Houston County Black Heritage
Mr. Frank Duhart 1845-1938
Mr. Frank Duhart 1845-1938
Happy Days of Slavery
Recalled by Aged Negro Frank Dewhart, 90,
contrasts Early Days with Freedom’s Troubles.
By: Eugene Anderson
Happy Days of Slavery
Recalled by Aged Negro Frank Dewhart, 90,
contrasts Early Days with Freedom’s Troubles.
By: Eugene Anderson
This interview of Mr. Frank Dewhart (correct spelling is "Duhart") was printed in the Macon Telegraph and News on Sunday, June 16, 1935. Mr. Dewhart is 90 years old in the photo. He gives us a glimpse into the life of slaves on the Tooke Plantation in Haynesville (Houston County) Georgia.
Mr. Anderson records Mr. Dewhart’s story partially in his (Frank) dialect. Mr. Anderson also infuses his racial overtones periodically. The title is that of the interviewer – “Happy Days of Slavery” … Nowhere in the article does Frank mention being happy as a slave. But it’s the history that is important.
Frank Dewhart’s story of his life in slavery would have been a complete answer to Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Simon Legree in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is the opposite story.
Frank is 90 years old. He was born a slave on Joseph Tooke’s plantation in Houston County in 1845. He was, therefore, 20 years old when emancipation came. He and other slaves continued to work at 50 cents a day and his” keeps” after the Yankees drove them out of the old Master’s field, and he learned much from hearing the older people talk.
As Frank tells it now, in his four-room frame home 3 miles from where he was born, “Ole master was a good man”, he never sold no slaves, and he never “parted” no families. None of his slaves never ran away, but sometimes slaves running away from other plantations would come to him and beg him to buy them. He would put them to work and watch them, and if he thought they would work he would write a note and send them back to their owner. Frank reckons the note was to keep the nigger from getting a whipping for running away.
HOW SLAVES WERE BOUGHT
Frank says Old Master would not but a slave until the slave wanted to come to him. A rice grower came up from Darien (that is near Savannah, GA) with “a big drove” for sale. Old Master took the Negroes off to another part of the plantation and told them how he wanted to use them. He promised to build houses for them just as he had near his home place. He then explained to them the kind of crops they were to grow and what system he would use in managing them.
“Now, if you don’t think you would like it, I am not going to barter for you. But if you are anxious to become members of our colony, I’ll see if I can trade for you. Talk to my people as much as you please, and then see if you want to come here. If you think you’d be happier somewhere else, I don’t want you”.
Frank says they all liked that kind of talk, and after they talked to the Tooke slaves, they urged Ole Master to buy them. “How much meat does it take to feed them a day?” he asked the owner. “Meat?” the puzzled owner asked. “They don’t know anything about meat. They never ate any. They are rice niggers. They live on fish and rice. Buy salt mackerel for them if you can’t get enough fresh fish.”
FED SALT FISH AND RICE
For months, salt mackerel was bought on the Tooke farm, while the Darien “rice niggers” were being taught to eat the food on which hillbillies thrived. They were soon able to each the vegetable dinners and meat and bread and syrup diets of the other Negroes, and Frank was as happy as Ole Master, because out of this group Frank found a true and devoted wife, Bella. (Isabella Smith). She and he were as happy together in after years as any white couple of fine character, and they reared ten children, and many grandchildren.
“We had a heap of grandchillun and great-grandchillun”, laughs Frank, “so many we lost count”. Some of the sons and daughters are now about 70 years old. Two died before growing very old, but they left a good-sized family. All worked hard and thrived. Frank was noted for keeping fine mules “just like Ole Marster’s” and as he took care of them they took care of him. His boys know how to keep step behind the swiftest of them, and the crops flourished.
Black enough to be tinged with a blue gloss, Frank looks the aristocrat of his race. He has princely manners, and when asked where he learned to deport himself so well, he boasts that he was Ole Master’s body servant or boot boy. He had to sleep in the room with Ole Master and remove his boots and bring the bath, and do the scrubbing and rubbing. Then he had to watch for Ole Master to come home in the evening and, he would open the carriage yard gate, and take the horse to the lot after the buggy had been put in the carriage house. He begged to go to the field to plow but was not allowed to do that until he was a big boy – so high, as he indicated with a sweep of his hand.
SELDOM WAS WHIPPED
He got few whippings, no more’n he needed, he cheerfully admits. He was treated more like a member of the family, except he was of course not allowed to go to the table. He got his meals from the kitchen, where six cooks worked steadily every day to prepare three meals for the working slaves. Kettles holding a hundred gallons each were used to cook the food.
There were more than 400 slaves on the home place, according to Frank’s estimate. He had never counted them, but tradition says there were about 475. The court records at Perry show that Mr. Tooke reported 172 with his tax returns in 1853. That was for Houston County alone. Frank says, he “done big business” over the river in Pulaski County, near Cochran, where he was interested in the property of each of his first two of his four wives.
