By Leon Edgar Norfleet
Introduction by Phil Norfleet
The following memoir, written by Doctor Leon Edgar Norfleet, is a digitized version of a typewritten manuscript that I found at the public library in the town of Tarboro, North Carolina. Leon Edgar Norfleet (1864-1942) was a great-great-grandson of John Norfleet (1699-1753) of Chowan County, North Carolina. See his Norfleet ancestor chart at the hyperlink. He was a noted medical doctor of the time, having obtained his degree in medicine from Columbia University, New York. After, a few years practice in New York, he returned to Tarboro, North Carolina where he remained for the rest of his professional career. The instant memoir was composed in 1930 when Dr. Norfleet was 66 years old. The memoir is of historical and genealogical interest because it contains a number of remembrances of the post-Civil War period in the Old South and contains Dr. Norfleets observations concerning many of the former slaves who had once belonged to his family. Leon Edgar Norfleets somewhat paternalistic attitude toward these former slaves is very typical of the white southerners of that era. My comments appear in brackets.
Transcript of the Memoir
Old Charley has finished plowing my garden and three robins, which have followed closely behind him, have filled their craws with worms and bugs turned up by the plow, and flown away. A Mocking bird, too excited to feed, is singing and dancing on a near-by roof, and, though it is the twenty-second of February, yet the sun is so warm that, instead of going in the house, I am tempted to go around to my front steps and find a seat and watch the birds on my lawn.
On the top branch of an oak, a brown thrasher hangs and pours forth a spiritual song for his mate, who runs on the ground and searches under every leaf for a late worm. From a live oak a mourning dove coos plaintively and a cardinal whistles defiance to all comers. A veery thrush runs almost to my feet and then flies away toward her northern home. Sitting there, as I have done for nearly all of my sixty-six years, memories come to me of the flocks of golden warblers that used to feed under the elms in such numbers that the ground seemed carpeted by their yellow bodies; now, for ten years, I have seen none at all, except last summer, a pair feeding on a thistle in my garden, made me call my wife to admire the golden beauties. Even the small boy never cared to shoot these sweet, simple little songsters and yet they are gone.
My next-door neighbor and I own in front lawns and rear gardens almost twelve acres of ground. Across its front runs a small creek, while great oaks, elms, cedars and holly trees, with many shrubs growing underneath, make the places a heaven for birds. Our town has grown all around us for over a mile in every direction, but for all time, both of our places have been bird sanctuaries. In years gone by a cigar box nailed to a post, or tree, was sure to have a pair of blue birds use it as a nest and their sweet calls greeted us at dawn and dusk, but these little fellows spend their winters with us and in 1917 and 1918 great numbers perished from cold and hunger, but they are increasing again to my great joy. Then the cedar birds are coming back this year. The naturalists tell us that it is their habit to desert their houses without any known reason and then suddenly return. Another bird that certainly, in days gone by, would have about this time come dashing out the sky, calling "kill-dee-dee-dea," race across the lawn to the water and then up and away. The kill-dee plover has left me for many years, and their striped bodies and cheery call would certainly be welcomed again. The orioles, that used to build their nests of the vanilla scented, sweet vernal grass, have deserted the maples and cedars that used to house three pairs. Once I heard an oriole sing on Thanksgiving day. He had certainly lost his way, maybe crippled or caught and caged, and then made an escape. He only sang twice and then hastened away.
The purple martens, too, are getting to be strangers, and though they are not classed as songsters, yet on two occasions I have heard them give an almost supernatural concert. Curiously, this has occurred as, at dawn, I had left the death-bed of old and loved patients of mine. I had spent the night fighting off death, only to see their lives end just as day began to break and feeling sad and depressed, had started on my way home, when suddenly from the sky came such a song from a gang of martens that I had to stop. Wave after wave of music came down from this veritable "choir invisible," inspiring me in a wondrous way. Too dark for me to see, even across the street, yet high up these birds sang and sang. It was soul stirring and cheering too.
