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Former Slaves on the Middleton Tate Johnson Plantation Speak (Part 2 of 2)

This is the continuation from Part 1 of this article about the American Slaves Narratives portion of the Federal Writers' Project completed 1936-38 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Two of these narratives were given by former slaves on the Middleton Tate Johnson Plantation, which was a part of what is now Arlington (around the old Johnson Station). The third was given by a woman whose mother was a slave of a Mr. Ditto (presumably John Ditto), also at Johnson Station.

In Part 1 of this article we presented the first part of the narrative supplied by former slave Hannah Mullins, c. 1937, when she was 81 years of age. Hannah Mullins was born on the M.T. Johnson plantation. Following is the balance of Hannah Mullins’ remembrances of life as a slave:

"Bout the next thing that happens, was when I married William Mullins. That's his Sunday name, but we alls calls him Bill. ‘Ise 'bout 16 when that happens and we moves to our own place where Bill have made the agreement with Mistez Kate to share crop.

"Bill was a Kentucky nigger brought heah by Doctah Mullins. Doctah Mullins was a-tryin' to start a business heah, but de-cided to move to Wise County, Texas, 'cause twas bettah business there fo' a doctor.

"Ise a-ghtin' so old now that Ise fails to remember anything else 'bout the Johnson Place 'cept that Bill and me moves to Arlington, Texas aftah three chilluns was bo'n to us. Bills gits a job with McKnight Livery Stables in Arlington fo' seven yeahs, then we all raised one crop, we moved back to Fort Worth.

"Aftah comin to Fort Worth, twas one move aftah another move. Bill works at common labor, and we takes trips out to places to pick cotton. We rides the train through Bowie, Texas and have to lean way back in the chair with the blinds pulled down, or the Bowie folks shoots the cullud folks. They have signs that say 'Nigger, don't stop heah,' and we don't.

"Other place like that was Blum, Texas. We picks cotton south of Blum and warnt allowed to go north of the River. Twas death if we done so. Nigger bettah sho not stick his head out the winder at Blum. He git it shot ifn he does.

"Then, the other place we goes fo' a little while was Boley, Oklahoma. The niggers runs that place and 'twarnt no white folks allowed to stay. Twarnt right fo' folks to carry on like that. Ise see tis about all fixed up now and 'taint no mo' carryin's on like that.

"Other troubles the nigger have is the votin' troubles. Most the white folks like the cullud folks, but a few mean ones make it hard on the cullud 'cept at votin' time. Then, all the white folks tells the nigger that ifn they don't vote fo' so and so, 'twill be hard on the niggers 'cause the other fellow is a 'nigger hater.' Twas a hard job fo' the nigger to tell just who was the bestest one to vote fo'. The job was made easy fo' them aftah some white folks who wants certain mens 'lected. They gives the nigger a drink of whiskey, and he votes the way his friends whats him to. Taint hard fo' a nigger to vote when he have a friend who gives him whiskey and tells him who to vote fo'. Give most the niggers two drinks, and he'll vote hisself back into slavery.

"I reckon that's 'bout all Ise can recollect fo' youse. Ise could tell youse plenty but fo' my sickness. Folks can't git the proper food, and gits sick easy. In the old days, the doctahs don't understand so much like they does now, and they cured youse. Twarnt so many med'cines to git. Camulel was used lots and Blue Mass. Folks says now that Blue Mass is poison, but Ise notice that it done a lotta good in slavery time. Evah spring, we'd take Bella Donia tea. Twas bittah-h-h-h, but it cleaned youse out fo' sho. It'd mighty nigh kill youse, but k'd clean youse out good. Then, twas lemon-weed tea. That would be good ifn youse could find it.

"Aftah Bill and me goes aroun' from place to place, he gits too old to work, and we comes heah to Fort Worth to stay. Twas most relieffeed we got 'til the pension comes out a couple of yeahs ago. Bill dies in 1935, and Ise livin' heah with my daughter.

"There is one thing that happens aftah freedom that shows how the slaves feels toward theys Marster and Mistezes. We are a-settin 'roun 'aftah Bill dies, and area-read in the Star-Telegram from Fort Worth. My boy, Henry, sees a thing about the Ex-Governor M.T. Johnson, and he reads 'bout the Governor's grave bein' lost at Arlington. The marker was gone. [Editor’s note: In 1936, a new marker was placed at Johnson’s grave, as a part of the Texas Centennial celebration. Also, M.T. Johnson was not Governor of Texas, or any other State.]

"The way they finds where the grave was located was to git an old slave that lived on Marster's place. All the slaves are together at the grave when the Marster was buried in the family cemetery at Arlington, and 'twas one of his old niggers that found that grave. That shows youse how the nigger reveres his old Marster. If'n they comes to me, Ise could take 'em right to the grave 'cause we set right heah and 'splained the very place where the papers comes out and says 'twas found.

