The Negro slave in Louisiana: Interview with William Logan
Ex-slave stories: A Louisiana writers project; The Negro slave in Louisiana
Interview with William Logan
Compiled by Jim Jackson
March 10, 2021
I was born somewhere between 1843 and 1846, on a farm in Lincoln County, Kentucky. My father and mother was on the same farm as was some other slaves that massa Hugh Logan got from his kinfolks. My great great granny Molly also live on the farm but she was old and her eyes no longer worked. I always wonder back if she and my great great grandpap were the first of our family that came from Africa. Some said she had been in America since she was a young girl. She was more than 90 years old and I bet she has seen it all and has gone through a lot. Her whole life has been spent in slavery.
Massa Logan has a wife, missus Mary who can get quite ornery with her slaves. If she yells for us to come round and we don’t get there fast enough, she would take out a cane branch that she carrys and give us a wallop. I got it plenty from her and I watched my pap and momma take a few lickings from her. Imagine that, a grown man and woman getting whupped for doing something that the old woman didn’t like. Course, she never whupped her own boys, who should have gotten it more than us. They was always into something and causing all sorts of trouble. But missus Mary was never bothered by it.
The Hugh Logan farm grew mostly hemp and tobacco and also some corn and vegetables, even some cotton. We wud tap sap from the maple trees that momma would boil into a sticky surup that massa Logan would sell in clay jugs. Massa Logan would hire us out to neighboring farms to help them bring in their crops. Most of the farms around Massa Logan’s farm belonged to his relatives. One of his uncles was real powerful man who they named Logan County after. There was a Logan Fort also not far away.
In about the year 1855 the massa start to sell some a his slaves. They was all men and women, no kids. Me and my momma and pap and brother and sister did not get sold but I’m a thinking that sum a those sold off was our kinfolks. One time before the mass sold off a lot his slaves, one run off in the middle a the night. A cuppla week later some men brung him back to the massa. He was tied up with rope and they pulled him behind them on their horses. He was a fright to look at. He was beat up and dirty and full a dried blood. The massa gave the men some money then put the slave man in the slave jail. That was a old building with no windows and only a door that he kep a lock on. Course the missus of the massa done whupped the feller befor he was put in some shakle legin’s and throwed in the pen. They used the slave jail for pigs when they wasn’t used for theys slaves. My pap got throwed in it a few times but I never was.
Our house was a small wooden shack that had big openings between the wood boards. When it rained the water would pour in, but when it was sunny, we knew it was time to get out of bed when the sun shined through the openings. There was a fireplace on one side and there was a outside cookin fireplace on the other side. Great granny caint work no more so she heps with the cooking. Momma and great granny kep a pot of stew going all the time. They would make some flour biscuits from the bag of white flour that we got each week. We got a little bit of bacon and that had to last all week for all of us. They used the bacon fat to make the biscuits and to this day I remember how good they tasted. Momma ground up acorns to make flour but them biskits was bitter and always tasted like dirt clods to me.
We all had to work from the time the sun came out until it went down. If the crops didn’t need working, we cleaned the yard and the women folk cleaned the massa’s house. My momma even took care of their children when they had things to do and didn’t want no kids around. My father was a good mechanic and could fix about anything so massa Logan used to hire him out to fix stuff on other farms. He always said that it wouldn’t take him long to fix most things but going and coming home from those farms would sometimes take all day. Some days I would get to come along with him, back then my brother and me was the only boys on the farm. When massa Logan had crops to bring in, then some other people come over to help and they was always some kids my age.
The massa and his missus lived in a big old white house with trees and a pickit fence. They give us our food once a week. If our food run out before the end of the week we had to either made do or kill a chicken or baby pig that was wandering around in the meadows. My dad knew how to do it so they wouldn’t make any noise and alert the massa and his missus. How would sneak up on the pig and start talking in a low gentle voice. Then when he got close enough he would pinch the baby pigs nose to keep it from squealing and then stuck a knife into it. For the chickens he would throw them a little bit of dried corn and when they got close enough he would snatch them by the neck, give them twirl and it was done.
We worked every day cept’n Sunday. On Saturday night we would sit by our house after working all day and we watched the sun going down. I member once when the sun was a going down and the moon was a coming up at the same time. I member another Saturday night when we seen a bunch a men riding towards our house, it was already dark and we could see that they was a carrying torches and they was wearing pointy hoods with eyes cut out. When I first seen them I though they was ghosts that was comin’ to take us to hell. I was a young ‘un and I couldn’t sleep at night for a long spell. But they come and didn’t take us away but they took two of the massa Logan’s older boys away with them. By the next day they was back so we suspected that they talked they’s self outta goin to hell. The ghosts with the white pointy hoods come back to massa Logan’s farm lots more times and somtimes his boys go away wid them. At first I was a thinking that they musta talk theys self outta going to hell and joined them they’s band of ghosts. But when I got a bit older my pap telled me that they’s not ghosts, they the Klu Klux Klan who hates the colored folks.
We never had a birthday party, mostly because we barely knew the year we was born in. We did our celebrating on Saturday night after our work was done. On Sundays most of the families would go to a hilltop that had a meadow surrounding it. An old man would do some preaching, and we would sing like free birds. There was clapping and dancing too. After the preaching we would eat whatever the families had brought like fried chicken and hush puppies. The men folk would go off by themselves while we kids just ran around, mostly chasing each other. I first seen my wife there.
As the sun started going down we all head off in different directions back to our farm. My mother’s mother was near blind and they would walk slow and talk, while we kids ran like we had so much energy. One day at the Sunday go to meetin’ my momma shows me two kids, an older boy and younger girl. They was wide eyed and my momma told me that their momma and father had been sold off. I was still pretty young and had no idea what that meant but I was a scared from then on about being sold off.
One Sunday at one of those meetin’s my pap went off with a group of men and they was talking real fast and real loud as they sat under big shade tree. I was sitting with the wide-eyed boy and his shy sister and we kept looking at my momma and we could tell something was not right. The whole day seemed just wrong. When we started for home along the dusty road three white men with mean looks on theys face rode up to us on theys horse. “You niggers seen any runaways?” one shouted.
“No massa.” my pap said.
“When we find ‘em we aims to shoot ‘em!” he shouted back.
