The Slave Narrative of Lizzie Norfleet
Introduction by Phil Norfleet
Between the years 1936 and 1938, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the Federal Government compiled 2,194 oral interviews with ex-slaves. The typewritten records of these interviews were deposited in the Library of Congress. The records were rarely used until the interviews were published by the Greenwood Press in 1972. One of these interviews, conducted by Carrie Campbell in 1936, was of a former slave named Lizzie Norfleet. Lizzie had been born a slave on the plantation owned by Philip Ford Norfleet in Coahoma County, Mississippi. In the narrative, Lizzie refers to her owner as "Ferd" Norfleet.
Philip Ford Norfleet, usually known as Ford Norfleet, was an absentee owner; he was a practicing medical doctor in Montgomery County, Tennessee. His home was located near the once flourishing, but now deserted, town of Port Royal.
The plantation in Mississippi was operated by overseers and was only periodically visited by Ford Norfleet, probably about once a year. A written transcription of the oral interview follows. My comments on the narrative are placed in brackets within the body of the narrative.
The Narrative of Lizzie Norfleet
There aint no need for me to try to tell you how old I is cause I dont know, and nobody dont know. When the folks with learning figures it out, one says one thing and one says another so I just decided if they cant make their calculation come out the same, they dont know a bit more about it than me. While the war was going on, I was a good big girl, old enough to carry water to the fields for twenty-five hands and to drive the mule around to run the gin. Children was more apt in them days and they learned more. Thats why I dont know how old I was when I drove that mule. Off-handed, I would say in the neighborhood of twelve years, but I dont know.
I was born on the Norfleet place in Quitman County. [Ford Norfleets plantation was actually in adjacent Coahoma County] My father, Jack Flagg, and my mother, Sally came from Tennessee. I never had but one brother. His name was Bob. He died when he was a baby. I had two sisters, Lou and Nellie. All of us belonged to Mr. Ferd Norfleet, even to my grandpa and grandma. I can remember when my grandma, Aggie, died, but I cant recall my grandpa, Bob.
All the houses, where the slaves lived, was built of logs and was long side of each other. They was known at the quarters. We had homemade wooden beds to sleep in. The mattresses was stuffed with hay. They wasnt bad, cause they was thick enough to be soft.
We was fed on what-so-ever was raised on the place. Each family had a garden, over by the edge of the woods. Our meal was made from the corn raised in the field. It made good bread and we liked it. The smokehouse was always kept full of hog meat. My father had good dogs and did a heap of hunting. We was always well supplied with possum, coons, and rabbits. He was a good fisherman too and would bring home the prettiest string of fish you ever seed. Everybody did their own cooking, in their own house, over the big log fire. Every morning before day the overseer blowed the horn for to wake the hands up. They had to dress, cook the breakfast and be ready for work by daybreak. They had three different overseers that I knowed, Mr. Dickerson, Mr. Waddell, and the last one, Mr. Polk. They were pretty nice till they got mad. Then they was fractious. All of our clothes was made on the place. The cloth was woven right there too, that they was made of. The dresses for the women was beautiful, one dark stripe and one dark stripe. Folks them days knowed how to mix pretty colors. In the summertime we didnt wear nothing but slip on shirts. In the winter we had real heavy underclothes to keep us warm. Our shoes was bought. They was made of thick leather and had brass tips over the toes. That brass sure did dress them off. They don' put brass on shoes any more and I can't see why; they lasted heaps longer and looked so much nicer.