Even the chimney swifts are seldom seen around us now, though one pair built in my office chimney last year and their nest fell down to the hearth, but I had a fire board closing the fire place in. One morning I heard such a squeaking that I prized open the board and there lay five sooty little rascals. Every few minutes, down would come their mother, and then such a noise! Then she would roar up the flue and quiet would reign. After four or five days, the youngsters began to crawl up the chimney back, getting half a foot higher each day, but always and so they passed out of sight and hearing. Naturalists say the swift never lights, except in hollow trees or chimney flues, but at sunset on the eve of the Charleston earthquake I was driving out in the country and saw an immense swarm of these birds light in a mulberry grove, evidently to spend the night. Could it be possible that instinct warned them that many chimneys were to fall that night? Lying in my bed I see, through a window facing south, and late in January every year I could watch the robins going north. In times gone by just as the sun rises, the flight would start and for an hour an unbroken stream would pass. Robins are hungry rascals though, and slow travelers when tempted by fallow fields, rich in insect food, and also, they always fly back southward to some swamp to roost. If a snow or sleet should cover the ground then they come in mass to rob the cedar, holly and Pride of China trees, much to the indignation of the mocking birds, who look on these as their private larders and spend the days driving the robbers away, but as they drove one out, fifty took its place and in two or three days the cupboard was bare.
In February, 1917 and again in February, 1918 we had two such snow and sleet spells and the small boy and his cat rifle wrought havoc amongst the starving birds. I am sorry to say that some grown so-called sportsmen also joined in the slaughter and one of these bragged that he killed five hundred birds in two days time. The Federal migratory bird law has stopped this desecration now and the flights each year are showing increase in numbers. These early robins do not sing with us but only use an alarm chirrup or a flight call when, with a flirt of their tails, they start a new flight.
But when March comes, the birds who are to nest with us have come and then that joyous song begins to open and close our bird day. Head erect, he pours out a real Te Deum for the happiness he seems to get out of life. In years gone by the final bird call that closed the day was a sleepy call of "Ter-whee-whe-e-e" from a white-throat sparrow, but now his English cousins have chased him away.
As darkness falls, another set of memories pass. Only of old Negro men and women, it is true, but still memories dear to me, of these so-called slaves, but really dearest and most devoted friends of me and mine. Only those as old as I am can understand the love and respect these masters and slaves felt toward each other. For forty years, two daughters of former slaves to my father have served me as cook and laundress, and in a way seem to love my children, and, in turn, my children reciprocate their affection. But that pride and loyalty of the old Negro towards his owners family is gone, and, in turn, that respect and peculiar love of his master is wanting. It was a beautiful part of our old Southern life, and I love and cherish the memories of it as seen while I was a small boy.
Without hesitation, I assert that there never existed truer gentlemen and ladies than these old-time Negroes and in my family's slaves were many of the most perfect the world ever produced, but they have passed away.
At the end of the Civil War my grandmother [Caroline nee Mathewson Williams] was left alone, with a son, invalidated home from the army. All her other children were married and in homes of their own. In spite of her father being from Providence, R. I., and her husband [John Williams] from Hartford, Conn., she was as red-hot a Southerner as ever lived. As I recall her, she was as dainty an old lady as you have ever seen - skin like peaches and cream. Never but twice do I recall seeing her angry - once when she caught my elder brother wiping his razor blade on a loose leaf from a Bible. She regarded the Book an too sacred for that. The other time was when her overseer brought her $100 which she badly needed. When she finally got him cornered, he had to confess that, the apple crop being fine, he had gathered enough to make a barrel of brandy and the $100 came from its sale. Somehow or other, I can't recall whether she accepted the money or not. She always started to read on the morning of January first, each year, the first chapter of Genesis and by December thirty-first had reached the last of Revelations. It makes me shudder to think, even now, what she would have felt and thought towards any one word of that book being questioned, and as to modern evolutionary arguments - Well! The only fear of death she ever showed was that the flooded river might prevent her being laid to rest in the old cemetery in. which her ancestors for over one hundred and fifty years had been buried, and we were thankful that when the time came nothing prevented our carrying out her wish, as the river was well in its banks.
From her father, who, from his portrait and from legends handed down, I guess was quite a gallant sport, she inherited tiny feet and hands, and was said to be tho finest dancer in the County. When LaFayette visited Halifax she went to see him and was complimented by the gallant Frenchman on her beauty. Her husband, however, converted her into an old-time Methodist, and when he died, about 1845, she brought up her three boys and one daughter in that belief. He was born near Hartford, Conn., and his portrait shows him a sweetly pious man.
