Burton, Annie L.
The times changed from slavery days to freedom's days. As young as I was, my thoughts were mystified to see such wonderful changes; yet I did not know the meaning of these changing days. But days glided by, and in my mystified way I could see and hear many strange things. I would see my master and mistress in close conversation and they seemed anxious about something that I, a child, could not know the meaning of.
But as weeks went by, I began to understand. I saw all the slaves one by one disappearing from the plantation (for night and day they kept going) until there was not one to be seen.
All around the plantation was left barren. Day after day I could run down to the gate and see down the road troops and troops of Garrison's Brigade, and in the midst of them gangs and gangs of negro slaves who joined with the soldiers, shouting, dancing and clapping their hands. The war was ended, and from Mobile Bay to Clayton, Ala., all along the
As I looked on these I did not know what it meant, for I had never seen such a circus. The Yankee soldiers found that they had such an army of men and women and children, that they had to build tents and feed them to keep them from starving. But from what I, a little child, saw and heard the older ones say, that must have been a terrible time of trouble. I heard my master and mistress talking. They said, "Well, I guess those Yankees had such a large family on their hands, we rather guessed those fanatics on freedom would be only too glad to send some back for their old masters to provide for them."
But they never came back to our plantation, and I could only speak of my own home, but I thought to myself, what would become of my good times all over the old plantation. Oh, the harvesting times, the great hog-killing times when several hundred hogs were killed, and we children watched and got our share of the slaughter in pig's liver roasted on a bed of coals, eaten ashes and all. Then came the great sugar-cane grinding time, when they were making the molasses, and we children would be hanging round, drinking the sugar-cane juice, and awaiting
My sister, being the children's nurse, would take them and wash their hands and put them to bed in their luxurious bedrooms, while we little slaves would find what homes we could. My brother and I would go to sleep on some lumber under the house, where our sister Caroline would find us and put us to bed. She would wipe our hands and faces and make up our beds on the floor in Massa's house, for we had lived with him ever since our own mother had run away, after being whipped by her mistress. Later on, after the war, my mother returned and claimed us. I never knew my father, who was a white man.
During these changing times, just after the war, I was trying to find out what the change would bring about for us, as we were under the care of our mistress, living in the great house. I thought this: that Henry, Caroline and myself, Louise, would have to go as others had done, and where should we go and
But it was a sad, sad change on the old plantation, and the beautiful, proud Sunny South, with its masters and mistresses, was bowed beneath the sin brought about by slavery. It was a terrible blow to the owners of plantations and slaves, and their children would feel it more than they, for they had been reared to be waited upon by willing or unwilling slaves.
In this place I will insert a poem my young mistress taught us, for she was always reading poems and good stories. But first I will record a talk I heard between my master and mistress. They were sitting in the dining-room, and we children were standing around the table. My mistress said, "I suppose, as Nancy has never returned, we had better keep Henry, Caroline and Louise until they are of age." "Yes, we will," said Massa, Miss Mary and Miss Martha, "but it is 'man proposes and God disposes.'"
So in the following pages you will read the sequel to my childhood life in the Sunny South.
Right after the war when my mother had got settled in her hut, with her little brood hovered around her, from which she had been so long absent, we had nothing to eat, and nothing to sleep on save some old pieces of horse-blankets and hay that the soldiers
We hoped the talk was most ended, for we were anxiously watching that pot. Pretty soon my mother seemed to realize our existence. She exclaimed, "My Lord! I suppose the little children are nearly starved. Are those pease done, young ones?" She turned and said to the white woman, "Have you-all had anything to eat?" "We stopped at a house about dinner time, but the woman didn't have anything but some bread and buttermilk." My mother said, "Well, honey, I ain't got but a little, but I will divide with you." The woman said, "Thank you, Auntie. You just give my children a little; I can do without it."
Then came the dividing. We all watched with all our eyes to see what the shares would be. My mother broke a mouthful of bread and put it on each of the tin plates. Then she took the old spoon and equally divided the pea soup. We children were seated around the fire, with some little wooden spoons. But the wooden spoons didn't quite go round, and some of us had to eat with our fingers. Our share of the meal, however, was so small that we were as hungry when we finished as when we began.
My mother said, "Take that rag and wipe your
Bright and early in the morning we were called up, and the rest of the hoe cake was eaten for breakfast, with a little meat, some coffee sweetened with molasses. The little wanderers and their mother shared our meal, and then they started again on their journey towards their home among their kinsfolk, and we never saw them again. My mother said, "God bless you! I wish you all good luck. I hope you will reach your home safely." Then mother said to us, "You young ones put away that straw and sweep up the place, because I have to go to my work." But she came at noon and brought us a nice dinner, more satisfactory than the supper and breakfast we had had. We children were delighted that
In time, my older sister, Caroline, and myself got work among good people, where we soon forgot all the hard times in the little log cabin by the roadside in Clayton, Alabama.
Up to my womanhood, even to this day, these memories fill my mind. Some kind friends' eyes may see these pages, and may they recall some fond memories of their happy childhood, as what I have written brings back my young life in the great Sunny South.
I am something of the type of Moses on this 49th birthday; not that I am wrapped in luxuries, but that my thoughts are wrapped in the luxuries of the heavenly life in store for me, when my life work is done, and my friends shall be blessed by the work I shall have done. For God has commanded me to write this book, that some one may read and receive comfort and courage to do what God commands them to do. God bless every soul who shall read this true life story of one born in slavery.
It is now six years since the inspiration to write this book came to me in the Franklin evening school. I have struggled on, helped by friends. God said, "Write the book and I will help you." And He has.
It was through a letter of my life that the principal
My life is like the summer rose
That opens to the morning sky,
But ere the shades of evening close
Is scattered on the ground to die.
Yet on the rose's humble bed
The sweetest dews of night are shed,
As if she wept a tear for me,
As if she wept the waste to see.
My life is like the autumn leaf
That trembles in the moon's pale ray.
Its hold is frail, its date is brief,
Restless, and soon to pass away.
Yet, ere that leaf shall fall and fade,
The parent tree will mourn its shade,
The winds bewail the leafless tree;
But none shall breathe a sigh for me.
My life is like the prints which feet
Have left on Tampa's desert strand.
Soon as the rising tide shall beat
All trace will vanish from the sand.
Yet, as if grieving to efface
All vestige of the human race,
On that lone shore loud moans the sea.
But none, alas, shall mourn for me.