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[Detail] Bill and Ellen Thomas, Ages 88 and 81

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Assessing Credibility

A unique interview in the collection is the Tony Morgan interview conducted on October 1, 1884, by a fellow slave, Jim Thomas.  Thomas recounted this conversation to a FWP worker in 1937. “Uncle Tony” Morgan was 105 years old at the time of the interview and claimed to have known both George Washington and Andrew Jackson.  Morgan stated that he accompanied General Jackson in his excursion to Spanish Pensacola in 1814:

Uncle Tony explained that he accompanied General Jackson when the war-loving Tennessean marched from Mobile against Pensacola in 1814. He said he was serving as a wagoner, and remembered distinctly that the British surrendered on November 6. He recalled that, during the battle, Jackson was standing talking with a group of officers when an enemy shell exploded near him.

“Move away. General,” the old Negro recounted one of the officers as saying, “they’ll kill you!”

And Jackson replied in a characteristic manner: “Damn ‘em—I’ll have ‘em all in hell tomorrow!”

From “A slave interviews a slave,” images 287-288

  • What historic events did Tony Morgan report witnessing in the excerpt above? Does the story about General Andrew Jackson seem believable given other sources you have read about Jackson? Was Morgan’s recollection of the day the British surrendered accurate?
  • To what other historic events was Morgan reportedly a witness? How might you check the accuracy of these recollections?
  • Jim Thomas appeared to have a sharp recollection of a conversation that took place more than 40 years previously. Why might Thomas’s recollection be so strong? Is there any way you can check the accuracy of Thomas’s recollections?
  • The FWP interviewer, Francois L. Diard, presented his account in the third person, which presents additional challenges in interpreting the information. The reader cannot tell who used certain words or phrases—Diard, Thomas, or Morgan. Find an example in the excerpt above. How does this ambiguity make interpreting the interview more challenging?