My pap just said, “Yes sir massa.” My pap called every white man “massa” even if they wasn’t his massa.
As we walked to our house, everyone was real quiet and I could tell my pap was angry and upset. My younger brother and sister whispered stuff to each other. My pap said something to my momma and she hushed up. She said something about the kids shouldn’t hear nothing.
Looking back at that day I have to say it was about 1858 or 1859, I guess I was about 16 or 17 years old. My brother was a few years younger and my sister was a little younger than him. At one of those Sunday meetin’s the orphan boy and girl was talking and they said that their daddy had run off and they was sold off. I asked my momma if that could happen to us and she started crying and told me to hush. I would learn later that my momma’s other kids had been sold off before I was born. I never saw my real brothers and sisters and to this day I could slam my fist into a stone wall just thinking about it.
The next Sunday meetin’ there was all sort of commotion. People not their normal selves, some was happy and cheerful but others acted scared. There was talk of men in blue coats coming down and shooting and kidnapping people. Others were shouting that they was coming to free the slaves. A man named president Lincoln had told them to free the slaves. Everybody was excited, both happy and sad. A change was a coming.
“Where we gonna go?” yelled one old man who had spent his entire life on the same farm.
“You gonna be free! You won’t have to work like a slave no more. You get yorself a farm and you be the massa.” someone yelled back.
My pap just sat under that big old tree with the other menfolk and it looked like each of them was talking at the same time but he never said one word on the way home and he looked like he was looking far off at where the sun was hiding when it when down.
The next day as we was getting the horses ready to plow the corn field, I hear the massa yell, “Willi, git over here!” I looked at my pap and he sort of shook his shoulder a little at me. We was both called Willi so we both walked over to where the massa was hollering from.
“Not you!” he yelled at me so I walked back to the old mare and finished strapping on her harnesses. Then I hear the massa yelling at my pap. “What you all been talking about at them meetin’s you have on Sunday?” His old missus was standing next to him holding her long cane whip that she always carried with her when she was outside.
“Nothing massa, we was just praising the lord and getting some rest so’s we can start a new week.”
“Well just don’t go getting too uppity, ya hear me?”
As my pap was walking away she whipped him real hard cross the back of his legs with that cane switch she always a carrin’. I will always member the sound of the wind that the cane made and the loud pop when it hit my paps legs. We couldn’t do nothing but take it and that old woman knew it. I musta had a anger look on my face but my pap just give me a nod of head to say it was ok, just forget about it, nothing we can do.
My younger brother had come out of the house and my sister was standing on the dirt porch watching. Momma and granny was still in the house. He helped me get the mare ready and then when my pap came over we took her to the field and took turns running her up and down the old corn rows with the plow. My pap never said a word to us but I could tell he was upset. One time he smacked that old mare real hard with the whip but she hadn’t done nothing wrong. He was just taking out his anger on that poor old horse.
The weeks went by slow and the hot sun burned our skins as we worked the fields. Out in them fields you caint hide from the sun. It be out when we gets to the fields and it stay out til we goes home at night. Seems that we was always running out of food before the week ended and I was always hungry. I was doing a mans work and started having some funny feelings about Mary Ann the orphan gal I seen at the Sunday meetin’. She always had a happy smile even though I knew she was not so happy. I mean who could feel happy if your momma and pap are gone? They was living with the brother of massa Hugh.
At the next Sunday meetin’ all the regular spirit was gone, even during the preaching and singing. The kids were in one area, the teenager boys in another as were the teenager girls. The women gossiped and put away the leftover food, of which there hadn’t been all that much like before. Many of them was a crying. The men, as always were under that big shade tree, not sitting like they always did but standing up and shouting and waving they arms in all directions. I snuck off with Mary Ann and skipped a few rocks along the creek.
My old blind grandma looked so weak and skinny and she hadn’t eaten much but then she never really did eat that much. On the way home my pap, my brother and myself took turns carrying her piggy-back and I could feel how light she was.
As we reached the farmyard the massa and his mean ole’ missus runs out the house and come up to my pap. “You ain’t to go there any more, ya hear me?”
“Massa we was just worshipping the lord.”
“What do you know about the lord? He’s white and you black. He don’t care nothing about you! Just don’t let me catch you going there no more!”
My pap held his head down, much lower than he normal does when a white man talks to him, and said, “Yessir massa.”
Then that old woman smacks him hard cross the back with her wicked old cane stick. My blood felt like it was a boilin’ inside a me!
That night as I was sleeping my momma woke me up and said for me to get dressed and to keep quiet. I rubbed my eyes and got out of bed and into my farming clothes. It was still pitch black outside and there was no moon. My brother and sister were also awake so was my old granny. My momma had a big sack that was full of something and my pap told us to keep quiet. He stuffed a handful of hush puppies into his pocket and took granny in his arms and told us to follow him. They was called hush puppies cause they was used to shut up the hounds that was a chasin folks that tried to get away.
We crept out of the house and one of the massas dogs growled as it came over to us. I thought it was going attack us but my pap took out a hushpuppy and threw it at the big dog. It gobbled it up and came up for another, which my pap tossed into the yard, then we took off into the tobacco field. The dog started barking so we walked faster getting scratched by the dried stems of the tobacco.
I heard the massa yelling as we tried to keep up with my pap who was starting to run in big steps. Then we heard the massa yelling some more and the dog was now barking real loud and sounded like he was chasing us. It was getting closer to us and I guess my pap had no more hush puppies left to throw at the dog. We ran like the devil was chasing us. My brother dragged a wide tree branch behind us to throw off our smell so the hound dog couldn’t follow us. We finally reached the meadow and the hill where we held our Sunday go to meetin’ and my momma stopped, looked at my pap and with tears in her eyes she just shook her head to say no more.
My pap laid granny in the soft grass, put his big hands on mommas shoulders and said, “I’ll come back for you.” Then he shouted for us to get going right behind him. I never looked back at my momma as she laid there in that meadow with my old blind granny. I never seen them again.
The four of us raced through the brambles and stopped to rest only a few times. When my pap had sat granny down, he traded my brother for the big gunny sack. Now as we ran he held it slung over his shoulder. “Where we going?’ I asked a bunch of times but never got an answer. It was still pretty dark as we zigzagged through the brush and tangled vines. My arms and my face were torn up as was everybody else’s.
