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Thomas, Rebecca

Rebecca Thomas, 113, says she was born in 1825, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Rebecca looks her age. The skin on her arms is withered and dried. She has the high cheekbones and yellowish complexion of Indians. Rebecca can hardly see, and has been an invalid for many months. Her daughter, Tennie, takes care of her. There are only two small rooms in their house, and Rebecca lies on an old bed, next to the hot kitchen stove. Rebecca's master in Arkansas was Jake Saul. She said he believed in punishing his slaves, when they were unruly. She still has great respect for her mistress, Sukie, who was always kind to her. Saul brought his slaves to Texas before the Civil War. He located at Craft's Prairie, Caldwell County. Rebecca's parents were Champ and Aimee Hemphill. She has been married twice. Her first husband was John Cato. They had fourteen children. Henry Thomas was her second husband. They had no children. Rebecca lives at 1107 Rector Street, Austin, and receives a monthly pension of $9.00 from the State of Texas.

"Pappy's name was Champ Hemphill. I never did know why dey called him Champ. Maybe he was a good fighter. He was tall and of a good build. He was a field worker on Mawster Saul's cotton plantation. I reckon dat it must be more'n sixty years since he died.

"Aimee Hemphill was my mammy's name. Her chillun's name was: Rebecca, Maria, Gus, Hiram, Radin, Jane, Isaiah, we always called him Zair, Emilie and Johanna. I was de oldest of de fambly, and Johanna was de youngest. Only three of us is still livin' today: Me, Rodin and Johanna. All of mammy's chillun was nothin' but hard workers. Mammy was fat and stout, and she was part Injun. I don't know whut tribe she belonged to. She had long, fine black hair, yaller skin and high cheek bones. Mammy died only about thirty years ago. She jes' died of old age. She jes' wo'e out, lak a old dress. She is buried in Lockhart, Caldwell County.

"When I was a girl, my name was Rebecca Saul, I reckon. Pappy took his name f'om some mawster that owned him at one time. I think dat is how he got his name. After de slavery days de colored folks took de name of some white folks.

"I was bawn in Little Rock, Arkansas, one hunnert and thurteen years ago. I was bawn in 1825. De way I got dat date, was when I asked fo' my pension, de folks up at de courthouse looked up de record, and said dat I was one hunnert and thutteen years old.

"I got a daughter dat is living dat is sebenty years old. Dere is six generations of us. Dat shows dat I'm old.

"Mawster Jake Saul had a big cotton plantation at Little Rock. He had a big orchard, too. He had plenty of everything. He had his niggers whooped when dey needed it.

"But Mistress Sukie was putty good to us. She always prayed to de Lawd dat she hoped she would live long enough to see her niggers set free. She lived to see it too. I remembah how Mistress Sukie raised whut yo' called coccoons. She had 'im on her place and she made her own silk f'om 'em, and made her own silk dresses. She never did let me help wid dis work. She had a lot of mulberry trees and she fed the leaves to dem coccoons.

"I was a house girl fo' awhile, and den I was a field hand fo' awhile. When I was doin' work in de house, I had to git a mulberry limb wid de leaves on it and fan Mistress Sukie wid it till she'd fall asleep; and den I'd fall asleep, too.

"I used to work de spinnin' wheel, and I wove my own clothes on de loom. I used one of dem big, hummin' wheels fo' my work, dat I had to turn by hand; but Mistress Sukie had a little black spinnin' wheel dat she worked wid her feet.

"When I was a girl, I was sich a good walker dat one day I had to go and help out some folks at another place. I was walkin' and de man of de fambly, dat I was to work fo' come along on his hoss. He didn't ride fast, and I beat him home. I walked all of de way.

"Mawster Saul brought us to Texas durin' slavery days. He brought us to whut was called Craft's Prairie, in Caldwell County. I kin still remembah how we travelled fo' many a day across de prairies, befo' we got to Caldwell County.

"He rented a fahm de first year, and raised a lot of cotton. He also raised some wheat and cawn. Dem slaves cut dat wheat wid whut yo' call sickles. Dere was times when at harvestin' time it turned out cold. It was den dat a jub of whiskey was brought along by de men, and dey'd take a drink after comin' out of each row.

"De most cotton dat I could pick was about three hunnert pounds a day. Dat wasn't much 'cause others could pick twice dat much.

"When I was young, I remembah dat I played wid Injun chillun. I even knowed how de Injuns sang and danced. I never danced with the Injuns, though. I know dat when dem Injuns was out on a battle and dey was figuring on killin' yo' dey'd paint a spot of blood big as a half-dollah on dere cheeks. I know dat dey done dat, but I don't know if all tribes done dat. I use to make my chillun laugh, when I told 'em how de Injun mammies nussed some of dere chillun. Yo' know dat dey carried dere babies in a kind of stachel on de back. Dem Injun wimmen had sich long milk sacks, dat dey could throw 'em over dere shoulders and let de babies suck dem in dere satchels.

"After slavery, we rented a fahm f'om Isaiah Bean, near Waelder, Gonzales County. Fahmin' is de type of work dat I done all of my life, except fo' awhile when I was a house girl. But I kain't do nothin' now, and all dat I kin do is lay here in bed and eat and drink coffee and water.

"I use to go to a lot of dances in my good days. We'd dance the reels. Dere was times when de only - music we had was played by a colored man on a reed. I could play a accordian and my first husband, John, could play de banjo, but we never did play at dances. I wish now dat I hadn't danced so much, and maybe my limbs wouldn't be so bad today. I never did let my girls go to dances, though, 'cause I didn't want no man to swing my girls around.

"I have been married two times. I was married durin' de war, and befor' I was set free. My first husband was John Cato. He was a fahmer. We had fourteen chillun, and about half of 'em died when dey was young. John died about fifty years ago.

"Tennie used to work in a house here in Austin where a lot of University boys lived. She said dat she'd lak to see if dem boys got up in life. One was goin' to be a doctah, and another one was goin' to be a lawyer. Dem boys sure did lak Tennie's cookin'. At meal time dey would yell, "All right, Tennie, bring on de good old hot biscuits and fresh butter."

"Some of de boys would say, 'Tennie, dat sure was a good meal; here is a quarter fo' yo''.

"Dat was about thutteen years ago, when Tennie worked out dere. She stays home now, and takes care of me.

(Cox, Nellie B., San Angelo, Texas, 12 September 1937, (no))

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