"De way Cunnul Johnson gits there was when my pappy brung him from Austin, where he's buried aftah he dies of indigestion. Ise heah my pappy tell 'bout the trip lots a times. He goes down there in a wagon and hauls the coffin back in that wagon. Twas a lonesome trip fo' him, but one he liked 'cause he loved the ole Marster and was doin' that fo' Mistez Kate. [Editor’s note: M.T. Johnson died of a stroke suffered in May 1866 when he was returning to Johnson Station from Austin. He was originally buried at the State Cemetery in Austin, but was subsequently re-interred and buried at the plantation cemetery (Editor’s note: the plantation cemetery is just east of the present-day intersection of Matlock and Arkansas Lane.]

"Aftah he was a few miles from Austin, pappy says 'twas a big thundah storm with lotsa Lightnin' comes up, and he was all scared 'cause the road was lined with trees on both sides and were a-swingin' and swayin' from the wind. Several miles later, he comes to an old empty slavery time cabin and he drives the wagon up to it, ties the team good and then unloads the coffin and takes it inside! How many folks youse know would do that? Not many.

"Pappy says he took it inside 'cause the team might git scared and run off with the wagon, which might hurt the Marster's coffin. He stayed in that cabin all night long 'til the storm lets up the next mo'nin' so he can go along with the trip.

"Twas a happy day when he comes home with the Marster. A happy day and a sorrowful one. Sorrowful 'cause twas the Marster's dead body, and a happy one 'cause the Marster had come home to be with his folks.

"Pappy nevah tells that story to the white folks 'bout the cabin 'cause he knows 'twould cause funpokin' at him. Sho! He ain't cravin' to go around with dead folks all the time, but that was the Marster, and the Marster nevah harmed the cullud folks that tries to do what's right.

Another former slave on the Johnson Plantation who furnished a Slave Narrative (in 1937) was Betty Bormer (sometimes written ‘Bonner’). We are fortunate to have a photograph of Betty, presumably taken at the time of the interview! The interviewer, Sheldon F. Gauthier, wrote the following:

"Betty Bormer, 80, a typical Negro mammy, was born a slave to Col. M.T. Johnson, who owned and operated a plantation at Johnson Station, Tarrant County, Texas. He owned Betty's parents, five sisters and four brothers in addition to about 75 others. She spent her entire slave life nursing the Johnson children. When the Emancipation Act became effective, all the slaves moved on to, and worked a parcel of land Col. Johnson allowed them to use until his death. Since that time, Betty married three times and divorced twice. The third husband died on March 26, 1937. She has one child, which was born out of wedlock. She now lives in a Negro settlement at Stop Six, a suburb of Fort Worth. Her principal means of support is an eleven dollar pension received monthly from the State of Texas."

The Narrative Provided by Former Slave Betty Bormer

"Ise born April 4, 1857, at Johnson Station. That is south of Arlington, but 'twarnt no Arlington then. They named Johnson Station aftah my Marster, Cunnel M. T. Johnson. Marster owned my parents, my five sistahs and four brudders. He had 'bout seventy-five slaves on his farm. 'Twas a big-un. Ise don't know how many acres.

"Marster had seven chilluns. Three boys, Ben, Tom and Mart. The four girls were Elizabeth, Sally, Roddy, and Veanna. Ben and Tom gits old enough and they goes to the army aftah the war starts, but they comes back without gittin' hurt. The soldiers come there durin' the war. They drive off over the hill some of the cattle-cows and steers fo' to kill fo' to eat. Once they took some of the hosses. Ise heah the Marster says 'twas the Quantrel mens. They comes several times. The Marster don't like that, but he can't help it.

"Elizabeth and Roddy, they gits married jus' 'bout the las' yeah of the war. White man, you jus shoulda seen them weddins. Man, 'twas big-uns. Lots of white folks come, some from far away as Austin and such. They sets the table with lots of good things fo' to eat. They eats and dances all day and night. The girls gits lotsa presents. Everybody was sho happy! When the boys come from the war, 'twas the same. We'd have a big time fo' the welcome home.

"Durin' the war, Ise don't notice any difference in the vittals. If there was any, Ise don't remember. Marster was good to us cullud folks. He feeds and treats us jus' like his own chilluns. We have jus' like the family gits, meat, milk, vegetables, white flour fo' the biscuits, molasses, corn meal and such. The Marster have heap lots a hawgs that makes the meat. In the smoke house are hung up meats enough fo'to feed the army, it looks like. He have big herds of cows fo' the milk. We have all the clothes we needed. They was all made on the place. My mammy was the seamstress, my pappy the shoemaker. My work, 'twas nurse fo' the small chilluns of the Marster. They was Mart, Sally and Veanna. That was my work all the time 'til freedom.