The sun started peeking out over the long valley but we kept running through the damp bushes. As the sun come out we finally reached a wide river and it made me think that this was the farthest I had ever been away from my home. My mouth was as dry as massas cotton field after the harvest so we sipped water from the river with our hands. “Where we going?” I asked again.
“We going to the land of the free.” my pap finally said.
“Are we going to heaven pap?”
“Not yet son, we going to Texas.”
I had never heard of Texas, but if that’s the promised land, then I am ready.”
Our stampede was soon joined by another 30 or so slaves that was also escapin’ theys massa. The river was not running so fast and it was not too deep but it was sure cold as we crossed it. I splashed the cool water in my face and looked forward to reaching the Texas land of the free, wherever that was.
We found a worn buffalo trail and our group of mostly men walked along as the day started warming up with the rising sun. None of us had on any shoes. My feet had never worn a pair of shoes. They was hard and the stickers and burrs didn’t really bother my feet. By the time we reached a clearing, the sun reached the center of the sky and it was hot and steamy. Fall was starting but that didn’t make things cooler just yet.
We crossed a big meadow, that was filled with grass so blue that it looked like the sky. Each blade of the tall blue grass danced as the wind blew a gentle breeze through the wide open field. Mary Ann, walked just behind me and when I would turn round she always had a smile for me. Pap was up ahead leading our group and still holding that burlap bag over his shoulders. In his big hands that gunny sack looked small.
The bluegrass meadow was like a huge circle with trees all around the outside of it. My pap seemed to know which way to go. Once I asked him how he knows where to go he said, “We just keep following the sun, it’ll lead to where we are agoing.”
The meadow was such a peaceful place that I was thinking we could just build a house right smack in the middle of it. But as we got near the center of the meadow there came a thunderous pounding of horse hooves behind us and all hell broke loose. Everyone of us scattered in all direction as the posse of men rode toward us. I heard gunshots and my pap fell! I ran up to him, he had blood coming out his pants leg near his right knee, and he yelled for me to take the sack and keep running. I never saw his again after that.
A few of us made it to the tree line but some was shot. My pap didn’t make it, neither did my little brother. I ran and ran and my chest hurt from running so hard. I found a thick clump of bushes that I hid in and I held my breath for so long that my head spun. Then I heard whimpering not far off and went over to see that it was Mary Ann. Her brother was also captured. We just stayed there hiding and crept away as the sun started going down. We finally found a large tree that was surrounded by heavy brush and we made our camp for the night.
I had thought that the old sack was feeling light until I realized that some of the stuff inside had fallen out a hole that was probably made as we went through the thorn thickets. Inside momma had put some food for our escape. That’s why we seemed to run outta food during the days before we left. She was hiding food for our escape. Flour had spilled out of the bag but there was still some dried hard tack biscuits and a piece of salt pork. A glass jar had some blackeyed peas and another had okra. Inside a small sack there was some corn meal and another paper bag had white flour. There was some pig lard wrapped in old newspaper that was wrapped in a large tobacco leaf. We couldn’t build a fire because we didn’t want to be seen plus we didn’t have no pots or pans to cook with. I was dead tired and so was Mary Ann and it was getting cold. Dang mosquitos kept attacking us. Probably the first human meal they had way out here. I was thinking that we should just give up and go back to our farm. It wasn’t all that bad even if that was all that we knew. Sure I’d getta a real good whupping from that nasty old cane but I was already missing my momma and my pap and granny.
“I ain’t going back!” said Mary Ann. “My massa done sold my momma and my pappy scaped for he got hisself sold and maybe they ran away too and is going to the Texas land of the free.”
“Maybe they is, but my momma, and my pap and granny ain’t a gonna be there.”
“Then maybe you should go home to your momma and I keep going by myself!”
Dang, I thought! This girl has some fire in her spirit!
“OK, we keep following the sun and get to the promised land.”
We slept under the stars and the moon was still not out that second night after we take off from massa Logan and his mean old wife. It got some cold that night and we didn’t have no warm clothes that we brought so we kinda huddled to keep ourselves from getting too cold. The grass that we pulled up to use as our bed was soft and when the sun came up I wanted to sleep some more but I smelled bacon cooking. I must be dreaming! When my eyes cleared I could see Mary Ann standing over a small fire roasting a chunk of back bacon on a long stick.
“You made a fire?”
“Yup, you think I didn’t know how to make one?”
“I don’t know how to make one.”
“Well maybe your momma don’t think you was smart enough for her to teach you. My momma taught me right.”
I never thought about how my momma always could get a fire going even when it was raining outside, back in those days we never had matches. She must of made sparks with flintstones.
The cooking bacon soon got me out of my day dream and after rubbing the sleep from my eyes I went over to fire where Mary Ann handed me a slice of bacon that she put inside one of those dried biscuits. I didn’t eat all day yesterday so I was hungry. I think I ate it in one bite and asked for another.
“You ain’t gettin’ another, we have to save it case we don’t get no more food to eat.”
I couldn’t argue with that so I went off behind a tree to relieve myself. As I was going a rabbit jumped out of the thickets and nearly scared the living daylights outta me!
When I got back to our camp, Mary Ann had finished her biscuit and was packing the burlap sack so we didn’t lose the rest of our meager supply. We set off in the direction of the sun and by midmorning we had come onto a long dirt road that had plenty of wagon wheel tracks. There was plenty of brush on both sides in case we needed to hide should anybody come along.
“I hope there ain’t no bushwhackers that come out those brambles!” said Mary Ann.
“What are them?” I asked somewhat stupidly.
“Boy, you ain’t very smart are you?”
“I ain’t never heared of no bushwhackers.”
“They’s white folks thats as poor as us who hides in these bushes and comes out and steal our stuff and kidnap us to take us back to our massas. Or they sells us to another massa. Or they keeps us as slaves for theyselfs.”
“I sure do hope that they none of them around here.”
We walked and we walked and never stopped that second day until it got dark. We never saw any of those bushwhackers but we did find a small meadow that was thick of soft grass that we didn’t even bother to pull up for our bedding.
