Joseph Holmes
Mobile, Alabama

Interviewed by Ila B. Prine June 11, 1937

Standing in the middle of the road of Prichard the incorporated suburb of Mobile, gesticulating while talking to several people, was an old negro man eighty-one years of age. He was tall, straight, dark-skinned negro with grey hair and moustache. When the writer asked him if he was a slave, he said:

"I doesn't kno' w'ether I wuz a slave, but jes' de same I seed General Grant's army when hit went through Virginny. Jes' as sho' as yo' is standing dar, lady, I seed dem men all dressed in dem blue suits a madchin' side by side, gwine down de road pas' our place. Hit tuk dem three days tuh git pas' our house."

"An' does I 'member when dam Yankees, cum tuh out 01' Mistiss house an' take a ladder an' clim' up tuh de roof an' tare de boards outta de ceilin' tuh git dem big hams an' shoulders, dey had hid up afar Yo' women folks make.- Oh, I means 'serves dat de 01' Miss had de slaves hide wid de meat; an' when dem Yankees find dat stuff, day jes' gib hit all tuh de niggers, an' I 'members too, how 01' Miss, calls us all tuh her atter day lef' and tole us dat us wuz free, but she tole dat us had tuh gib mac' [her?] sum ob de meat an' 'serves 'cayse she didn't hab a bit tuh eat. Course we wuz glad toh do hit, 'cayse 01' Miss sho' woz good tuh her slaves. I 'member ebery Sunday mawning dat she make de older slaves bring all de little niggers up tuh her big white two-story house,

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so she sud read de bible tuh us, an' den she gib us plenty ob dem good biscuits an' 'taters dat she had de cook Susanne cook fer us. She'd say 'git 'roun' dere, Susanne, an' he'p dem li'1 niggers' plates', I railly thoughy 01' Miss wuz an angel.

"Talkin' 'bout niggers bein' freed, 01 Miss tole us us wuz free but hit wuz ten or twelve years atter de Surrender befo' I railly knowed whut she meant. I wuz a big boy goin' tuh school afore I had any understandin' as tuh whut she meant.

"01' Miss taught de niggers how tuh read an' write an' sum ob dem got tuh be too proficient wid dere writin', 'cayse dey larn how tuh write too many pass's so de 'patty-rollers' wudn't git dem, an' den dat wuz de onlinest time I ebber knowed 01' Miss tuh hab de slaves punished.

01' Miss nebber 'lowed no mistreatin' ob de slaves, 'cayse dey wuz raisin' slaves for de market, an' hit wudn't be good biziness tuh mistreat dem. Lor' mah white folks wuz rich, dey had as many as five or six hundred niggers, men, women, an' chillun. De plantation wuz big but I doesn't 'member how many acres, but I 'members de cabins wuz all built out ob logs an' ceiled or chinked wid, boards an' de cabins wuz built in rows, an' dere wuz streets laid out among de cabins. De chimbneys wuz built outta dirt an' sticks, an' yo' kno' up in Virginny hit got turrible cold, an' de snow wud pile up, so when de cabins wuz built, de men wud throw dirt up under de house tuh keep de snow an' cold out. Yo' might think dat dirt wud wash out from under de house, but hit didn't.

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Hit jes' made dem so warm an' confor'mable us didn't suffer from the cold. I wuz borned in Henry County, Virginny near Danville, an' I'se been to Vicksburg, an' Petersburg a-many-s-time wid mah daddy to de wheat an tobacey market. Lor' honey, Virginny is de bes' place on earth for good eatin' an' good white folks. If any body tells yo' dat de white folks wuz mean tuh dere niggers, dey nebber cum from Virginny, 'cayse us wuz tuh near de free states, an den I'se already tole yo' dey raised niggers tah sell an' dey kept dem in good condition, an' in dose days white folks wuz white folks an' black folks wuz black folks. Jes' lac' Booker T. Washington wuz a river between de niggers ob dis later generation in larnin'. He had all dat's fine an' good an' he gib ob de tees' tuh his people, if dey wud take hit.