The Aristocrat. All the Negroes called her Mrs. Matthewson - we, Grandma's Liza. Born and raised with my grandmother, she was boss of tie whole crowd, black and white. When Lee surrendered, my father carried the news to his mother-in-law, and at her request called all the Negroes up and told them that Mr. Lincoln had set them free. Old Liza bristled up and requested what "Mr. Linkum had to do messin' in her and old Misses' affairs, and she'd like to know if she left them, who was going to take care of Old Miss and Marse Leon." The others could do as they pleased but she know where she belonged. Stay she did, until Marse Leon [Leon Williams] died and Old Miss came to live with us and even then she felt it her duty to call and see that her loved one was well cared for. I can see her now, dressed in a cotton dress, as stiff as starch could make it, a white kerchief across her bosom and another covering her head, coming to make one of those duty calls. Sitting at grandmother's feet, she would bewail the social downfall of the times. She only lived a short time after her mistress' death, and was bed-ridden for several months before she died, and when I used to carry her coffee, sugar and wine, she always complained that she had to spend her last days in the
company of "no mannered niggers and common white folks." How scared I used to be of her! She loved quality folks alone.
Old Temp exactly the opposite. Black as a coal, with a mouth stretching from ear to ear. And such a laugh! You just had to laugh too. How we did love her. Always, like the Greeks of old, she came, bearing presents in her hand a mighty small chicken or a half-dozen eggs, well knowing she would carry back many times their value in return presents. She had a fund of tales for us youngsters, most of them about her hero, Marse Orren, [Orren Williams] who as the special master of her son, Jim, she regarded the most important member of our family. Old Temp had married a man belonging to a neighbor of my grandmother and he, being ill-treated, took to the woods and for more than two years eluded the many searching parties sent out to capture him. One morning Old Temp went to my father [Robert Norfleet, 1816-1871] and told him that she wanted father to buy her husband out in the woods and that he would come in at once to work. That night my father went down to the river bank and, sure enough, on the oposite side stood Jim. They soon agreed, and the next day my father purchased the man as a run-a-way slave, at a very low price, as his former owner had given up ever getting him back. Temp was told of the purchase and the next morning Jim was on hand to start to work. Father, naturally, wanted to know where he had hidden for the two years and the tale Jim told was the most astonishing one a Negro ever told, when all of us knew that the average Negro never goes near a burying ground at night if he possibly can help doing so. Jim replied "Marse Robert," I spent all the day and most of the night in Marse Henry Tooles grave and Temp brought my vittles to me every night after twelve o clock." My father thought the Negro was lying, but Jim took him to the old family cemetery which was only half a mile from Temps home, and took him to a Revolutionary ancestors grave and showed him the old-fashioned tombstones, made of two long slabs at the sides and two short ones at the head and foot, all stood on edge, with a flat slab covering it. Now Jim had, in hunting, seen a rabbit escape by entering the foot of the tomb and on investigating, found the bottom slab had sunk and was movable, so here he had built a nest of grass, and covering this with several quilts, had housed himself in where no one knowing a Negros belief in "grave yard haunts" would ever have dreamed of searching for him.
Temps son, Jim, was the special servant of Captain Orrin and followed him through the War. Jim was all right except for being light-fingered; not stealing you know just taking. Hard for a Northerner to understand, but perfectly distinct and clear to an old Southerner. When Jim got home and found himself free, he wandered over to see a Yankee soldiers camp, located on the edge of our town and, seeing several objects that took his fancy, at once proceeded to take them. The troops head officer, detecting him in the act, had Jim swung up by his thumbs so that his toes just touched the earth. This treatment both amazed and hurt Jim, in body and soul. Calling to a little Negro, he sent him on a run to Marse Orrin to come at once and get him down. My uncle went at once, amazing the officer by his feelings for his Negro friend, and after hearing the Captains excuses for him, had Jim cut down.
