Interview with Former Slave Allen Crawford, 1937
Allen Crawford was interviewed on June 25, 1937, in North Emporia, Virginia, by government employee Susan R. C. Byrd. The interview was part of the Virginia Writers’ Project, a segment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, whereby the government paid writers to interview former slaves and record their memories of life in slavery. It was originally published in The Negro in Virginia in 1940.
ALLEN CRAWFORD (b. 1835)
North Emporia, Va.
Interviewer: Susie R. C. Byrd
Date of Interview: June 25, 1937
Source: Pencil copy, Lewis Papers
Lawd chile, I was born long, long before the Civil War and was here a long time too ’fo Coxes’ snow—dat big snow way back yonder.
Fust man I belonged to was ole Peter Edwards. Next one I belong to was Ben Polk. Dat plantation was on the Seaboard Road running into Newsome Depot to Portsmouth and east from Weldon.
My fust marsus was so ole and paralyzed he bound to have been good fer he couldn’t do nothing else. The second marsus was fairly good but awful strict.
I ’members one time I with three gals—Adline, Letia, and Leah—were sent to woods to git wood for to cook. Mind you now, dis place was one half mile down in the woods on our plantation. We got dar—chillun-like—got to playing and stayed in dem woods ’til almost dark. Ole Peter Edwards come out and called us, “O Letia, O Letia, O Allen!” When we heard dat voice we knowed hit. All us ran to our pile of wood, took hit up and made way up dat path—walking fast and a-running ’till us all got nearly out of breath. Well, [p. 75] we got to the house wid dis wood. All us skeer’d to death ’cause we jes’ know’d we gwine to be beat. De fust one whipped was me. Next Letia and Leah last. See, Leah was so stubborn ole missus know she’d have a time whipping her. Leah ran down woods when she struck her and she ain’t got no mo’ lashes, like us others. I never will fergit dat lashing. Ha, ha, ha—chillun are so devilish. . . .
Lawd, yes! I know something about the paterrollers. There were three sets of dem in slavery working like shifts—I set go ’round ’bout six O’Clock ’til nine O’Clock. Nine O’Clock ’nother set travel and the third ones, see, had to stay wid the horses when they left ’em, ’cause niggers would cripple ’em—sometimes steal ’em—so paterrollers was [s]keer’d to leave ’em dar in road by demselves. Paterrollers would whip you ef they caught you ’dout a pass. Ef you had a pass, didn’t whip you—jes would git in touch wid you marster and tell him dat they had one of his niggers, den he’d let him go.
I never went into none of dem meetings. I set up dar in the porch sometimes by my marsus, coolin’ in de evening time.
Lemme tell you dis. Dar was a slave named Austin Sykes belonging to ole man John Briggs. John Briggs promised to protect him when he was out from boteration of paterrollers. So dis particular time I was setting dar by marse, saw ole paterrollers take Sykes down woods—See, his marster went back on ’im. Didn’t ’teck him dis time.—Arter while, I jes heard ’em beating Sykes and I up and tole marse like dis: “Dam ef dey ain’t giving Austin hell down dar!” Marse’s mother, who was setting dar too, up and spoke: “He ought to kill dat nigger!”
Sometimes eight of dem devils ride and one would watch horses, keeping niggers from cutting stirrups. Ef you was caught with a piece of paper with a letter on hit, you’d get a beating.
I was bred and born and reared within three miles of Nat Turner’s insurrection—Travis Place.
It started out on a Sunday night. Fust place he got to was his mistress’ house. Said God ’dained him to start the fust war with forty men. When he [p. 76] got to his mistress’ house he commence to grab him missus’ baby and he took hit up, slung hit back and fo’h three times. Said hit was so hard fer him to kill dis baby ’cause hit had bin so playful setting on his knee and dat chile sho did love him. So third sling he went quick ’bout hit—killing baby at dis rap.
Old Nat den went on out to Miss Venie Frances, a lady’s house close to whar I was born and he asked ef old man Nelson was dar—a colored man. She said, “No.” Den he went through orchard, going to the house—met a school mistress—killed her. Miss Frances ran in de house skeer’d after he left and hid herself in a closet between lathes and plastering. Dar was two house gals, Lucy and Charlotte. They thought this woman teacher was their missus kilt after nobody could find her. Ha, ha, ha, so dem gals was standing dar ’viding her clothes and things—argueing [sic] who should have dis and dat like you ’omen folks do. Miss Frances dar in closet couldn’t say a word—fear’d to speak. Way in evening she—Miss Venie—came down out house—met her husband and she tole him what had happened. She left everything and went back to North Carolina with him.
The next day Blues and Reds—name of soldiers—met at a place called Cross Keys, right down here at Newsome’s Depot. Dat’s whar they had log fires made and every one dat was Nat’s man was taken bodily by two men who catch you and hold yer bare feet to dis blazing fire ’til you told all you know’d ’bout dis killing.
Dar was an old nigger who wouldn’t talk and dis old white devil had him, holding him to the blaze. He said, “Cordell, what do you know?” “No. I don’t know nothing,” he answered. “Well, stick him closer!” “Dam you! I’ll make you tell!”
Old Nat was captured at Black Head Sign Post, near Cortland, Virginia—Indian town. He got away. So after a little Nat found dem on his trail so he went back near to the Travis place whar he fust started killing and he built a cave and made shoes in this cave. He came out night fur food dat slaves would give him from his own mistress’ plantation.
After this hiding place was found, they left him ’bout a month before they got hit straight. The following Sunday morning they went for him and brought him to Peter Edward’s farm. ’Twas at this farm whar I was born.
Grandma ran out and struck Nat in the mouth, knocking the blood out and asked him, “Why did you take my son away?” In reply Nat said, “Your son was as willing to go as I was.” It was my Uncle Henry dat they was talking about.
After dis they passed a law to give the rest of the niggers a fair trial and Nat, my Uncle Henry, and others dat was caught was hanged.
Charles L. Perdue, Thomas E. Barden, and Robert K. Phillips, editors, Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves (Charlottesville: University of Virignia Press, 1976), pp. 74-76.