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Slave Testimony: Betty Foreman Chessier, Age 94

“I was born July 11, 1843 in Raleigh, NC. My mother was name Melinda Manley, the slave of Governor Henley of N.C. an’ my father was name Arnold Foreman, slave of Bob and John Foreman, two young mastahs. They come over from Arkansas and visit my mastah an’ my pappy and mammy met an’ got married doe my pappy only seen my mammy ever summah when his mastahs come to visit our mastah an’ day tuck him rat back. I had three sisters an’ two brothers an’ none of dem was my whole brothers an’ sisters. Funny t’ing. I stayed in the big house all the time, but my sisters an’ brothers was gived to the mastah’s sons an’ daughters when dey got married an’ dey was tole to sen’ bac’ for some more when dem died. I diden never stay with my mammy doing of slavery. Honey I stayed in the big house. I slep’ under the dinin’ room table with three other darkies. Doe now the flo’ was well carpeted. Don’t remembah my grandmammy and grandpappy, but my mastah was they mastah.

I stayed in the big house and waited on the table, kept flies offen my miz and went for the mail. Never made no money, but dey did give the slaves money at Christmas time. I et what the white folks et an’ dey diden eat no ‘possums and rabbits, doe dey et fish. My choice food was soup an’ still is. No gardens where I lived, cose I diden live on no plantation. I lived in town all the time. Day all had gardens out on the plantation doe. I never had over two dresses. One was calico and one gingham. I had sich under cloes as dey wore den. Mastah Manley and Miz had 6 sons an’ six darters. Dey raised dem all tell day was grown too. Dey lived in a gread big house cross the street from the mansion, rat in town ‘fo Mastah was ‘lected Governor, den day moved in all dat mansion.

Plantation folks had barbecues and lay crops an’ invite the city darkies out. I weren’t hongry, I warent naked and chile I got five licks from the white folks in my life. Dey was for being sich a big fergitful girl. Mestah had jes’ 15 slaves on the place and when his chillun come home to visit ever summah dey had to bring day own niggers. Dey brung two a piece. I saw ’em sell niggers once. The only pusson I ever seed whipped at dat whipping post, was a white man. Now, chile I never got no learnin’, day kep’ us fum dat, but you know some of dem darkies learnt anyhow. We had church in the heart of town or in the basement of some old buildin’. I went to the ‘piscopal church mos’ all the time, tell I got to be a Baptist.The slaves run ‘way to the North ’cause dey wanted to be free. Some of my family run away sometime en’ dey diden catch ‘am neither. The patterollers sho’ watched the streets.

But when day caught any of Mastah’s niggers wid out passes, day jest locked him up in the guard house and mastah coma down in the mawnin’ an’ git ‘er out, but dem patterollers better not whip one. I doesn’t remembah any play songs, ’cause I was almost in prison chile. I couldn’t play with any of the darkies. I doesn’t remembah playin’ in my life when I was a little girl en’ when I got grown I diden wanta. When I fust come heah I couldn’t understan’ the folks heah, cause dey diden quit work on Easter Monday. That is some day in North Caroline even today. I know when the war commenced and ended. Mastah Manley sent me from the big house to the office about 1/2 mile ‘way. Jest as I got to the office door, three man rid up in blue uniforms and said, “Dinah, do you have any milk in there?”

I was sent down to the office for some beans for to cook dinner, but dem men mos’ nigh scaid me to death. They never did go in dat office, jes’ rid off on horseback about a quarter of a mile and seem lak rat now. Yankees fell outta the very sky, ’cause hundeds and hundeds was everwhere you could look to save your life. Old Miz sent one of her grandchillun to tell me to come on and one of the Yankees tole dat chile “You tell your grandmother she ain’t comm’ now and never will come back there as a slave.” Mastah was setting on the mansion po’ch. Dem Yankees come up on de porch, go down in cellar and don’t tech one blessed t’ing. Old Miz tuoh heart trouble. Dem Yankees whipped white folks going and comin’.

After the war, I went to mammy and my step-pappy. She done married agin. I left and went to Warrington and Hallifax, North Carolina jest for a little while nursing some white chillun. I laid in my bed a many night scared to death of Ku Klux Klan. Dey would come to your house and axe for a drink and no more want a drink den nothin’. When I got married I jumped a broomstick. I am the mother of 4 chillun and 11 grandchillun. To git unmarried, all you had to do was to jump backwards over the same broomstick. Lincoln and Booker T. Washington was two of the finest men ever lived. Don’t thank nothin’ of Jeff Davis, ’cause he was a traitor. Freedom for us was the bes’ t’ing ever happened. Prayer is bes’ t’ing in the worl’. Everybody oughtta pray, cause prayer got us outta slavery. I stayed in Raleigh, where I was born tell 7 years ago, when I come to Oklahoma to live wid my only livin’ chile.”

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