Our third day was almost exactly like the day before. We got out of bed, ate some vittles and walked, still following that dusty old wagon train road. The road was just two tracks made from the wheels of the wagons going toward the sun set, with tall grass running down the middle and all along the sides for as far you could see. It seems like a lotta people was heading to the Texas land of the free. But we never saw nobody until the third day when we could see a bunch of dust rising on the horizon. We got off the road and hid inside a giant thicket and were scared to death when we saw a bunch of men in grey uniforms walking past us. They had a big old dog that sniffed around the bushes where we was, but finally left after he took a pee.
“Where they going?” I asked.
“They going to war.”
“Boy don’t nobody teach you nothing!” she shot back. “Theys going to fight the blue army. The blue army wants to set the colored free. The grey army wants to keeps us as slaves.”
I never had no education. Massa Hugh didn’t go for that. My momma and pap didn’t have no education neither but they was smart enough. But right now I didn’t care about no education. I was so tired of running and my mind was like a thick fog thinking about my family back home. I hoped that my pap was ok and that they didn’t beat him or worse, shoot him dead. Mary Ann seemed to keep it all inside, heck, she had just lost her mother and father and brother and they was who knows where in this mighty world. Her brother was shot like my pap and he probably took a beatin’ and wound up in the slave jail or maybe even got hisself lynched.
I prayed to the lord that they be ok and that we gets ourselves to the Texas land of the free. Then we took off down that telegraph road. By nightfall we had found a place to stop for the night. We had seen no one cept a white family in a wagon that passed us from where we was coming from. We hid in the tall grass until they was well past. They looked as poor as we did but at least they had a wagon and a skinny old ox that was pulling it but only the man was riding in the wagon. The others they walked like us.
That night Mary Ann cooked up some more of the back bacon on a stick and we ate the last three hard tack biscuits. The spot where we stopped was near a small creek and its water was cool and sweet. Not many mosquitos bit on us that night. Even though we had a small fire it got real chilly so we huddled close to keep ourselves from gittin’ cold.
When morning come round and I woke from my sleep I was a might confused. Back at massa Logan’s place we got up every day and we knowed what we was goin’ to do. We worked the fields, we take care a the animals, momma made our food and cleaned the massa’s house, and when we finished at the end of the day, we knowed that we was gonna eat some supper and go to bed. We worked Saturday like it was any other day and then we rested and praised the lord on Sunday. But now I don’t rightly know what day it is and I don’t know what I am a gonna do with my freedom. Right now I woulda give up my freedom just be back at massa Logan’s farm. As I thought more about it I realized that was what freedom was. You got to decide what you was gonna do that day, and the next day and the rest of your life and ain’t no body was gonna tell you what to do today, tomorrow or the rest of your life. A free man can wake up one morning and he decide he don’t want to do nothing that day, maybe just lay in bed and watch the sun come up. The more I thought about it the more I knowed that we hadda git to Texas the land of the free.
We started a walking but we had nothing to break our fast. Back at the farm we didn’t have much to eat but seems like we always knowed that we would gets our food. I was a might torn up about going back to what I knowed at the farm or keep a goin’ and not know what we gonna find.
Along the way we come across a wide river and along its banks was a mess of blackberries that we picked and ate. They was sweet but maybe I ate too many for my belly begin to ache. We had no way to cross the river and I couldn’t swim and neither could Mary Ann. We followed the river because it was moving toward where the sun was going just like us. Maybe we could follow it all the way to Texas. But then the river made a turn and we was a no longer following where the sun was a goin’.
For the next week we walked and we walked and we ate what little food we had. I killed a squirrel by throwing a rock at it. I was a pretty good rock thrower since I was a kid and back home I could skip a rock ten times before it reached the other side of the creek. In my day I even kilt a few blackbirds behind the barn at the massa’s farm that we ate for supper. Mary Ann cleaned the squirrel and burnt the hair off it and cooked it on a stick like she cooked the back bacon we ate. Wasn’t much of the bacon left. We ate the blackeyed peas and the okra without cooking them. She made some cornbread by mixing the meal with river water and a little of the pig lard. We had no pots or pans but she always carried two flintstones that she would make spark to make a fire. After she mixed the corn meal she spread it on a big flat rock by the fire and it cooked real nice and golden. I was glad she was along with me on this trip to the land of the free.
One night we was laying by the fire and listening to some owls hooting aways off and then come the sound of chittering possums not far away. The moon was now coming out after the sun went down so I could see a possum hanging on a tree. I shimmed up that tree, grabbed him as he was playing dead and we had him for our supper.
We had been walking and walking and I was beginning to think that we may never get to the land of the free before we gets to be old people like my granny. We had no shoes, the pants I wore was held up by a skinny rope that was my suspenders. My shirt was old and was too big for me for I got it from my pap when he got tired of it. Mary Ann had no shoes neither and her dress was old, torn and ragged. It was held together in the middle with a piece of old ribbon cloth. Thinking back we musta looked pretty poor. Course, we was pretty poor.
One day as we stopped under a tall wide tree, Mary Ann tells me that she and her brother belonged to massa Logan’s brother who had got their family when theys granduncle William Logan sold them. I would later find out that my pap had also belonged to massa William and that’s how he got his name but everybody calls him Willi like theys call me. Mary Ann’s momma was from Mississippi where Mary Ann and her brother and several other kids was born. Her grandpappy was sold to a tobacco farmer in Alabama along with her three brothers and two sisters. Mary Ann and her momma and pappy and brother was shipped off to Kentucky and had to walk all the way with some other negro slaves behind a wagon that was carrying stuff that the merchant was going to sell once he got there including the slaves. One night whils they was camping a slave man run off, and the merchant man was so mad that he beat the other slaves so’s they know’d not to try it they’s self.
She said she heard that my momma had some children for I was born and they was sold off or willed off and so was the brother and sister of my pap. I always took to wondering why there was only me and my brother and sister at the farm but when I thought more about it I membered that there was some older kids when I was a young ‘un. They was probly my brothers and sisters.
