John Bates
Slave Narrative
Navarro County, Texas


Biography Index || Slave Index


Interview Conducted by William Elmer Smith & Cleo Bennett Smith


JOHN BATES, 84, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, a slave of Mock Bates. When still very young, John moved with his mother, a slave of Harry Hogan, to Limestone Co., Texas. John now lives in Corsicana, supported by his children and an old age pension.


"My pappy was Ike Sateman, 'cause his massa's name am Mock Bateman, and mammy's name was Francis. They come from Tennessee and I had four brothers and six sisters. We jes' left he last part of de name off and call it Bates and dat's how I got my name. Mammy 'longed to Massa Harry Hogan and while I's small as move to Texas, to Limestone County, and I don't 'member much 'bout pappy, 'cause I ain't never seed him since.

"Mases Hogan was a purty good sort of fellow, but us went hungry de fust winter in Texas. He lived in de big log house with de hallway clean through and a gallery clean 'cross de front. De chimney was big 'nough to burn logs in and it sho' throwed out de heat. It was a good, big place and young massa come out early and holler for us to git up and be in de field.

"Missy Hogan was de good woman and try her dead level best to teach me to read and write, but my head jes' too thick, I jes' couldn't larn. My Uncle Ben he could read de Bible and he allus tell us some day us be free and Massa Harry laugh, haw, haw, haw, and he say, 'Hell, no, yous never be free, yous ain't got sense 'nough to make de livin' if yous was free.' Den he takes de Bible 'way from Uncle Ben and say it put de bad ideas in he head, but Uncle gits 'nother Bible and hides it and massa never finds it out.

"We'uns goes to de big baptisin' one time and it's at de big sawmill tank and 50 is baptise' and I's in dat bunch myself. But dey didn't have no funerals for de slaves, but jes' bury dem like a cow or a hoss, jes' dig de hole and roll 'em in it and cover 'em up.

"War come and durin' dem times jes' like today nearly everybody knows what gwine on, news travels purty fest, and iffen de slaves couldn't git it with de pass dey slips out after dark and go in another plantation by de back way. Course, iffen den patterrollers catch dem it jus' too bad and dey gits whip.

"When de news comes in dat us free, Massa Harry never call us up like everybody else did the slaves, us has to go up and ask him 'bout it. He come out on de front gallery and says we is free and turns 'round and goes in de house without 'nother word. We all sho' feels sorry for him the way he acts and hates to leave him, but we wants to go. We knowed he wasn't able to give us nothin' so begins to scatter and 'bout ten or fifteen days Massa Harry dies. I think he jes' grieve himself to death, all he trouble comin' on him to once.

"Us worked on diff'rent farms till I marries and my fust wife am Emma Williams and a culled preacher marries us at her house. Us picked cotton after dat and den I rents a place on de halvers for five year and after sev'ral years I buys eighty acres of land. Fin'ly us done paid dat out and done some repairs and den us sep'rate after livin' twenty-three year together. So I gives dat place to her and de six chillen and I walks out ready to start all over 'gain.

"Then I meets Sarah Jones and us marries, but she gives me de divorcement. All dis time I works on a farm for de day wages, den I rents 'nother farm on de halvers on de black land and stays dere sev'ral year. Fin'ly I gits de job workin' at de cotton oil mill in Corsicana and stays at dat job till dey says I's too old. I done buy dis li'l home here and now has a place to live. Sarah done come back to me and us has seven chillen. One of de boys works at de cotton oil mill and two works at de compress right here in Corsicana and one works at de beer place in Dallas..

"Us raises a li'l on dese two lots and de chillen brings some from de farm, I mean my fust wife's chillen, and with de pension check us manage to live a li'l longer. Us boys pays de taxes and de insurance for us.

Additional Interview:

My name is John Bates, I'se eighty four years ole, I was bo'n is Little Rock Arkansas in 1852. My father was Ike Bateman, his marsters name was Mock Bateman, my mothers name was Francis Bateman. My father and mother came from Tennessee. I had four brothers and six sisters, Frank, Mingo, George and Jeff were my brothers; my sisters names were Manda, and Lucy. De other four was never named. Most of dese chilluns died when day was babies, der is only two of us livin today.

Our home was a one room log house with a dirt floo and two families lived in dis. We had beds of shucks laid across some ropes dat was run through holes bored in boads and a few quilts. My grandma and grandpa I'se never seed them.

I'se done every kind of work on de plantation dar is to do. Sech as plow, hoe, cut wood, tote wood and water, bale hay and eberything. We earned lots of money durin slave days, but we never did gits payed any. We jest got whats we eats and wears fer our work. But we had plenty to eat most all de time, sech as beef, wild turkey, deer, goat, squirrel, po'k, chicken and all kinds of vegetables. It was all cooked in de big open fire place in de ole fashun skillets and pots hung from racks. We had plenty of possum, rabbit, and fish too. I'se allus liked fish and turkey best. And de vegetables we eat we gots dem all at one big garden, every body goes to dis garden every time dey wants to.