Uncle Dunkin: the oldest brother [of] my father had died when he was nineteen years old and when he was a small boy, Dunkin was given to him. They hunted and fished together. At night Dunkin slept on a pallet at the bed-side of his young master, and was one of the last to speak to and being spoken to just as his young master died. All the white members of the family, excepting Uncle Ben, [Benjamin Norfleet, 1828-1896] had long since died and though he was the youngest, yet even he was beginning to show his age. He and I were sitting in his office late in the spring afternoon when a very old Negro came bowing in. Neither of us knew him until he said "Marse Ben, I am Dunkin, Marse James boy, come back home to die." My uncle knew him then, and after shaking his hand, asked him how he was getting on, then, turning to me, said "This is brother James boy" and then added that he had heard that after Dunkin was freed he and his family had migrated North and had done well in a money way. Then, turning back to the old Negro, asked him how long he was going to stay with us. The old fellow broke down and said
We promised him that he could have his wish, and when, soon afterwards, he passed away, we saw him buried just as he wished and now, peacefully, the white and black friends sleep, awaiting the final trumpet call.
Then, there was our old coachman an old, old fellow, as he passes my memory, Old Horton, as honest as it was possible to be. We were subject to many raids by the Federal troops, and whenever a rumor reached us that one was imminent, Horton gathered all the silver and other things of value, in his carriage, and, hitching the horses, away he went and only after the raid was over did he return, never a spoon or a dollar was missed. How easy would it have been for him to turn it over to the raiding troops, but I dont believe such an idea ever entered his honest old head. He stayed with us after he was freed, until he passed away.
Then comes Penny, who was our laundress and in whose room, lit by a roaring fire, even in midsummer, I heard all of Uncle Remus tales, and then some terrifying witch and "haunt" stories, to cap the evening recital. She was a born story-teller. At bed-time she would gather me up in her arms and tote me across the yard to the great house, for I was too deliciously terrified by the stories to think of crossing the yard by myself. Poor Penny, she married and lived only a few months. My sister made her a long veil with orange blossoms, for her wedding, and we all went to see her married.
And now my final memory comes: "Nuss" was raised in my father-in-laws family. When freedom came to her she was just grown. She married a man who carried her north and treated her badly and then abandoned her. She managed to get back home just before my wife was born, and took the baby to love and care for as she might have loved and cared for her own flesh and blood. When babies ceased to come, she took care of the whole family. When I was married "Nuss," dressed in her best and with a snowy handkerchief across her bosom on which the bride had rested many a time, sat in the front pew beside my mother [Margaret, nee Williams, Norfleet, 1830-1911] and my wifes, loved and honored in every way. When we left on our honeymoon tour, "Nuss" was one of the last we told goodbye and when we returned the bride ran over to tell her of our travels. Dying soon after this, she left to her loved white children the savings of many years that amounted to quite a sum.
I wish I had the talent to record these memories of mine so that when my grandchildren became as old as I, they could read and, reading, love these friends, both birds and Negros, just as their grandfather did. For of course the ones who know are fast passing away and, as I have stated before, the children cannot feel that sentiment that bound the parents so closely. To show what I mean, I will tell the following story.
My mothers personal maid was a pretty octoroon named Betty, and if ever a person worshipped another, this maid worshipped her mistress and, in turn, was made a favorite of in every way. When my father started to build a home, he employed Tom Newton, who as a slave from an adjoining town, had been granted the privilege, from his master, to collect his wages as a carpenter and send back to this master a certain sum and then, in turn, he would be freed. Tom had nearly paid this amount when my father hired him and very soon he fell in love with the pretty maid who had always fine dresses and hats to deck herself out with from her indulgent mistress. Soon Tom paid out and was free, and with Mothers assent the two were married and he naturally, then, wanted to free his wife, but here Betty rebelled. "No sir! She would not leave her mistress." She continued to serve her for six years and then, when freed by the emancipation act, she brought her oldest daughter and besought her mistress to raise her in our house. For eight years Lena slept in Mothers room at night and played with me and my brother, and when we studied our lessons at night, Lena learnt them with us. Then her mother died and Lena went to her funeral and never came back to tell us good-bye, even. Soon her father remarried and the stepmother and Lena could not agree and her father managed to get her in a college, where she did well and on finishing married a Negro lawyer, but never once came to see my mother. Although we called her Lena, her real name was Portia Paulina. Where her mother got the name from, none of us ever knew.
Speaking of names, some years ago an old negress coming to my office, gave me her name as Pidi Dancy. When asked where she got that name, she replied, "from that old song." Further queries made that old song to be the one with the refrain "upidi, upidee." Pidi had a son, veronimus, and a daughter, Veronica, two as squat, black little brats as you ever saw.