"Dats wuz de way wid de white folks den, dey didn't do no whippin' an' mistreatin' ob de slaves. Oh! once in a while O1' Miss might slap de cooks face an' tell her tuh bear 'round dere ', an' if she wanted de servin' boys to hurry, she wud say 'cutch hit', meanin' fer dem tuh cut sum steps an' git 'bout in a hurry.

"I'se de oldest rat in de pond, an' 'cayse I aint hung in de smokehouse folks think I'm not as old as I says I is, but, chile, I'se been here. I 'member how Sam usta tuh preach tuh us, when us wuz at de ol' Miss's place, an' when I growed up I 'members how I usta think nobody wuz a Christian 'ceptin' us Baptists, but I knows betta now. An' de longer I lib de more I realize dat de churches

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go away, 'cayse day leaves off de ordinances of God, altho' us has got de Bible an' mo' Christian literature den ebber afore.

"Mah maw's name wuz Eliza Rowlets an' mah daddy's name wuz Joseph Holmes. Mah daddy had de same name as de people who owned him, an' mah gran'maw's name wuz Lucy Holmes. Gran'maw Lucy lived to be a hundred years old, an' she war de fust person I ebber seed dead. Hit tuk three days tuh bury a person den, 'cayse dey dug de graves as deep as you is tall, which means more than five feet deep. Lor's sakes a-livin' us had great times, an' ah, yes, I forgot tuh tell yo dat us had home made beds wid two sides nailed tuh de wall, an' de mattresses wuz made outta wheat straw, an' dat 'minds me dat dere warnt no pore cattle in dem times, 'cayse yo' cud go whar day thresh de wheat an' git all de straw yo' wanted an' feed de dry cattle on hit. An' believe yo', me, de fruit us did hab yo' don't nebber see sum ob hit down dis way. Sich as apples, cherries, quinces, peaches and pears.

"As fer huntin' I done plenty ob hit, an' one thing I got tuh git forgiveness fer, wuz when I lef' Virginny, I lef' 'bout sixty or seventy snares sat tuh ketch rabbits an' birds.

"Mah maw had eight chillun an' we wuz raised in pairs. I had a sister who cum alon' wid me, an' if I jumped in de river tuh swim, she did hit tuh, if I clim' a tree, or go through a brair patch, she went, tuh. Many's-a-time Maw wanted tuh know why her clos wuz so tore up, but we'd make hit all right by having a rabbit or coon, sumtime mud turtles. An' as fer 'possums an'

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coons, us ketch dem in abundance.

"'Bout de fruit, hit makes mah mouth water tuh think about dem cheese apples, dat wuz yeller lac' gold, an' dose Abraham apples. An' dose cherry trees as big as dese oaks, wid long lim's an' big sugar an' sweetheart, an' black heart cherries. Den dere wuz anudder kin' ob cherry called de gorilla cherry dat wuz roun' an' growed as big as de yeller plums de down dis way. Now, let me tell yo' sumpin' 'bout Virginny, dat had its own law about drink. Dey made de bes' peach an' cherry brandy an' mos' any kin' yo' ebber hyeard ob, 'ceptin' dey didn't 'low yo' tuh make drink out ob anything yo' cud made bread. Now you understan', sich as corn or rye.

"Us had our brandy same as yo' wud coffee, 'cayse hit wuz cold, an' sum mawnings us wud git up an' de snow wud be half way up tuh de doo', an de men wud hab toh ditch it out, so us cud git out ob de house. On dem rail col' mawnings mah daddy wud git de brandy out an' mah maw wud put a li'1 water an' sugar wid hit an' gib tuh us chillun. An' den she'd take sum in her mouf' an' put hit in de baby's mouf an' hit wud open hits eyes an' stamp hits foot rail peart lac.

"Us nebber thought nothin' ob drinkin'. I kinda believes lac' dat ol' infidel Ingersoll, who said dat anything dat wuz de custom wuz dere religion. Really speaking, folks wuz kinda hearted den den dey is now, 'cayse dey kept big dogs tuh huntup people in de snow. Dey all seemed more happy, 'cayse at night day wud

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go tuh de big house an' spin an' weave, an' make de clos.

