I was born in 1852. I am 85 years old. I was born in Gordon County. The closest town was Calhoun, South Carolina. My sister died in '59. That's the first dead person I ever saw. One of my sisters was give away and another one was sold before the Civil War started. Sister Mariah was give to the young mistress, Miss Ella Conley. I didn't see her sold. I never seed nobody sold but I heard 'em talking about it. I had five sisters and one brother. My father was a free man always. He was a Choctaw Indian. Mother was part Cherokee Indian. My mother's mistress was Mrs. Martha Christian. He died and she married Tom Nealy, the one they call me fur, Wylie Nealy.
Liberty and Freedom was all I ever heard any colored folks say dey expected to get out of de war, and mighty proud of dot. Nobody knowed they was goin to have a war till it was done broke out and they was fightin about it. Didn't nobody want land, they jess wanted freedom. I remembers when Lincoln was made the President both times and when he was killed. I recollects all that like yesterday.
The army had been through and swept out everything. There wasn't a chicken or hog nowhere to be had, took the stock and cattle and all the provisions. So de slaves jess had to scatter out and leave right now.
And after de army come through I was goin back down to the old place and some soldiers passed riding along and one said "Boy where you goin? Said nothing up there." I says, "I knows it." Then he say "Come on here, walk along back there" and I followed him. I was twelve years old. He was Captain McClendenny. Then when I got to the camp wid him he say "You help around here." I got sick and they let me go back home then to Resacca, Georgia and my mother died. When I went back they sent me to Chattanooga with Captain Story. I was in a colored regiment nine months. I saw my father several times while I was at Coattanooga. We was in Shermans army till it went past Atlants. They burned up the city. Two of my masters come out of the war alive and two dead. I was mustered out in August 1865. I stayed in camp till my sisters found a cabin to move in. Everybody got rations issued out. It was a hard time. I got hungry lots times. No plantations was divided and the masters didn't have no more than the slaves had when the war was done. After the Yankees come in and ripped them up old missus left and Mr. Tom Nealy was a Home Guard. He had a class of old men. Never went back or seen any more of them. Everybody left and a heap of the colored folks went where rations could be issued to then and some followed on in the armies. After I was uustered out I stayed around the camps and went to my sister's cabin till we left there. Made anything we could pick up. Men come in there getting people to go work for them. Some folks went to Chicago. A heap of the slaves went to the northern cities. Colonel Stocker, a officer in the Yankes army, got us to come to a farm in Arkansas. We wanted to stay together is why we all went on the farm. May 1866, when we come to Arkansas is the first farmin I had seen done since I left Tom Nealy's place. Colonel Stocker is mighty well known in St. Francis County. He brought lots of families, brought me and my brother, my two brothers and a nephew. We come on the train. It took four or five days. When we got to Memphis we come to Linden on a boat "Molly Hamilton" they called it. I heard it was sunk at Madison long time after that. Colonal Stocker promised to pay $6 a month and feed us. When Christmas come he said all I was due was $12.45. We made a good crop. That wasn't it. Been there since May. Had to stay till got all the train and boat fare paid. There wasn't no difference in that and slavery 'cept they couldn't sell us.
I heard a heap about the Ku Klux but I nebber seed them. Everybody was scared of them.
The first votin I ever heard of was in Grant's election. Both black and white voted. I voted Republican for Grant. Lot of the southern soldiers was franchised and couldn't vote. Just the private soldiers could vote at tall. I don't know why it was. I was a slave for thirteen years from birth. Every slave could vote after freedom. Some colored folks held office. I knew several magistrates and sheriffs. There was one at Helena (Arkansas) and one at Marianna. He was a High Sheriff. I voted some after that but I never voted in the last Presidento election. I heard 'em say it wasn't no use, this man would be elected anyhow. I sorter quit off long time ago.
In 1874 and 1875 I worked for halves and made nough to buy a farm in St. Francis County. It cost $925. I bought it in 1887.
Eighty acres to be cleared down in the bottoms. My family helped and when my help got shallow, the children leaving me, I sold it for $2,000, in 1904. I was married jess once and had eight children; five livin and three dead. Me and the old woman went to Oklahoma. We went in January and come back to Biscoe (Arkansas) in September. It wasn't no place for farming. I bought 40 acres from Mr. Aydelott and paid him $500. I sold it and come to Mr. Joe Perry's place, paid $500 for 40 acres of timber land. We cleared it and I got way in debt and lost it. Clear lost it! Ize been working anywhere I could make a little since then. My wife died and I been doing little jobs and stays about with my children. The Welfare gives me a little check and some supplies now and then.
No maam, I can't read much. I was not learnt. I could figure a little before my eyes got bad. The white folks did send their children to pay schools but we colored children had to stay around the house and about in the field to work. I never got no schoolin. I went with old missus to camp meeting down in Georgia one time and got to go to white church sometimes. At the camp meeting there was a big tent and all around it there was brush harbors and tents where people stayed to attend the meetins. They had four meetins a day. Lots of folk got converted and shouted. They had a lot of singing. They had a lots to eat and a big time.
I don't think much about these young folks now. It seems lack everybody is having a hard time to live among us colored folks. Some white folks has got a heap and fine cars to get about in. I don't know what goin to become of 'em.
People did sing more than I hear them now but I never could sing. They sing a lot of foolish songs and mostly religious songs.
I don't recollect of any slave uprisins. I never heard of any. We didn't know they was going to have a war till they was fighting. Yes maam, they heard Lincoln was going to set 'em free, but they didn't know how he was going to do it. Everybody wanted freedom. Mr. Hammond (white) ask me not long ago if I didn't think it best to bring us from Africa and be slaves than like wild animals in Africa. He said we was taught about God and the Gospel over here if we was slaves. I told him I thought dot freedom was de best anywhere.
We had a pretty hard time before freedom. My mother was a field woman. When they didn't need her to work they hired her out and they got the pay. The master mated the colored people. I got fed from the white folks table whenever I curried the horses. I was sortar raised up with Mr. Nealy's children. They didn't mistreat me. On Saturday the mistress would blow a cone shell and they knowed to go and get the rations. We got plenty to eat. They had chickens and ducks and geese and plenty milk. They did have hogs. They had seven or eight guineas and a lot of peafowls. I never heard a farm bell till I come to Arkansas. The children et from pewter bowls or earthen ware. Sometimes they et greens or milk from the same bowl, all jess dip in. The Yankees took me to General Hood's army and I was Captain McCondennen's helper at the camps. We went down through Marietta and Atlanta and through Kingston. Shells come over where we lived.
I saw 'em fight all the time. Saw the light and heard the roaring of de guns miles away. It looked like a storm where the army want along. They tramped the wheat and oats and cotton down and turned the horses in on the corn. The slaves show did hate to see the Yankees waste everything. They promised a lot and wasn't as good as the old masters. All dey wanted was to be waited on too. The colored folks was freed when the Yankees took all the stock and cattle and rations. Everybody had to leave and let the government issue them rations. Everybody was proud to be free. They shouted and song. They all did pretty well till the war was about to end then they was told to scatter and no whars to go. Cabins all tore down or burned. No work to do. There was no money to pay. I wore old uniforms pretty well till I come to Arkansas. I been here in Hazen since 1906. I come on a boat from Memphis to Linden. Colonel Stocker brought a lot of us on the train. The name of the boat was Molly Hamilton. It was a big boat and we about filled it. I show was glad to get back on a farm.
I don't know what is goin to become of the young folks. Everything is so different now and when I was growin up I don't know what will become of the younger generation.
Interviewer Miss Irene Robertson"