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National Expansion and Reform
Pre-Civil War African-American Slavery
Interview with E.W. Evans, Brick Layer and Plasterer

The following excerpt is from an oral history interview conducted in the 1930s. Mr. Evans had been born into slavery, but had been too young to work as a slave. What does Mr. Evans have to say about slavery? How credible do you think his descriptions are?

View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

"My parents were slaves on the plantation of John H. Hill, a slave owner in Madison, Georgia. I wuz born on May 21, 1855. I wuz owned and kept by J. H. Hill until just befo' surrender. I wuz a small boy when Sherman left here at the fall of Atlanta. He come through Madison on his march to the sea and we chillun hung out on the front fence from early morning 'til late in the evening, watching the soldiers go by. It took most of the day.

"My master wuz a Senator from Georgia, 'lected on the Whig ticket. He served two terms in Washington as Senator. His wife, our mistress, had charge of the slaves and plantation. She never seemed to like the idea of having slaves. Of course, I never heard her say she didn't want them but she wuz the one to free the slaves on the place befo' surrender. Since that I've felt she didn't want them in the first place. ...

"The next week after Sherman passed through Madison, Miss Emily called the five ... wimmen ... women ... that wuz on the place and tole them to stay 'round the house and attend to things as they had always done until their husbands come back. She said they were free and could go wherever they wanted to. See ... she decided this befo surrender and tole them they could keep up just as befo' until their husbands could look after a place for them to stay. She meant that they could rent from her if they wanted to. In that number of ... wimmen ... women ... wuz my mother, Ellen, who worked as a seamstress for Mrs. Hill. The other ... wimmen ... women ... wuz aunt Lizzie and aunt Dinah, the washer- ...wimmen ... women ... , aunt Liza ... a seamstress to help my mother, and aunt Caroline ... the nurse for Miss Emily's chilluns.

"I never worked as a slave because I wuzn't ole 'nough. In 1864, when I wuz about nine years ole they sent me on a trial visit to the plantation to give me an idea of what I had to do some day.

The place I'm talkin' about, when I wuz sent for the tryout, wuz on the outskirts of town. It wuz a house where they sent chilluns out ole 'nough to work for a sort of trainin'. I guess you'd call it the trainin' period. When the chilluns wuz near ten years ole they had this week's trial to get them used to the work they'd have to do when they reached ten years. At the age of ten years they wuz then sent to the field to work. They'd chop, hoe, pick cotton ... and pull fodder, corn, or anything else to be done on the plantation. I stayed at the place a whole week and wuz brought home on Saturday. That week's work showed me what I wuz to do when I wuz ten years ole. Well, this wuz just befo Sherman's march from Atlanta to the sea and I never got a chance to go to the plantation to work agin, for Miss Emily freed all on her place and soon after that we wuz emancipated.

The soldiers I mentioned while ago that passed with Sherman carried provisions, hams, shoulders, meal, flour ... and other food. They had their cooks and other servants. I 'member seeing a woman in that crowd of servants. She had a baby in her arms. She hollered at us Chillun and said, 'You chilluns git off dat fence and go learn yore ABC's.' I thought she wuz crazy telling us that ... for we had never been 'lowed to learn nothing at all like reading a writing. I learned but it wuz after surrender and I wuz over tens years ole.

It wuz soon after the soldiers passed with Sherman that Miss Emily called in all the ... wimmen ... women ... servants and told them they could take their chillun ... to the cabin and stay there until after the war. My father, George, had gone with Josh Hill, a son of Miss Emily's to wait on him. She told my mother to take us to that cabin until a place could be made for us.

I said I wuz born a slave but I wuz too young to know much about slavery. I wuz the property of the Hill family from 1855 to 1865, when freedom wuz declared and they said we wuz free. ...
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View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.