Burton, Annie L.
|RECOLLECTIONS OF A HAPPY LIFE|
The memory of my happy, care-free childhood days on the plantation, with my little white and black companions, is often with me. Neither master nor mistress nor neighbors had time to bestow a thought upon us, for the great Civil War was raging. That great event in American history was a matter wholly outside the realm of our childish interests. Of course we heard our elders discuss the various events of the great struggle, but it meant nothing to us.
On the plantation there were ten white children and fourteen colored children. Our days were spent roaming about from plantation to plantation, not knowing or caring what things were going on in the great world outside our little realm. Planting time and harvest time were happy days for us. How often at the harvest time the planters discovered cornstalks missing from the ends of the rows, and blamed the crows! We were called the "little fairy
Those slaves that were not married served the food from the great house, and about half-past eleven they would send the older children with food to the workers in the fields. Of course, I followed, and before we got to the fields, we had eaten the food nearly all up. When the workers returned home they complained, and we were whipped.
The slaves got their allowance every Monday night of molasses, meat, corn meal, and a kind of flour called "dredgings" or "shorts." Perhaps this allowance would be gone before the next Monday night, in which case the slaves would steal hogs and chickens. Then would come the whipping-post. Master himself never whipped his slaves; this was left to the overseer.
We children had no supper, and only a little piece of bread or something of the kind in the morning. Our dishes consisted of one wooden bowl, and oyster shells were our spoons. This bowl served for about fifteen children, and often the dogs and the ducks and the peafowl had a dip in it. Sometimes we had buttermilk and bread in our bowl, sometimes greens or bones.
Our clothes were little homespun cotton slips,
If a slave man and woman wished to marry, a party would be arranged some Saturday night among the slaves. The marriage ceremony consisted of the pair jumping over a stick. If no children were born within a year or so, the wife was sold.
At New Year's, if there was any debt or mortgage on the plantation, the extra slaves were taken to Clayton and sold at the court house. In this way families were separated.
When they were getting recruits for the war, we were allowed to go to Clayton to see the soldiers.
I remember, at the beginning of the war, two colored men were hung in Clayton; one, Cæsar King, for killing a blood hound and biting off an overseer's ear; the other, Dabney Madison, for the murder of his master. Dabney Madison's master was really shot by a man named Houston, who was infatuated with Madison's mistress, and who had hired Madison to make the bullets for him. Houston escaped after the deed, and the blame fell on Dabney Madison, as he was the only slave of his master and mistress. The clothes of the two victims were hung on two pine trees, and no colored person would touch them. Since I have grown up, I have seen the
After the men were hung, the bones were put in an old deserted house. Somebody that cared for the bones used to put them in the sun in bright weather, and back in the house when it rained. Finally the bones disappeared, although the boxes that had contained them still remained.
At one time, when they were building barns on the plantation, one of the big boys got a little brandy and gave us children all a drink, enough to make us drunk. Four doctors were sent for, but nobody could tell what was the matter with us, except they thought we had eaten something poisonous. They wanted to give us some castor oil, but we refused to take it, because we though that the oil was made from the bones of the dead men we had seen. Finally, we told about the big white boy giving us the brandy, and the mystery was cleared up.
Young as I was then, I remember this conversation between master and mistress, on master's return from the gate one day, when he had received the latest news: "William, what is the news from the seat of war?" "A great battle was fought at Bull Run, and the Confederates won," he replied. "Oh, good, good," said mistress, "and what did Jeff Davis
My mistress often told me that my father was a planter who owned a plantation about two miles from ours. He was a white man, born in Liverpool, England. He died in Lewisville, Alabama, in the year 1875.
I will venture to say that I only saw my father a dozen times, when I was about four years old; and those times I saw him only from a distance, as he was driving by the great house of our plantation. Whenever my mistress saw him going by, she would take me by the hand and run out upon the piazza, and exclaim, "Stop there, I say! Don't you want
My mother and my mistress were children together, and grew up to be mothers together. My mother was the cook in my mistress's household. One morning when master had gone to Eufaula, my mother and my mistress got into an argument, the consequence of which was that my mother was whipped, for the first time in her life. Whereupon, my mother refused to do any more work, and ran away from the plantation. For three years we did not see her again.
