Old Slavery Times – Bill Arp, 10/29/1885

Old Slavery Times – Bill Arp, 10/29/1885

“Papa, please tells us a story. Tell us something about runaway niggers.” I had almost forgotten that there ever was
a runaway nigger. Good gracious what a long time ago it was. Here is a whole generation of people under thirty years
of age who know nothing about slavery. It is seldom that we old folks talk about it to our children. We tell them frequently
of our frolics with the little darkies, and how good old Aunt Peggy was to us and how we used to hunt with Big Ben
and Virgil and Uncle Sam, and we repeat some of the ghost stories they used to tell us, and all that, but the idea of
slavery hardly ever comes in. These darkies all belonged to the family and just lived with us. That is all. We were all
bunged together, and it was understood that when one of the boys got married and set up for himself he was to have
little Dave and Buck and black Dan and Aunt Sally, for he had always claimed these and they had always claimed him.
And Miss Tavy had picked out her vassals in her early childhood and nobody need lay any claim or expectation to Tip
or Sinda or Beck; for they were to be hers and they knew it and were proud of it and tcok a peculiar interest in the
young men who “come flying around Miss Tavy.” They even dared to venture their counsel and were loud in their
praise.of their favorite. This was right, and it was natural, for while she was choosing her lord they were choosing
a master, and, a harmonius choice was a good thing all round Old Aunt Peggy was an oracle in her way. She was
little and old and crinkled, and smoked her pipe in the chimney corner and never talked much. But she sat and
swayed backward and forward and listened to the children-the black and the white. She called them all children
if they were under fifty. But ever and anon she would give a grunt or shake her head and say “dat won’t do, my
chile. Better mine how you talk, now; better mine. I hear de screech owl last night and he talk to me he did,” and
she would make up some mysterious words that the screech owl said. Aunt Peggy believed in frogs and lizzards
and owls and bats and cats and snakes and jack o’lanterns and charms and conjuring.

There were secret mysteries about them all, and they had to be propitiated and kept amiable or some great harm
would come upon the household. Where the old negroes got all this superstitutious lore nobody knows exactly,
but it is not confined to them. There have been just such superstitions in all ages and countries Macbeth consulted
the witches and they made their charms by seething that horrible gruel made of frogs and lizzards and owls and
bats and adders’ tongues and goats’ gall and a Turk’s nose and a tartar’s lips and other unpalatable things, and
then cooled !t down and settled it with a barboon’s blood. Those old time negroes would have made splendid witches
if there had been any witch school to go to. It suited their nature and suits it yet. As a race they delight in the marvelous
when it is mixed up with the horrible. Old Uncle Sam was a good old darkey and the children loved him. He was
familiar with spirits and graveyards and had shook hands with rawhead and bloodybones., and, when freedom came,
he gave full play to his fancies and got him a little, long-eared donkey and a pair of spectacles and rode from cabin
to cabin by day and by night, calling himself “Doctor Sam,” and professing to cure all diseases of his race by the mysterious
art of conjuring. He carried bis professional outfit in an old greasy sack before him, and he was the most ludicrous
burlesque upon the medical profession ever seen, I reckon. I would give five dollars for a photograph of the whole
concern as I used to slowly perambulate the Chattahoochee region of old Gwinnett some twenty years ago. I
prevailed on the old gentleman once to let me see the inside of that bag and take an inventory. Besides nearly
everything that Shakesepeare named, he had every curious bug be could find. Betty bugs and June bugs and
tumble bugs and the devil’s riding horse and the devil’s darning needle and a green snake and a thousand leg
and a lot of herbs, such as hemlock and jimpson weed and snake root. He assured me that he had to use all these
things in the very bad cases he came across in his extensive practice.

