"I was born same time as Miss Sara Kilpatrick. Dr. Kilpatrick's
first wife and my maw come to their time right together. Miss Sara's
maw died and they brung Miss Sara to suck with me. It's a thing we
ain't never forgot. My maw's name was Sallie and Miss Sara allus
looked with kindness on my maw.
We sucked till we was a fair size and played together, which wasn't
no common thing. None the other li'l niggers played with the white
chillun. But Miss Sara loved me so good.
"I was jus' bout big nough to start playin' with a broom to go bout
sweepin' up and not even half doin' it when Dr. Kilpatrick sold me.
They was a old white man in Trinity and his wife died and he didn't
have chick or child or slave or nothin'. Massa sold me cheap, cause
he didn't want Miss Sara to play with no nigger young'un. That old
man bought me a big doll and went off and left me all day, with the
door open. I jus' sot on the floor and played with that doll. I used
to cry. He'd come home and give me somethin' to eat and then go to
bed, and I slep' on the foot of the bed with him. I was scart all
the time in the dark. He never did close the door.
"Miss Sara pined and sickened. Massa done what he could, but they
wasn't no peartness in her. She got sicker and sicker, and massa
brung nother doctor. He say, You li'l gal is grievin' the life out
her body and she sho' gwine die iffen you don't do somethin' bout
it.' Miss Sara says over and over, I wants Mary.' Massa say to the
doctor, That a li'l nigger young'un I done sold.' The doctor tells
him he better git me back iffen he wants to save the life of his
child. Dr. Kilpatrick has to give a big plenty more to git me back
than what he sold me for, but Miss Sara plumps up right off and
grows into fine health. "Then massa marries a rich lady from
Mississippi and they has chillun for company to Miss Sara and seem
like for a time she forgits me.
"Massa Kilpatrick wasn't no piddlin' man. He was a man of plenty. He
had a big house with no more style to it than a crib, but it could
room plenty people. He was a medicine doctor and they was rooms in
the second story for sick folks what come to lay in. It would take
two days to go all over the land he owned. He had cattle and stock
and sheep and more'n a hundred slaves and more besides. He bought
the bes' of niggers near every time the spec'lators come that way.
He'd make a swap of the old ones and give money for young ones what
could work. "He raised corn and cotton and cane and taters and
goobers, sides the peas and other feedin' for the niggers. I member
I helt a hoe handle mighty onsteady when they put a old women to
larn me and some other chillun to scrape the fields. That old woman
would be in a frantic. She'd show me and then turn bout to show some
other li'l nigger, and I'd have the young corn cut clean as the
grass. She say, For the love of Gawd, you better larn it right, or
Solomon will beat the breath out you body.' Old man Solomon was the
"Slavery was the worst days was ever seed in the world. They was
things past tellin', but I got the scars on my old body to show to
this day. I seed worse than what happened to me. I seed them put the
men and women in the stock with they hands screwed down through
holes in the board and they feets tied together and they naked
behinds to the world. Solomon the the [sic] overseer beat them with
a big whip and massa look on. The niggers better not stop in the
fields when they hear them yellin'. They cut the flesh most to the
bones and some they was when they taken them out of stock and put
them on the beds, they never got up again.
"When a nigger died they let his folks come out the fields to see
him afore he died. They buried him the same day, take a big plank
and bust it with a ax in the middle nough to bend it back, and put
the dead nigger in betwixt it. They'd cart them down to the
graveyard on the place and not bury them deep nough that buzzards
wouldn't come circlin' round. Niggers mourns now, but in them days
they wasn't no time for mournin'.
"The conch shell blowed afore daylight and all hands better git out
for roll call or Solomon bust the door down and get them out. It was
work hard, git beatin's and half fed. They brung the victuals and
water to the fields on a slide pulled by a old mule. Plenty times
they was only a half barrel water and it stale and hot, for all us
niggers on the hottes' days. Mostly we ate pickled pork and corn
bread and peas and beans and taters. They never was as much as we
"The times I hated most was pickin' cotton when the frost was on the
bolls. My hands git sore and crack open and bleed. We'd have a li'l
fire in the fields and iffen the ones with tender hands couldn't
stand it no longer, we'd run and warm our hands a li'l bit. When I
could steal a tater, I used to slip it in the ashes and when I'd run
to the fire I'd take it out and eat it on the sly. "In the cabins it
was nice and warm. They was built of pine boardin' and they was one
long room of them up the hill back of the big house. Near one side
of the cabins was a fireplace. They'd bring in two, three big logs
and put on the fire and they'd last near a week. The beds was made
out of puncheons fitted on holes bored in the wall, and planks laid
cross them poles. We had tickin' mattresses filled with corn shucks.
Sometimes the men build chairs at night. We didn't know much bout
havin' nothin', though.
"Sometimes massa let niggers have a li'l patch. They'd raise taters
or goobers. They liked to have them to help fill out on the
victuals. Taters roasted in the ashes was the best tastin' eatin' I
ever had. I could die better satisfied to have jus' one more tater
roasted in hot ashes. The niggers had to work the patches at night
and dig the taters and goobers at night. Then if they wanted to sell
any in town they'd have to git a pass to go. They had to go at
night, cause they couldn't ever spare a hand from the fields.