"I kin hyar dat ol' loom hummin' now an' see great yards ob cloth cummin' out, an' dem wuz clos' den dat wuz made from hit. Hit tuk fire tuh git it offin' yo' 'cayse hit wuz so strong. I doesn't 'member whut doy used fer dye, but I knows day used copperas as sizin' tuh hoi' de colors. Sum ob de cloth wuzed dyed, red blue an' black. I jes' can't 'member about de dye, but dey use copperas, 'dat wuz de qualification ob de intelligence ob de primitive age". in using dat'spooeras? Dey not only made our clos but also made our hats. Ob course de warn't very hasty, but wuz more cappy. Dey made dem wid tabs ober de ears, an' tuh tie under de chin, an' wuz doy warm, I'll say!

~Now, when yo' axed 'bout hog killin' time, dat wuz de time ob times. Fer weeks de men wud haul wood an' big rocks, an' pile hit together as high as dis house, an' den hab several piles, lac' dat 'roun' a big hole in de 'group' whut had been filled wid water. Den jes' a li'1 atter midnight, de boss wud blow de ol' horn, an' all de men wud git in dem big hog pens. Den dey wud set dat pile ob wood on fire an' den start knockin' dem hogs in de haid, us neber shot a hog lac' dey does now, us allus used an ax to kill dem wid. Atter knockin' de hog in de haid, doy wud tie a rope on his laig, an' atter de water got tuh de right heat frum dose red-hot rocks whut had been pushed out ob dat pile ob wood into de water, dey wud throw de hog in an' drag it aroun' awhile, an' take him out an' hab him clean in about three minutes. Atter he

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wuz clean dey hung dem up, an' den later cut dem up an' hung dem in de smoke house, an' smoke dem wid great oak logs. Huh, dey don't cuore meat now, dey jes' use sum kinda brush an' liquid, but dey don't hab meat lac' us did.

"Den cum cornshucking time, mah goodness, I jes' wud love tuh be dere now. De corn wud be piled up high an' one man wud git on dat pile, hit usually woz kinda ob a nigger foreman who cud sing an' get de wurk out ob de odder niggers. Dis foreman wud sing a verse sumthin' lac' dis.

"Polk an' Clay went to War. And Polk cum back wid a broken jar."

Den all de niggers wud sing back tuh him, an' hello' a kinda ob shoutin' soun'. Usually dis foreman made up his songs, by pickin' dem up historically. But, Miss, you know whut wuz de motor power ob dat shucking? Hit was de ol' jug dat wuz brung 'roun' ebery hour, dats de only time any ob de slaves really got drunk.

I wish I cud 'member 'dose ol' songs, but all dat hello' done lef' me, 'cayse de only singin' I hyear is de good ol' sisters singin' an' sayin' 'Amen'.

In days gone by, I went tuh plenty ob dances, an' candy pullin's durin' de yule season, but I dosen't do dat any mo'. I'se a preacher, an' when I fust lef' Virginny I cum to Georgia an' stayed dere twenty years, an' I kicked up a plenty ob dust in Georgia. I eben taught school an' built a plenty ob churches dere. Den I cum on tuh Alabamy, an' lived in Evergreen fer 'bout twenty

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mo' years, an' I built a two story brick church dere. Since I'se been in Mobile Is'e wurked by dat Bienville Square for sich men as ol' man Simon. Damrich, and Van Antwerp, an' all dere chillun has been in dese arms. I'se been a square citizen, an' dere hasn't been one time in mah life I'se had to call on anybody, an' dat wuz when I had tuh call on Uncle Sam, when ol' man depression got me. But thank God I'se still able to 'bout an' have all my faculties, 'ceptin' mah eyesight is a li'1 porely. I still has all mah teeth 'ceptin' one, an' mah maw allus tuk great pride in mah hair, you see how fine an' silky hit is, an' hit ain't snow white yit. Dere is one thing, tuh be thankful fer is, 'cayse I'se so near home.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Personal interview with Joseph Holmes, Grand Avenue, Prichard, Alabama.

Source: The American Slave, Supp. Series 2, Vol. 1: 5-11.

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Last revised: August 10, 1997