We kept a walkin’ and a followin’ the river but we was never able to git cross it. The sun was a goin in the other direction and we just could not git crost that river. I caught me a big old catfish with a spear I made when it come too close to the river bank. Before long our food in the gunny sack was all ate up so we lived off the land. But we walked, always following the river and watching sun in the other direction before it went off to sleep. One day I told Mary Ann that it feels like we done walked so much we pretty soon gonna falls off the edge of the earth. She jawed me and said I didn’t have a lick of brains in my head because the earth is round. “Well then,” I said, “we gonna walk all round the earth and wind up right here again.” She just shook her head. Her momma musta been a smart woman for she taught Mary Ann plenty. She even taught her some reading and writing. On our farm we wasn’t allowed to read or write
I can’t say exactly but looking back it musta been a month a walking when we come on to some Indians. We had passed some black folks but they was not friendly and kep a walkin’. The Indians was also walking the same direction we was walking and they took us in for a short spell. We ate with them and hunted with them. Mary Ann helped the women folk make meals. They was Choctaw and was going to Oklahoma where theys people had been made to live by the solders with the grey uniforms. But we didn’t talk much cause they spoke a different language. They had a couple of colored folks with them but they was more like the Indians then they was like us.
They was good to us and after a while they had to go the other way. We kept going and never did find a spot to cross that big ole river. We was doing good eating what we found or caught. Knowing that we hadda be getting close to Texas the land of the free kept us agoin’. But since we been walking for so long I knowed that the winter was a comin’. We never got much rain and when it did we found shelter in caves or we made a shelter from branches we cut. The Choctaw give us a hatchet and a knife and even some clothes that was given to them by the government. But we was still pretty ragged.
When we was walking we come to a lot of people after we was left by the Choctaw. White folks and negros both looking as poor as us and solders in grey uniforms that we hid from less they bushwhack us. We had no idea what day it was and we never knowed when it was the day to praise the lord. Me and Mary Ann said our prayers when they needed to be said and thanked the lord for what we had and for keeping our family safe and getting us food and shelter.
We didn’t pass any towns but one morning after we started a walkin’ we could hear the sweet singing coming from a white building with a tall pointed roof. The building was sittin’ on a hill like where we praised the lord back at home. Outside was horses and buggies and we snuck up to have a look. We peaked in the window and they was singing and praying and clapping theys hands and preaching and we was caught up in it til I bumped my head again the windor. All the faces was looking at me and I didn’t know what to do, they was mostly all white folks and as I was a starting to run off, a big white man come out and hollered, “Howdy, you’all are welcome to come join us.”
I was a thinking he wanted to make us slaves and I didn’t want no more to do with being a slave, I been a free man for some time now. But he come over to us and his warm face made me not so scared and he said, “Please join us. Afterwards we’ll have something to eat.”
That was the song my stomach wanted to hear so me and Mary Ann went inside with the man and sat on a bench at the back. There was some other negro folks in the church and they was dressed real nice. We didn’t know nothing about the songs they was a singing or the prayers they was a sayin’. But they didn’t care and I didn’t care cause we was a going to get something to eat.
They was so good to us, they feed us and one family took us to home and they let us wash up and they give us clean clothes and made us a bed with a warm blanket in a small wood shack by the barn not far from they’s own house. I was not to get sleep that night we stayed with the Baptist family. I was all excited and my stomach was fulla butterflys from all the good food we ate. Mary Ann had not slept either but she said it was my snoring that made her not sleep but I never member going to sleep and I never heared myself snoring.
We was up before the sun was up and I was looking for my old clothes but they was nowhere to be found. I wanted to give the clothes back to the nice Baptist folks for we left. Mary Ann was already outside and sweeping the yard. I found some feed and give it to the horses that stayed near the corral by the barn. There was some chicken scratch in a barrel so I give some to the chickens in the barnyard then I nailed the top board back on the corral with a metal hammer that I found on a bench top lest the horse gets out.
The Baptist man who owned the farm come out and said thanks to us for doing the work and we said thanks for letting us stay in the shack and borrowing the clothes. He said that the clothes was ours to keep and the shack was ours to stay in as long as we wanted. Pretty soon the missus come out and hollers for us to git inside to git our breakfast. She fixed us a big bowl full of well water for us to wash up. Then we got to go inside theys house where the missus had a feast made for a king set out on the table. “Help yurselves,” she said in a voice that only a angel could have and we just stood there like frozen rocks. I ain’t never been in my massa’s house. I was a scared that these folks was a gonna kidnap us and fatten us up like you do a cow for you eats it or sells it. But when she says again for us to hep ourselfs, Mary Ann grabbed a white plate and started to put some fixin’s on it, I did it too but I was so afeared that I would drop that purty white plate that my hands was a shakin’.
The missus give us a plate full of fried eggs, a thick slice of ham and biscuits made with real butter milk. She even give us a cup of milk that was like nothing I ever had. We never drank milk back at massa Logan’s farm. That was for his family but these folks shared what they had. I was still afeared that we was agetting fattened up.
We was never bushwhacked by the Baptist family and they was good to us. They was the Nash family and I heard that massa Nash said his folks come from Tennessee and they was a town called Nashville that his grandpappy named. I worked on the farm but we only worked for five days, not Saturday or Sunday. They give us good food that we cooked ourselfs and we fixed up that tiny shack as best we could. Mary Ann kep our place clean and our clothes washed and she helped missus Nash around the house and the garden.
The Baptist family kep us for the rest of the winter and we went to church with them and we helped as much as we could around the farm. I was pretty good at fixin’ things. My pap taught me good so massa Nash and his missus always thanked us for helping them. I gets to thinking that these folks thanked me and Mary Ann moren they did the baby Jesus. They was good folks and they even taught Mary Ann to do some more readin and writin. She was also learned to sing the songs that they sang in the church on Sundays.
One day when the cold winter spell done passed and flowers was starting to pop up in the fields, while I was using Mr. Nash’s horse to plow up the ground that we was getting ready to seed, he comes up to me and hands me a round gold coin that was as big as when I touch my middle finger to my thumb. It had a eagle on one side and a lady on the other side. It glowed when the sun hit it. I held that coin in my hand like it was magical. Then when I looked up at massa Nash he said, “It’s yours to keep son. You earned it for all the hard work you done.” My nose got all full and my eyes beginst to water. I think I was in Texas the land of the free so I says, “massa Nash is this be Texas the land of the free?”