Our plantation was one of several thousand acres, comprising large level fields, upland, and considerable forests of Southern pine. Cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, wheat, and rye were the principal
One day my master heard that the Yankees were coming our way, and he immediately made preparations to get his goods and valuables out of their reach. The big six-mule team was brought to the smoke-house door, and loaded with hams and provisions. After being loaded, the team was put in the care of two of the most trustworthy and valuable slaves that my master owned, and driven away. It was master's intention to have these things taken to a swamp, and there concealed in a pit that had recently been made for the purpose. But just before the team left the main road for the by-road that led to the swamp, the two slaves were surprised by the Yankees, who at once took possession of the provisions, and started the team toward Clayton, where the Yankees had headquarters. The road to Clayton ran past our plantation. One of the slave children happened to look up the road, and saw the Yankees coming, and gave warning. Whereupon, my master left unceremoniously for the woods, and remained concealed there for five days. The niggers had run away whenever they got a chance, but now it was master's and the other white folks' turn to run.
The Yankees rode up to the piazza of the great house and inquired who owned the plantation. They gave orders that nothing must be touched or taken away, as they intended to return shortly and take possession. My mistress and the slaves watched for their return day and night for more than a week, but the Yankees did not come back.
One morning in April, 1865, my master got the news that the Yankees had left Mobile Bay and crossed the Confederate lines, and that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Lincoln. Mistress suggested that the slaves should not be told of their freedom; but master said he would tell them, because they would soon find it out, even if he did not tell them. Mistress, however, said she could keep my mother's three children, for my mother had now been gone so long.
All the slaves left the plantation upon the news of their freedom, except those who were feeble or sickly. With the help of these, the crops were gathered. My mistress and her daughters had to go to the kitchen and to the washtub. My little half-brother, Henry, and myself had to gather chips, and help all we could. My sister, Caroline, who was twelve years old, could help in the kitchen.
After the war, the Yankees took all the good mules
One day mistress sent me out to do some churning under a tree. I went to sleep and jerked the churn over on top of me, and consequently got a whipping.
My mother came for us at the end of the year 1865, and demanded that her children be given up to her. This, mistress refused to do, and threatened to set the dogs on my mother if she did not at once
The cabin that was now our home was made of logs. It had one door, and an opening in one wall, with an inside shutter, was the only window. The door was fastened with a latch. Our beds were some straw.
There were six in our little family; my mother, Caroline, Henry, two other children that my mother had brought with her upon her return, and myself.
The man on whose plantation this cabin stood,
Caroline was hired out to take care of a baby.
In 1866, another man hired the plantation on which our hut stood, and we moved into Clayton, to a little house my mother secured there. A rich lady came to our house one day, looking for some one to take care of her little daughter. I was taken, and adopted into this family. This rich lady was Mrs. E. M. Williams, a music teacher, the wife of a lawyer. We called her "Mis' Mary."
Some rich people in Clayton who had owned slaves, opened the Methodist church on Sundays, and began the work of teaching the negroes. My new mistress sent me to Sunday school every Sunday morning, and I soon got so that I could read. Mis' Mary taught me every day at her knee. I soon could read
"I am glad to see you, little bird,
It was your sweet song I heard.
What was it I heard you say?
Give me crumbs to eat today?
Here are crumbs I brought for you.
Eat your dinner, eat away,
Come and see us every day."
After this Mis' Mary kept on with my studies, and taught me to write. As I grew older, she taught me to cook and how to do housework. During this time Mis' Mary had given my mother one dollar a month in return for my services; now as I grew up to young womanhood, I thought I would like a little money of my own. Accordingly, Mis' Mary began to pay me four dollars a month, besides giving me my board and clothes. For two summers she "let me out" while she was away, and I got five dollars a month.
