James Hayes

James Hayes, 101, was born a slave to a plantation owner whose name he does not now recall, in Shelby Co., two miles from Marshall, Texas. Mr. John Henderson bought the place, six slaves and James and his mother. James, known as Uncle Jim, seems happy, still stands erect, and is very active for his age. He lives on a green slope overlooking the Trinity river, in Moser Valley, a Negro settlement ten miles northeast of Fort Worth.

"Dis nigger have lived a long time, yas, suh! I's 101 years ole, 'cause I's bo'n Dec. 28, 1835. Dat makes me 102 come nex' December. I can' 'member my fust marster's name, 'cause when I's 'bout two years ole, me and my sis, 'bout five, and our mammy was sol' to Marster John Henderson. I don' 'member anything 'bout my pappy, but I 'member Marster Henderson jus' like 'twas las' week. I's settin' hear a thinkin' of dem ole days when I's a li'l nigger a cuttin' up on ole marster's plantation. How I did play roun' with de chilluns till I's big enough for to wo'k. After I's 'bout 13, I jus' peddles roun' de house for 'bout a year, den 'twarn't long till I hoes co'n and potatoes. Dere's six slaves on dat place and I coul' beat dem all a-hoein'.

"De marster takes good care of us and sometimes give us money, 'bout 25¢, and lets us go to town. Dat's when we was happy and celebrates. We'uns spent all de money on candy and sweet drinks. Marster never crowded us 'bout de wo'k, and never give any of us whuppin's. I's sev'ral times needed a whuppin', but de marster never gives dis nigger more'n a good scoldin'. De nearest I comes to gittin whupped, 'twas[Pg 127] once when I stole a plate of biscuits offen de table. I warn't in need of 'em, but de devil in me caused me to do it. Marster and all de folks comes in and sets down, and he asks for de biscuits, and I's under de house and could hear 'em talk. De cook says, 'I's put de biscuits on de table.' Marster says, 'If you did, de houn' got 'em.' Cook says, 'If a houn' got 'em, 'twas a two-legged one, 'cause de plate am gone, too.' I's made de mistake of takin' de plate. Marster give me de wors' scoldin' I ever has and dat larned me a lesson.

"Not long after dat, Marster sol' my mammy to his brudder who lived in Fort Worth. When dey took her away, I's powerful grieved. 'Bout dat time de War started. De marster and his boy, Marster Ben, jined de army. De marster was a sergeant. De women folks was proud of dere men folks, but dey was powerful grieved. All de time de men's away, I could tell Missy Elline and her mamma was worried. Dey allus sen's me for de mail, and when I fotches it, dey run to meet me, anxious like, to open de letter, and was skeert to do it. One day I fotches a letter and I could feel it in my bones, dere was trouble in dat letter. Sure 'nough, dere was trouble, heaps of it. It tells dat Marster Ben am kilt and dat dey was a shippin' him home. All de ole folks, cullud and white, was cryin'. Missy Elline, she fainted. When de body comes home, dere's a powerful big funeral and after dat, dere's powerful weepin's and sadness on dat place. De women folks don' talk much and no laughin' like 'fore. I 'members once de missy asks me to make a 'lasses cake. I says, 'I's got no 'lasses.' Missy says, 'Don' say 'lasses, say molasses.' I says, 'Why say molasses when I's got no 'lasses.' Dat was de fus' time Missy laugh after de funeral.[Pg 128]

"Durin' de War, things was 'bout de same, like always, 'cept some vittles was scarce. But we'uns had plenty to eat and us slaves didn' know what de War was 'bout. I guess we was too ign'rant. De white folks didn' talk 'bout it 'fore us. When it's over, de Marster comes home and dey holds a big celebration. I's workin' in de kitchen and dey tol' me to cook heaps of ham, chicken, pies, cakes, sweet 'taters and lots of vegetables. Lots of white folks comes and dey eats and drinks wine, dey sings and dances. We'uns cullud folks jined in and was singin' out in de back, 'Massa's in de Col', Har' Groun'. Marster asks us to come in and sing dat for de white folks, so we'uns goes in de house and sings dat for de white folks and dey jines in de chorus.

"Three days after de celebration, de marster calls all de slaves in de house and says, 'Yous is all free, free as I am.' He tol' us we'uns could go if we'uns wanted to. None of us knows what to do, dere warn't no place to go and why would we'uns wan' to go and leave good folks like de marster? His place was our home. So we'uns asked him if we could stay and he says, 'Yous kin stay as long as yous want to and I can keep yous.' We'uns all stayed till he died, 'bout a year after dat.

"When he was a-dyin', marster calls me to his bed and says, 'My dyin' reques' is dat yous be taken to your mama.' He calls his son, Zeke, in and tells him dat I should be fotched to my mamma. And 'bout in a year, Marster Zeke fotches me to my mamma, in Johnson Station, south of Arlington. She's wo'kin' for Jack Ditto and I's pleased to see her.[Pg 129]

I's pleased to see my mammy, but after a few days I wants to go back to Marshall with Marster Zeke. Dat was my home, so I kep' pesterin' marster to fetch me back, but he slips off and leaves me. I has to stay and I's been here ever since.

"I gits my fust job with Carter Cannon, on a farm, and stays seven years. Den I goes to Fort Worth and takes a job cookin' in de Gran' Hotel for three years. Den I goes to Dallas and cooks for private families, and wo'ks for Marster James Ellison for 30 years. I stops four years ago and comes out here to wait till de good Lawd calls me home.

"Bout gittin' married, after I quits de Gran' Hotel I marries and we'uns has two chillen. My wife died three years later.

"You knows, I believes I's mo' contented as a slave. I's treated kind all de time and had no frettin' 'bout how I gwine git on. Since I's been free, I sometimes have heaps of frettin'. Course, I don' want to go back into slavery, but I's paid for my freedom.

"I's never been sick abed, but I's had mo' misery dis las' year dan all my life. It's my heart. If I live till December, I'll be 102 years old, and dis ole heart have been pumpin' and pumpin' all dem years and have missed nary a beat till dis las' year. I knows 'twon't be long till de good Lawd calls dis ole nigger to cross de Ribber Jordan and I's ready for de Lawd when he calls.[Pg 130]