“Willi, I told you before, please don’t call me master, only God is the master and I am a normal man just like you. And no son, you are not in Texas, we are in the great state of Mississippi. Why did you think you was in Texas?”
“Well, that’s where my pap told me to go when we left massa Logan’s farm.”
“I can tell you that Texas is a long ways off but if you still have a hankerin to go there, I’ll see that you find your way there whenever you want to leave this farm with your missus.”
“Yup, ain’t Mary Ann your missus?”
“No sir Mr. Nash, she just my…” I stopped when I didn’t know what she was to me.
“Let me tell you something Willi, in case you haven’t noticed, Mary Ann is a gettin a belly that’s gettin bigger by the day and it ain’t from eating too much food. Didn’t you’all get yourself hitched when you was in Kentucky?”
“No sir Mr. Nash. Folks on the farm never did get hitched, the massa woulda not allowed that.”
“If you like Willi, we can have our minister marry you two this weekend.”
That night after we ate some supper we was sittin’ on our little porch, the sunset was as purty as can be and my mind was all confused about what Mr. Nash done said to me. I musta looked at her belly enough times to make her finally say, “Whatchu keep lookin at?”
I didn’t rightly know what to say so I says, “Why you belly sticking out some?”
“Boy, sometimes I gets to wondering bout you. Some days yous so smart and other days you just so…”
“I ain’t trying to be stupid, just that I don’t understand. Is you sick? Is you gonna die?”
“No Willi Logan, you and I is gonna have ourselves a baby!”
Boy, now I was even more confused than when we set out on the porch. I figured the best thing to do is keep looking at that sunset for I say something really dumb.
The next weekend we done got ourselves hitched and then had a celebration at the Nash place.
For about the next two weeks all sorts of solders in grey uniforms come marching by the Nash farm. Sometimes his missus give them bread and let them drink water from theys well. Some looked like little boys and not even as old as me. Some a them didn’t even wear no uniform, just ragged pants and worn out shoes. Some never even had on shoes.
One day I asked Mr. Nash where all them white boys was a goin. He said, “Willi, there is a war goin on and there are two sides that are fighting. The northern folks wants the negros to be free, while the southern folks want them to stay slaves.”
“Is we northern folk or southern folk?”
“We live in the south so you can say that we are southern folks but we are God’s children and we want everyone to be free. There are good people in the south who hate slavery as there are in the north.”
Seems like the next coupla weeks there was more people coming and going in all directions. There was negros and white folks. There was Indians and there was solders carrying rifles and some wearin’ blue uniforms and some wearin’ grey uniforms. I never saw so many people going somewhere. Maybe they was going to Texas the land of the free or they was coming back cause it weren’t so good there.
The Nash farm don’t sit so close to town and Mr. Nash say it is a good spell from the big city called Jackson. His farm sits by itself kinda in the middle where the Baptist church is and the town is. I went with Mr. Nash a couple a times to town to fetch groceries and feed. People always coming and going by the Nash place and stopping by for a drink a theys well.
One afternoon after we finished our chores a negro man and a older woman come by the Nash gate. They clothes looked as bad as the clothes we was a wearin’ when we come to this farm. They stopped by the picket gate near where missus Nash was working in her garden and let them in. They looked tired and hungry so missus Nash says for them to get theyself some fresh water to drink from the well while she go fetch some food for them inside the house. I was a sittin’ on the porch and I seemed to recollect the man but he looked different. I couldn’t place his face in my brain and then it come to me that is Mary Ann’s brother Alford! But I didn’t know the old lady.
Mary Ann come out of our house and recognized him instantly and ran over and hugged the old woman and her brother. They was doing all sorts of crying and wailing and Mr. Nash and his missus come too. She had a basket of food that she was a gonna hand them but then she seen that we knowed them so she come over and said her hellos. Mary Ann was crying so much I thought she might not have no more water in her eyes. Seems like this was Mary Ann’s momma and her and Alford had escaped together. Alford tells me that my momma and pap still with massa Logan and that my old granny gone to meet her maker. Mary Ann’s pappy done run off to the north and they think he joined the union army, the solders in the blue uniforms.
As it was a getting close to supper time, missus Nash put all the fixin’s she was a gonna give to Mary Ann’s brother and momma and we brung out some of the chicken that Mary Ann’s was a cookin’ before they got here. We ate and drank sweet lemonade that missus Nash made and we talked and Mr. Nash and his missus tells them they welcome to stay as long as they like and they could live in the other shack that was used by workers what come round and help with the harvest.
Alford was always a hard worker. He gets up at the break of dawn and gets to doing all sorts of work. We works together and plow the fields and hoe the weeds that grows tween the crops. We feed the animals and fix what needs to be fixed. We help the horses and the cows when they are having babies. Mary Ann is walking round like I never seen her for. She smiles a lot, and her momma is a good woman. They help missus Nash and her kids who are not like the sinful young’uns that was belonging to my old massa and his awful old wife.
The weather was getting good and we got the crops in just after the rains slowed down. It was a good place to live and I was so happy. That is until one Sunday night. We all had gone to the Baptist church to praise the lord and sing all sorts of hymns. I was getting pretty good with the songs and it made me feel good to sing praises to the lord that give me all this. We come home from church and was just done having some lunch when some white men come by Mr. Nash’s gate. I was thinking they wanted some well water like all them others but they beginst to holler something at him and he just stood there as they hollered. They wasn’t no solders but they was sure mean enough. After they left he walked in the house and never even looked at us as we was sittin’ on the porch.
After supper we was watching a whole lot a fireflies as they was dancing and glowing and flying everywhere with theys tails was all a glow. Pretty soon we heared a lot of horses running down the road that sits right in front of the Nash place. It was dark out ceptain the light of the fireflies and then we sees a bunch of men in theys white pointy hoods riding up to the Nash place holding torches with flames roaring at the sky.
“You nigger lover! Get yoself out here!” one of them yelled.
Pretty soon Mr. Nash come out and was a holding his shotgun. “You people leave us alone, we are God fearing people and we have no qualms with any of you.”
“You harboring niggers!”
“No sir, we are not harboring anybody. We live in harmony with our brothers and sisters.”
