Interview Conducted by William Elmer Smith & Cleo Bennett Smith
Smith Wilson was born a slave in Smith
County seventy five years ago. His mother Winnie Wilson was a half
Cherokee Indian and half black dutch, her mother being a full blooded
Cherokee and her father being a full blooded dutch from over seas.
Smith Wilson was a very small boy at
the beginning of the war, but his remembrance of slavery time is very
remarkable. He talks with no negro brogue, and uses very good English,
although he was seventeen before he could either read or write.
He married Eva Exter, when he was
twenty five years old. To them nine children was born, all of whom are
living and live in East Texas. His wife died eight years ago and he has
married again. He does not draw an old age pension and lives very
modestly on what he can earn doing odd work. His home is on East 6th
Avenue in Corsicana.
I was small during slave time, but I
had to work. I had to pick up chips and carry wood for the old missus,
or anything else that I was big enough to attend to around the house.
Goodness, no they never give us any money. I never seen any money. I
never had enough to eat much less any money.
We never had anything to eat but corn
bread and meat and never all we wanted of that. We didn't know what a
I don't remember ever eating one till
I was a great big boy. I have seen them at master Hyns house, but lands
we wasnt allowed to touch anything up there. They raised lots of
chickens but us niggers never tasted one, and we never had time to catch
possums to eat. There was a night watchman to see that all the slaves
went to bed when they was supposed to. He was a colored man and was a
driver in the day time. We always had the same thing to eat, we had no
choice, we always had to eat a piece of corn bread and a piece of meat
three times a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. The slaves
was not allowed to have a garden at home and they was not allowed to get
vegetables out of the masters garden.
We wore cotton clothes spun and wove
at home. We had the same kind summer and winter Sunday and any other
day. We always tried to have clean clothes on Sunday but that was all. I
never married until after slave time and by that Time I was use to
having clothes and I had just as nice clothes to get married in as any
other colored man.
Mary Hyns was our masters name and he
was one of the meanest men I ever knowed. His wife was named Hannah, and
she was a Hannah too. She was as mean as he was. He is dead and gone to
the devil and I hope he is getting just what he give to his nigger
Mary and Hannah Hyns had four
children, William, Kate, Walter, and Georgia. William the oldest child
was a good boy, he was one of the best I ever seen. His mother and papa
did not like him much because he would take up for us niggers when we
was being punished.
They lived in a double walled two
story house. Missus would go up stairs and watch out of the window at
the slaves working and if she seen one that wasnt working for a minute
she would tell the master when he come in and he would sure catch the
They had nice furniture for them
days. Had old fashioned wooden beds, with big post and rope slats
instead of wooden slats. They had plenty of bedding, mattresses, feather
beds and covers. They did not have any money though, they was just like
most farmers today, just getting by. Us slaves went hungry most of the
There was a white overseer that just
rode a horse from one field to another and give orders. Oh he was a mean
pup. He would just whip the devil out of the niggers, not when they
needed it but just when he wanted to. There was a colored driver, he was
an older nigger man. He just went around from one squad of hands to
another to see that they was working like they should. The women and men
The plantation was a big place, over
a thousand acres in it. Master Hyns bought it for fifty cents an acre
when this country first opened. He had five hundred slaves. The overseer
would blow a horn at three o'clock in the morning and we was at work by
four. The driver would go from cabin to cabin to see that you was up and
if you wasn't he would get you up with a long whip that he carried
around his neck. His name was big Tom Hyns and I was afraid of him as
death. I was so afraid of master Hyns that when us niggers kids seen him
coming we would run like turkeys and hide. I just cant tell you how mean
The slaves was punished for anything.
If they caught them with something they wasn't supposed to have, or if
they broke a plow beam they could just look out. They whipped them
scandulous. They would tie their feet to a stob and stretch them out and
tie their hands to another stob and then whip them with a long strap
until they was blistered and then pour turpentine and red pepper in the
places. You could hear them crying and begging for mercy for a mile.
They whipped my mother until she couldnt walk to the field, she had to
be carried but she had to pick cotton just the same. The good Lord just
took care of us that is all.
I never seen any jail for the slaves
in Texas. They had them back in the eastern states I have been told, but
I never seen any here. When they went to sell some of their slaves they
would stand them up on blocks and sell them to the highest bidder just
like they was mules. $1000.00 was a good price for a slave to bring. I
have seen speckulators come through driving a bunch of niggers just like
cows. Some of the old ones and children would be in wagons and the young
ones walking. I never seen any chains. I guess this was a little too far
west for that.
My master and missus did not think
about learning us to read and write, all they thought about was work.
They never give us a kind word. I never learned to read and write a word
until after I was seventeen.
We did not have a church on our
plantation, but we was allowed to go to church on Sundays at Jamestown
about a mile from our house. We had certain hours to go and certain
hours to come back.
I cant remember ever hearing any one
read the Bible except the preacher. I cant remember any of the songs
they sung, they sung different then to now, but it was pretty. I don't
remember ever going to a baptizing.
When a slave would die all the
niggers would go to the funeral, such as it was. They would just have a
home made pine box covered with black cloth and lined with white
material. They would just sing a little and pray some and put them in a
hole and cover them up. We had a nigger cemetery that covered two acres.
Lots of the slaves would run off but
they was most always hunted with blood hounds. I knowed a man names Sy
Worth that run off. He was on a flat boat crossing the Mississippi River
when they caught him. They used blood hounds and it was awful how they
whipped him when they got him home.
They did not visit from one
plantation to another, they had to have a pass to go at all and if you
was caught without a pass you could just look out. And when we did get
to go anywhere we was afraid to talk for fear the master would get news
of what we had said.
