat apple. I don't know whut de apples was wuth, but I sneaked one and den walked away, and held de apple so everybody could see it. A policeman in his blue suit came by. I always wondered why he didn't arrest me,

'cause I was carryin' a apple lak dat. But I never did take no apples no more."

Gauthier, Sheldon F. Tarrant Co., Dist. #7 (8-2-37 (Yes))

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