"Once in a while they's give us a li'l piece of Sat'day evenin' to
wash out clothes in the branch. We hanged them on the ground in the
woods to dry. They was a place to wash clothes from the well, but
they was so many niggers all couldn't get round to it on Sundays.
When they'd git through with the clothes on Sat'day evenin's the
niggers which sold they goobers and taters brung fiddles and guitars
and come out and play. The others clap they hands and stomp they
feet and we young'uns cut a step round. I was plenty biggity and
like to cut a step.
"We was scart of Solomon and his whip, though, and he didn't like
frolickin'. He didn't like for us niggers to pray, either. We never
heared of no church, but us have prayin' in the cabins. We'd set on
the floor and pray with our heads down low and sing low, but if
Solomon heared he'd come and beat on the wall with the stock of his
whip. He'd say, I'll come in there and tear the hide off you backs.'
But some the old niggers tell us we got to pray to Gawd that he
don't think different of the blacks and the whites. I know that
Solomon is burnin' in hell today, and it pleasures me to know it.
"Once my maw and paw taken me and Katherine after night to slip to
nother place to a prayin' and singin'. A nigger man with white beard
told us a day am comin' when niggers only be slaves of Gawd.
We prays for the end of Trib'lation and the end of beatin's and for
shoes that fit our feet. We prayed that us niggers could have all we
wanted to eat and special for fresh meat. Some the old ones say we
have to bear all, cause that all we can do. Some say they was glad
to the time they's dead, cause they'd rather rot in the ground than
have the beatin's. What I hated most was when they'd beat me and I
didn't know what they beat me for, and I hated they strippin' me
naked as the day I was born.
"When we's comin' back from that prayin', I thunk I heared the
nigger dogs and somebody on horseback. I say, Maw, its them nigger
hounds and they'll eat us up.' You could hear them old hounds and
sluts abayin'. Maw listens and say, Sho nough, them dogs am running'
and Gawd help us!' Then she and paw talk and they take us to a fence
corner and stands us up gainst the rails and say don't move and if
anyone comes near, don't breathe loud. They went to the woods, so
the hounds chase them and not git us. Me and Katherine stand there,
holdin' hands, shakin' so we can hardly stand. We hears the hounds
come nearer, but we don't move. They goes after paw and maw, but
they circles round to the cabins and gits in. Maw say its the power
"In them days I weared shirts, like all the young'uns. They had
collars and come below the knees and was split up the sides. That's
all we weared in hot weather. The men weared jeans and women
gingham. Shoes was the worstes' trouble. We weared rough russets
when it got cold, and it seem powerful strange they'd never git them
to fit. Once when I was a young gal, they got me a new pair and all
brass studs in the toes. They was too li'l for me, but I had to wear
them. The trimmin's cut into my ankles and them places got mis'ble
bad. I rubs tallow in them sore places and wrops rags around them
and my sores got worser and worser. The scars are there to this day.
"I wasn't sick much, though. Some the niggers had chills and fever a
lot, but they hadn't discovered so many diseases then as now. Dr.
Kilpatrick give sick niggers ipecac and asafoetide and oil and
turpentine and black fever pills. "They was a cabin called the
spinnin' house and two looms and two spinnin' wheels goin' all the
time, and two nigger women sewing all the time. It took plenty sewin'
to make all the things for a place so big. Once massa goes to Baton
Rouge and brung back a yaller girl dressed in fine style. She was a
seamster nigger. He builds her a house way from the quarters and she
done fine sewin' for the whites. Us niggers knowed the doctor took a
black woman quick as he did a white and took any on his place he
wanted, and he took them often. But mostly the chillun born on the
place looked like niggers. Aunt Cheyney allus say four of hers were
massas, but he didn't give them no mind. But this yaller gal breeds
so fast and gits a mess of white young'uns. She larnt them fine
manners and combs out they hair.
"Onct two of them goes down the hill to the doll house where the
Kilpatrick chillun am playin'. They wants to go in the dollhouse and
one the Kilpatrick boys say, That's for white chillun.' They say,
"We ain't no niggers, cause we got the same daddy you has, and he
comes to see us near every day and fotches us clothes and things
from town.' They is fussin' and Missy Kilpatrick is listenin' out
her chamber window. She heard them white niggers say, He is our
daddy and we call him daddy when he comes to our house to see our
"When massa come home that evenin' his wife hardly say nothin' to
him, and he ask her what the matter and she tells him, Since you
asks me, I'm studyin' in my mind bout them white young'uns of that
yaller nigger wench from Baton Rouge. He say, Now, honey, I fotches
that gal jus' for you, cause she a fine seamster.' She say, It look
kind of funny they got the same kind of hair and eyes as my chillun
and they got a nose looks like yours.' He say, Honey, you jus' payin'
tention to talk of li'l chillun that ain't got no mind to what they
say.' She say, Over in Mississippi I got a home and plenty with my
daddy and I got that in my mind.'
