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Newman, Virginia

VIRGINIA NEWMAN was freeborn, the daughter of a Negro boat captain and a part Negro, part Indian mother. When a young girl, Virginia apprenticed herself, and says she was nursegirl in the family or Gov. Foster, of Louisiana. She does not know her age, but says she saw the "Stars fall" in 1833. She has the appearance of extreme old age, and is generally conceded to be 100 years old or more. She now lives in Beaumont. Texas.

"When de stars fall I's 'bout six year old. They didn' fall on de groun'. They cross de sky like a millions of firebugs.

"My fus' name Georgia Turner. 'cause my pappy's name George Turner, and he a freeborn nigger man. He's captain of a boat, but they call 'em vessels them days. It have livin' quarters in it and go back and forth 'tween dis place and dat and go back to Africy, too.

"My grandmudder, she an Africy woman. They brung her freeborn from Africy and some people what knowed things one time tol' us we too proud but us had reason to be proud. My grandmudder's fambly in Africy was a African prince of de rulin' people. My udder grandmudder was a pure bred Indian woman and she raise all my mudder's chillen. My mudder name Eli Chivers.

"When I's small I live with my grandmudder in a old log cabin on the ribber, 'way out in de bresh Jus' like de under Indians live. I's born on my fadder's big boat, 'way below Grades Island, close by Franklin, in Louisiana. They tells me he carry cargo of cotton in do hull of do boat, and when I's still li'l they puts out to sea, and grandmudder, Sarah Turner her name, tuk us and kep' us with her in de cabin.

"Us didn' have stick of furniture in de house, no bed, no chair, no nothin'. Us cut saplings boughs for bed, with green moss over 'on. Us was happy, though. Us climb trees and play. It was hard sometime to git things to eat so far in de woods and us sat mos' everything what run or crawl or fly outdoors. Us eat many rattlesnake and them's fine eatin'. We shoot de snake and skin him and cut him in li'l dices. Den us stew him slow with lots or brown gravy.

"They allus askin' me how make hoe-cake like we et. Jus' take do cornmeal and salt and water and make patties with do hands and wrap de sof' patties in cabbage leafs. stir out de ashes and put do patties in de hot ashes. Dat was good.

"One my grandfadders a old Mexican man call Old Man Caesar. All de grandfolks was freeborn and raise de chillen de same, but when us gits big they tell us do what we wants. Us could stay in de woods and be free or go up to live with de white folks. I's a purty big gal when I goes up to de big house and 'prentice myself to work for de Fosters. Day have big plantation at Franklin and lots of slaves. One time de Governor cripple in he leg and I do nothin' but nuss him.

"I's been so long in de woods and don' see nobody much dat I love it up with de white folks. Dey 'lowed us have dances and when dat old 'cordian starts to play, iffen I ain't git my hair comb yit, it don't git com?. De boss man like to see de niggers 'joy demselves. Us dance do quarrille.

"Us have 'ceptional marsters. My fadder sick on Marster Lewis' plantation and can't walk and de marster brung him a 'spensive reclinin' chair. Old Judge Lewis was his marster.

"I git marry from de plantation and my husban' he name Beverly Newman and he from de Lewis plantation in Opelousas. They read out'n de Book and after de readin' us have lots of white folks to come and watch us have big dance.

"When a nigger do wrong den, they didn' send him to de pen. They put him 'cross a barrel and strop him behin'.

"When fightin' 'gin, all our white folks and us slaves have to go 'way from Louisiana. Opelousas and then place was free long time 'fore de udders. Us strike out for Texas and it took mos' a year to walk from de Bayou la Fouche to de Brazos bottoms. I have to tote my two li'l boys, dat was Jonsh and Simon. They couldn' neither walk yit. Us have de luggage in de ox cart and us have to walk. Day was some mo' cullud people and white and de men drag de feetses and stick up do wheels so day couldn' even move. Us all walk barefeets and our feets break and run they so sore. and blister for months. It cold and hot sometime and rain and us got no house or no tent.

"De white folks settles in Jasper county, on a plantation dere. After while freedom come to Texas, too, but mos' de slaves stay round de old marsters. I's de only one what go back to Louisiana. After de war my fambly git broke up and my three oldes' chillen never see de li'l ones. Dose later chillen, day's eight livin' now out'n mine what was born since slavery and my fourth chile die seven year ago when she 75 year old.

"When I git back to Louisiana I come to be a midwife and I brung so many babies here I can't count. De old priest say I ought to have a big book with all their names to 'member by.

"It were 'bout dis time I have my fur' bought dress and it was blue guinea with yaller spots. It were long at de ankle and make with a body wais'. Us wore lots of unnerwear and I ain't take 'em off yit.

"I never been sick, I's jus' weak. I almos' go blin' some time back but now I git my secon' sight and I sees well 'nough to sew.

