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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Born in Slavery - Interview with Hannah Hancock, Ex-Slave


Interview with Hannah Hancock of Arkansas.
Age Past 80

     I was born in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. My mother's name was Chloa.[1] We lived on Hardy Sellers plantation. She was the white folks cook. I et in the white folks kitchen sometimes and sometimes wid the other children at maw's house. Show my daddy was livin. But he lived on another man's farms. His master's name was Billy Hancock and his name was Dave. Der was a big family of us but dey all dead now but three of us. Ize got two sisters and a brother still livin, I reckon. I ain't seed them in a long time. Mrs. Sellers had several children but they were all married when I come along and she was a widow. Joe Pete was her son and he lived close, about a mile across the field, but it was farther around the road. Billy Hancock married Mrs. Sellers daughter. My mistress didn't do much. Miss Becky Hancock wove cloth for people. You could get the warp ready and then run in the woof. She made checked dresses and mingledy looking cloth. They colored the cloth brown and purple mostly. Mrs. Sellers get a bolt of cloth and have it all made up into dresses for the children. Sometimes all our family would have a dress alike. Yesm, we did like dot. Granny made de dresses on her fingers. She was too old to go to de field an she tote water from the big spring and sometimes she water de hands when dey be hoeing. She would cut and dry apples and peaches. Nobody knowed how to can. They dried de beef. It show was good. It was jess fine. No maam, Granny didn't have no patterns. She jess made our dresses lack come in her haid. We didn't get many dresses and we was proud of em and washed and ironed and took care of em.

     I recollects hearing de men talking about going off to war and em going. No jess de white men left from Mrs. Sellers place. De children didn't set around and hear all that was said. They sent us off to play in the play houses. We swept a clean place and marked it off and had our dolls down there.
We put in anything we could get, mostly broken dishes. Yes maam, I had rag dolls and several of them. No wars real close but I could hear the guns sometimes.

     Mrs. Sellers had two large carriage horses. The colored boys took them down in the bottoms and took off a lot of the meat and groceries and hid them 'fo the Yankees come along. They didn't nebber fin them things. Mrs. Sellers was awful good and the men jess looked after her and tock care of her. Me or maw stayed at the house with her all the time, day and night. When anybody got sick she sent somebody to wait on them and went to see what they needed and some times she had 'em brought up to the house and give 'em the medicine herself. She didn't have no foman. Uncle Sam and uncle John was the oldest and uncle Henry. They was the men on the farm and they went right on with the work. Folks had bigger families than they do now. They show did work, but de field work don't last all de time. They cleared land and fixed up the rail fences in the winter. A rail fence was on each side of a long lane that led down to the pasture. The creek run through the pasture. It was show a pretty grove. Had corn shuckings when it was cold. We played base down there. We always had meat and plenty milk, collards and potatoes. Old missus would drip a barrel of ashes and make corn hominy in the wash pot nearly every week and we made all the soap we ever did see. If you banked the sweet potatoes they wouldn't rot and that's where the seed come from in the spring. In the garden there was an end left to go to seed. That is the way people had any seed. Times show have changed. I can't tell what to think. They ain't no more like than if they was another kind of folks. So much different. I jess look and live. I think they ought to listen to what you say. Say anything to them they say “Kaint run my business.” I don't know if they spected anything from freedom. Seemed like they thought they wouldn't have to work if dey was free and dey wouldn't have no boss. Missus let a lot of her land grow up in pine trees. Said she had no money to pay people to work for her. Some of de families staid on. My maw and paw went on a farm on share not far from Mrs. Sellers. When she was going to have company or she got sick she sent for my maw. My maw washed and ironed for her till they moved plum off. They said somebody told them it was freedom. When dey picked up and moved off de missus show didn't give em nothing. They didn't vote. They didn't know how. I heard a lot about the Ku Klux Klan but I wasn't scared. I never did see none.

     De younger generation jess lives today and don't know what he'll do tomorrow or where he'll be. I ain't  never voted and I don't know if my boys do or not.

     I never heard of uprisings. De paddy roll was to see after dot and Mrs. Sellers didn't have none. Uncle Sem and uncle John made em mind.

     Sing -- I say dey did sing. Sing about the cooking and about the milking and sing in de field.