While I was with Mis' Mary, I had my first sweetheart, one of the young fellows who attended Sunday
I owe a great deal to Mis' Mary for her good training of me, in honesty, uprightness and truthfulness. She told me that when I went out into the world all white folks would not treat me as she had, but that I must not feel bad about it, but just do what I was employed to do, and if I wasn't satisfied, to go elsewhere; but always to carry an honest name.
One Sunday when my sweetheart walked to the gate with me, Mis' Mary met him and told him she thought I was too young for him, and that she was sending me to Sunday school to learn, not to catch a beau. It was a long while before he could see me again,--not until later in the season, in watermelon time, when Mis' Mary and my mother gave me permission to go to a watermelon party one Sunday afternoon. Mis' Mary did not know, however, that my sweetheart had planned to escort me. We met around the corner of the house, and after the party he left me at the same place. After that I saw him occasionally at barbecues and parties. I was permitted to go with him some evenings to church, but my mother always walked ahead or behind me and the young man.
We went together for four years. During that time, although I still called Mis' Mary's my home, I had been out to service in one or two families.
Finally, my mother and Mis' Mary consented to our marriage, and the wedding day was to be in May. The winter before that May, I went to service in the family of Dr. Drury in Eufaula. Just a week before I left Clayton I dreamed that my sweetheart died suddenly. The night before I was to leave, we were invited out to tea. He told me he had bought a nice piece of poplar wood, with which to make a table for our new home. When I told him my dream, he said, "Don't let that trouble you, there is nothing in dreams." But one month from that day he died, and his coffin was made from the piece of poplar wood he had bought for the table.
After his death, I remained in Clayton for two or three weeks with my people, and then went back to Eufaula, where I stayed two years.
My sweetheart's death made a profound impression on me, and I began to pray as best I could. Often I remained all night on my knees.
Going on an excursion to Macon, Georgia, one time, I liked the place so well that I did not go back to Eufaula. I got a place as cook in the family of an Episcopal clergyman, and remained with them
During these eight years, my mother died in Clayton, and I had to take the three smallest children into my care. My oldest sister was now married, and had a son.
I now went to live with a Mrs. Maria Campbell, a colored woman, who adopted me and gave me her name. Mrs. Campbell did washing and ironing for her living. While living with her, I went six months to Lewis' High School in Macon. Then I went to Atlanta, and obtained a place as first-class cook with Mr. E. N. Inman. But I always considered Mrs. Campbell's my home. I remained about a year with Mr. Inman, and received as wages ten dollars a month.
One day, when the family were visiting in Memphis, I chanced to pick up a newspaper, and read the advertisement of a Northern family for a cook to go to Boston. I went at once to the address given, and made agreement to take the place, but told the people that I could not leave my present position until Mr. Inman returned home. Mr. and Mrs. Inman did not want to let me go, but I made up my mind to go North. The Northern family whose service I was to enter had returned to Boston before I left, and
After deciding to go North, I went to Macon, to make arrangements with Mrs. Campbell for the care of my two sisters who lived with her. One sister was now about thirteen and the other fifteen, both old enough to do a little for themselves. My brother was dead. He went to Brunswick in 1875, and died there of the yellow fever in 1876. One sister I brought in later years to Boston. I stayed in Macon two weeks, and was in Atlanta three or four days before leaving for the North.
About the 15th of June, 1879, I arrived at the Old Colony Station in Boston, and had my first glimpse of the country I had heard so much about. From Boston I went to Newtonville, where I was to work. The gentleman whose service I was to enter, Mr. E. N. Kimball, was waiting at the station for me, and drove me to his home on Warner Street. For a few days, until I got somewhat adjusted to my new circumstances, I had no work to do. On June 17th the family took me with them to Auburndale. But in spite of the kindness of Mrs. Kimball and the colored nurse, I grew very homesick for the South, and would often look in the direction of my old home and cry.
The washing, a kind of work I knew nothing about,
About five or six weeks after my arrival, Mrs. Kimball and the children went to the White Mountains for the summer, and I had more leisure. Mrs. Kimball went up to the mountains every Saturday night, to stay with his family over Sunday; but he and his father-in-law were at home other nights, and I had to have dinner for them.