"On Sattidy we are let off from work. Lots a times some of the cullud folks comes to Fort Worth with the Marster and he gives hem a nickel or dime to buy candy. Fort Worth was jus' a small place then. 'Twarnt much to it as Ise remembers.

"Yes sir, they whups the niggers some times, 'twarn't hard. They jus' stands them up and whups like they corrects chilluns. You know, the nigger gits the devilment in his head like folks do sometimes. The Marster have to larn 'em different. The Marster does that hisself. He have no overseer. No, 'twarnt never no nigger tries to runaway. 'Twarnt no need to, 'cause each family have a cabin with bunks fo' to sleep and we all live in the quatahs. Such nigger that wants to larn to read 'n write, the Marster's girls and boys larns 'em. The girls larned my Auntie how to play on the pianner.

"There was lots of music on that place. Fiddle, banjo and the pianner fo' the cullud folks. Singin' we have lots of that. You know, songs like Ole Black Joe, Swanney Ribber, religious songs and such. Ofn' the Marster would have us come in his house and clear the dinin' room fo' the dance. His daughtahs, they plays the pianner and with the fiddle and the banjo, we'd have fine music. That was a bit time on special occasions. They didn't call it a dance in them days, they called it the ball.

"Sho, we goes to church. There was a place on the plantation fo' the cullud folks and we had a cullud preachah. His name 'twas Jack Ditto. [Editors note: Jack Ditto was a slave of John Ditto, who had moved to Johnson Station from Alabama (it was not uncommon for the slave to take the surname of the master).

"Marster goes to Austin 'bout every quatah. Ise don't know what fo', but he'd drive there in the hack. That's what they called that what he drove. He have fine hosses fo' the hack. He have lots of hosses, mules and oxen fo' to work too.

"When freedom come, the Marster tells all us to come to the front of the house. We all goes there, all the old niggers and chilluns standin' in the yard. The Marster is standin' on the po'ch. He 'splains to us' bout freedom and says, 'You are now free. You can go whar you please.' Then he tells us that he have learned us not to steal and to be good and we should remember that. He says that we're going to find it different 'cause we have to take care of ourselves, but if we gits in trouble, remember to come to him and he will help us. He sho do that, 'cause the nigger goes to him lotsa times and he always helps.

"The Marster tells us that he needs help on the place and such that stays, he'd pay them fo' the work. There's were lots of 'em that stayed but some lef. To them that leaves, the Marster gives a mule, cow and such fo' the start. To my folks, the Marster gives some land. He does not give us the deed but the right to stay 'til he dies.

"Sho Ise seen the Klux aftah the war. Ise have no 'sperience with them, but my uncle, he gits whupped by them. He was workin' fo' Marster Johnson. What fo' they whupped my uncle? Ise don't know 'zactly, but Ise think 'twas 'bout a hoss. Marster sho raved 'bout that, 'cause uncle wam't to blame fo' what happen'.

"When the Klux come the no' count nigger sho makes the scatterment. Ise heah' bout some that climb up the chimney, jump out of the winder, hide in the dugout and such. The nigger that got out of line 'twas them theys aftah. The nigger that stays whar he b'longs and minds his own business have no trouble. Like the case of my uncle, they sometimes makes a mistake.

"The Marster dies 'bout seven yeahs aftah freedom: Everybody was a heap sorry when the Marster dies. He died in Austin and they have some kind of funeral there. Aftah that, they brings him home. Ise never seen such a funeral. Lotsa of big men from Austin comes. All us cullud folks cry like 'twas our pappy that was dead. He was a blessed man.

"Ise married the second yeah aftah the T & P [Railroad] comes to Fort Worth. Ise married Sam Jones. He worked on the Burk Burnett ranch. The stock ranch. We separated aftah five yeahs. Didn't marry again 'til twelve yeahs after that, then Ise married Rubbin Felps. Aftah two yeahs, we separated. Ise have no chilluns with them husbands. Ise have only one chile. His name is George Pace. Ise never married to his pappy. Ise married to his pappy but Ise married the third husband forty-one yeahs ago. His name was Jack Bormer. He done every kind of work. He died on March 26, 1937.

"Ise all time gits along fair, 'cause aftah freedom, Ise keeps on workin' doin' the nursin'. Sometimes 'twas hard to make it and looks like Ise not gwine to make it, but Ise said Ise did. Now Ise gittin' eleven dollars from the State fo' the pension. Ise gits that every month, so now Ise sho of somethin' to eat and that makes me happy.”