“The darkies ain’t your brothers and sisters, lessin you all had nigger daddies.” yelled another one as the others laughed.
“Leave us be, we mean you no harm.”
“You all are harboring them darkies and you giving them food that rightly belongs to us.”
“You don’t own the food that we grow on our farm. But if’en you all are hungry, you welcome to join us for some supper.”
They all laughed again and just as Mr. Nash was heading down the porch one of the hooded men throw his lit torch at they’s house. The front porch caught afire and the hooded men rode off screaming like banshees. We grabbed some buckets and fetched water from the well trough and begins to throw it on the flames. We put out that fire but Mr. Nash and his missus and theys kids was plenty upset.
We all went to bed that night and didn’t get no sleep. Why them people got to be that way? One man had a voice that I recognized from when we gone to town one day.
The next day Alford and momma and Mary Ann was a talking under the big ole pecan tree in the Nash yard. When I walked over to them they hushed up. “Whats matter with you’all?” I said.
“Willi, we been talkin’ and thinkin’ and we been thinkin’ that we best keep going til we git to Texas the land of the free.” said Mary Ann.
“Why we wanna leave this place?”
“Because them men that was here last night don’t want us colored folks here and they aims to cause some harm to the Nash family if we stay. These people been good to us but we gots to continue our way to Texas.”
Alford then says, “It ain’t Texas where weez a goin’ weez a goin’ to Louisiana. Menfolk back home say that the place we can be free and we get our farm like Mr. Nash have.”
After we finished getting the fields in seed we tell Mr. Nash that by and by we gots to be gittin’. Him and the missus was rightly upset and he asks us if it were them hooded men that we was scared of. I caint say no lie but I didn’t say anything so he knowed without me saying nothing.
“Willi, and the rest of you, you don’t have to leave because of those men. Bad men are everywhere and these men are bullies. Don’t let them threaten you.”
But we done made up our mind and the day after church day we packed some stuff and Mr. Nash and his misses takes us by theys wagon to the riverfront. There was a mighty paddle wheel boat that was called the James Monroe and Mr. Nash pays a man some money to take us across that big old river to Fort Miro in Louisiana.
They was cows and pigs and horses on that boat and we a sittin’ amongst ‘em. We ate with them and we slept with them til we gets to Ouachita River until we finally stop at Monroe. We didn’t have no body to come fetch us so we gits off the boat and commence to walking to the center of town where lots a folks were heading. We just followed them. On the boat we met black folks who was headin’ to find theyself a farm. The town of Monroe ain’t so bad. Alford says that one man say if we just keep walking til we find some land and it ours. So we stop in town to fetch a drink a water then keep on walking. Now we follow the sun again.
As we gits some distance from town the sky opens and rain commence to fall. First it was a blessin’ as the day was hot, but then it comes down so fast and so hard that we was soaked through and through. The road we was on was turned to mud and we was out in the open when the lightning begin to shoot from the sky. Dang, we just git away from massa Logan and then we gits to the Nash farm and now we gittin’ it from the heavens. I beginst to thinkin’ that maybe we was meant to stay on massa Logan’s farm. But as fast as the rain started then it stopped and the sun come out and things dried out fast. Ain’t none of us had any shoes and our feets got so muddy. But keep on a walking even when it gits dark. Soon nuff we comes acrost a lot a negroes sitting by a old wood building with open holes for windows. Alford he go to speak with them and tells us we can stay here for the night. It was a old barn that the white folks didn’t need no more so they left it to the negros.
By the morning I wake up and Mary Ann is a purty sick and throwing up. Her momma is putting a wet hankerchif on her head so I goes outside to have a look round. There be a bunch a old buildings all round the barn what with people living in them. There is even a small white wooden church. There some campfires going and women cooking food. The air feels wet but it sho don’t look like rain gonna come today. There is a outhouse and I gets in line to use it.
As the sun come out some more I see that there are a plenty of farms in the land and people going to them with shovels and picks. When we was coming in on the James Monroe I sees a lot of swamp land. And I seen a lot of black folks working on the farms near ‘em.
I see a group a solders, the kind that wears the grey coats, and they march right past us. They don’t looks so happy but they don’t bother nobody and keeps marching toward where the sun is a comin’ up.
I goes back inside the barn and Mary Ann is being helped up by her momma. She look much better and no longer sick. Alford was waiting in line with me to use the privy and when he comes inside we talk about what we gonna do next and where we gonna go. A old man that was a sittin’ by us heared us a talkin’ and come by and say that we should keep a walkin’ till we find some land where there ain’t nobody and take it as our farm. “Ain’t they gonna shoot us if’n we just take the land.” I says.
“No, ain’t no white folks wanna live out here in the bayou. Too many skeeters!” he laughs.
Alford say, “Where we at? Is we in Texas?”
The man laughed and said, “No boy, you in Louisiana, and this is Locust Hill.”
After we ate some of the food we brung from the Nash farm we goes outside and looks around. This place don’t look so bad and there’s colored folks here and a few white folks but they mostly stay some distance from the black folks. Alford he the talker so he go talk to people then come back and tell us what he know. He say we can camp herebouts and we can maybe take one of the old shacks and make it to home. And that’s what we done.
Bout two months gone by and we make our shack on some land not far of the busy road. People was always a comin’ and a goin’ and sometimes they wagon break and they leave it right where it break down. Alford say they fleein’ the war that’s a goin’ on in the south. We takes what the fleein’ people leave and fix up what they left and purty soon we have a nice shack and a wagon that works but we don’t got a ox that can pull it.
One morning I was out early and turning over some dirt that I was fixin’ to start planting some crops. I hears Mary Ann a screaming real loud and I’m a thinking that a gator or a swamp snake done got in the house. This area be called the Black Bayou so there be gators and snapper turtles and all kinds of deadly snakes. She a screaming in some pain so’s I come a runnin’. Her momma stops me at the door and say get back to yo chores, she gonna be fine.
I goes back and just as I starts to go digging again with Alford, I hears a baby a cryin’. Sound like a baby deer thats a calling for its momma. Then the crying get loud and I hear it comin’ from the house so’s I run there agin thinking that a baby deer done got in our house. But when I go through the door, lordy Jesus there is a baby in Mary Ann’s arms and it is a wailing like two hawks a fighting in the sky. My mouth musta nearly hit the floor!
