Excerpts of Testimony from Mattie Curtis

from Slave Narratives: a Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves

1937

An interview with Mattie Curtis, 98 years old, of Raleigh, North Carolina.

…When de Yankees come dey come an’ freed us. De woods wus full of Rebs what had deserted, but de Yankees killed some of dem.

Some sort of corporation cut de land up, but de slaves ain’t got none of it dat I ever heard about.

I got married before de war to Joshua Curtis. I loved him too, which is more dam most folks can truthfully say. I always had craved a home an’ aplenty to eat, but freedom ain’t give us notin’ but pickled hoss meat an’ dirty crackers, an’ not half enough of dat.

Josh ain’t really care ’bout no home but through dis land corporation I buyed dese fifteen acres on time. I cut down de big trees dat wus all over dese fields an’ I milled out de wood an’ sold hit, den I plowed up de fields an’ planted dem. Josh did help to build de house an’ he worked out some.

All of dis time I had nineteen chilluns an’ Josh died, but I kep’ on an’ de fifteen what is dead lived to be near ’bout grown, ever one of dem.

Right atter de war northern preachers come around wid a little book a-marrying slaves an’ I seed one of dem marry my pappy an’ mammy. Atter dis dey tried to find dere fourteen oldest chilluns what wus sold away, but dey never did find but three of dem.

But you wants ter find out how I got along. I’ll never fergit my first bale of cotton an’ how I got hit sold. I wus some proud of dat bale of cotton, an’ atter I had hit ginned I set out wid hit on my steercart fer Raleigh. De white folks hated de nigger den, ’specially de nigger what wus makin’ somethin’ so I dasen’t ax nobody whar de market wus.

I thought dat I could find de place by myself, but I rid all day an’ had to take my cotton home wid me dat night ’case I can’t find no place to sell hit at. But dat night I think hit over an’ de nex’ day I goes’ back an’ axes a policeman ’bout de market. Lo an’ behold chile, I foun’ hit on Blount Street, an’ I had pass by hit seberal times de day before.

I done a heap of work at night too, all of my sewin’ an’ such an’ de piece of lan’ near de house over dar ain’t never got no work ’cept at night. I finally paid fer de land. Some of my chilluns wus borned in de field too. When I wus to de house we had a granny an’ I blowed in a bottle to make de labor quick an’ easy.

Dis young generation ain’t worth shucks. Fifteen years ago I hired a big buck nigger to help me shrub an’ ’fore leben o’clock he passed out on me. You know ’bout leben o’clock in July hit gits in a bloom. De young generation wid dere schools an dere divorcing ain’t gwine ter git nothin’ out of life. Hit wus better when folks jist lived tergether. Dere loafin’ gits dem inter trouble an’ dere novels makes dem bad husban’s an’ wives too.

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