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Slave Narrative of Peter Brown, born at
Woodlawn Plantation, Jefferson County, MS
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Peter Brown. Helena, Arkansas
"I was born on the Woodlawn place. It was owned by David and Ann Hunt. I
was born a slave boy. Master Hunt had two sons and one girl. Bigy and
Dunbar was the boys' names. Annie was the girl's name.
"My parents' names was Jane and William Brown. Papa said he was a little
shirt tail boy when the stars fell. Grandma Sofa and Grandpa Peter Bane
lived on the same place. I'm named after him. My papa come from
Tennessee to Mississippi. I never heard ma say where she come from.
"My remembrance of slavery is not at tall favorable. I heard the master
and overseers whooping the slaves b'fore day. They had stakes fixed in
the ground and tied them down on their stomachs stretched out and they
beat them with a bull whoop (cowhide woven). They would break the
blisters on them with white oak paddles that had holes in it so it would
suck. They be saying, 'Oh pray, master.' He'd say, 'Better pray fer
yourself.' I heard that going on when I was a child morning after
morning. I wasn't big enough to go to the field. I didn't have a hard
time then. Ma had to work when she wasn't able. Pa stole her out and one
night a small panther smelled them and come on a log up over where they
slept in a canebrake. Pa killed it with a bowie knife. Ma had a baby out
there in the canebrake. Pa had stole her out. They went back and they
never made her work no more. She was a fast breeder; she had three sets
of twins. They told him if he would stay out of the woods they wouldn't
make her work no more, take care of her children. They prized fast
breeders. They would come to see her and bring her things then. She had
ten children, three pairs of twins. Jonas and Sofa, Peter and Alice,
Isaac and Jacob.
"When I was fifteen years old, mother said, 'Peter, you are fifteen
years old today; you was born March 1, 1852.' She told me that two or
three times and I kept up wid it. I am glad I did; she died right after
"Ma and pa et dinner, well as could be. Took cholera, was dead at twelve
o'clock that night. It was on Monday. Ike and Jake took it. They got
over it. I waited on the little things. One of them said, 'Peter, I'm
hungry.' I broiled some meat, made a ash cake and put the meat in where
I split the ash cake. He et it and went to sleep. He started mending.
Sister come and got the children and took them to Lake Providence. I
fell in the hands then of some cruel people. They had a doctor named Dr.
Coleman come to see ma and pa. He said, 'Don't eat no fruit, no
vegetables.' He said, 'Eat meat and bread.' I et green plums and peaches
like a boy fifteen years old then would do. I never did have cholera. A
boy fifteen years old didn't know as much as boys do now that age. The
master died b'fore the cholera disease come on. We had moved from the
hill place to a place in the bottoms. It was on the same place. None of
his family hod cholera but neighbors had it. We buried ma and pa on the
neighbor's place. We had kin folks on the Harris place. While we was at
the graveyard word come to dig two or three more graves.
"Master's house was set on fire, the smokehouse emptied, the gin burned
and the cotton. The mules was drove out of the lot. That turned me
ag'in' the Yankees. We helped raise that meat they stole. They left us
to starve and fed their fat selves on what was our living. I do not
believe in parts of slavery. That whooping was cruel, but I know that
the white man helped the slave in ways. The slaves was worked too hard.
Men was no better than they are now.
"My owner had two fine black horses name Night and Shade. Clem was a
white driver. We lived close to Fiat where they had horse races. He told
Clem to get Night ready to win some money. He told Clem not to let
nobody have their hand on the horse. Clem slept in the stable with the
horse. They had three horses on the track. They made three rounds. Night
lost three times, but on Friday Night come in and won the money. He made
two or three thousand dollars and paid Clem. I never heard how much.
"Some men come to our house searching for arms. We had a chest. They
threw things winding. Said it was freedom. We didn't think much of such
freedom. Had to take it. We didn't have no arms in the house. We never
seen free times and didn't know what to look for nohow. We never felt
times as good. We moved to the bottoms and I lost my parents.
"I fell in the hands of some mean people. They worked me on the frozen
ground barefooted. My feet frostbit. I wore a shirt dress and a britches
leg cap on my head and ears. I had no shoes, no underwear. I slept on a
bed made in the corner of a room called a bunk. It had bagging over
straw and I covered with bagging. Aunt July (Julie) and Uncle Mass
Harris come for me. Sister brought my horse pa left for me. They took me
from, them folks to stay at Mr. W.C. Winters. He was good to me. He give
me fifty dollars and fed me and my horse. He give me good clothes and a
house in his yard. I was hungry. He fattened me and my horse both.
"They broke the Ku Klux up by putting grapevines across the roads. I
know about that? I never seen one of them in my life.
"Election days years gone by was big times. I did vote. I voted regular
a long time. The last President I voted for was Wilson.
"I farmed and worked on steamboats on the Mississippi River. I was what
they called rousterbout. I loaded and unloaded freight, I worked on the
Choctaw, Jane White, Kate Adams, and other little boats a few days at a
time. Kate Adams burnt at Moons Landing. I stopped off here at Helena
for Christmas. Some people got drowned and some burned to death. The mud
clerk got lost. He went in and got two bags of silver money, put them in
his pockets. The stave plank broke and he went down and never come up.
He was at the shore nearly but nobody knew he had that silver in his
pockets. He never come up and he drowned. People seen him go in but the
others swum out. He never come up. They missed him and found him dead
and the two bags of silver. I was due to be on there but I wanted to
spend Christmas with grandma and my wife. The Choctaw carried ten
thousand bales of cotton at times. I worked at the oil mill sixteen or
seventeen years. I night watched on the transfer twenty-two years. I
come to Helena when I was thirty years old. I'm eighty-six now. The
worst thing I ever done was drink whiskey some. I done quit it. I have
asthma. The doctors say whiskey is bad on that disease. I don't tetch it
"I think the present generation is crazy. I wish I had the chance they
have now. The present times is getting better. I ask the Lord to spare
me to be one hundred years old. I'm strong in the faith. I pray every
day. He will open the way. The times have changed in my life."