The following narrative was told by Boston Blackwell at the age of 98 to the Works Project Administration.
He was a slave who escaped his plantation with a younger boy. Together, they ran in the woods for two days and nights until they reached safety — a Union encampment in Pine Bluff. Once with the Union, he was one of 300 black men who aided the North in their victory over the South.
He sharecropped in Pulaski County for the remainder of his life.
The text is presented here unaltered from how it was recorded by the WPA — in dialect. The entire interview is available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11255/11255-h/11255-h.htm#BlackwellBoston
“Make yourself comfoble, miss. I can’t see you much ‘cause my eyes, they is dim. My voice, it kinder dim too. I knows my age, good. Old Miss, she told me when I got sold — ‘Boss, you is 13 — borned Christmas. Be sure to tell your new misses and she put you down in her book.’
“My borned name was Pruitt ‘cause I got borned on Robert Pruitt’s plantation in Georgia — Franklin County, Georgia. But Blackwell, it my freed name. You see, miss, after my mammy got sold down to Augusta — I wisht I could tell you the man what bought her, I ain’t never seed him since — I was sold to go to Arkansas; Jefferson county, Arkansas. Then was when old Miss telled me I am 13.
“It was before the Civil War I come here. The onliest auction of slaves I ever seed was in Memphis, coming on to Arkansas. I heerd a girl bid off for $800. She was about fifteen, I reckon. I heerd a woman — a breeding woman, bid off for $1500. They always brought good money. I’m telling you, it was when we was coming from Atlanta.
“Do you want to hear how I runned away and jined the Yankees? You know Abraham Lincoln ‘claired freedom in ‘63, first day of January. In October ‘63, I runned away and went to Pine Bluff to get to the Yankees. I was on the Blackwell plantation south of Pine Bluff in ‘63. They was building a new house; I wanted to feel some putty in my hand.
“One early morning I clim a ladder to get a little chunk and the overseer man, he seed me. Here he come, yelling me to get down; he gwine whip me ‘cause I’se a thief, he say. He call a slave boy and tell him cut ten willer whips; he gwine wear every one out on me. When he’s gone to eat breakfas’, I runs to my cabin and tells my sister, ‘I’se leaving this here place for good.’ She cry and say, ‘Overseer man, he kill you.’ I says, ‘He kill me anyhow.’
“The young boy what cut the whips — he named Jerry — he come along wif me, and we wade the stream for long piece. Heerd the hounds a-howling, getting ready for to chase after us. Then we hide in dark woods. It was cold, frosty weather. Two days and two nights we traveled. That boy, he so cold and hungry, he want to fall out by the way, but I drug him on.
“When we gets to the Yankee camp all our troubles was over. We gets all the contraband we could eat. Was they more run-aways there? Oh, Lordy, yessum. Hundreds, I reckon. Yessum, the Yankees feeds all them refugees on contraband. They made me a driver of a team in the quatamasters department. I was always keerful to do everything they telled me. They telled me I was free when I gets to the Yankee camp, but I couldn’t go outside much. Yessum, iffen you could get to the Yankee’s camp you was free right now.
“Lady, lemme tell you the rest about when I runned away. After peace, I got with my sister. She’s the onliest of all my people I ever seed again. She telled me she was skeered all that day, she couldn’t work, she shake so bad. She heerd overseer man getting ready to chase me and Jerry. He saddle his horse, take his gun and pistol, bofe. He gwine kill me en sight, but Jerry, he say he bring him back, dead er alive, tied to his horse’s tail. But he didn’t get us, Ha, Ha, Ha. Yankees got us.”