John McAdams

"I was born in Nashville, Tenn., in 1849. My father's name, James McAdams and mother's name, Sallie McAdams. I don't know where they came from. I have 2 brothers, Edgar and Sam, one sister name Josie, one Lucy and one Judie. Our lives together was no pleasure as we had to work just as soon as got large enough to walk. Mistress had us carrying in wood, water and running errands for her. Once and awhile we got to play together with the white children. Our quarters was pretty good - it was dry and warm and was built out of logs that were hued down by hand so it did not leak. Our beds were made down on the floor clear across one end of the room. We made our beds of grass, shucks, cottonseed and used cowhides for cover. There was four or five of us negroes that slept in that one bed. We just crawled in there like a bunch of hogs, of course in the wintertime that helped to keep us warm but in summertime it was real hot sleeping that way. We were afraid to keep our doors open on account of Indians and wild animals bothering us. Well we did all kinds of farm work, plowed, chopped cotton, hoed corn and cut wood, cleared land or just what Maser wanted us to do. I'se rode a few wild horses. Never earned any money during slavery time but Maser he gave me a nickel or dime once and awhile and I always spent it for candy or things like that as I would never have enough money for anything else. Slavery time we had plenty to eat, as Maser always had plenty. We gathered our corn fresh from the field just as we wanted cornbread. It was mixed with salt and water cooked on an open skillet, no biscuits. We did not know what flour was in them days."

"Yes we had plenty fish, rabbits, and possum to eat, but fish was all I cared anything about. Oh' man, take big old fish and fry it good and brown and can I eat, yes sir. No the slaves did not have their garden but Maser always had a large garden and he let them have just what they wanted to eat as they would eat what Maser and his family did. When we would eat our table was in a side room from Mistress' kitchen, as Mistress had a slave that helped her do all her cooking. Well our clothes were what you called royal shirts open all the way down the front and in cold weather we had woolen underclothes to put on and keep us warm. On Sundays we had white royal shirts to wear and they had to be real clean. No sir, I never seen a pair of shoes until long after freedom. I had on brown trousers and blue shirt when I married with great big bandana handkerchief around my neck, no shoes, no sir, I was barefooted. Negroes never wore shoes in them days. My Maser was a real white man, Maser John McAdams was his name and he was pretty strict on his black folks, but was good to them when they would behave. He never worked us to death like that would be our last day, but of course he wanted us to behave ourselves. And Mistress, Lord! child, that was one of the best women that ever was to her black people. Her name was Sarah McAdams. Now they are in the heart of mother earth - bless her soul. They had two children, bless their little hearts, they loved their slaves. They called this old negro old black John. They lived in a big house with 6 rooms in it and was built out of planks. It had one door to the room, plank doors that closed and buttoned. They had plenty of shade trees all around it and our quarters were about 100 yards down to the back of their fine home. In them days their house was the best house in all the county around. Well Maser he never had no overseer, he said he could not get them to do like he wanted so he would not hire one on the farm to be so rough on the slaves. Maser woke us up every morning about 5 o'clock so'es we would have plenty of time to tend the stock and eat and be in the field by the time it got light enough for us to see how to go to work. We would work clear on till sundown except hour in the middle of the day to eat and get our breath. Then we came in home at night, milked the cows, fed the horses and mules, slopped the hogs and eat our supper and the slave then would be ready for bed. Maser he would whip a slave if he did not work or for being stubborn and sassing he or Mistress. Well, I saw him whip a negro one time until it was a plum shame. Of course that negro should not have hit at Maser with his fist, it is a wonder that Maser had'nt killed that negro for hitting at him, but he did'nut. I guess he let him off real light from what some Masers would have done. Well Maser, also put him in the lock-up at night and would not let him go anywhere for a long time. That hurt that negro worse than whipping him cause he had a wife that lived on another farm. Yes sir, Maser had jail for the negro slaves there on the farm, if they were contrary he would lock them in that at night and would not let them go anywhere for a long time, that was worse on the negro than a whipping cause we as a race of people don't mind them much but please do not take all our running around away from us."

