The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Supplement, Series 2) - Vol. 8

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Supplement, Series 2) - Vol. 8

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Supplement, Series 2) - Vol. 8

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Supplement, Series 2) - Vol. 8


February 2, 1937


She is a big woman, wearing a shapeless house dress which almost drags on the floor and hangs in dips and folds about her fat, bare ankles. Mary Nickerson, Beaumont negress, is far advanced in her 90's, but appears much younger despite ill health. In her earlier days as a slave in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, she must have been a buxom wench, because her large frame is still robust looking. Mary, who belonged to Rafe Smith, was a dairy helper in slavery time. She has been married twice and was the mother of 14 children, all of whom are now dead but one girl.

Her house evidently at one time comfortably furnished, is badly weather-beaten and considerably out of repair, while in the yard once verdant garden patches and fruit trees, are weed-choked and half-dead.

"Yessum, I done been marry twict. My fus' husban' he name' Charlie Nickerson. Atter he dead I marry dat man Henry Garlan. Atter so long a time he die' too. Mos' of de folks 'roun' here calls me Mary Nickerson now though."

"I's sick and ha'f blin' and dat a turrible condition to be in. I libs here all by myse'f and dis my own house but it fallin' down on top of me. Dey's a man w'at libs in de alley and he come' and fix my fires in the mawnin' in de winter time, but in de summer time I jis' hafter manage by myse'f."

"I was bo'n on Gran' Coteau over in Lou'siana. De ol' marster was name' Rare Smith and he wife, do 01' mistess, she name' Clemmis. I uster had two young marsters name' Boss and John, and two young mistess' name' Mary and 'Lisbeth."

"De w'ite folks was sho' good to me. I nebber knowed a hungry day in dem time, but I sho' does now. Dey was my mama, Rosalie--she come from Op'lousas. My papa was Jesse Martin. Dey bought him and brung him from Richmon' or some other fore'in country. I nebber 'member none of my grammas but Celeste Donat, she one of Gustav Donat's slaves in Op'lousas. Us go to see her once in a w'ile."

"Mistus didn' 'low any of de young folks to do no hebby wuk 'roun' de plantation. Dey was Jis' learn' some how to pick cotton and sich. My mudder in de big house and mek de cheese and churn butter for to sell in town. My task was to churn. Us uster hab big wood churn sorter like a long bar'l big at de bottom and comin' up not so big at de top. Dey's a li'l 'roun' kivver wid a hole in it. Dey hab a stick like a broom stick dat go froo de hole and on de en' was two li'l cross slats. Dey uster beat dat up and down in de butter milk and dat mek de butter come. Dey hab sweet milk by de tub. Dey uster curdle it some way--my mudder she uster know how to mek it into cheese. Atter it been churn' dey put salt in it and put it in a big wood butter press and mash down hard on it. Den de ol' cook fix up de butter in li'l pats and sen' it up de hill to town. All us li'l chillen hab all de buttermilk us could drink."

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