"Well, she didn't never leave and massa bought her a fine new span
of surrey hosses. But she don't never have no more chillun and she
ain't so cordial with the massa. Margaret, that yallow gal, has more
white young'uns, but they don't never go down the hill no more to
the big house.
"Aunt Cheyney was jus' out of bed with a sucklin' baby one time, and
she run away. Some say that was nother baby of massa's breedin'. She
dont' come to the house to nurse her baby, so they misses her and
old Solomon gits the nigger hounds and takes her trail. They gits
near her and she grabs a limb and tries to hist herself in a tree,
but them dogs grab her and pull her down. The men hollers them onto
her, and the dogs tore her naked and et the breasts plumb off her
body. She got well and lived to be a old woman, but nother woman has
to suck her baby and she ain't got no sign of breasts no more.
"They give all the niggers fresh meat on Christmas and a plug
tobacco all round. The highes' cotton picker gits a suit of clothes
and all the women what had twins that year gits a outfittin' of
clothes for the twins and a double, warm blanket.
"Seems like after I got bigger, I member' more'n more niggers run
away. They's most allus cotched. Massa used to hire out his niggers
for wage hands. One time he hired me and a nigger boy, Turner, to
work for some ornery white trash name of Kidd. One day Turner goes
off and don't come back. Old man Kidd say I knowed bout it, and he
tied my wrists together and stripped me. He hanged me by the wrists
from a limb on a tree and spraddled my legs around the trunk and
tied my feet together. Then he beat me. He beat me worser than I
ever been beat before and I faints dead away. When I come to I'm in
bed. I didn't care so much iffen I died.
"I didn't know bout the passin of time, but Miss Sara come to me.
Some white folks done git word to her. Mr. Kidd tries to talk
hisself out of it, but Miss Sara fotches me home when I'm well
enough to move. She took me in a cart and my maw takes care of me.
Massa looks me over good and says I'll git well, but I'm ruint for
"After while I taken a notion to marry and massa and missy marries
us same as all the niggers. They stands inside the house with a
broom held crosswise of the door and we stands outside. Missy puts a
li'l wreath on my head they kept there and we steps over the broom
into the house. Now, that's all they was to the marryin'. After
freedom I gits married and has it put in the book by a preacher.
"One day we was workin' in the fields and hears the conch shell
blow, so we all goes to the back gate of the big house. Massa am
there. He say, Call the roll for every nigger big nough to walk, and
I wants them to go to the river and wait there. They's gwine be a
show and I wants you to see it.' They was a big boat down there,
done built up on the sides with boards and holes in the boards and a
bit gun barrel stickin' through every hole. We ain't never seed
nothin' like that. Massa goes up the plank onto the boat and comes
out on the boat porch. He say, This am a Yankee boat." He goes
inside and the water wheels starts movin' and that boat goes movin'
up the river and they says it goes to Natches.
"The boat wasn't more'n out of sight when a big drove of sojers
comes into town. They say they's Fed'rals. More'n half the niggers
goes off with them sojers, but I goes on back home cause of my old
"Next day them Yankees is swarmin' the place. Some the niggers wants
to show them somethin'. I follows to the woods. The niggers shows
them sojers a big pit in the ground, bigger'n a big house. It is got
wooden doors that lifts up, but the top am sodded and grass growin'
on it, so you couldn't tell it. In that pit is stock, hosses and
cows and mules and money and chinaware and silver and a mess of
stuff them sojers takes.
"We jus' sot on the place doin' nothin' till the white folks comes
home. Miss Sara come out to the cabin and say she wants to read a
letter to my mammy. It come from Louis Carter, which is brother to
my mammy, and he done follow the Fed'rals to Galveston. A white man
done write the letter for him. It am tored in half and massa done
that. The letter say Louis am workin' in Galveston and wants mammy
to come with us, and he'll pay our way. Miss Sara say massa swear,
Damn Louis Carter. I ain't gwine tell Sallie nothin',' and he starts
to tear the letter up. but she won't let him, and she reads it to
"After a time massa takes all his niggers what wants to Texas with
him and mammy gits to Galveston and dies there. I goes with massa to
the Tennessee Colony and then to Navasota. Miss Sara marries Mr. T.
Coleman and goes to El Paso. She wrote and told me to come to her
and I allus meant to go.
"My husband and me farmed round for times, and then I done housework
and cookin' for many years. I come to Dallas and cooked seven year
for one white family. My husband died years ago. I guess Miss Sara
been dead these long years. I allus kep' my years by Miss Sara's
years, count we is born so close. "I been blind and mos' helpless
for five year. I'm gittin' might enfeeblin' and I ain't walked
outside the door for a long time back. I sets and members the times
in the world. I members now clear as yesterday things I forgot for a
long time. I members bout the days of slavery and I don't lieve they
ever gwine have slaves no more on this earth. I think Gawd done took
that burden offen his black chillun and I'm aimin' to praise him for
it to his face in the days of Glory what ain't so far off.
Mary Reynolds Speech
Her Days as a Slave