Master Ferd Norfleet [Philip Ford Norfleet, 1803-1871), and his wife, Miss Elvira, [Elvira Cabell Hopson], had three children: one girl, Miss Boyd, [Virginia Boyd Norfleet, 1844-1876] and two sons, George and Tom. [George H. Norfleet, 1846-1872 and Thomas Jefferson Norfleet, 1839-1883] They lived in Memphis [This is wrong, they lived in Port Royal, Tennessee] and only came now and then occasionally down to the place to see how things was going. Master built a big house where the overseer lived and kept part of it for his self and family whensoever they cared to come to the plantation. Mister Sam [?? I dont know who this is] always came down for New Years and brought a lot of young folks with him. He would invite all the neighbors in, get the old fiddler to play for them to dance, and call their self seeing the New ear in. The house looked mighty pretty all glowing with lights. It was a nice house, built out of lumber, like they use now, not no log houses like we lived in. The yard was filled with pecan trees and the grass was always mowed. Masters place wasnt no scrubby place, I tell you that, and there was no poor whites living anywhere near us, nothing but niggers. How many I dont know, but there was sure a heap of them. The place was so big it took many a one to work it. I wouldnt have no idea how many acres master owned. During cotton picking time every body stopped work before dark, so as to get the cotton they had picked to the gin house to be weighed. They carried it in wheel barrows. Every body had to stay till his cotton was weighed to see if they had enough for a days work. Sometimes the lanterns would have to be lit to see to weigh the last of the cotton.
When the cotton was ginned, all the seed that was kept for planting was put in the seed house and the rest of them was piled up outside. Whenever my feet got cold I would dig a hole in the seed pile and put my feet in it. They will get just as warm that way as putting them to the fire. Old Sterling Flagg, who helped me drive the mule to run the gin, learned me that.
The overseer was the one that done the punishing. We never heared of such a thing as jails. If a person wouldnt work or if he ran off, he would get whipped for that, and if he did it the second time, he got whipped harder. I can remember two, that ran off. One was a cripple woman, and one was my uncle. They got them both back and they both got whipped. I never is seed no slave with chains on nor is I ever seed any bought or sold. I is heared my mother tell how she was put on the block and auctioned off to the highest bidder, but I never seed none of that. None of us could read or write and we never had nobody try to learn us. When Master and old Miss come down from Memphis, they always brought us clothes and shoes. Old Master call himself giving us a lecture. He would get us all together and tell us we must be good. He say he is a Christian and he aint going to be cruel to nobody nor allow no mistreatment to none of his slaves. There wasnt no church of no kind on the place. The old people would go to one another's house and sing and pray. There was an old man on the place that was a kind of preacher. They whipped him one day but he wouldnt deny. He said that was his victory over hell, and if they whipped him to death, when they turned him loose, he was going on the same way. We didnt have no Bible reading. No baptizings and no preaching. If a slave died there wasnt no Christian burial but the box with the corpse in it was taken to the graveyard in a wagon. All the slaves went to the grave, and from there they went back to work. There wasnt no song, no prayer, no nothing, over the dead. Another thing I is never heared of, any trouble of no kind between the whites and the colored. If a slave ran off he didnt go to the North, he only went to the woods and hid. The patrollers and night riders didnt interfere on us place we didnt know nothing about them.
The 4th of July was the day for the big barbecues. First on one place, then on another. Like this year, we would hold it one place and the neighbors would all come. Next year they would hold it, and us would all go. We liked that getting together cause it was the only way we had of passing the news, when we meet up one to the other. At that if was mighty little we ever heared. Some times we held dances on the place Saturday nights. For the music one man would beat on a tin pan and two would blow quills. That was fine to dance by. We would cut up and have a good time. No work was done Saturday after dinner, except washing the clothes and none at all on Sunday. We could do whatever we wanted to on that day. In he fall of the year we liked to go to the woods and gather nuts and simmons. Christmas Day was just like Sunday. We didnt work and we didnt have celebration, not even for the children. On rainy days we had corn shucking but that wasnt no party. Course we liked it cause we was all together laughing, singing, and having a good time. At that the corn had to be shucked just the same.
Slaves didnt have no weddings with a preacher and all that. Had nothing to do but let the Master know it, and he tell you can be man and wife.
The children on the place had a good time. They was carefree till they got old enough to work. They was looked after careful and made to obey. They wasnt allowed to be sassy and impertinent to old folks. The girls would ring up their little games and the boys play marbles. The old folks told them ghost stories that scared them most to death. Our house was near a graveyard. On rainy nights I wouldnt take my eyes off that graveyard looking out for some of the haunts that walk at night. Some folks cant see them and I is one of that kind. Even when I hears them, I cant see them. One night I was sick and staying at my mothers house so she could take care of me. I heared something fall in the middle of the floor. I set up straight in bed but I couldnt see nothing. I just says to myself "If you is a spirit you aint going to do nothing to me and I aint going to do nothing to you." He was passing on wheresoever he was going to.
