Uncle Moble hobbles unsteadily from his little shade beside the outhouse into the warn kitchen, leaning heavily on the arm of his niece. He looks up on nearing my voice, and extends a gnarled and tobacco-stained hand. He sinks fumblingly into a chair. It is then that I see that Uncle Noble is blind.
"No, don't mind effen yuh ast me questions. Try tuh answer 'em, I will, best ways I kin. Don't mind et all, offen yuh tell me whut yuh want to know. Born'd in fifty-two, I was, yessuh, right her over theer wheer dat grade big plum tree usta be. Mammy was uh Injun an' muh pappy was uh white man, least-ways he warn't no slave even effen he was sorta dark-skinned.
"Ole pappy tole me 'bout how cum the whites an' the blacks an' the Injuns get all mixed up. Way back 'long in dere it war, be verch tell me jes' what year, dey was a tribe uh Injuns livin 'long dis ribber. Dey was kin to de Kink-ko-tons, but dey wasn't de same. Dey has ober on the Janes de Kink-ko-tans an' dey had dis tribe ober here.
"Well, de white man come. Not fum ober dere. De white man cum cross de Potomnc, an' den he cross de York ribber, an' den he cum on cross de Po uoson ribber into dis place. My pappy tell me jes' how cum dey cross all uh dose ribbers. He ain't see it, yuh unnerstann, but he hear tell how et happen.
"Dis whut de white man do. He pick hisself a tall ellum long side de ribber an' he clamb to de top an' he mark out on de trunk wid he ax uh section 'long 'bout, oh, 'long 'bout thirty-fo'ty feet. Den he cut de top off an' den he cut de bottom off so de thick trunk fall right on de edge uh de ribber. An' den he hollar dat dat ellum log tell he make hisself uh bout an' he skin off de bark so et don't ketch in de woods. Den he make hisse'f uh pattle an' dey all makes patties an' dey floats dat boat an' pattles cross to de under side.
"Well, dey cross de potomac an' dey has to fight de injuns an' dey cross de lork an' fit same more tell dey kilt all de Injuns or run 'em way. When dey cross de Poquoson dey fine de Injuns ain't simin' tuh fight but dey kilt de men an' tek de Injun women fo' dey wives. Coursen dey warn't no marryin' dem at dot time.
"Well dat's how cum my people started. Ah hear tell on how dey hafta fight de Injuns now an den, an' den de Fritishers come an' dey fit de British.
"An' all uh dat time dere warn't no black blood mixed in 'em, least wise, not as I neer'd toll uh any. Plenty blacks 'round; an seen 'en. My pappy nevuh would have none. By oncle had 'em, ober on dat pasture land dere was his land.
"Why I usta set right out dare many un day and watch 'em workn' in de 'bacey fields. Big fellars dey was, wid cole-black skins ashinin' wis sweat jes' lak dey rub nog-fat ober dere faces. Ah ain't nevuh bothered 'em but my bruther-he daiu now sence ninety-three he got uh hidin' one day fo' goin' in de field wid de blacks.
"Well we all heer tell uh de was, an ah listen to de qrown folk talk an but Dey ain't paid so much mind to et. Toll one day do blacks out in de field an' dey ain't no one out dere tuh mek 'em work. an' dey stand 'round an' laugh an' dey get down an' wait, but dey don' leave dat field all de mawning. An' den de wor. cun dut de Yankees was a comin,' an' all den blacks start tuh noopin' an' holl'rin', an' den dey go on down to deer sancks an' dey don' do no work at all dat day.
"An' when de Yanks qit hear dey ain't non uh de slave-holders no where round. Dey all cleared out an' de blacks in singin' an' prayin' an' shoutin' fo' joy cause 'Marse Lincoln done set em free.
"Well, dey tuk de blacks an' dey march em down de turnpike to hampton, an' dey put en tun work at de fort. Ah ain't nevah go ober dere but an heer tell now de black, come dere fum all 'round tell dey get so many dey ain't got work fo' em tuh do, so dey put 'em tah pilin' up logs an' teking 'em down agin, an' de Yankees come and go an' new ones com out dey ain't frowlin nothin' much 'ceptin' tuh poach ah hawk or turkey now an' den.