     I never did see nobody sold. But I heard them talk about selling em. They tookem off to sell em. That was the worst part about slavery. The families was broke up. I never lived nowhere 'cept in South Carolina and Prairie County (Arkansas). My folks come here and they kept writing for me to come, and I come on the train. Mrs. Sellers son, Joe Sellers, killed himself, shot himself, one Sunday evening. Didn't know how come he dons it. I was too little to know what they expected from the war. The colored folks didn't have nothing to do with it 'cept they expected to get freed. A heap of people went to the cities, some of them died. After freedom things got pretty scarce to eat and there was no money. I worked as a house girl, tended to the children, brushed the flies off the table and the baby when it slept and swept the house and the yard too. After I come here (to Arkansas) I married and I worked on the farms. We sharecropped. I raised my children, had chickens, geese, a cow and hogs. When the cotton was sold we got some of it. Yes maam, I show had rether be out there if I could jess work. We lived on Mr. Dick Small's place till he sold out. We come to town a year and went back and made enough in one year to buy dis place. It cost $300. Jess my two sons and me. The others were married. My husband died on the farm. I come in town and done one or two washings a week. Yes maam I walked here and back. That kept me in a little money. It was about
two miles. I washed for Mr. L. Hall and part of the time for Mrs. Kate Hazen. I guess they treated us right about the crop settlement. We thought they did. We knowed how much was made and how much we got. The cheatin  come at the stores where the trading was done.

     I lives with my son and his wife. Sometimes I do my cooking and sometimes I eatin there. I get $8.00 from the RFC and prunes, rice, and a little dried milk. I buys my meal and sugar and lard and little groceries with the money. It don't buy what I used to have on the farm.

     I don't remember much about the war. I was so little. I heard them talk a lot about it and the way they killed folks. I thought it was awful. My hardest time is since I got old and can't work.

Subject Spells - Voodoo -

I asked her if she believed anyone could harm her and she said not not unless they could get her to eat or drink something. Then they might. She said a Gipsy was feeling her and slipped a dollar and a quarter tied up in her handkerchief from her and she never did know when or how she got it. Said she never believed their tales or had her fortune told. She didn't believe anyone could put anything under the door and because you walked over it you would get a “spell”. She said some people did. She didn't know what they put under the doors. She never was conjured that she knew of and she doesn't believe in it. Said she had to work too hard to tell tales to her children but she used to sing. She can't remember the songs she sang. She can't read or write.

The old women is blind and gray, wears a cap. Her Mistress was Mrs. Mary and her Master was Mr. Hardy Sellers in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Her husband died and left her with six children. Her brother came with a lot of other fellows to Arkansas. "Everybody was coming either here on to Texas".
Mr. David Gates at DeValls Bluff sent her a ticket to come to his farm. Her brother was working for Mr. Gates Wattensaw plantation and that is where she has been till a few years ago she moved to Hazen and lives with her son and his wife. She remembered when the Civil War soldiers took all their food,
mules and hitched Mrs. Sellers driving horses to the surry and drove off.

Her Mistress cried and cried. She said she had a hard time after she left Mr. and Mrs. Sellers, they was sure good to them and always had more than she had ever had since. She wanted to go back to South Carolina to see the ones she left but never did have the money. Said they lived on Mr. Dick Small's place and he was so good to her and her children but he is dead too now.

Hardy Huntley Sellers is my 4th Great Grand Uncle. 

This information given by Hannah Hancock (c)
Place of Residence Hazen, Arkansas
Occupation Work in the cotton field - Cook and wash. Age 90
She is blind. She gets $8.00 pension, she is proud to tell.
Interviewer: Irene Robertson

Top - Left: Photograph of Nat Turner capture, courtesy of Wikipedia; in the public domain.

[1] Chloa, mother of Hannah, was the slave of James Sinclair who died intestate May 1852 leaving widow, Mary H. Sinclair; and children; one daughter was Mary Eliza Sinclair wife of Hardy Huntley Sellers.
[2] Library of Congress, “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938” digital image of transcript, American Memory ( 13 January 2013), Interview with Hannah Hancock, Biscoe, Arkansas , digital ID mesn 023/143142; citing WPA Federal Writer's Project, Arkansas narrative, vol. 2, part 3, pages 142-148

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