BUCKNER – Slavery Times


In Louisville Ma hired by the year a young colored girl named Mary, who had a little girl named Susan —, Mary’s husband being owned by someone else. When Ma was about to break up housekeeping and come to me, Mary’s master offered to sell Mary and her child to her, but Ma refused saying that she did not want to part husband and wife. When Mary was consulted however, she seemed to be perfectly willing to belong to Ma and to go South with her provided ma would buy her husband and take him along. But the husband stoutly refused to leave Louisville unless forced to do so. This refusal made Mary angry, and as she was really attached to my mother she went without a murmur.

Afterwards she became my property, and I always found her a trusty and loyal servant, a good cook, and kind hearted, though hot tempered. And here I want to say that I often ask myself whether freedom and education have made the negro morally better. I confess that they disappoint me greatly when I find that the educated ones can’t be trusted as we used to trust our servants in slavery times. When my mother was living alone on the plantation with the negroes she could sleep securely with neither bolt or bar on the door; and she used to drive in safety many miles along lonely roads to visit me, alone with her negroe coachman. What white woman in the South would dare to do such a thing now?

If slavery is a wrong, which I do not deny, yet it bred in our colored people such loyalty, such unselfish devotion to the families of their masters, such trustworthiness as I have never found in those of their race born in freedom. No race could have behaved better than they did during the Cival War. No insurrections, no outrages, but the most extraordinary fidelity to the women and children left to their care, while sons and fathers were away on the battle field.

One Christmas I remember Mary came to me to ask a favor. She wanted to have a dance in my kitchen, and to have the house servants on some of the neighboring plantations—”none o’ yo’ common low down niggers” and she “wouldn’t give me no trouble,” and “Wheeler” (her brother) would brings her the eggs and sugar etc., she needed.” I gave my consent willingly and Mary went to work with a will. When we built the house I planned for a fine large kitchen, and Mary soon had that floor and the tables snowy white, and the tin and copper vessels shining brightly among the bunches of holly evergreen stuck here and there. I had given her permission to use the dining room and my best linen and silver, knowing she would take good care of everything. Perhaps I had a little pride in having our servants outshine those on the other plantations. When the table was set Mary proud and delighted, called me to come and see it, and I must say it was beautiful.

In the middle of the table there seemed to be the largest cake I had ever seen, from the center of which sprang a branch of evergreen, sprinkled with flour which looked as if powdered with snow. “Why Mary!” I said, “what a big cake! They can’t eat all that!” “Laws, Miss P’rcilla! that ain’t no cake! ‘taint nothin’ in the worl’ but corn bread – and them niggers is goin’ to eat every single morsel of it, cause it’s aig-bred an’ I got some little cakes for ’em ‘sides that!”

Away into the night I heard the strains of the fiddle, the calls of the fiddler, the thumping of feet on the floor and the hearty laughter. Next morning Mr. Reardon said to me, ‘*Priscilla, I wish some of those Northern abolitionists who are so concerned about the down-trodden negroes South could have looked into this dining room and that kitchen last night!” A few more Christmases came and went and then the old home where we had spent such happy years together was broken up and we went to Little Rock to live.

Susan, (Mary’s daughter) had grown to be a smart handy girl and I kept them both, though only one was needed. After my husband’s death one day Mary said to me “Miss P’scilla I wish you’d please ma’am let me go an’ hire myself out? You can get along with Susan, and I might as well be gettin’ some wages and bringin’ it ‘to you.”

So I told her she could be looking around and if she could find a good home I was willing. A few days afterwards she came and told me that old Mr. Fenne, an old bachelor, wanted her to work for him. She said he had no one to work for him and he was “liven’ like a hog,” but she said she would clean the house up and make things look decent and comfortable, and he offered her good wages and she thought he would treat her well. She went and after awhile he wanted to buy Mary of me, and as Mary was willing I sold her, but kept Susan. He gave Mary her freedom and she lived with him as his wife till his death—and no wife could have taken better care of him.

This went on for some time till he was taken with a severe illness and Mr. Fenne sent for a lawyer who was also a friend. He had a large amount of property for the times and he wanted a will drawn in Mary’s favor. The lawyer remonstrated and asked if he did not want to leave some to his relatives. No! he did not! he had left home when he was a boy, had worked hard and saved, with no help from his relatives. Mary had done more for him than anybody else and she should have it. She was the only person in the world that cared for him. The lawyer was preparing to obey when Mary entered her protest “Look here Ole Marse! where that brother o’ yourn you tol’ me about? Didn’t you say he helped you oncet? Taint right for you to give all that money to me. What I goin’ to do with all that money? Now jist you give him some of it—please Sir?” “Well, alright Mary, I reckon your right!” And then she mentioned someone else who had claims on him and prevailed on him to divide with them also—and it was done as she said. After his death she still had more than enough for herself and her two children (for she had one child by him named Mary Fenne.) She bought her a home in Little Rock, and when Susan and Mary married she built homes for them in her own yard.

Mary married Rector, an educated negro, who went to West Point but failing in his examination got a place in the Post Office. Mary used often to tell me that that she had never known a happy day since she came into her property, and that she was happier when she belonged to me than at any other time of her life. She died suddenly, of heart disease, one day in going from a neighbor’s home to her own. I was sent for but found she was past help.

Source: “Reminiscences of The Buckner Family”, by Mrs. Priscilla Aylette Buckner Reardon, about 1901, pages  27-31.