To keep away the homesickness and loneliness as much as possible, I made acquaintance with the hired girl across the street.
One morning I climbed up into the cherry tree that grew between Mr. Kimball's yard and the yard of his next-door neighbor, Mr. Roberts. I was thinking of the South, and as I picked the cherries, I sang a Southern song. Mr. Roberts, heard me, and gave me a dollar for the song.
By agreement, Mrs. Kimball was to give me three dollars and a half a week, instead of four, until the difference amounted to my fare from the South; after that, I was to have four dollars. I had, however, received but little money. In the fall, after the family came home, we had a little difficulty about my
From this place I proceeded to 24 Springfield Street, as directed, hoping that I would be refused, so that I might go back to the intelligence office and get my fifty cents. The lady at No. 24 who wanted a servant, said she didn't think I was large and strong enough, and guessed I wouldn't do. Then I went and got my fifty cents.
Having now obtained a situation, I sent to Mr. Kimball's for my trunk. I remained in my new place a year and a half. At the end of that time the family moved to Dorchester, and because I did not care to go out there, I left their service.
From this place, I went to Narragansett Pier to work as a chambermaid for the summer. In the fall, I came back to Boston and obtained a situation with a family, in Berwick Park. This family afterward moved to Jamaica Plain, and I went with them. With this family I remained seven years. They were very kind to me, gave me two or three weeks' vacation, without loss of pay.
In June, 1884, I went with them to their summer home in the Isles of Shoals, as housekeeper for some guests who were coming from Paris. On the 6th of July I received word that my sister Caroline had
I wrote home to Georgia, to the white people who owned the house in which Caroline had lived, asking them to take care of her boy Lawrence until I should come in October. When we came back to Jamaica Plain in the fall, I was asked to decide what I should do in regard to this boy. Mrs. Reed wanted me to stay with her, and promised to help pay for the care of the boy in Georgia. Of course, she said, I could not expect to find positions if I had a child with me. As an inducement to remain in my present place and leave the boy in Georgia, I was promised provision for my future days, as long as I should live. It did not take me long to decide what I should do. The last time I had seen my sister, a little over a year before she died, she had said, when I was leaving, "I don't expect ever to see you again, but if I die I shall rest peacefully in my grave, because I know you will take care of my child."
I left Jamaica Plain and took a room on Village Street for the two or three weeks until my departure for the South. During this time, a lady came to the house to hire a girl for her home in Wellesley Hills.
I took a carriage and drove at once to the house where Lawrence was being taken care of. He was playing in the yard, and when he saw me leave the carriage he ran and threw his arms around my neck and cried for joy. I stayed a week in this house, looking after such things of my sister's as had not been already stored. One day I had a headache, and was lying down in the cook's room. Lawrence was in the dining-room with the cook's little girl, and the two got into a quarrel, in the course of which my nephew struck the cook's child. The cook, in her anger, chased the boy with a broom, and threatened to give him a good whipping at all costs. Hearing the noise, I came out into the yard, and when Lawrence saw me he ran to me for protection. I interceded for him, and promised he should get into no
In about a week and a half more we got together such things as we wanted to keep and take away with us.
The last time I saw my sister, I had persuaded her to open a bank account, and she had done so, and had made small deposits from time to time. When I came to look for the bankbook, I discovered that her lodger, one Mayfield, had taken it at her death, and nobody knew where it might be now. I found out that Mayfield had drawn thirty dollars from the account for my sister's burial, and also an unknown amount for himself. He had done nothing for the boy. I went down to the bank, and was told that Mayfield claimed to look after my sister's burial and her affairs. He had made one Reuben Bennett, who was no relation and had no interest in the matter,
My youngest sister, who had come to Macon from
Our trunks and baggage were taken to the station in a team. We had a goodly supply of food, given us by our friends and by the people whose hospitality we had shared during the latter part of our stay.