Negroes use a queer word for shortness of breath. They say he or she is "hazzling" for air. A rather intelligent Negro woman, of about 60 years of age, once consulted me and gave her name as Hazzling Annie Dickens. On inquiry, I learned that she was the daughter of a "free nigger" In antebellum days "po white trash" and "free niggers" were looked down on as social outcasts but in this particular case I found that Dickens, owing to his being a landowner, was treated, even by the most aristocratic family darkies, with a certain degree of social tolerance, for if there is one thing the Negro loves, it is to be a land-owner, and he will almost starve to death before he will part with his land, as George Vanderbilt found out when he tried to buy a small field owned by an old darky, which was located in the midst of the Biltmore estate.
Now, after treating Hazzling Annie for a period of time, I had a letter from her and a most well-written letter it proved to be and the signature cleared up her remarkable name. Her father was so proud of being a land-owner that he had christened his daughter "Has Land Dickens."
When the draft of our country for the World War was published, I read a name that aroused my curiosity. It was Pasicoe Norfleet. I questioned on of our older family Negroes and at one he replied. "Yes sir, that is Alices son. She nursed your brother Mr. Pasicoe and named her boy after him." My brothers name was Paschal Paoli. [Pashal Paoli Norfleet, 1860-1884]
Alice had a sister Annie, who nursed me, and she, in turn, named her boy Leon Edgar after me, but my namesake seems to be the champion boot-legger and chicken thief of our section [and] I cant say I am very proud of him.
These old-time family Negroes often affected the peculiarities of their owners to such a degree that you, knowing the owners, could at once place the servant.
In my experience, the old fashioned Negroes did not have the wonderful names so often given them in the nodern Negro stories. Bible names were common, such as Noah, Pompey, Pontius Pilate, and curiously, Ananias was a great favorite and, especially curious, it seemed to be favored by Negro preachers. "Po White Trash" always liked big names. I have patents named Erythema, Enfluenza, another IN General, one named the Eminent, and finally a lady sported the title of Malura.
We often hear of the contempt the old "quality Negro" had for the poor whites, but equally or even more did he look down on the newly rich upstart, and it was wonderful how he could spot them and, in spite of perfectly courteous behavior, make the upstart realize how low he stood in the colored gentlemens opinion. Trying fat tips to gain their approval made matters worse.
There is an old saying that no man is totally bad, if dogs and children at once make friends with him, and I certainly believe that the old-fashioned Negro had some instinctive way of at once placing a stranger. See one meet a lady with an admiring gaze or a man with an approving smile and you admit them in your family safely, but beware of those that they openly disapprove of or even "jest wont say." They were really uncanny in their seeing hidden faults. An old-time darkey, finding himself in trouble, sent for his "white folks" and expected freedom at once. A lawyer in our town was worried over many petty thieveries from his office and had the police keep a special watch over it. The next morning he had an early call to visit the jail and there found his general body servant locked up. "Why Luke, what are you doing here?" he asked. "Old policeman took me up last night while I was fixing your office and said I was stealing your stamps." Mr. G. wanted to know why he sent for him. Luke was both hurt and horrified. "Policeman says I got to have some one to stand my bond before I can get out and who gwine stand it if you dont? And how I gwine to clean your office if he dont turn me out?" In spite of the fact that several dollars worth of stamps, etc., had been found in Lukes room, his old-time faith in his white folks ran true to form, and Mr. G. not only stood his bond but later appeared for him in court and managed to acquit him. The rest of his life, Luke still "cleaned up" for Mr. G., but if the latter missed any belongings, he carefully kept the matter from the police.
The old family darkey expected respect and a certain degree of deference from the family youngsters, and in this our fathers and mothers stood at their backs. "Sassing" them was not permitted, but in turn they stood a good deal from us and taught us that gentlemen and ladies were not tale-bearers.
