November 1874 Fiction The Civil War

A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It

“Well, bymeby my ole mistis say she’s broke, an’ she got to sell all de niggers on de place. An’ when I heah dat dey gwyne to sell us all off at oction in Richmon’, oh de good gracious! I know what dat mean!”

Aunt Rachel had gradually risen, while she warmed to her subject, and now she towered above us, black against the stars.

“Dey put chains on us an’ put us on a stan’ as high as dis po’ch,—twenty foot high,—an’ all de people stood aroun’, crowds an’ crowds. An’ dey’d come up dah an’ look at us all roun’, an’ squeeze our arm, an’ make us git up an’ walk, an’ den say, ‘Dis one too ole,’ or ‘Dis one lame,’ or ‘Dis one don’t ’mount to much.’ An’ dey sole my ole man, an’ took him away, an’ dey begin to sell my chil’en an’ take dem away, an’ I begin to cry; an’ de man say, ‘Shet up yo’ dam blubberin’,’ an’ hit me on de mouf wid his han’. An’ when de las’ one was gone but my little Henry, I grab’ him clost up to my breas’ so, an’ I ris up an’ says, ‘You shan’t take him away,’ I says; ‘I’ll kill de man dat tetches him!’ I says. But my little Henry whisper an’ say, ‘I gwyne to run away, an’ den I work an’ buy yo’ freedom.’ Oh, bless de chile, he always so good! But dey got him—dey got him, de men did; but I took and tear de clo’es mos’ off of ’em, an’ beat ’em over de head wid my chain; an’ dey give it to me, too, but I did n’t mine dat.

“Well, dah was my ole man gone, an’ all my chil’en, all my seven chil’en—an’ six of ’em I hain’t set eyes on ag’in to dis day, an’ dat’s twenty-two year ago las’ Easter. De man dat bought me b’long’ in Newbern, an’ he took me dah. Well, bymeby de years roll on an’ de waw come. My marster he was a Confedrit colonel, an’ I was his family’s cook. So when de Unions took dat town, dey all run away an’ lef’ me all by myse’f wid de other niggers in dat mons’us big house. So de big Union officers move in dah, an’ dey ask would I cook for dem. ‘Lord bless you,’ says I, ‘dat’s what I’s for.’

“Dey wa’ n’t no small-fry officers, mine you, dey was de biggest dey is; an’ de way dey made dem sojers mosey roun’! De Gen’l he tole me to boss dat kitchen; an’ he say, ‘If anybody come meddlin’ wid you, you jist make ’em walk chalk; don’t you be afeard,’ he say; ‘you’s ’mong frens, now.’

“Well, I thinks to myse’f, if my little Henry ever got a chance to run away, he ’d make to de Norf, o’ course. So one day I comes in dah whah de big officers was, in de parlor, an’ I drops a kurtchy, so, an’ I up an’ tole ’em ’bout my Henry, dey a-listenin’ to my troubles jist de same as if I was white folks; an’ I says, ‘What I come for is beca’se if he got away and got up Norf whah you gemmen comes from, you might ’a’ seen him, maybe, an’ could tell me so as I could fine him ag’in; he was very little, an’ he had a sk-yar on his lef’ wris’, an’ at de top of his forehead.’ Den dey mournful, an’ de Gen’l say, ‘How long sence you los’ him?’ an’ I say, ‘Thirteen year.’ Den de Gen’l say, ‘He would n’t be little no mo’, now—he’s a man!’

“I never thought o’ dat befo’! He was only dat little feller to me, yit. I never thought ’bout him growin’ up an’ bein’ big. But I see it den. None o’ de gemmen had run acrost him, so dey could n’t do nothin’ for me. But all dat time, do’ I did n’t know it, my Henry was run off to de Norf, years an’ years, an’ he was a barber, too, an’ worked for hisse’f. An’ bymeby, when de waw come, he ups an’ he says, ‘I’s done barberin’,’ he says; ‘I’s gwyne to fine my ole mammy, less’n she’s dead.’ So he sole out an’ went to whah dey was recruitin’, an’ hired hisse’f out to de colonel for his servant; an’ den he went all froo de battles everywhah, huntin’ for his ole mammy; yes indeedy, he’d hire to fust one officer an’ den another, tell he ’d ransacked de whole Souf; but you see I did n’t know nuffin ’bout dis. How was I gwyne to know it?

“Well, one night we had a big sojer ball; de sojers dah at Newbern was always havin’ balls an’ carryin’ on. Dey had ’em in my kitchen, heaps o’ times, ’ca’se it was so big. Mine you, I was down on sich doin’s; beca’se my place was wid de officers, an’ it rasp’ me to have dem common sojers cavortin’ roun’ my kitchen like dat. But I alway’ stood aroun’ an’ kep’ things straight, I did; an’ sometimes dey’d git my dander up, an’ den I’d make ’em clar dat kitchen, mine I tell you!

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