Smith Wilson
of Navarro County, Texas


Biography Index | Slaves Index


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 biscuit was.

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 slaves.

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 dickens.

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 time.

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 worked separate.

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 he was.

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 or gambler.

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 asifidity.

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 bales.

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 could.

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.

Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright February, 2020
Edward L. Williams