The first two wives were sisters, daughters of William Johnson, who was reputed to be worth a million dollars in slaves and property. The first wife was a widow of Mike Loper, whom she had met at school in Tennessee. They were married soon after leaving school, and she went with him to Louisiana, where the Loper family was immensely wealthy, and owned a greatly many slaves. Within a year Mike Loper died, leaving a baby son. The widow came back to her father at Cochran and later married Joseph Tooke. After her death Mr. Tooke married her sister, and at Mr. Johnson’s death, their two brothers generously consented to allow the larger share of the slaves and lands to be turned over to Mrs. Tooke.
DIVIDING WITH CHILDREN
It is evident that it was customary to divide land and slaves as sons or daughters married from this plantation. Mr. Tooke had given a plantation to his eldest daughter, Mrs. Mary Jane, who married Isaac Moreland, and built them a home right across the road from his place at Hayneville. William Tooke, the oldest son, had gone to Texas, and had been given a share of slaves and lands. Miss Smitha had married John Green Brown of Grovania and had been given her share of slaves and property, and another relative had been set up in business with eight hundred acres of land and some slaves.
Yet, in the 1853 tax returns, after all of these donations, Mr. Tooke returned in Houston County alone 5,150 acres of land and 172 negroes. It is not known what account was taken of the children of the slaves. It is thought by some that they were not required to be returned for taxes until they had passed some age not known. If the small children were not included in the returns, and if there were five to a family, it will be seen that with an equal number of men and women in the 172 that were returned, five times the eighty-six couples would have made 430 children alone. If there were three children to a couple and eighty-six couples, the children would have numbered 258, adding the 258 to the 86 grown people, the total would be 344. But as slaves were noted for their fecundity, the likelihood is that the families were larger than three children to the couple.
Forty houses were used as quarters near the big house, says Frank. They were two rooms in front and two shed rooms in the rear, and if the families were larger then three story was added.
SLAVES TAUGHT TO BE ARTISANS
Ole Master sent his slaves off to have ‘em trained to make thread, and to make cloth, and to sew and make suits and dresses and undergarments, said Frank. They were taught to tan hides and make leather and to make harness, and boots and shoes and shoestrings, and they had to make pots and jars, and jugs and ropes and buckets, and plow stocks, and build wagons and buggies. We could make nearly anything that could be bought in town, and we had plenty of everything.
Frank did not learn to read or write, but he has seen to it that his children “got schoolin”. He followed one of his sons off down to Wilcox county, where he intended to do the chores about the farm, but he couldn’t stand it. “I got lonesome for my white folks” he said. He always did like white folks. They have always seem to like him and his. He never has been in trouble, because Ole Marster taught him better. He and the other slaves went to the white people’s church during slavery and joined the white people’s churches. In the morning services on Sunday the slaves had a portion of the church reserved for them. Sunday afternoon the same preacher came and preached to them; when they had the church to themselves. After slavery the Ole Master gave the slaves the church they had been using with the white people, and he built a new one for the white people. (Note: The church given to the slaves is "Hayneville Baptist Chuch").
YANKEES RAN HIM OUT OF THE FIELD
He tells of the way the slaves continued to work right on in the fields after the war was over, just as they had been doing. They had heard that they were free, but they couldn’t take it in. Where would they go, and what would they do if they left Ole Master? They had no thought of leaving him, no more than would his children. What was the difference between their relation to the old home and that of the children? Did it not provide them with everything they wanted? Did they ever express a reasonable wish that had not been granted?
The night before Christmas was the busiest of all times on the plantations. At the big house a stocking had to be filled for every pick-a-ninny on the place. Each stocking must contain everything that the white children received – candy, nuts, raisins, a horn and other toys, and something extra to wear – an ornamental something, frequently and preferably fringed with red.
Early the next morning an iron gong announced the invitation to come to the house and get a Christmas present, and of course, for the older people this included a “dram” of any eggnog, and at noon plenty of syllabub, a truly southern drink. An entire week was set aside for breakdowns and straw rides, bird hunts, possum hunts, coon hunts, running matches, and wrestling matches, and any other amusement that the Negroes selected.
But no matter how merry the slaves became, those with duties at the big house and at the lots and mule stockades and stalls never shirked. They had their time off, but their work went on. If times were hard, the slaves knew no more about the trouble than did the children of the white folks.
MADE EXTRA MONEY
They were allowed an extra patch, and a cow and chickens, or a pig, or anything that would enable them to make extra money when sold in the nearby towns, or perhaps Ole Master would buy from them, and they were free to spend the money for anything except whiskey. He abhorred the whisky that was commercialized and doctored. He thought it might poison, hence he had manufactured on his own place all of the stimulants that he was willing for them to have. This he gave to them, as he thought best for them.
Yes, they had heard wages discussed; but that was something they had never thought about. Those who could reason it out, said if they had to spend the wages for the things that had been furnished to them without cost what would be the difference? So emancipation offered them no advantage. They agreed to that, and they were plowing right on in the field, until one day three soldiers came up suddenly and called out in peremptory manner, as with the voice of authority:
“Take out them dam mules and put ‘em in the lot. You are free, and free forever. You quit working for nothing. Go an’ git you a job”.