"Ah was jes' a little shaver gittin' in my teens den but ah member clear as you dat. an' ay hear tell oh un big battle up Bethel way an' dey say dey kilt uh up here bunch uh men, de 'federates an' de Yankees both. But an ain't sued it, though Oncle Shep Brown done tole he all 'bout et.
"Oncle Shep Brown lived down aways an de ribber. 'Long 'fore de Yankees come he jined up wid de 'federates. De fit in cat battle at Big Bethal but he ain't get uh scratch. He tell me all 'bout de war when he come back home. He tell me all 'bout de fall uh Richmond, he did.
"Was one day down en de lower woods in de shoe he tell me 'bout Richmond, Oncle Shep did. Why, I remember et jes' lak it was yestiddy. Was whittlin' un stick, he was, seetin' on uh stump wid his game laig hunched up ontuh uh bent saplin.' He was whittlin' away fo' uh 'long time 'thout sayin' much, an' all at once he jump up in de air an' de saplin' spring up an he start in tuh cussin.
"'Gawdammit, gawdammit, gawdammit,' de kept sayin' tuh hisse'f an' limpin' round on dat laig gare wis de ro missun. Ah know he gonna tell me sompin den cause when Oncle Shep git excited ed he always got uh lot tuh say.
"'Gawdammit,' he say, 'twas he nigguhs tak richmond''"
"How dey do dat oncle Snep?" ah ast, though an knowed he was gonna tell me anyway.
"'De nigguhs done tuk Richmond,'" he k ep on sayin' an' finalr he tell me how cun dey tak Richmond.
"'Ah seed et se'l,' h say, "'my comp'ny was stationed on de turnpike old tuh Richmond. We was in uh ole warehouse,'" he told me, "wid de winners an' de doors all barred up an' pached wid ferbased bales awaitin' fo' dem Yanks tuh come. An' we was a-listenin' an' peepin' out an' me been waitin' dere most all de ev'nin's. An' den we Dear, uh whistlin' an' un roorin like uh big blow an' it kep' gittin' closer. But we collon't see nothin' uh conin' de night was so dark. But roorin' kept a-gittin' louder an' louder an' 'long colt day break there cu. fun down de pike sech uh shootin' an uh yellin' ah nevah in nuh born days ah'd heerd.'
"'An' de men in dat warehouse kept aslinkin' away in de darkness widout sayin' nothin', cause dey didn't know weat debbils de Yankees was a lettin' loose. But ah stayed right there wid dem dat had de courage tuh face et, cause ah know big noise mean uh little storm."
"'Dar was 'bout forty of us left in dat ole warehouse shidin' back of dem bales un cotton an terbaccy, an' peepin out thew de craeks.'
"'An' den dey come. down de streat dey come--a shoutin' an' aprancin' an' a yellin' an' asingin' an' takin' such uh coise like as ef all helf don been turn't loose. an mobuh nigguhs. Ah ain't nevuh knowed nigguhs--oven all un den niggubs--could mek sech uh ruckus. One huge sea uh black faces filt de streets fun wall tuh wall, an' dey wan't nothin' but nigguhs in sigat.'
"'Well, sul., dey warn't no usen us firin' on den cause dey ain't no way we gonna kill all uh den nigguhs. An pretty soon sey bus' in de do' uh dat werehouse, an' we stood dere whilst dey prancen 'rounst us hoopin' an' holl'rin' an' not techin' us at all tell de Yankees soljers cut up, an' tek away our guns, an' mek us prisoners an' perty soon dey mare. us intuh town an' lock us up in old Libby Prison.' "'Thousings of 'em--den nigguns.' he say, 'Yessir--was de nigguhs dat tak Richmond. Time de Yankees get dere de niggers done man got de city task.'"
Why Uncle Mable is a Negro
Uncle Moble is a noble figure. de turned his head toward me at my questions, just as straight as if he actually is looking at me.