When the slaves got sick, a doctor from Friars Point was sent for to tend them. The old woman on the place looked after them till they was up. The old woman took care of the babies and children too. They had done learned about different herbs and how to make tea out of them for the babies. The older children had their worm medicine put in molasses so they wouldnt mind eating it. Every child wore an asafetida bag around the neck to keep them from ketching diseases. For in those days they did not know nothing bout no charms or nothin of the kind. The asafetida bag was the only dependence.
There wasnt no big to do when freedom came. We knowed it by the change in the work. Stead of working for nothing, we was told we was going to get two-thirds of the crop. Outside of that, we didnt see no difference. Old Master didnt even come down to the place. We never seed no Yankee soldiers but the rebel soldiers camped in Masters home. The Ku Klux Klan and the Night Riders never came to interrupt the Norfleet place. Heared of them, but never seed them. We only made one crop on that place after freedom. We moved on Mrs. Pages place. Dr. Peace wanted to get us on his place, cause he had knowed all my family, on account of being the doctor for the Norfleets. He makes some sort of satisfaction arrangement with Mrs. Page and moves us all on to his place. I lived there till I was grown and married. My children were all born there. Years later my husband bought a forty acre block on the Irvin place. After we moved up there, we found in place of buying, we was paying ten dollars an acre, and they couldnt sell, cause there was too many heirs. My husband then bought this little home on the Reinhart place. I has been living in it ever since.
I married Jim Norfleet some years after the war. We didnt have no big wedding. We got the license from the Courthouse at Friars Point. Nat Black, the preacher, married us a Berry Moores house, where prayer meetings was held. After the meeting we stayed and was married. I had six children, three boys, Henry, Tom, and Richard, and three girls, Nellie, Jettie and Charity. Nellie and Richard are dead. Henry lives here in the house with me; Tom across the road; Jettie at Lyon, and Charity at Shufordsville. All of them farms by the day. How many grandchildren I got I couldnt begin to tell. These little one playing around is my great grandchildren. I has got a heap of them too. I keeps some of them in the day time while their mas is picking cotton. I aint never been married but the one time. I never met my husband till after the surrender, when he came to the Peace place, where we got attached. He fought in the war on the North side. When he died, twelve years ago, he left me this house in the clear. The government pays me a pension of forty dollars a month. I was getting fifty but they done cut it to forty.
The report came out after the war that every family was going to get forty acres and a mule to start them out. Aint never seed nobody what received nothing. All I seed is transferring from plantation to plantation. You wasnt made to stay nowhere so they all moved about.
There was a lot of talk after the war about Abraham Lincoln. Lord, thats been so far back I cant recollect much about it, cept he worked for freedom. The colored was all under bondage and they was afraid to speak till after freedom. For that cause, very little was said. If we heared a cannon go off, we speak low about it, just kinda whisper it, under our hands, one to the other. There wasnt much said about Jefferson Davis. According to the Bible, he was wrong. The Lord said "The World was made sufficient for all to have a living." He never intended bondage for nobody. Thats why he made the world big enough for everybody to have a home. Booker T. Washingtons occupation was right. He taught slavery was no good. I dont know nothing about that reconstruction. The men folks might know cause I is heared them say they voted, but I dont know if they did or not. There was a colored man by the name of Brown that held a big public office at Friars Point. If I dont mistake he was the High Sheriff. That caused a big riot. They Made him leave out of there, and he aint never been heared of in this part of the country since.
Long after the War, schools was started for the colored. Lots of them went and learned to read and write. Nearly all of this younger generation is got some education, but with that, they aint brought up like I come. The world done changed. The young ones brings there own self up now. The women dont tend to their children no more. Not none of them.
Ever since I was a young woman I has been a church member. I belongs to the Liberty Baptist Church. I dont do to services very often now, cause I is getting old and dont get about much. Everybody is better off if they have a good religion to depend on, so when they go away from here they will be ready to find that better place.