The next morning we got into Jacksonville. My idea was to get a place as chambermaid at Green Cove Springs, Florida, through the influence of the head waiter at a hotel there, whom I knew. After I got into Jacksonville I changed my plans. I did not see how I could move my things any farther, and we went to a hotel for colored people, hired a room for two dollars, and boarded ourselves on the food which had been given us in Macon. This food lasted about two weeks. Then I had to buy, and my money was going every day, and none coming in. I did not know what to do. One night the idea of keeping a restaurant came to me, and I decided to get a little home for the three of us, and then see what I could do in this line of business. After a long and hard search, I found a little house of two rooms where we could live, and the next day I found a place to start my restaurant. For house furnishings, we used at
Trade at the restaurant was very good, and we got along nicely. My sister got a position as nurse for fifteen dollars a month. One day the cook from a shipwrecked vessel came to my restaurant, and in return for his board and a bed in the place, agreed to do my cooking. After trade became good, I changed my residence to a house of four rooms, and put three cheap cots in each of two of the rooms, and let the cots at a dollar a week apiece to colored men who worked nearby in hotels. Lawrence and I did the chamber work at night, after the day's work in the restaurant.
I introduced "Boston baked beans" into my restaurant, much to the amusement of the people at first; but after they had once eaten them it was hard to meet the demand for beans.
Lawrence, who was now about eleven years old,
At the end of the season, about four months, it had grown so hot that we could stay in Jacksonville no longer. From my restaurant and my lodgers I cleared one hundred and seventy-five dollars, which I put into the Jacksonville bank. Then I took the furniture back to the dealer, who fulfilled his agreement.
My sister decided to go back to Atlanta when she got through with her place as nurse, which would not be for some weeks.
I took seventy-five dollars out of my bank account, and with Lawrence went to Fernandina. There we took train to Port Royal, S. C., then steamer to New York. From New York we went to Brooklyn for a few days. Then we went to Newport and stayed with a woman who kept a lodging-house. I decided to see what I could do in Newport by keeping a boarding and lodging-house. I hired a little house and agreed to pay nine dollars a month for it. I left Lawrence with some neighbors while I came to Boston and took some things out of storage. These things I moved into the little house. But I found, after paying one month's rent, that the house was not properly located for the business I wanted. I left, and with Lawrence went to Narragansett Pier. I got a place there as
We went back to Newport to see the landlady from whom I had hired the house, and I paid such part of the rent as I could. Then I packed my things and started for Boston. On reaching there, I kept such of my things as I needed, and stored the rest, and took a furnished room. In about a week's time I went to see the husband of the lady for whom I had worked at Wellesley Hills just previous to my departure for the South. He had told me to let him know
Lawrence was very lonely at the farm, with no companions, and used to sit and cry.
The place was sold about ten weeks after I went there, and I came into Boston to look about for a restaurant, leaving Lawrence at the farm. When the home was broken up, the owners came to the Revere House, Boston. Barrels of apples, potatoes and other provisions were given to me.
I found a little restaurant near the Providence depot for sale. I made arrangements at once to buy the place for thirty-five dollars, and the next day I brought Lawrence and my things from Wellesley Hills. I paid two dollars a week rent for my little
Lawrence got a position in a drug store, and kept it four years. Then he went to Hampton College, Hampton, Va. After finishing there, he came back and then went to the World's Fair in Chicago. After that he took a position on one of the Fall River line boats. At the outbreak of the Spanish War, he enlisted in Brooklyn as powderman on the battleship Texas. He was on the Texas when the first shot was fired. He was present at the decoration of the graves of the American soldiers in Havana, and also at the decoration of the battleship Maine after she was raised. After the war, he came to Brooklyn and got an honorable discharge. Then he served as valet to a rich New York man, who travelled a good deal. About the middle of last November (1906) Lawrence came to Boston to see me. He is now in Atlantic City, a waiter in the Royal Hotel.
In 1888, I was married, at 27 Pemberton Street, to Samuel H. Burton, by Dr. O. P. Gifford. After my marriage, Mr. Burton got a place in Braintree as valet to an old gentleman who was slightly demented, and he could not be satisfied until I joined