"Yuh manta know why I'm put with the colored people? Sure, ah got white skin, least wite, was white las' time uh south. Well, ah ain't white an' ah ain't black, leastwise not so fur as ah know. 'The the war done that. Fo de war dere warn't no question come up 'bout et. ain't been no schools 'round here to bothuh 'bout. Blacks work in de fields, an' de whites own de fields. Dis one here, been owned by de Hopson's since de fust hopson cut here, I guess, back fo' de British war, fo' de injun war, ah reck'n. Usta go tuh de church school wid old shop Brown's chillun, sat on de same bench, ah did.
"But de war charged all cat, Arter de soljers end back home, it was diff'runt, first dey say dat I wasn't ain't white, is black.
An' den dey tell de Injuns yuh kain't marry no more de whites. An' den dey tell usen dat we kain't cum no more tuh church school. An' dey won't let us do no bisness wid de whites, so we is th'own in win de blacks.
"Some uh a folk move away, but dey warn't no use un movin' cause ah hear tell et be de same ev'y wheer. So perty soon et come time tuh marry, n' dey ain't no white women fo' me tuh marry so ah marries uh black woman. an' out make me black, ah 'spose 'cause ah ten livin' black ev'y sence.
"Put mah bruther couldn't fine no black woman dat suited him, ah reckon, cause he married his fust cousin, who was a Hopson huhself.
"Den were only chile married hisse'f ah Hopson, and Hopsons been marryin' Hopsons ev'y sence, ah reck'n."
(Uncle Mobile Tells Where to Dig A well)
"That well out dere? Naw, dat ain't old. Dat ain't been dere mo'un fifteen-twenty year. De old well, she was old, though she nevah war much good. Paw ain't dug et in de right place. Old Shep Bro n tolt him, but my old man ain't nevah pay no mine to old Shep.
But old Shep she' did know how uh dig uh well. Ah kin see now him ah comin' up de lane when paw was adiggin'. Hobile he cay - my paw an' me Led de same name-Mobile, ye ain't diggin' dat sell de right place.
"Diggin' et wheer ah wants et," answers paw, a diggin' away en de hole shoulder deep.
"Well, ye ain't gonna git much water. O ghta got yo'se'f uh ellum stick."
"Don' need no ellum stick. Diggin' die well in my own yaud an' ah'm gonna dig et jes' wheer ah wants et. Go haid an' dig yo' own well."
"ell, old Shep musta got sorta mad, cause he goes home an' de nex' day he digs hisse'f uh well.
Ah seen him. Ah watched him when he figgered where tuh dig dat well. Sho nuf old Shep got himse'f uh prime ellum stick fum a good sized branch dat was forked. First he skint all de bark off.
"Kain't fine no water lessen ye skin de bank off," he tell me. "Long 'bout 2-3 feet on each limb, et was. Well, old Shep tek dat ellum stick wid one fork in each hand an' de big end straight up in de air an' he holt at tight an' started tuhw walk around, wid mo followin' right on his heels. An she' nuff, perty soon ah seed dat branch commence tuh shake an' den et started tuh bend an' old Shep le' et lead him across de field wid et bendin' lower all de time tell perty oon de big end uh dat ellum stick point straight down.
Old Shep marked de spot an' not his pick an' commence tuh dig out dat spot. An' fo' old Shep had got down mo'un five uh six feet ah be dang of he don' hit uh stream uh water dat filt up de well in uh hurry so dat he git his laige all wet fo' he kin clamb out.
An' yuh moughten believe et but ah knowed dat tuh be uh fae, cause ah tuk dat ellum stick in muh own han's an' ah felt dat stick apullin' me back tuh dat water. No matter which way ah turn, dat stick keep atwistin' me roun' toward dat water. An' ah tried tuh pull et back an' old Shep tuk holt uh et wid me an' tried tuh hole et up straight but de big end uh dat ellum brenoh pult down and pointed tuh dat well spite uh both uh us."
"Still deref Nawauh, ah reckon date old well been orunbled in an' filled?? long time now. Old Shep died back on 93, ah rookon. His old ??back blowed down, an' ah reckon dat ole well all covered up. But dat was some well while she lasted. Gave mo' unter dan all de udder wells in Poquoson, ah reckon.