“Willi, this be your baby chil.” said Mary Ann. “She a girl!”
I’m a thinking this is my child. I done make this baby girl and I ain’t never made something this purty and what makes so much noise. I don’t smile much and I don’t never have laughed, no matter how funny sumptin’ is but I knowed that I was a smilin’ cause I was so happy. Purty soon the women folk that live near our place come by and they hep clean up the baby and they tells me to get back to my farming chores. When I starts to workin’ I no longer hears the baby cryin’ so’s I am thinkin’ that sumthin’ wrong with it and I goes back in. Mary Ann laying in the straw bed and the babe at her breast and they both look as happy as if they done died and gone off to heaven.
Alford put his arm on my shoulder and say to me, “Congratulations, you gonna be a great father.”
The great American war lasted while we was near Locust Hill. We done homesteaded some land and built a house and a barn therebouts. Alford and his momma done the same and was living near by. The war didn’t affect us so much cept I heard later that my paps brother Alfred had excaped to the north and joined the union army, they said he was kilt in the fightin’. We give our baby daughter the name Emmerline, who we calls Emma and she is a spitin’ image of her momma. After the war done end we had a boy child that we called William like me and my pap. A little while after that we had another boy that we called Alford for Mary Ann’s brother that was given the name from his pap.
The war done ended but the colored folks weren’t exactly free like the proclamation say. Most colored folk stay on the farm they was raised on. Some colored folks leave for the north where coloreds been free a long time. Some likes us get our own farm and grow crops that we eats and trade for what extra the neighbors got.
I don’t never see my momma or pap after we leave Kentucky, I get a hankerin’ to go back to massa Hugh farm sos I can see ‘em, but Mary Ann say it not a good idea. Folks up there still don’t like the colored folks for what happened to them during the war. But I recollect that the colored folk aught to be the one to be angry for them the be a holdin’ us like animals for so long and fo breaking up our familys and making us work so hard for nothing but a dirty shack to live in and a handful of food. Massa Hugh and his mean old woman give better food to they’s dog than they give to us.
One day about they year 1870 a government man come round and he countin’ people. He ask us all kinda questions like when we was born, where we was born, where our momma and pap was born. They was the government centsis takers and some folks here bouts go off in the bayou or the woods til they done go away. Alford go off so they done ask him nothing and then he dont has to lie. His momma and his wife stay to home and they say they don’t got a man who stay there. I say all the stuff the man asks, I am a free man now and ain’t nobody take that away. I got my own farm and nobody ain’t gonna take that away neither.
Lots a folks always a goin’ by our farm on they way someplace. Some goin’ to Texas but we done made our mind that we gonna stay right here. There be white folks and black folks going’ past our farm followin’ the sun. One day I was tillin’ the ground fixin’ to plant some root crops when a white family come a walkin by. They was dirty and they clothes was nothin but rags. They had a old dog and a old woman and a old man that was crippled and riding in a wheeled barrow. I knowed right away it was some of the old family of massa Hugh and his mean ole wife. They slow they walkin when they gits by our farm and I looks em straight in the eyes with my head held high. They jus looks at me and keep a walkin.
Mary Ann come out and she knowed them too and she say to me thank the lord for those people or else we never find each other and we never come here and have our family and our farm. I wants to know where my family is so I runs up and axes where my momma and poppa? They puts theys heads down and keeps a walkin.
Every Sunday we goes to church, we Baptist now too and we sing and we praise the lord in our old church that we done fixed up. My son Alford that everbody calls Alfred he now a preacher at the Locust Hill Baptist Church. All the family sings there and we have a picnic after church just like we done back at home in Kentucky.
About this narrative:
The preceding narrative of Mr. William Logan is a compilation of actual genealogical records and historical data.
Back in the early part of the 1900s, the United States government-sponsored several iterations, including the specific WPA project and the Federal writers project, of first-person narratives of former slaves. All of them were compiled from interviews that were conducted by white interviewers. These examiners transcribed them either as they heard the words from the former slaves, or they made corrections in the actual vocabulary that the slave verbalized.
Most of the work was stored in boxes in warehouses and never saw the light of day and eventually, they were forgotten. As time went on and storage space was needed, many boxfuls of these precious documents were either thrown out or burned.
In 2000-2001, with major support from the Citigroup Foundation, the Library of Congress digitized the remaining narratives from the microfilm edition and scanned from the originals 500 photographs, including more than 200 that had never been microfilmed or made publicly available. This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs divisions of the Library of Congress and can be viewed at:
Unless noted, all photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography and Nida Jackson Photography or their respective owners. Please contact me with any questions, comments, or for authorization to use photos or for signed, high-resolution prints.
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- Cover image of James A. Logan: Library of Congress, Control Number 2012645248
- Slave woman: John Winston Coleman Jr. collection on slavery in Kentucky
- Great sale of slaves poster: unknown source
- Slave shackles: John Winston Coleman Jr. collection on slavery in Kentucky
- Slave cabin: John Winston Coleman Jr. collection on slavery in Kentucky
- Slave owners house, Kentucky: John Winston Coleman Jr. collection on slavery in Kentucky
- Two people in cotton field: Winslow Homer art project
- KKK on horses: Monroe County History Center
- $1200 for negroes poster: Cover illustration on Winston Coleman, Jr.’s “Slavery Times in Kentucky”
- Hugh Logan Kentucky slave schedule: familysearch.org
- Women slaves: Winslow Homer art project
- Black minister preaching: unknown source
- Three bushwhackers: Personal collection of the author
- CSA artillery-1863: http://www.storiamilitare.altervista.org
- Vintage Mississippi River map: https://www.etsy.com
- Former-Slaves 1880: Gatsbe Exchange Vintage Old Photos
- White church on a hill: Old White Church by Eric Sloane
- Black Union Army soldiers: https://www.militarytimes.com
- Mounted Ku-Klux in full regalia: The Ku Klux Klan, birth of a nation
- The James Monroe paddle wheel boat: Jim Jackson Photography
- Black Bayou, Monroe, Louisiana: https://louisianadigitallibrary.org
- Farm workers in field, Monroe, Louisiana: https://louisianadigitallibrary.org