After work hour they would sit around
and talk and go to bed pretty early cause we was always so tired we
couldnt get in the bed fast enough. We was allowed to visit each other
when we wanted to. We had to work Saturday evening just the same as any
other time. We worked six days a week and half the nights. Sometimes on
Saturday nights we would have parties, but they was different from
parties now, we never had any fighting or anything like that. On Sundays
we went to church.
I never did hear anything about
charms, parents did not talk before children then like they do now. When
older people was talking they sent the children out to play. I have
heard about ghos but I never did believe in such things. I have people
try to scare me but it usually ended by them getting scared themselves.
We never had time for any funny
things to happen to us. We never had time to think of anything but work.
I never was allowed to run and play with anybody. My parents tried to
raise me right and make a good boy out of me. I never have been arrested
never been a witness, never been in a court room and I am not a drunkard
When slaves got sick they would have
Dr. Bradford try and get them well. Some of the real old people knew
some roots and weeds that tea could be made out of, but I don't remember
any of them. I have seen people hang that stinking stuff around kids
necks to keep them from taking some catching disease. I guess it was
I can remember very well seeing
government wagons come to master Hyns corn crib and get lots of corn.
Master Hyns always killed three or four hundred hogs every year, but it
didnt cost him nothing to raise them, they growed wild in the woods.
Some say it was June 14, some say
June 15, and others say June 19. Master Hyns called us all to the house
and read a paper telling us we was free, that we could go or stay as we
pleased. Some was so glad to get away that they never even stayed to
hear him read all the paper. He hated to give up his slaves, he had a
fortune in us niggers if he could have got the money for us.
Christmas was just any other day to
us. We never had anything extra to eat. Master Hyns always had big
dinners but we never got any of it. We had the same old corn bread and
meat and New Years day was just the same. I don't guess there was any
holiday, the Fourth of July was never celebrated as I can remember of.
We did kinda make a party of corn
shuckin, we had to shuck the corn and so we tried to make fun out of it.
We all dreaded to see cotton pickin. Each one had so much to pick and
you better get that much too. Some of the nigger men had to pick as much
as five hundred pounds. Master Hyns always made four or five hundred
The slaves had dances some time we
had good clean fun, they was afraid to fight like they do now, the
master would have beat them to death.
I remember when master Hyns daughter
married, her name was Kate. All the slaves was allowed to see the
wedding. She had the prettiest dress of cream colored silk trimmed in
blue. They had a big dinner and invited all the white neighbors. Slaves
married just like the master said. If he had a colored boy and girl
about grown, he would say, "John you take Sally and live with
her", and thats all there was to it. If they didnt get along there
wasnt nothing they could do about it, they couldnt leave, so they had to
make the best of it.
We nigger kids would play when we
thought the master and missus was not looking. We played marbles and
then we would ring up and sing, "I'm a farmer man, Jing, Jang".
Another one we would ring up and play was, one would get in the center
and we would sing, "Turn back your head and turn to the one you
love". There was more to it but I can't remember what it was.
He was the most hard hearted man I
ever seen, he sent his own son Walter to war. He was killed, just blowed
to pieces, they could not find enough to send home. Walter was the best
one of the family and his father just hated him cause he would take up
for us niggers, so he made him to go to war. He told his father the
morning he left that he wasnt fighting to keep the slaves, he was
fighting to free them, that he wanted to be killed and sure enough he
was. His mother told him he thought so much of the niggers he would be
better off dead.
My mammy, papa and me left the next
day after he give us our freedom, we was glad to get to leave. We found
a man by the name of Wilson to work on the halvers for. He was such a
good man that we went by the name of Wilson instead of Hyns. We hated
master Hyns, so that we wouldn't go by his name at all.
We worked for Mr. Wilson for two
years on the halvers. We made pretty good but we eat the most of it up.
We had been starved so long, that when we did get a chance to eat we
sure did eat, I can tell you.
When I was twenty-five I married Eva
Exter. She was nineteen. We was married at her mothers house in Rusk
County. She was a good wife and mother to our nine children. All of them
are grown and married now and they sure are not any account to me. They
all live in East Texas. My first wife died nine years ago and I have
married again. I have thirty seven grand children, but no great
grandchildren yet. They all live on farms but some work by the days
labor. I like Corsicana better than I do East Texas and I can't live
with children, they do not want me and I do not care anything about
staying where I am not wanted.
When we was freed we did not expect
anything from master Hyns, we knowed we would not get anything from
anyone so tight as he was. The ones that was crazy enough to stay with
him just got what he wanted to give them. But some of them was scared
and did not know how to manage so they just had to do the best they
After the war was over and the slaves
was free it was terrible how the Ku Klux Klan would go around in their
white robes and rob the niggers. Take every cent they had, even take
guns or anything that they could use or sell. They robbed my grandmother
of $15.00 every cent she had in the world.
I am a good citizen and I vote at
every election. I am too old to pay poll tax and I have voted every year
since I have been in Corsicana.
I have always farmed and worked on
the railroad. I worked on the railroad for eight years and saved my
money and bought a farm in Rusk County. I still own it but it is covered
in Bermuda so that it isnt fit for farming.
Yessir, I think the young generation
is much worse than they was when I was a boy. There is lots more
fighting, fussing and killing now than they use to be. Children sure do
not mind their parents now like they did when I was growing up.
I think times are getting worse than
getting better. They did seem to pick up a little to what they was four
years ago, but now I don't know with wages so low and groceries so high
they just wont work out together. I dont remember a slave uprising but
there was one big nigger man on our plantation that would fight just
like everything. He would fight back ever time they went to whip him and
he knew what they would do to him. They always had to tie him down and
he would fight to the very last. I draw no pension at all, I just get
what work I can and my wife and I live just as cheap as we can and we do
very well. Our home is on Fourth Avenue, Corsicana.