In my younger days, money was scarce, woefully scarce. Dressed up, I wore a home-made white cotton blouse, a pair of brown "Kentucky Jeans" knee pants, which were so stiff they would stand alone when empty, a pair of blue and white stockings, knitted by grandmother, and finally a pair of shoes, which were made of a single piece of leather for the uppers, but a piece of leather as big as a half dollar was let in on one side, to make the fit over the ankle, a brass band finished the toes. The soles were fastened on with wooden pegs and when you tried them on, it felt as if you would tear your stockings to pieces. If they fitted, then the clerk took them to a rasp fastened to the counter and filed the pegs down as close as he could and you had to gradually flatten the remnants by wear. I imagine a pair of the present weight stockings might last two or three minutes wear in these objects of torture. Why the manufacturer did not smooth out these pegs is a thing that always puzzled me. On Sundays we had stiff, starched pique shirts and pants in the summer. About half way home from church was an old tree and there we would stop and pull off our shoes and finish the home walk bare footed. Oh, how glorious it felt to free our feet! I wonder if anyone reading this paper ever felt this pleasure.
In the fall, we always had to put on red flannel shirts, which was equivalent to getting into a bed of bumble bees. After being laundered three or four times the shirts were fairly comfortable but why they were always new each fall I never knew. After six months laundering they all shrank so we could hardly get in them.
One of the traits that hung on longest, and even now continues with our Negroes, was their belief in "haunts, speerits and ghosts" who walked after dark, especially in grave yards. How Penny could scare me into a delicious state of terror by her stories of bloody hands and bare bones! Old temp would never have a doll baby in her house. She thought they looked too much like "haunts." You never saw a church in a Negro graveyard. "Just dont want to go around no graveyard after dark" said an old fellow, to whom I had told about Jims hiding two years in a tomb. "That Jim was some nigger," he added. Even now old Negroes hold the idea of double crops being from seed planted under the Twins (Gemini) and that pork killed under the wane of the moon will certainly shrink away.
Some forty years ago I had a friend who thoroughly enjoyed getting a crowd of darkeys together and telling them a pack of gruesome tales. One of his most valued possessions was a silver mounted left hind foot from a graveyard rabbit, killed with the new moon shining over the killers left shoulder. The exhibition of this "cunjer" always brought shivers and popped eyes. Perfectly awful tales of what would follow its being rubbed on ones body were swallowed with "dar now" and "hear dat" from the hearers. One day among the crowd that listened to my friends tale was a loud dressed young Negro, with all the marks of having been North" showing in his "uppity" talk and manners. Rather loudly and rudely he let out that he was not afraid of no rabbits foot and that the tales were all nothing but foolishness. My friend scented trouble, but putting on a look of horror said "you mean to say you wont mind rubbing this foot on you?" The Negro stood to his guns and said he wanted it done. "Well," said my friend, "before I do it I want you to know if you have any money?" The boy said "No." "Then I must provide for your burying, so here is twenty dollars for your coffin." The darkey began to show uneasiness, but still insisted on the test. He was told to remove his fine coat and get ready, while certain darkeys were selected to hold him down when the "fits" started, the minute after the "cunjer" got in its work. The darkey was still game and I saw my friend was beginning to feel uneasy, but a bright idea saved him. "Now, before I kill this boy, I want him to sign a paper before all of you, that he wanted me to do it, so his family cant hold me liable. The last one I tried it on fell to pieces so bad we had to use shovels to put him in his coffin and they made me pay all the shovelers and the shovels were so spoiled I had to pay for them too." Hastily scratching off a release, he started to the darkey, with a pencil in his hand, but he never reached him. The limit of the fellows courage had been reached and, not even waiting for the loved coat, he broke all running records of that day, leaving the town, while a jeering broke out from the rest of the crowd.
For some reason, which I have never been able to fathom, no Negro will cut down a fruit-bearing persimmon tree. They will readily cut down a "he-persimmon" which blossoms, but does not bear fruit, but money cannot persuade them to cut down the fruitful ones. Driving through our country, you will see many of these trees growing in the middle of cultivated fields, where they interfere with crops, but never can you get a Negro to cut down a live tree. Once I had one or two in my cotton fields that were real nuisances and, to try them out, I offered three succeeding cropppers ten dollars a piece to cut them down. Really, five dollars was a liberal fee for removing all of them, but in spite of promises, not one was touched, until after I, myself, had cut a ring around each tree, leading to its death. Then not a bit of trouble was experienced in getting the dead trees down. What the "cunjer" is, no white person seems to know, but it certainly is a strong one.
One of the reasons for my classing the old "quality Negro" as a fine type of gentleman was his horror of profanity. I never recall a single instance, no matter how angry he was, of an old Negro trying to strengthen his language by profanity and never have I seen more high-bred contempt than one of these old fellows showed when he heard some "po white trash" or some post-war darkey break out in curses. All he would say was that the man had no manners or no raising, but the way he said it was enough. Horror and contempt to the extreme degree was fully expressed.
