Raising tobacco, our
first year of freedom. More
privations. Father Dies.
It never Rains but it
pours. I become the head of
the family and start to work
at $1.50 Per month.
As soon as the corn crop was in the
ground we commenced to plant tobacco. Before
the seed was sown, it was necessary to gather large
piles of brush and wood and burn it to ashes on the
ground to destroy the seeds of the weeds. The
ground was then spaded and raked thoroughly, and the
seed sown. After it had come up and got a fair
start, it was transplanted in rows about three feet
apart. When the plants become large enough it
is necessary to pull the suckers off, also the worms
off the leaves. This task fell upon Jordan and
In picking the worms off the plants
it is necessary to use the greatest care that the
plants are not damaged, but Jordan and I were afraid
to touch the worms with our fingers, so we took sticks
and knocked them off, also a few leaves with each
worm. This fact called forth some rather strong
language from father, who said we were doing more harm
than good. But our aversion to the worms was so
strong that we took several thrashings before we could
bring ourselves to use our fingers instead of a stick.
When the tobacco was ripe there would be yellow spots
on the leaves. It was then cut, let lie for one
day, then hung on a scaffold to be sun cured.
It was allowed to remain on the scaffold for perhaps
a week, then it was hung up in the barn to be smoked,
after which it was made into a big bulk and a weight
placed on it to press it out, then it was stripped,
and put into hands and then it was ready for the market.
Our crop the first year was not large and the most
of it went to pay the rent and the following winter
proved a hard one, and entailed considerable privation
and suffering among the many ex-slaves, who had so
recently been thrown on their own resources, without
money or clothing or food, and only those who have
had the experience can appreciate the condition of
things or rather lack of things, at the close of the
war, and these conditions did not only affect the
ex-slaves and colored people, but covered the entire
south, and many former well-to-do slave owners now
found themselves without a penny they could call their
own, having been stripped of everything and compelled
to start all over again. Surely “war is
hell” but slavery is worse.
Early in the spring father went to work for a neighboring
planter a couple of weeks in order to get his plows
and horses again to plow his land. A somewhat
larger crop was put in this year, but unfortunately
for us when everything was planted father took sick
and died shortly after. This was a stunning loss
to us just at a time when we most needed a father
and husband’s help, counsel and protection.
But we did not lose courage for long.
The crop must be looked after and
the coming winter provided against. My sister
Sally had been married about three years at this time
and was with her husband and two little girls on a
small farm some distance away, which my brother-in-law
rented. That left mother, Jordan and I to look
after things. Although I was the youngest, I was
the most courageous, always leading in mischief, play
and work. So I now took the leadership, and became
the head of the family. Things were beginning
to take on a more hopeful look, when my brother-in-law
died, leaving my sister sick with two small children
and in about the same circumstances as ourselves.
Everything, indeed, looked hopeless now, as our late
master and his brother had left the old place and gone
north. So remembering I was the only man on the
place now, though only fifteen years old, I said to
mother and sister who were weeping bitterly, “brace
up, and don’t lose your heads. I will look
after you all.” I said this with a bravado
I was far from feeling, but I could not see the use
of weeping now there was work to be done, if we were
to keep from starving the coming winter. We all
turned in to help one another and in this manner.
The crop was gathered and we were in fairly good condition
for the coming winter, but the work was too much for
Sally who lingered through the winter and early in
the spring we laid her beside her father and husband,
and her two little orphans were left to us. It
now became very apparent to me that something must
be done, because the crop raised the year before was
barely enough to last us through the winter and we
would soon be in actual need again. We needed
clothing, especially the little girls of my sister,
and we had no money to buy seed for this season’s
crop or food to last us out. So I concluded to
go to work for some one if I could find anything to
do. With that resolve, I put on my best rags
and to mother’s inquiry as to where I was going
I told her I did not know myself. It fairly made
my heart ache to see my little nieces going around
almost naked, bare footed, and have them always asking
for things I was powerless to give them. I determined
to go from place to place until I secured employment
of some kind that would in a measure, permit me to
feed, and as far as I was able, clothe mother and
the children, now dependent on me.
The fact that I was now free, gave
me new born courage to face the world and what the
future might hold in store for me. After tramping
around the country for two days, I finally secured
work with a Mr. Brooks, about six miles from home
at one dollar and fifty cents a month. Notwithstanding
the smallness of my prospective wages, I was happy
and returned home in a jubilant frame of mind, to
impart the news to mother. I was to commence
the next morning. Mother said it was not much,
but better than nothing. I told mother that I
thought I could bring some food and clothing home
for the children before the month was out. The
little ones hearing this, were overjoyed and looked
on me as a rich man indeed. Jordan was to remain
at home and attend to what little there was to do,
and the next day I started work for Mr. Brooks.
In less than a week I made my first visit home, taking
with me some potatoes, bacon, cornmeal, and some molasses,
which I had rustled in various ways. I also had
a bundle of old clothing given to me by the neighbors,
which mother could make over for the children, and
to say the children were happy is but a mild expression.
For the second month I received a
raise of fifty cents, and the third month of my employment,
so good did I work, that I received three dollars.
With so many at home to provide for, my wages did not
last long, but out of my three dollars I bought each
of the children a book. The rest went for provisions
and clothing. One day while passing the store
of Mr. Graves, near our home I saw a checked sunbonnet
and a red calico dress which struck my fancy as just
what I wanted for mother. On asking the price
Mr. Graves told me I could have the sunbonnet for
twenty-five cents and the dress for four bits.
That seemed to be within my means, and quite reasonable.
I asked him to keep them for me until I got my wages
at the end of the month. This Mr. Graves promised
to do if I would pay him something down. I only
had fifteen cents of which I paid five cents on the
bonnet and ten cents on the dress and went on my way,
filled with happy thoughts as the result of my bargain.
I resolved to be very saving this month and I became
very impatient for my month to end and was continually
asking Mr. Brooks if my month was not soon over.
He would laugh and say “yes, soon.”
But it seemed to me that was the longest month I ever
knew. When at last the month was over he gave
me fifty cents, claiming I had drawn my wages during
the month. I knew that was not so. I also
knew I had a balance coming to me and told him so.
But he denied it and the result was that we had a fight.
I hit him in the head with a rock and nearly killed
him after which I felt better. Then going to
Mr. Graves the storekeeper, I told him the whole trouble.
He expressed sympathy for me and said to give him the
fifty cents and take the bonnet and dress, and we
will call it square. And you can imagine my feelings
as I took the things home to mother, and she was more
pleased with them than any queen with her silks and
satins. There being plenty of work to do
at home, I did not again look for other work.
The only thing that worried me was that the little
ones were still without shoes, but on my promise to
soon get them some they were satisfied. It was
here I got my first lessons in self-dependence and
life’s struggles. I learned true usefulness
and acquired the habit of helping others which I carried
with me all through my after life and that trait perhaps
more than any other endeared me to my companions on
the range and all with whom I have had dealings.