"Yes sir, I'se has seen a few slaves sold and auctioned off to the highest bidders, first thing they done to the negro was to make him take a bath and clean up real good, then grease his face, hands, feet and legs so'es he or she would look fat and greasy. Then they would trot us out back and forth before our owners to be and he would feel all over our bodies to see that we was not scared and feel to see if we had broken our arm or leg before he would ever make a bid on us. Then he would offer Maser a price for us until Maser could get the highest price offered before he would sell, then after he sold us the hollering and bawling would take place just like a bunch of bawling cows after you have taken their calves away from them was the way they would act, as they never expected to see or hear of son, daughter, father or mother again. They never let us form too close a friendship with our people on that account, as it would have been too hard to have separated us even if we were under slavery. Well son, the way we traveled was to get in a bunch and our Maser he would be on a horse behind us following to see that we went to where we were supposed to go. You know we did not have trucks or cars to travel in like we have today, and trains were just beginning to build in some places, so we could not travel by rail - as they were few and far between. Yes sir, I saw one poor negro in chains one time and he was give plum out, for his Maser stayed all night with our Maser and you know son that white man did not want to give that poor negro anything to eat, but our Maser made him give that poor slave something to eat and he made my mother fix that negro all he wanted to eat. That poor negro was starved. He begged me to come, after our white people had gone to sleep and bring him some water so he could bathe his swollen feet and legs. I told my Maser what that poor negro wanted, so he gave me a bucket and told me to get him all the water he wanted, so I did that very thing and that poor negro spent the most of the night bathing his feet and legs, and by the time they left the next morning that negro was able to travel. You know son, all that poor negro did, was run off from his Maser as he said his Maser was mean to him. He said if he had a Maser like ours he would be the happiest negro in the world. No sir, our white people did not teach us how to read or write, said we were too thick headed to learn how to read or write and said they could come just as near learning their horses how to read as they could us. I think they were fooled when we were set free and we began to go to school and learn how to read and write. No son, the slaves did not have church there on our plantation but the white people did and that was where we went to church. No sir, they was not any slave that could read the Bible, but our white people read the Bible to us every Sunday morning and they always taught us to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Well, my favorite preacher was a jolly good white man and he preached to the slaves as well as to our white people. He was old brother Morgan and I loved that old song that goes like this: "It was good for our Father's and it is good enough for me." Then another (I'se forgot the words, but this is the name,) "It's the old Time Religion". Well after the summertime camp meetings were over they would be several people to be baptized. The preacher and the people would go to the nearest creek or big hole of water and while the old negroes would shout and take on the preacher would be baptizing them while Mistress, Maser and their white children and all the white people sang: "On the Stormy Bank of Jordan". When there was a funeral among the white people everyone for miles around would turn their slaves loose and every one would go to the funeral and help out all they could. They did not have people hired to bury their dead like they do now and people use to be more respectable than they are now, people now do not have time to bury their dead. Yes, I have seen one or two slaves that tried to run away from their Mistress after their Maser's had gone to war, but they did not get away as they would be taken in the first place they asked for something to eat and given a very severe beating and carried back to their Mistress and put to work. The only way the slaves could go from one plantation to another was they had to have a pass from their Maser or Mistress, if they went without a pass, woe be unto that negro, for the Maser of the place would ask us for our pass, and if we could not show one, it was just too bad. He would give us one of the worst whippings we ever got. Of course I use to slip off and go to see my girl on another farm, but I was very careful that I did not let anyone catch us. She would meet me under a great big tree there on the line between the two farms and if they had caught us it would have been too bad for us two slaves because they wanted us to rest and sleep at night so we would be able to work the next day. They did not want a tired sleepy negro on the job. When we got to our quarters we just fell in at the door, as we would be so tired from the days work. We would hardly stir after we fell in bed and slept all night long without moving. The patterrollers they would come and walk or step all over my body but I did'nt care for them as I would be too tired to care what they were doing."

