Slave Narrative of
Smith Austin
Navarro County, Texas


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Interview Conducted by William Elmer Smith & Cleo Bennett Smith

"I don't just remember when I was born but my white folks' books say it was in 1847 on the Austin plantation in Tennessee. The place was called Ripley, and it was the county seat in Lorderdale County. Mr. Jim Austin owned us and John Fields was the overseer. Shore was a hard man. All the negroes had to work awful hard. Us went to work in the field when it was too dark to see whar we was gwine. Boss John blowed a horn an' us jus' broke for de field at de toot of dat horn, jerkin' on clothes as us stumbled along. Hardly light nuff to see noddin'. If Boss John got to de field head of us us shore caught a hard whippin'. Dey brought breakfus to us in de field and dinner. Had bread an' sirup an' bacon fer breakfus and diff'rn things for dinner. Corn bread not wheat bread. Jus' had biscuits on Sunday and then two aroun'. But dey was big as yo fist. Chillun would eat one an' keep de other to munch on an' play big dinner with all day. I wore a long-tailed shirt mostly up till I was sixteen. Us stayed on dis Austin plantation in Tennessee till I was bout sixteen. Us had mos plenty to eat cause us raised mos every thing. All kinds of fruit and plenty wild stuff to shoot in de woods for meat.

When Freedom War broke out us'd be workin' in de fields an' plain could hear the roar of dem big guns round Nashville. Long come more of de war, and Marse Jim Austin, he made a trade with Solomon Austin to run a hundred nigger slaves down to Texas. 'Cause if slaves was freed 'twoud be a long time comin' to Texas. Marse Solomon was to get a third of de niggers ifen he got dem thru to Texas all right. Us fus' had three men in our gang of Austin niggers. All de others was women an' chillun. Marse Jim Austin jus' kep' only one slave. Marse Solomon Austin was to hire all us slaves out what he tuk to Texas with him.

"Us lef' Ripley, Tennessee at night sometime in furst year of de Freedom War. All us that could walked. Dere was jus' one "spike team". (A spike team was a team of three mules hitched to a plow or wagon. (A & B) When us needed food, us stopped an' Marse Solomon bought nuff fer us to go awhile on. Mos' all de time, us travelled in daytime, 'cept when us come up on soldiers. Then Marse Solomon would take around a long ways. (detour) Us could hear fightin' guns all de way through. (All the trip to Texas. (A & B) Us crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry boat. Down in Lou'sana dere was trees blowed up by de roots jus' like a big tornado had come 'long. Dis was so dey could make trenches to fight in.

"No, us didn't hab no chains on us when us marched. Us was too scairt in de strange country an' strange folks to run away from de ones us knowed was gwine look after us. Us jus' marched behind de wagons like soldiers.

"My mother was named Lucy Austin, don't know who my father was. My mother an' forteen chillun come to Texas together. Comin' to Texas, down in Lou'sana, one day, me an' another boy spied some muscadine grape vines loaded wif ripe grapes; us broke rank behind the wagon an' stopped to eat. De others went on whilst us kep' eatin' an' dey run into a soldier camp. De outriders saw de soldiers in time an' de Austin bunch went aroun'. When us got full grapes an' foun' dere was no niggers, no wagon in sight or hearin' us let out runnin' an' run slap bang into dat soldier camp. Dey caught us but come night an' us slipped way. Us got to a mountain a good piece off an' dere us foun' de others. Us slipped in mongst de bunch very quiet like.

"Us crossed on a ferry into Texas. Don't know where. Us come to Dallas an' dere was jus' one street them days and one grocery store and a dry goods store. Dere was two stores at Waxahachie, but Milford, she was bigger. Dere was three of four stores dere. Us got to Milford late in de fall of the same year us started from the old country. (Tennessee) Marse Solomon hired us out to differen' men. I was hired out to Marse Rance Davis. One day, Marse Davis come tol' me I'm free. He gib me a horse an' sot me out. In a little while, I come back an' tol' Marse Davis I don't want to be free, 'cause I couldn't make no living'. I'd rather be a slave. Marse Davis said ain't any slaves no more an' I couldn't be no slave but gwine let me work for my bed an' close. I worked dere long time. By me by I bought little piece of land near Irene right on de line tween Navarro and Hill counties.

"Us lived in little two room log houses back in Tennessee an' same in Texas. Us had beds of cotton and shucks. Some of de women picked geese an' other fowls an' made feather beds. My mammy had a big one she made after us got to Texas. Fust money I earned was after freedom. I picked chickens an' chopped wood, got me some baccy. Never seed no slaves sold nor in jail cept in white folks jail for carvin' nother nigger wif a razor. I didn't habe no truck wif officers nor jail houses. A good fat possums an' taters mighty fine eatin'. Sweet tater pie taste purty good.

"Us had a big plantation in Tennessee an' white folks had a big house wif big white porch same as all rich folks; had kerridge an' high steppin' horses; dey was quality all right. Us had big suppers an' dances an' plenty to eat dat was good but not so much times mebbe twice a year. Us visited other plantations; had a pass shore got whipped if stayed.

"Us had time to play when us was little but de big ones shore had to work. Don't know no games I can't remember only jus' playin' in de yard. Mistus tried to learn me to read an' do writin' but I was jus' too wool headed to get it down in my haid. Us wore home made clothes like other niggers. Don't remember de weddin' suit 'cept it was purty an' dark an' ole mistus bossed de makin'. Swing Low Sweet Chariot was a purty song an' I want to allus hear de good songs. (religious songs). Jus' de ones de white folks sing. Lawsey Miss, dey hain't nary ghost. No M'm didn't never see any such.

"De Lord he done took care of us all dis long time, guess he gwine keep on. Yes'm I owns dis little place; jes' a restin' spot. A mos' wonerful thing 'bout dat trip down to Texas from Tennessee was dat us didn't lose a nigger; not none run way nor got lost or died Smith Austin built a nice house on his farm. His son lives on it now. Smith Austin died in the spring of 1936. (A & B)

Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright February, 2020
Edward L. Williams