MOLLY HARRELL was born a slave on the Swanson plantation, near Palestine, Texas. She was a housegirl, but must have been too small to do much work. She does not know her age, but thinks she was about seven when she was freed. Molly lives at 3218 Ave H., Galveston, Texas.
“Don’t you tell nobody dat I use to be a slave. I ‘most forgot it myself till you got round me jes’ den. Course, I ain’t blamin’ you for it, but what you done say ’bout all de plantations havin’ schools was wrong, so I jes’ had to tell you I been a slave myself. It jes’ slip out.
“Like I jes’ say, I knows what I’s talkin’ ’bout, ’cause I use to be a slave myself and I don’t know how to read and write. Dat why I say I can’t see so good. It don’t do to let folks know dey’s smarter’n you, ’cause den dey got you right where dey wants you. Now, Will, dat de man I’s marry to, am younger’n me but he don’t know it. When you git marry, you don’t tell de man how old you is. He wouldn’t have you if you did. ‘Course, Will ain’t so young heself, but he’s born after de war and I’s born durin’ slavery, so dat make me older.
“Mr. Swanson use to own de big plantation in Palestine. Everybody in dat part de country knowed him. He use to live in a plain, wood house on de Palestine road. My mother use to cook and wait on tables. John was my father.
“Dey use to have de little whip dey use on de women. Course de field hands got it worse, but den, dey was men. Mr. Swanson was good and he was[Pg 116] mean. He was nice one day and mean as Hades de next. You never knowed what he gwine to do. But he never punish nobody ‘cept dey done somethin’. My father was a field hand, and Mr. Swanson work de fire out dem. Work, work—dat all dey know from time dey git up in de mornin’ till dey went to bed at night. But he wasn’t hard on dem like some masters was. If dey sick, dey didn’t habe to work and he give dem de med’cine hisself. If he cotch dem tryin’ play off sick, den he lay into dem, or if he cotch dem loafin’. Course, I don’t blame him for dat, ’cause dere ain’t anythin’ lazier dan a lazy nigger. Will am ’bout de laziest one in de bunch. You ain’t never find a lazier nigger dan Will.
“I was purty little den, but I done my share. I holp my mother dust and clean up de house and peel ‘tatoes. Dere some old men dat too old to work so dey sot in de sun all day and holp with de light work. Dey carry grub and water to de field hands.
“Somebody run ‘way all de time and hide in de woods till dere gut pinch dem and den dey have to come back and git somethin’ to eat. Course, dey got beat, but dat didn’t worry dem none, and it not long till dey gone ‘gain.
“My mother sold into slavery in Georgia, or round dere. She tell me funny things ’bout how dey use to do up dere. A old white man think so much of he old nigger when he die he free dat nigger in he will, and lef’ him a little money. He open de blacksmith shop and buy some slaves. Mother allus say dose free niggers make de hardes’ masters. One in Palestine marry a nigger slave and buy her from her master. Den he tell everybody he own a slave.
“Everybody talk ’bout freedom and hope to git free ‘fore dey die. I ‘member de first time de Yankees pass by, my mother lift me up on de fence. Dey use[Pg 117] to pass by with bags on de mules and fill dem with stuff from de houses. Dey go in de barn and holp deyself. Dey go in de stables and turn out de white folks’ hosses and run off what dey don’t take for deyself.
“Den one night I ‘member jes’ as well, me and my mother was settin’ in de cabin gettin’ ready to go to bed, when us hear somebody call my mother. We listen and de overseer whisper under de door and told my mother dat she free but not to tell nobody. I don’t know why he done it. He allus like my mother, so I guess he do it for her. The master reads us de paper right after dat and say us free.
“Me and my mother lef’ right off and go to Palestine. Most everybody else go with us. We all walk down de road singin’ and shoutin’ to beat de band. My father come nex’ day and jine us. My sister born dere. Den us go to Houston and Louisiana for a spell and I hires out to cook. I works till us come to Galveston ’bout ten year ago.