It is told that once when Judge P. of our state visited a family presided over by an especially dignifie old Negro, the Judge was known as one of the greatest "cussers" ever known and old Peter stood it as long as he could, and then, after an especially vile outburst from the Judge, he spoke out. "Excuse me Marse P.," he said, "but our family dont turn to cussing and while you is visiting us, cant you please sir get along without such talk." The Judge was so astonished that he exclaimed "Well, I will be damned if I dont" and it is said that for the rest of his visit he uttered not one oath.
I have always felt that the reputation the South had for hospitality owed much to the old Negroes. How they loved to feed visitors and look after their comforts. Tips were not the cause of this, but just love and pride of entertaining. Seek out some old Negro, even now, and lead him into telling you of how his family used to live, and the pompous lies he will tell you of the feasts of food and drink his family were famed for giving will astonish you. When it came to drinking though, I have never seen an old-time Negro, either man or woman, who would or could ever refuse liquor. Not that they were all sots, but a hot toddy or cold mint julep was just too much to be refused.
I cannot end this paper without saying something about the "old time religion" and their gospel songs. Every spring, when the river grew warm enough, the newly converted sinners or the reconverted backsliders, were gathered to be baptized. All dressed in white, the preachers led them into the streams, while the crowd on shore sang. Three of these songs stay in my memory.
The second song was "The Gospel Train" and was: -
These two were usually sung with the congregation and applicants standing on the river banks, then, as the latter headed by the pastor, entered the water, they struck up the third: -
Sung in high-pitched falsetto tone of the hundreds gathered together, it had a mystic effect on whites as well as blacks.
In those days our Negroes had only two sects the Shouting Methodists and the Hard-Shelled Baptists, as they were known, had great rivalry in the number of converts their winter preaching would bring to the spring baptizing, for both believed only the immersion or "river ashing" as they called it, could wash their sins away. Sometimes a popular preacher would capture converts from the other sect and then they would have to be re-baptized. I heard of one old woman who had gone to the other five or six times and each time been washed free of back-sliding sin by a new immersion.
One Sunday the Methodists entered the river from the north bank and the Baptists from the south. The preachers met in the middle of the stream and began to baptize. The Methodist was rather short and tried to show his skill by turning his applicants head-downward, with the result that a fat sisters skirts ballooned out with the current and both brother and sister were swept down into deep water and nearly drowned. In the resulting confusion the Baptist pastor kept his head and baptized every one he could lay his hands on, leading to a tremendous increase in his flock.
A Negro plowing in a lonely field about dark, often yodeled to keep up his sprits. It was a queer habit and I havent heard one practice this song in the past forty years.
It is pleasant for me to sit and recall these old, simple, good-hearted Negro ways, but it saddens me too, to think how few are left to discuss them with me and soon even this remnant and I will pass away, too.
Ten years ago my nurse, Joana, called for the last time to talk over bygone days. A child lover, she and her husband a gospel preacher, she called him were at the head of a Negro orphanage in a city of some size. She and I recalled the old slaves one by one Horton, major domo and coachman, -Gatsie, the cook, - Penny, the laundress, - Alice and Joana, the nurses, - Nathan, the gardener, - Bettie, the maid and Solomon, whose duty it was to keep the house fires blazing both summer and winter by hauling two ox-cart loads of wood daily, - then came William, the butler, who flourished a bunch of peacock plumes over the table as we ate, - finally, in charge of all, Cinthy, the "mammy" in our house. Veritably in those days, as in Biblical times, a man married and then built a city unto himself. A year or so later, I heard of Joanas death, and she was the last.
Closing these memories of mine, I want to add one other to the many virtues of our old-time aristocrats. A short time since, I read a story in which an old nurse conspired or connived with her mistress in a life of adultery. No such case ever occurred. I do not claim that the Negro women were all chaste. They were not, and a lapse in sexual virtue seemed to make very little difference in their social standing with each other, but with their white mistresses the law was that even accusing them of being a little fast was indignantly resented. They put them on a high throne and expected them to live accordingly. With them, the virtue of Caesars wife must not and could not be doubted.