Newman, Virginia -- Additional Interview

Her tall figure is thin to the point of emaciation, and the dark veins stand out like cords on her slender, claw-like hands. Rising from a low whisper to a high pitched reedy sound, her voice has that eerie quality usually associated with Voodoo chants of an ancient race. Virginia Newman, who maintains that she was six years old when the "stars fell" (1833), is undoubtedly the oldest living exslave in the vicinity. Virginia was freeborn, the daughter of a negro boat captain and a mother, part Indian and part negro. Her mother boasted direct descent from an African prince. As a young girl, Virginia was 'apprenticed' of her own free will to the 'w'ite folks,' and claims to have been nurse-girl to Governor Foster of Louisiana. It is generally conceded that she is approximately 113 years old. For many years she was almost blind but now sews and seems quite active at times. 'I's got my secon' sight,' she maintains.

"W'en d' stars fall I's mos' as big's I is now. Dey didn' fall on d' groun'. Iffen dey did fall on d' groun' dey would of bu'n (burn) up d' earth. Dey fall 'cross d' sky like a milliums 'r' fire bugs."

"My fus' name was Georgia Turner, cause my fadder's name was George Turner. He was a free bo'n nigger man. He was a cap'n 'r' a boat. Dey didn' call dem boats in dem days. Dey call wessels (vessels). D' wessel hab libin' quarters in it. D' ship go back 'n' fo'th 'tween dis place 'n' dat 'n' go back t' Africcy many time."

"My gran'mudder, dat's my mudder's mudder, she was a Africcy woman. Dey brung her free-bo'n from d' ol' place in Africcy. Some people w'at knowed t'ings one time tol' us we too proud but us had reason t' be proud. My gran'mudder's fambly back in Africcy was a African Prince 'r' d' rulin' people. Dey uster tol' us 'bout how dey was a gol' mine in Africcy 'n' dat's why d' uder folks try t' git all d' culled people 'way from dey country."

"My uder gran'maw was a pyore (pure) bred Injun woman. She raise all my mudder's chillen. My mudder name' Eli Chivers. Dey was two 'r' us gals 'n' two boys. Outn' our whole fambly I was d' onlies' one w'at eber git whippin'. Dat was cause I so 'chievous 'n' sassy. Dey didn' whip me too hard, jus' nuf mek me sting."

"W'en I's small I lib wid my gran'maw in a ol' log cabin on d' ribber, 'way out in d' bresh jus' like d' uder Injuns lib. I's bo'n on my fadder's big boat, 'way below Grades Islan' close by Franklin, Louisiana. Dey tell me he carry a cargo 'r' cotton in d' hull 'r' d' boat. W'en I little dey put 'way out t' sea. 'Way pas' sight 'r' lan'. Dey go plum' t' Africcy one time."

"Gran'maw, Sarah Turner her name, tuk us 'n' kep' us wid her in d' cabin. Us didn' hab a libin' stick 'r' fu'niture in dat house, no bed, no chair, no nuthin'. Us cut saplin's boughs fo' bed wid green moss ober dem. Us was happy do' (though). Us clim' trees 'n' play. D' snakes so many in d' big woods us didn' eben be 'fraid 'r' dem 'n' I ain' 'fraid 'r' dem t' dis day."

"It war hard sometime t' git t'ings t' eat so far in d' woods. Us eat mos' anyt'ing w'at run 'r' crawl 'n' fly dere. Us eat many a rattlesnake. Dey's fine eatin'. Gotta git d' snake befo' he git mad 'n' shoot 'im. Iffen he git mad fus' 'n' bite hisse'f den he pizen hisse'f 'n' he no good t' eat. D' rattlesnake alays gib plenty warnin' do' (though). Ain' no reason git hurt wid dem. Atter we kill d' snake us skin him 'n' cut 'im in little dices. Den us stew 'im slow wid lots 'r' brown graby. Us cook lots 'r' fish outn' d' ribber too."

"Dey alays askin' me how mek hoe-cake like us eat den. Jus' tek d' co'n meal 'n' salt 'n' water 'n' mek patties wid d' han's. Den wrop d' sof' patties in cabbage leaf, stir out d' ashes 'n' put dem in under d' hot ashes. Dat was good."

"One my gran'fadders was a ol' Mexican man dey call Ol' Man Ceasar. I neber know him good. He come from some place in d' country like dey call Mexico. All d' gran'folks was free-bo'n 'n' dey raise d' chillen dat way. Den w'en us git big dey tell us t' do w'at we want. Us could stay in d' woods 'n' be free's dey was or us could go up t' lib wid d' w'ite folks."

"I's a purty big gal w'en I go'd (went) up t' d' big house 'n' 'prentice myse'f t' wuk fo' d' Fosters. Dey hab a big plantation at Franklin 'n' hab lots 'r' slaves. Dey call me d' house gal. One time fo' long time Governor Foster was cripple' in he leg 'n' I do nuthin' but nuss him."

"I's been so long in d' woods 'n' don' see nobudy much dat I lub it up wid d' w'ite folks. Dey uster 'low us t' hab dances. W'en dat ol' corjian (accordian) start' t' play, iffen I ain' eben got my hair comb yit it don' neber git comb. I d' fus' one t' git t' dat dance 'n' d' las' one t' leabe. Us sometime walk many a mile t' d' dance 'n' carry us shoes on us back. Dey hab fiddle music 'n'corjian. D' boss man like t' see d' niggers 'joy demse'fs. Lots 'r' times us hab t' cross ober w'at we call d' big Lunnon bridge 'n' ober d' ferry boat t' git dere. Us dance d' quadrille. I jus' 'bout run t' git dere den."

