I was birthed on the Rimes Plantation, now called Harrisburg. My great-grand-daddy's name was Bowser Rimes and he was brung to Texas from Louisiana and die at 138 year old. He's buried on the old Ben Powell place close to Jasper. My grand-daddy, that's John, he lives to be 103 year old and he buried on the Eddy plantation at Jasper. My daddy, Mose Rimes, he die young at 86 and he buried in Jasper County, too. My mammy's name was Phoebe and she was birthed a Rimes nigger and brung to Texas from back in Louisiana. The year slaves was freed I was inherit by a man named Sells, what marry into the Rimes family and that's why my name's Sells, 'cause it change 'long with the marriage. Us was jes' ready to be ship back to Louisiana to the new massa's plantation when the end of the war break up the trip.
You see, we all had purty good time on Massa Rimes's plantation. None of them carin' 'bout being sot free. They has to work hard all time, but that don' mean so much, 'cause they have to work iffen they was on they own, too. The old folks was 'lowed Saturday evenin' off or when they's sick, and us little ones, us not do much but bring in the wood and kindle the fires and tote water and he'p wash clothes and feed the little pigs and chickens.
Us chillen hang round close to the big house and us have a old man that went round with us and look after us, white chillen and black chillen, and that old man was my great grand-daddy. Us sho' have to mind him, 'cause iffen we didn't, us sho' have bad luck. He allus have the pocket full of things to conjure with. That rabbit foot, he took it out and he work that on you till you take the creeps and git shakin' all over. Then there's a pocket full of fish scales and he kind of squeak and rattle them in the hand and right then you wish you was dead and promise to do anything. Another thing he allus have in the pocket was a li'l old dry-up turtle, jes' a mud turtle 'bout the size of a man's thumb, the whole thing jes' dry up and dead. With that thing he say he could do mos' anything, but he never use it iffen he ain't have to. A few times I seed him git all tangle up and boddered and he go off by hisself and sot down in a quiet place, take out this very turtle and put it in the palm of the hand and turn it round and round and say somethin' all the time. After while he git everything ontwisted and he come back with a smile on he face and maybe whistlin'.
They fed all us nigger chillen in a big trough made out'n wood, maybe more a wood tray, dug out'n soft timber like magnolia or cypress. They put it under a tree in the shade in summer time and give each chile a wood spoon, then mix all the food up in the trough and us goes to eatin'. Mos' the food was potlicker, jes' common old potlicker; turnip green and the juice, Irish 'taters and the juice, cabbages and peas and beans, jes' anything what make potlicker. All us git round like so many li'l pigs and then us dish in with our wood spoon till it all gone.
We has lots of meat at times. Old grand-daddy allus ketchin' rabbit in some kind of trap, mostly make out'n a holler log. He sot 'em round in the garden and sho' kotch the rabbits. And possums, us have a good possum dog, sometimes two or three, and every night you heered them dogs barkin' in the field down by the branch. Sho' 'nuf, they git possum treed and us go git him and parbile him and put him in the oven and bake him plumb tender. Then we stacks sweet 'taters round him and po' the juice over the whole thing. Now, there is somethin' good 'nuf for a king.
There was lots of deer and turkey and squirrel in the wil' wood and somebody out huntin' nearly every day. Course Massa Rime's folks couldn't eat up all this meat befo' it spile and the niggers allus git a great big part of it. Then we kilt lots of hawgs and then talk 'bout eatin'! O, them chitlin's, sousemeat and the haslets, thats the liver and the lights all biled up together. Us li'l niggers fill up on sich as that and go to bed and mos' dream us is li'l pigs.
