J.W. Terrill

J.W. Terrill was born in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, and is about 100 years old. His master was his father. He now lives in Madisonville, Texas.

"My father took me away from my mother when at age of six weeks old and gave me to my grandmother, who was real old at the time. Jus' befo' she died she gave me back to my father, who was my mammy's master. He was a old batchelor and run saloon and he was white, but my mammy was a Negro. He was mean to me.

"Finally my father let his sister take me and raise me with her chillen. She was good to me, but befo' he let her have me he willed I must wear a bell till I was 21 year old, strapped 'round my shoulders with the bell 'bout three feet from my head in steel frame. That was for punishment for bein' born into the world a son of a white man and my mammy, a Negro slave. I wears this frame with the bell where I couldn't reach the clapper, day and night. I never knowed what it was to lay down in bed and get a good night's sleep till I was 'bout 17 year old, when my father died and my missy took the bell offen me.

"Befo' my father gave me to his sister, I was tied and strapped to a tree and whipped like a beast by my father, till I was unconscious, and then left strapped to a tree all night in cold and rainy weather. My father was very mean. He and he sister brung me to Texas, to North Zulch, when I 'bout 12 year old. He brung my mammy, too, and made her come and be his mistress one night every week. He would have kilt every one of his slaves rather than see us go free, 'specially me and my mammy.

"My missy was purty good to me, when my father wasn't right 'round. But he wouldn't let her give me anything to eat but cornbread and water and little sweat 'taters, and jus' 'nough of that to keep me alive. I was allus hongry. My mammy had a boy called Frank Adds and a girl called Marie Adds, what she give birth to by her cullud husban', but I never got to play with them. Missy worked me on the farm and there was 'bout 100 acres and fifteen slaves to work 'em. The overseer waked us 'bout three in the mornin' and then he worked us jus' long as we could see. If we didn't git 'round fast 'nough, he chain us to a tree at night with nothin' to eat, and nex' day. if we didn't go on the run he hit us 39 licks with a belt what was 'bout three foot long and four inches wide.

"I wore the bell night and day, and my father would chain me to a tree till I nearly died from the cold and bein' so hongry. My father didn't 'lieve in church and my missy 'lieved there a Lord, but I wouldn't have 'lieved her if she try larn me 'bout 'ligion, 'cause my father tell me I wasn't any more than a damn mule. I slep' on a chair and tried to res' till my father died, and then I sang all day, 'cause I knowed I wouldn't be treated so mean. When missy took that bell offen me I thinks I in Heaven 'cause I could lie down and go to sleep. When I did I couldn't wake up for a long time and when I did wake up I'd be scairt to death I'd see my father with his whip and that old bell. I'd jump out of bed and run till I give out, for fear he'd come back and git me.

"I was 'bout 17 year old then and I so happy not to have that bell on me. Missy make us work hard but she have plenty to eat and I could sleep. On Christmas she cook us a real dinner of beef meat.

"Plenty time I listens to the cannon popping till I mos' deaf, and I was messenger boy and spy on the blue bellies. When I'd git back to the Southern sojers I he'ped 'em bury they dead and some what was jus' wounded I he'ped carry home.

"When we heered was was over and we's free, we all jus' jumped up and hollers and dances. Missy, she cries and cries, and tells us we is free and she hopes we starve to death and she'd be glad, 'cause it ruin her to lose us. They was a big bunch of us niggers in town and we stirrin' 'round like bees workin' in and out a hive. We was jus' that way. I went wild and the first year I went north, but I come back 'gain to Texas.

"After 'while I marries a Indian maid. It was nothin' much but Indians 'round and there wasn't much law. I lived with her 'bout two year and then the Indians come and captured her jus' befo' she was to give birth. They kilt her or carried her 'way and lef' me for dead, and I never seed or heered of her since. While I was sick a outlaw, what was Tomas Jafferies, he'ped me git well and then I turns outlaw and follows all signs of Indians, all over the earth. But I never could git word of my wife.

"It mus' be 'bout 15 year after that, I marries Feline Ford, by a preacher. My first weddin' was common weddin' with the Indian maid. I jus' give her deerskin in front of Tomas Jefferies and she my wife."