"Us all hab 'ceptional marsters. I 'member dat w'en my fadder sick d' Ol' Marster on d' Lewis plantation w'ere my fadder stay, neber put he foot in d' chu'ch 'til he visit he po' sick darky. My fadder hab disease w'at he can't walk 'n' d' marster brung him a 'spensive reclinin' chair. My fadder was sick six mont' befo' he die. His fadder uster be d' boss nigger on d' Lewis plantation. Ol' Judge Lewis if he had lib, would 'r' been 110 year ol' now but I's ol'er dan him."

"I neber been sick in my life, not one day. I almost go blin' some time back but now I git my secon' sight 'n' I see well nuf t' sew. I's jus' weak. Dey ain' no sickness 'pon me."

"I git marry from d' plantation. My husban' was two year younger dan me. He name' Beverly Newman 'n' he from the Lewis plantation in Opelousas. Dey read outn' d' book. Atter d' weddin' us hab lots 'r' d' w'ite folks watch 'n' hab a big dance."

"Dey didn' sen' niggers t' d' pen den. Dey put 'em down cross a bah'rel 'n' strop dey behin'. Dey call dem Ball 'n' chain men den."

"W'en d' fightin' bre'k out all d' w'ite folks 'n' d' slaves hab t' go 'way from Louisiana. Opelousas 'n' dem place was free 'long time befo' d' uders. Us strike out fo' Texas. It tuk mos' a year t' walk from d' Bayou LaFouche t' d' Brazos bottom.' I hab t' tote my two little boy'. Dat was Johah 'n' Simon. Dey couldn' neder walk yit. Us hab d' luggage in d' ox cart 'n' us hab t' walk. Dey was some mo' culled people 'n' w'ite. D' mud drag d' feetses 'n' stick up d' wheels so d' couldn' eben move. Us all walk barefeets 'n' our feets bre'k 'n' run dey so so' (sore) 'n' blister fo' mont's. It was col' 'n' den hot sometime 'n' rain 'n' us got no house 'r' no tent."

"D' w'ite folks settle in Jasper county. Dey hab a plantation dere. Atter a time freedom come t' Texas too but mos' d' folks stay 'roun' dey ol' marsters in d' country. I's d' on'y one 'r' d' com'pny w'at eber go back t' Louisiana. Atter d' war my fambly git broke up. My t'ree ol'es' chillen neber see d' little ones. Dey was all bo'n befo' 'n' durin' d' fus' war. Dese later chillen, dey's eight libin' now outn' nine w'at was bo'n since slav'ry. My fo'th chile die seven year ago 'n' she was seventy-five year' ol'."

"W'en I git back t' Louisiana atter d' war I come t' be a mid-wife. Law, chile, I brung so many baby yere I can't count. D' ol' pries' say I ought hab a big book wid all dey name t' 'member by. Us was Cath'lic dem day. Us wo' (wore) a scarfel 'roun' d' neck on a cord. Dis hab a picture 'r' Sain' Ant'ony on it. D' ol' pries' uster come any time day 'r' night anybudy sick 'r' need him on d' plantation. Dey tell me one 'r' d' ol' pries' in Louisiana die at 'bout 115 year ol'. He ain' been dead long. I's a Meth'dis' now but I been t' ev'ry chu'ch, Baptis', Jew 'n' all."

"It we'r 'bout dis time I hab my fus' bought dress. I 'member it was mek outn' blue guinny with yaller spots. It we'r long t' yere at d' ankle, 'n' mek wid a body (basque) wais'. Us clo's was mek long in dem day not t' d' knee. Us wo' (wore) lots 'r' underwear too. I ain' tuk dem off yit."

"I was d' onlies' nigger w'at was eber bo'n on d' fus' 'r' July. Dey all 'preciated me. W'en I's nussin' dem dey t'ink my medicine boun' t' cu'a (cure) dem. I 'member one time I save a little chile from d' lockjaw wid some medicine I mek outn' yerbs 'n' cricket 'n' t'ings. I dis'member now. D' doctor' didn' beleebe it 'til dey see dat chile open her mou'f ag'in. Many time I mek medicine outn' dat blue weed on d' bank, but I don' 'member w'at fo'. My mem'ry is porely now."

"W'en Abr'am Lincoln was guv'nor he come t'roo Texas t' tell d' niggers dey free. I shook han's wid him. Some folks say dat ain' Abr'am Lincoln but I knowed better. D' culled folks call him 'Pipi'

w'at mean 'Papa.' He go 'bout t'roo d' country wid a driver in a big glass 'close carriage. Dey was two hosses 'n' a trunk on d' back. D' driver had on a big beaver hat. Abr'am Lincoln come t' Texas t' 'low d' culled folks t' go free. He shake han's wid all d' culled folks. He was a fine lookin' man. He talk nice t' ev'rybudy. He talk nice t' d' w'ite folks tell dem 'low all dey niggers go free."

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