De clothes we wore was made on de plantation too, mos every body wore shoes. We made our own shoes der, I'se de shoe maker. We tanned and treated de leathah and cuts it out in shoes and harness, I'se done all dis mah self.

My weddin clothes was a pair of ole jeans britches and shirt, made at home and a pair of shoes made by myself. My mother belonged ter Harry Hogan and my father belonged ter Mock Bateman, dats what I got my name. We jest left de last part of de name off and says Bates, but I dont know much bout him cause we moved ter Limestone County Texas while I was small leavin my pappy in Arkansas. I'se never seed him no more, but dis man marster Harry Hogan was a pretty good sort of feller, but he had a hart time like de rest of us de first wintah we moved to Texas, we shore went hongrey several days dat first wintah. An dat mistress of hisn shore was a good woman, she was good ter de chilluns specially. Dey had three chilluns, two girls and one boy.

Marster Hogan lived in a big log house with a hallway clear through, but dis house had a plank floo whar ourn didnt, and it had a porch in front clean cross, and it had an ole fashun stick n' dirt chimley, dis chimley was big nuff ter burn cord wood in, shore did throw out de heat. Marster Harry er de young marster one of em an maybe both of dem was de over seer and drivah, dey didnt has no body else cause dey only had twelve slaves big nuff ter work.

Now bout de size of dis place, I jest dont know zactly how many acres but marster Harry jest rented places after he come ter Texas he never did owns a place of his own, but dis place was a good big place. De young marster usually comes out early in de mornin bout foah clock and hollers and dat means fer us ter git up, we would gits up and while de women foks was gitten breakfast, de men foks would do de milkin and feeding and den eats breakfast, and be in de field fore sun up and works til sun down. Dis man was a good man ter work, I never did hears him threatin ter whip one of us.

But I has heard dat some of de slave owners did whip some of de slaves ter death, but nothin lak dat happens roun marster Hogan. How Marster Bogan did threatin ter take de food way from two or three of em fer three days if dey didnt do bettah, but deys do bettah and he never did do dat. He'd done it and dey knowed it too. He never did sell any of his slaves either laks some people did, dem speckalators didnt do no good wid him. I saw bout two speckalators, but dey didnt have no slaves, I dont think dey did much good out dis far wes, dey allus travels on foot, dat is de big slaves did, de young uns de drivahs and de specklaters rode. I has heard dat some of dem was put in chains but I never did seed any of dem.

One of my young misses tried her dead level bes ter learn me to read and write but my head was jest too thick, I jest couldnt learn.

Some of de slaves allus reads de Bible, my Uncle Ben could read de Bible. He reads it all de time he wasnt working. He tole us all de time we was gonna be free, he says de Bible speaks of us bein freed and explainin it ter us and marster Harry was standin in de chimley corner listenin, finally marster Harry laughs, haw, haw, haw, what dat you tellin Ben. Hell no, you never will be free you aint got sense nuff ter make a livin if you was free. No siree, you never will be free, you'll be a slave as long as you live. We allus went ter church til dis happen and after dat we wasnt lowed ter go. He even takes Uncle Ben's Bible away from him sayin dat book puts bad ideas in our heads, but Uncle Ben finally gits hold of another one, but he keeps dis one hid all de time.

We all goes ter a babtisin one time ter a big saw mill tank and seed fifty baptized. I was in dat bunch myself. Dey didn't have no funeral songs fer de slaves, dey jest bury dem likes you do a cow er horse dese days, jest digs a hole and rolls em in it and kivers em over wid dirt, I never did go ter a white funeral.

When de war comes on and sometimes before de war de slaves would try ter run away ter de north, some never would be heard of again, sometimes dey would be caught and be whipped to death and maybe other things would happen. Dey always knew dey had sumpin comin iffen dey was caught. Well durin dem times jest like today nearly every body knew what was goin on, news traveled purty fast, iffen de slaves couldnt gits it ter each other by gitten a pass, dey would slip out after dark and go in ter another plantation from de back way ter gits it scattered and sometimes dey was caught and would gits a good whippen fer it.

After we worked all day in de fiels we had ter comes in and do up all de chores such as cuttin wood, toten it in, carry water, milk from eight ter twelve head of cows, feed bout fifty hogs, feeds de mules and hosses, chickens, separate de calves and cows, maybe doctor some stock fer screw worms and jest anything that happens ter need ter be done, and de same thing fore we goes ter work in the morning. We worked every day in de fiels if it warnt rainin and if we was in de grass, but if we wasnt in de grass, we was alowed ter knock off Satdy evenin and fore Uncle Ben got his Bible took way from him we would go ter preachin on Satdy nights if there was any, but after dat, we jest sets round and talks and de same things on Sundays.