"On Saturday evening our Maser gave us a holiday so we could rest clean up good and wash what clothes we had dirty. Of course us negroes just lived for them negro dances we had every Saturday night there on the farm - no one to bother or interfere with us and believe me son, we made good use of these nights as that was all the time the slaves had together to dance, talk and have a good time among their own color. The white people they never bothered us on these times at all unless we raised too much hell, then they would come and make us behave ourselves, and on Sunday if there was no church to go to Maser he would let us stay on the creek swimming or fishing, he never did interfere only when he had work for us to do. Lots of times when we could not go to the creek we would lay around talk and sleep. Christmas was the greatest day of all. Maser he always gave his negroes some kind of present, made them a large eggnog to drink, all they wanted too, not just a spoonful, and one of the greatest dinners that you ever saw, a little of everything that was good to eat. On New Years Day we all made resolution for the coming year, you have heard it said son, what you did on New Years Day you would do all the year, and that is the way I have found it all my life. You have also heard it said son, if a woman comes to your house uninvited and walks in at your door you will have bad luck all that year, but if a man should come and walk in at your door uninvited on New Years Day you will have good luck all that year. Everything you start you will turn it out real good - you will have the best luck you ever saw and you will wonder why you have so much good luck, that will be the reason. No sir, Sunday, Christmas and New Years Day were all the holidays we knew anything about. Yes sir, Maser he let us have cornshucking days so'es us negroes could have a get-together day in bad weather and he would go on and let us aloud, but we never shucked much corn so'es we could have another sometime soon. And yes sir, Maser he gave us a cotton picking day and the one that picked the most cotton on that day, Maser would give that negro 50 cents to buy whatever he wanted to buy. I'se won nearly all them 50 cents and the other negroes did not like it cause they could not beat me picking cotton. Yes sir, we had lots of dances. Yes sir, we haf lots of dances and the white children they would have lots of dances and they would have the best of us negroes to play the music for them while they danced. I always like to play for them white boys cause they would make this old negro plenty toddys, or in other words, give me plenty whiskey to drink, and could I play that music, I say I could and when they got ready to go home they would have to run me off, cause I would just stay there and play for them to dance and I would not know when to quit playing music for them."

"When some of the white people died, everyone for miles around would lay down their work and come and help all they could. Us negroes always dug the grave and it would hurt us nearly as bad as it did the white people because we all loved our white folks more than we did our own people. Most of the time they were so good to us and then Maser he always would let us carry the corpse to the grave and place it while the white people sang and prayed. If one of Maser's family married they would let the negroes take part. The slave women would cook them a great wedding supper and the men they would play the music for their dance that night. Of course, everybody in the whole country would be there to hurrah and wart them to death. If a slave died all there was to that was, the Maser he let all the negroes off to dig the grave and carry the body to be buried. Maser and Mistress they were there to pray. I believe it hurt Maser and Mistress worse than us negroes when they lost a negro or slave, as it cost them lots of money for a slave was worth from $1,000 to $1500. that really come out of their pockets. You know son, that was lots of money for anyone to put in the ground. About all there was to a slave wedding was for negro man to get on his knees before Maser and beg for his woman and if Maser said yes, why he just grabs his woman and carries her to his quarters. Well our games as children were ball games out of balls that we raveled out of old socks that we made ourselves. We played with the white children all time that we had. We played wolf-over-the-river, drop the handkerchief and sometime we played see-saw and hide-and-seek. That was about all the games us children played. We had to play most of the time after night and on Sunday, as Mistress had us negro kids doing something all the time, also we did not have time to play in the week days. Yes we had a few riddles that we were always pulling on someone to get off with that person. Charms, why sure we kept our Maser charmed so he would not be mean to us. Why son, we would get a green stick and place that stick under Maser's front doorsteps and drive it down one lick with a hammer every night without Maser seeing us or making any sound for him to catch us. If he should catch us, we would be under bad luck sign until we got to place another stick there under his doorsteps, or if we got hold of a rabbits foot we would tie a string around that rabbit's foot and wear it around