Us allus have plenty to eat but didn't pay much 'tention to clothes. Boys and gals all dress jes' alike, one long shirt or dress. They call it a shirt iffen a boy wear it and call it a dress iffen the gal wear it. There wasn't no difference, 'cause they's all made out'n somethin' like duck and all white. That is, they's white when you fus' put them on, but after you wears them a while they git kind of pig-cullud, kind of grey, but still they's all the same color. Us all go barefoot in summer, li'l ones and big ones, but in winter us have homemake shoes. They tan the leather at home and make the shoe at home, allus some old nigger that kin make shoe. They was more like moc'sin, with lace made of deerskin. The soles was peg on with wood pegs out'n maple and sharpen down with a shoe knife.
Us have hats make out'n pine straw, long leaf pine straw, tied together in li'l bunches and platted round and round till it make a kinder hat. That pine straw great stuff in them days and us use it in lots of ways. Us kivered sweet 'taters with it to keep them from git freeze and hogs made beds out'n it and folks too. Yes, sir, us slep' on it. The beds had jes' one leg. They bored two hole in the wall up in the corner and stuck two pole in them holes and lay plank on that like slats and pile lots of pine straw on that. Then they spread a homemake blanket or quilt on that and sometime four or five li'l niggers slep' in there to keep us warm.
The li'l folks slep' mos' as long as they want to in daylight, but the big niggers have to come out'n that bed 'bout fo' o'clock when the big horn blow. The overseer have one nigger, he wake up early for to blow the horn and when he blow this horn he make sich a holler then all the res' of the niggers better git out'n that bed and 'pear at the barn 'bout daylight. He might not whip him for being late the fus' time, but that nigger better not forgit the secon' time and be late!
Massa Rimes didn't whip them much, but iffen they was bad niggers he jes' sold them offen the place and let somebody else do the whippin'. Never have no church house or school, but Massa Rimes, he call them in and read the Bible to them. Then he turn the service over to some good, old, 'ligious niggers and let them finish with the singin' and prayin' and 'zorting. After peach [HW: "?"] cleared, a school was 'stablish and a white man come from the north to teach the cullud chillen, but befo' that they didn' take no pains to teach the niggers nothin' 'ceptin' to work, and the white chillen didn't have much school neither.
That was one plantation what was run 'sclusively by itself. Massa Rimes have a commissary or sto' house, whar he kep' whatnot things—them what make on the plantation and things the slaves couldn' make for themselfs. That wasn't much, 'cause we make us own clothes and shoes and plow and all farm tools and us even make our own plow line out'n cotton and iffen us run short of cotton sometime make them out'n bear grass and we make buttons for us clothes out'n li'l round pieces of gourds and kiver them with cloth.
That wasn't sich a big plantation, 'bout a t'ousand acre and only 'bout forty niggers. There was'n no jail and they didn't need none. Us have no real doctor, but of course there was a doctor man at Jasper and one at Newton, but a nigger have to be purty sick 'fore they call a doctor. There's allus some old time nigger what knowed lots of remedies and knowed all dif'rent kinds of yarbs and roots. My grand-daddy, he could stop blood, and he could conjure off the fever and rub his fingers over warts and they'd git away. He make ile out'n rattlesnake for the rheumatis'. For the cramp he git a kind of bark offen a tree and it done the job, too. Some niggers wo' brass rings to keep off the rheumatis' and punch hole in a penny or dime and wear that on the ankle to keep off sickness.
'Member the war? Course I does. I 'member how some of them march off in their uniforms, lookin' so grand, and how some of them hide out in the wood to keep from lookin' so grand. They was lots of talkin' 'bout fighting, and rubbing and scrubbing the old shotgun. The oldes' niggers was settin' round the fire late in the night, stirrin' the ashes with the poker and rakin' out the roas' 'taters. They's smokin' the old corn cob pipe and homemake tobacco and whisperin' right low and quiet like what they's gwineter do and whar they's gwineter to when Mister Lincoln, he turn them free.
The more they talk, the more I git scared that the niggers is going to git sot free and wondering what I's gwine to do if they is. No, I guess I don't want to live back in them times no mo', but I sho' seed lots of niggers not doin' so well as they did when they was slaves and not havin' nigh as much to eat.