We allus got de Foath of July, Christmas and Thanksgiving off.

We allus had big dinners on dem days and dat was bout all. But we shore had ter put in a big day on New Years day. We allus gathered the corn shuck and all and shucked it in the crib on rainy days and bad weather.

We allus had big dinners on dem days and dat was bout all. But we shore had ter put in a big day on New Years day. We allus gathered the corn shuck and all and shucked it in the crib on rainy days and bad weather.

Mos of the weddins happen in de fall of the year, de older one of the Logan girls got married in de fall, it was October, clost ter Halloween and all de work was stopped and a big weddin was had with a big dinner and supper. All de slaves from de plantation of marster Harry went and all of master Logans slaves was present when dey was married and dat night de Logan boys and young marster Harry got some dem pumpkins and pine knots and fix dem up inside some of the slaves cabins and after de supper was over, and everything de slaves started home, and when dey opens de doors and seed dem funny faces, dey jest scatters lak quails, but dey finally gits dem all back together.

When de slaves dies, deys carries dem off, digs a hole, puts dem and covers dem up, no funeral is held, jest a buryin, and when dey marries, you jest answers a few questions fer your marster and jumps over a broom stick and you'se married.

We plays lots of make up games, jest games we done thought up ourselves. De chilluns of dem days was jes lak de chilluns of today, allus thinking up some meaness ter git into, and we would sing play songs and our mamas would sing songs ter us when we was little, but I done fergot all dem too. One time when I was about twelve years ole, a few of us boys went down to an ole log house to play. It sets out in de timber tween a quarter and a half mile from de quarters, cause we allus lak ter play here bettah than any where else cause dey all didnt want us to. There was an ole dug well here, and de top was in bad shape and our folks and marster Harry was afraid we would fall in it, but we could allus have more fun there than any place else and we would jes slip off and go down there ter play. One day we thought we had slipped off and went down there ter play, we carried an ole coon houn with us, we was busy playin when our dog begins ter bark and he tucks his tail tween his legs and way he goes ter de house a barkin every time he hits de ground, we knows it was sumpin bad, and we begins ter look fer a bear or panther. We was afraid ter move, we jest stands there shakin and lookin and directly my cousin sees it, and he says there it is and points it out and de rest of us looks at it and it was sumpin white and bout ten feet high, it walks out from behind a big white oak tree, with its head rockin and bendin dis may and dat, looking about fer us. It was huntin fer us, we slips round behind de ole log house and starts fer home, and we hadn't got very fer when we looks back and it was up by de side of dis house lookin inside through de ole rotten roof, den it sees us in de timber and lets out a squealin racket and bends way over and starts for us, and we lets out more racket den de dog and him both goin home. We was cryin, and hollerin and runnin lake a deer, all de slaves was workin in a corn fiel bout a quarter of a mile away, and dey comes runnin ter see what is wrong, but we couldnt tells dem fer bout hour I guess and Marster Harry and some of den goes ter look fer it but it jest disappeared and we never did go back ter dis ole haunted house ter play no more. Dat was my first and last ghos. Us boys was afraids ter git out of de yard fer a long time, it nearly scares us sick.

When de slaves gits sick dey would gets de bittercrest weeds er bark dey could find and makes a tea outen it and takes it cause if dey gits too sick dey would gets a doctor. I aint had no doctor in twenty five years, when I gets ter feelin bad I goes out and gets some of dese ole bitter weeds we calls em, de kind dat makes your cows milk bitter, and boils it, makin a tea and takes it and in a few days I am all right. I got some layin over there now dat I went out in de pasture dis mornin and got. It is better den de patten medicine dat you buys.

Marster Harry was havin a purty hard time after we come ter Texas, and he hads ter do every way he could ter gits by, and den de war comes on and calls fer ever able bodied man, and it took money, hosses, food and feed and lots of things ter fight dis war, and the farmers had ter share der part, and marster Harry tried ter share his part and keep goin, and too, young marster Harry goes ter de war and take one of de slaves ter wait on him. Young marster Harry was wounded and we didnt have much ter eat after tryin ter send food and feed ter de soldiers, we shore did have a hard time. Then de news comes dat we was free, we was all glad ter hear dis but hated ter hear bout young marster Harry bein all shot up.

WPA Slave Narrative Project, Texas Narratives, Volume 16, Part 1

Federal Writer's Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress


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Copyright February, 2020
Edward L. Williams