our necks. That would bring us good luck until we lost our rabbit's foot. Well we lived in a house one time that was haunted. We sot up rather late, but after we would go to bed at night, the front and back door would fly open and the dishes would rattle just like someone was breaking them up. When we would take a light and go see what was in our house they would be no one in sight nor could you see a sign of where anyone had been, and every door in that house would be wide open, even our front door would come wide open and us looking at that door and we could not see or hear anyone leave our porch. You know child, we did not stay in that house very long, because that thing whatever kind of haunt it was could have come in there while we were asleep and killed everyone of us and we would not know it was on the place as we could never see or hear it come and go and believe me son, I sure am scared of a haunt like that, as you could not see or hear it at all. Well I had a funny experience one time with a horse that I was riding and that horse was plum gentle to ride or do anything with that a man wanted to do with him. All at once he started to pitching and he just fell dead and I never did know what was the matter with that horse. I went and got his owner and all he said or done was to make me take the saddle off him and drag him away from the road and burn him. When a slave got sick he had the best care taken of them because they were too valuable to let die. If Maser could prevent it from happening of course, the first thing he done was to get the nearest old black mammy that he could find and she came over and doctored on us. The first thing she did was to get her gunny sack and grubbing hoe and go to the woods and get her a lot of herbs to doctor us for fevers and chills. She gathered Privey roots, peach tree leaves, red oak bark with Cami weed roots mixed all together and boiled down to a thick syrup. Then she would give us a teaspoonful of that every hour. Believe me that was the worse dose you ever taken, it would either cure or kill and the most time it would get you right up and if we took a bad cold, she would get two or three onions and some plain honey, then get some pine tree bark and boil the turpentine out of that and mix it all together and give that to us, and Mr. cold would get away from us.
If we got a leg or arm broken, of course if mammy could not do anything for us Maser got the white doctor and if we should be playing sick why mammy she gave us something to sure make us sick before the white doctor should come and find us playing sick, then hell would be to pay. But of course old mammy would not tell on us for playing off, so we could get out of work and rest up for several days. We soon learned how to play sick so we could get some rest, but if Maser should find out we were playing off he would sure give us a real good whipping. Well we wore spices to keep off fevers and things like that. We were assafoetida tied in a bag around our necks to keep off colics and headaches. Well I'se remember some about that war between the states as my Maser carried me to the war with him so'es I could tend his horse and keep his guns cleaned up good for him. Child, when them guns started to popping I could hardly stand it so I gets me some cotton and stuffed my ears plum full and tight and I could hardly hear them at all. Son, I have seen my Maser fight in weather so hot you could hardly be still. Well Maser and I have lived through them terrible times when we did'nt have a thing to eat but green corn for 2 weeks at a time and we would not have water to drink for 3 or 4 days either. Son, sometimes I would get to where when I would spit it would be cotton it would be so thick and foamy, and then we would find water in some of them mud holes it would be plum bloody, but we would drink that water just like it was the best water in the world. I have seen them poor soldier boys wounded and lying there in that hot broiling sun, blood all over them and old flys just swarming all over them. Finally when the war was over Maser told me that I was just as free as he was and for me to get home. I had to walk, and he said he would beat me home but he didn't. While I'se going home I began wondering what I was going to do after I got home as I thought well, Maser did not own me anymore and was he going to let me stay there with him after we was free. That was exactly what he done, he give us work there with him the rest of that year at $2.00 per month, and so I stayed on there in the old quarters and worked for Maser all that year, and the next. Then I farms for another man, Mr. Charlie Savage , his farm joined Maser's. Well son, I married the year that I farmed for Mr. Savage . We just had a home wedding, and we had two kids, boy and girl. She said I was no account and run off with another negro and left her children. He name was Viola Jenkens . Then I married again to Effie Jones and we had one boy, then she took sick and died. About a year after that I married another woman named Sally Goodin , both these last two women we had preacher to marry us, and the last time I had great large wedding plenty to eat, drink and about a week dancing and going on there. We had 5 children and they are all farming except one boy and he works on this here WPA work."