But the children wanted a story about runaway niggers. Well. I never saw a runaway nigger. That is, while he was
a runaway. I have seen them after they were caught or come in of their own accord. We boys and girls used to be
awfully afraid of them. They were classed among our very worst boogers, such as bears and panthers and Indians
and ghosts. Children were always on the lookout for one when they were going through lonely woods. Sometimes
we found a hogbed where an old sow had littered her pigs and we pronounced it a runaway’s bed and got away from
there with celerity. They were very scarce in that region. I do not remember but one and he was suddenly cured of
his propensity, for when he came back home his master run him off again and made him stay in the woods until he
was properly humbled and begged to stay at home. I never thought that I should have a run-away nigger, but I did.
Our colored household were, as I thought, devoted to us and I knew that we were devoted to them. Our maid servant,
Mary, had nursed all of our first children and they loved her. A neighboring gentleman owned her husband and as he
was a high strung darkey they did not get along harmoniously. One night he took to the woods, or somewhere else
unknown and he stayed there. In course of time his master got tired of this and offered a reward, but the reward did
not seem to catch him. The police frequented my premises by night, for they suspected that Mary harbored him, and
so did I, but still Anderson could not be found. I didn’t like the darkey but Mary was faithful and kind, and she begged
me with tears to buy Anderson. So I interviewed his master and bought him-bought, him in the woods, and that night
when I went home and told Mary that Anderson was mine she clapped her hands for joy, and went out hurriedly and
in ten minutes came back with Anderson who was smiling and fat with his long rest under the fodder in my stable loft.
It was about two months after this that the foul invaders ran us out of Rome. It was about midnight when I aroused
the servants and told them that I was going and their mistress was going and the children were going and they could
all do as they pleased With one accord; they declared :they would follow us to the end of the earth, and so we
fled together and camped out together, and Mary had our baby in her arms, and when we reached Atlanta our
teams and servants camped on the suburbs, while we went into the city to more friendly quarters.

Next morning Mary and Anderson were gone. They had runaway in the night and returned to Rome. Well, I couldn’t
blame them, for Anderson was not attached to me, and he longed for freedom, and he persuaded Mary to go. That
was all of it-no, not all, for when we got back to Rome, in 1865, they were there, and Mary was repentant and came
to us for protection again. Her husband had joined the army,-and when the army-left he ran away from them and lost
his pension and his bounty, and later on he run away from Mary and I don’t know where he is now. But Tip, the faithful Tippeoanoe, would not leave me, I did not own his family, but he left them on that dark, unhappy night and followed
us to Atlanta, and in a few days I made him go back and take care of things and see after the welfare of his wife and
children. To keep from being suspected as a spy he, too, joined the colored regiment as a cook, and stayed a few days
and one dark night he swam the Oustanaula river and went down the Western bank of the Coosa about ten miles and
swam that river and by a circuitous route reached Atlanta in safety and followed our fortunes until the war was over.
Well those were the only runaways I ever had. Two ran away from me to the yankees and one ran away from the
yankees to get to me. Mr. Lincoln’s proclamation was nothing to Tip. Tip was with me in Virginia. Tip was always
faithful and affectionate. Tip deserves a pension from somebody and I wish I was able to give him one. But Tip knows
there is a home for him at my house whenever he is homeless. There are thousands of white men whose chances
for heaven are not so good as Tip’s. “Run nigger run, the pattroller catch you; Run nigger run, you had better get
away.” They used to sing that song and pick the music on the banjo. They used to dodge and flank the patrol like
the smugglers or the moonshiners dodge the revenue laws. They enjoyed the peril of it, and sometimes would go
on a night excursion without a pass rather than ask for one. If they planned to rob a hen-roost or an orchard or a
watermelon patch, it was better to have no pass, so as to prove an alibi. “Let Dick pass to his wife’s house at Jim
Dunlap’s and stay till Monday morning.”

That was Dick’s passport and protection, but Dick must keep in the road, and not go skylarking over the settlement.”
Nevertheless the petty stealing would happen and so a law was passed making it a crime for a white man to buy
chickens or produce from a negro without an order from his master. My uncle bought ten chickens from a darkey
one Saturday night and they happened to be stolen and the fellow who lost them reported it to the grand jury and
those chickens cost my uncle twenty-five dollars. If they had not been stolen it would have been all right and no
harm done. The negroes stole little things then just like they do now. They enjoyed it. It was their nature. They
were not hungry. I have known them to rob an orchard and give the fruit away. The best negro would carry something
contraband to his wife’s house Saturday night if he could get it. But the clever, industrious negroes had no fear
of the patrol. The patrol knew all in their beat and never asked a good negro for his pass. The patrol was made
up of the best citizens in the naborhood-and they took it time about in doing night duty in their own vicinity-when
thieving got bad they went out frequently and raised a big racket and the mean darkies caught it bad. But when
everything was quiet they would not go out once a mouth. Sometimes the darkies made narrow escapes and
would jump the back window when they spied the patrol coming, and then the race was to the swift, sure enough,
and the old song came in : “Run, nigger, run, de patrol catch you!” Many a good story have they told us boys,
how they fooled the patrol and got away.. It was more of a frolic than a fear, and one success made them bold
and ready for another. Such was negro life in our young days, and it wasn’t so bad, so very bad, after all.

Last Updated on March 11, 2021 by Bill Arp

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