SOLDIERS DESTROY STILL
The Negroes knew nothing else but to obey. They took out the mules, but they did so reluctantly. They didn’t know what Ole Master would say bout it, but they were much more afraid of soldiers in uniform than they were of Ole Master. They knew Ole Master would understand and forgive them. So they started for the lot. Then the soldiers called: “Where is your still? Come show it to us”.
“We couldn’t tell’m no lie”, says Frank. Master had taught us better than to lie. He wouldn’t let us tell a lie ‘bout nothin’. So we led ‘em to the still down at the stillhouse on the branch near the granary and cow barns. They found several barrels of low wines, and they busted up the barrels and broke up the still. Then they wanted to know where the brandy and wine was kept. We had to tell’m, but we didn’t want to do it. We took’m to the wine house in the back yard. Dey wanted de keys. We tole’m Ole Master had de keys. But Ole Master had heard us in the backyard, and he came out ith the keys and unlocked the door to the wine cellar. The soldiers went through the cellar and then the first floor and the second floor and tasted every kind of drink in there. They filled up their canteens with what they wanted, and walked away, just like dey was boss and de rest of us wasn’t nuthin’. Dey went on out to de front gate and got in de big road and headed back to Hawkinsville, and we didn’t hear nuthing’ else from ‘em”.
BEING A MASON HELPED
Ole Master was a Mason, and tradition has it that the Hayneville section suffered less from Yankee marauders than those places that did not find protection through masonry. Where Sherman’s soldiers passed through Georgia, a cinder path marked the trail for long years after, according to history, but a few sections of the state faired better.
Hayneville seems to have been one of the more favored sections, though today a lone chimney standing here and there over the landscape is like a sentinel marking the last resting pace of a glory that is past.
After the Negroes put the mules in the lot Ole Master told them to go back, to work and he would pay them 50 cents a day and give them the same kind of living they had before. He kept them all working that way until under “free labor” the agricultural system began to fall, and farming broke the farmers. Ole Master, as Frank tells it, had a heap of business besides farming. He had a warehouse at Hawkinsville (The Rock), one at Perry and one at Houston Factory, just out from Perry. He had the Houston Factory (cotton), he had public saw mills, public gins, machine shops, blacksmith shops, stores, and three steamboats that plied between Hawkinsville and Darien, and sometimes from Macon. These, Frank thinks, were to carry his own cotton and to bring up supplies for his many farms and for his stores.
FRANK A GOOD FARMER
Frank is credited with having been one of the best farmers in his community while he was young enough to look after details. He kept his mules “just like Ole Marster kept his”. And as he states it, he “topped everything abut him” in the quantity and quality of his farm produces. He learned to do these things when he was with Ole Master. In fact, his moral training, and his skill were both credited to the teaching that Ole Master gave him. He paid his debts and kept good credit, and always enjoyed the confidence and esteem of both races. Thus he gives to the world another and a different picture of slavery, making it an uplifting institution. He believes that Ole Master would have made it possible for all of his slaves to purchase their freedom, for he had ambition for each and every one of them, and encouraged them to attend church as regularly as the white people on the plantation. And the negro’s membership was highly prized on the rolls of the white man’s church.
Frank realizes that he is on life’s western slope, and it can’t be so very long before the legs that have supported him in many a trying task must give way and he must pay the penalty that life imposes on every son and daughter of man. In other words, he is under sentence and is waiting for the bugle call, but when he goes he expects to be given a gracious welcome by Ole Master as well as by the loved ones of his own flesh and blood who have preceded him. He has no fears, and yet he is not in a hurry to go.
The greatest blessing that has come to him in life is the blessing that every parent, white or black, can appreciate as the greatest. His chillum have lived honorable lives and therefore happy lives. They followed the example that he set them, and that he was able to set them because of what Ole Master taught him.
Frank came to Macon, Wednesday of this week in company with Mike J. Daniel, a grandson of Ole Master. He was shown through The Telegraph and News plants, and then he was taken to the Dempsey hotel, and given dinner in the dining room reserved for chauffeurs, porters, maids, etc. But he would not order any fancy drinks or fancy foods. He was served foods easy to masticate, and he feasted in style.
“I can eat anything I want, but I don’t want anything that I ought not to eat,” he said. He was then given an elevator ride from the basement to the top of the building, and was allowed to look over the seven hills surrounding Macon, down over the valley of the Ocmulgee and across to Brown’s mount, the new National Park, where the Indians and other kinds of people roamed and hunted, and settled and worked long before Frank was born.
“I have seen more than I ever saw in one day before”, he said as he was getting into the automobile of his white friends to return to his Houston County farm. “I’ve seen things I ain’t never seen befo’ It was the first time he had visited Macon in 25 years, though he lives not 40 miles away. He went back to end his days amid the scenes of his childhood and young manhood and maturer years, and to think over the many changes that have come about in the 90 years of his existence.
As he shook hands with his Macon “young Marsters,” and told them good-bye, he reverently said: “If I don’t get to see you again on this side, I’ll be praying for you on the other”.
Mr. Frank Duhart died on September 21, 1938
He is buried in the Hayneville Church Cemetery.