"I'se has plenty of grandchildren, too many - I can't count them. Yes I have 7 great-grandchildren now. Well now son, I expected different from what I got out of freedom I can tell you. I knows one thing, I was not expecting to be turned loose like a bunch of stray cattle, but that is exactly what they done to us. Well no sir, I did not expect a mule or for them to give me part of Maser's land, and did not get another thing from freedom. For a long time after freedom we got to where we could go where we pleased that was all the slave negroes got except a good cursing or whipping. No sir, they were not any farms or plantations divided among the negroes. Neither did our owners give us any money or anything else, at time they hardly gave us work to do. Then half of them would not pay us when we worked because they knew they did not have to pay us and we could not make them pay us. Sometimes they would give us their old cast off clothes and that we could not eat, so that made us have to steal lots so'es we could feed our kids. Well no, we were not forced to stay on with our Maser, we stayed on there with him just as long as he would let us stay. If he could have kept us we would have been all right. Son, we done just what we could do to make a living, farmed and worked for farm labor, cut wood, cleared land and so on. Our wages were so low that it was almost impossible for us to live on what we got. I have worked hard for 10 cents a day. Son that reconstruction of the negro was hard as we did not know a thing, could hardly buy our own groceries, as slaves we did not have all that to do as that rested on Maser's shoulders and I did not think that I would ever have that to do, but I did, so it was hard on me when I found out that they would give me money for my work and I had all that to do myself.
Yes, the KKK they had most everything to do with the negro race of people after we was freed. We could not quit one what man and go to another and get a job, unless the man that we were with told us we could go. Yes they would get us if we did not stay right at home and work, and if we said one word about the way the white folks were doing us the KKK done a plenty to us. No sir, I did not ever try to vote cause I saw one negro that tried to vote and the KKK got hold of him and like to have beat that poor negro to death. They put hot tar and feathers all over him. Boss, that negro never did try to vote anymore. Well yes sir, I do believes that we negroes ought to have more privileges in voting cause you know son, the negro he has become brighter and brighter and they have become pretty well educated in the ways of the world and have to shoulder the same load that the white people have to shoulder. Here in Texas they do the negro just like they want to do him because he cannot vote them out of office and when they go to tax us they just put the limit to us and we have to pay them, and we have to pay our polltax for nothing as we can't pay our other taxes without paying them, and never get to use them either. Well, between 1864 and 1938 all I ever did was to farm - wore out the country back there in Tenn., then came here to this country and have farmed all over it and am about to wear out Madison county. I have never held any other job, just farmed and done farm labor. I have had a hard time getting that to do, as use to we could get plenty land to farm but could not get anything for my crop after I would make it. Now I am getting a small pension and I get some little odd jobs around to help me make a living but that is hard to do now, as my pension is small and it hardly gives me enough to live on. If I gets to where I can't get around - that is going to be tough on me. Well, these young people they are getting to be awful at times, won't work, won't do anything but a lot of stealing and they just won't tell the truth at all. Most all these negro girls have babies before they get grown and married. I tell you son, I don't know what is going to become of these young negroes especially after the old slave time negroes are gone and if times ever get better the negroes will do some better. Of course these here young negroes are lots better educated than the old slaves were and I believes that is what helped to ruin them is this here schooling they gets. I hopes I lives to see times get good again, maybe these youngsters will go to work and straighten out themselves. Son I'se praying all the time for these here times to get better and for them no account young negroes, lots of them young negro girls will get them a job from some of these white men so they can be his Mistress, and they think that is grand, but Son I think that is terrible when they gets away from their own color."