Mrs. Armaci Adams (b. 1859)
Tents Old Folks’ Home, Hampton, Va.
Interviewer: Frances Greene and Claude W. Anderson
Date of interview: June 25, 1937
Source: Pencil copy, Lewis Papers
[Photograph is labeled “Sister Adams—about 93 yrs.—Ed.]
My name is Armaci Adams. I was born in Gates County, North Carolina but I ain’ stayed down dere long. Dey never give me my age. White folks kept hit an’ never give it ter me. My mother died when I was ‘bout three yeahs ole. Atter dat de white folks raised me in Huntersville, Virginia over heah neah Norfolk. De best I can say fur my age is dat I was ‘bout five yeahs ole when.
My marser’s name was Isaac Hunter. Him an’ de missus was bofe hell cats. Dey had fo’ head o’ chillum. All of dem come f’om Gates County. Marser daid now an’ I ain’t plannin’ on meetin’ him in heaven neither. He were too wicked. Marse was an’ ole Methodist preacher an’ de las’ time I seed ‘im he was comin’ in f’om a revival drunk.
When dey come ter Norfolk dey sell all de slaves down Souf ‘cause de fightin’ were neah, I guess. I had an Uncle. His name were Toney Hunter. Had ter take ole marse’s las’ name you know. Unc’ Toney ran ‘way an’ dey caught him in Suffolk. Dey brought him back early in de mornin’. Ole man Hunter an’ his son beat ‘im all de mornin’ Dey took turns. Atter a while dey got tired an’ went in ter dinner an’ lef’ him hangin’ dere. He was tied up in de air wid his han’s crossed an’ his toes jes touchin’ de groun’. Dey had beat him somepin awful. I watched f’om de bushes. Blood was runnin’ off him like rain. I heahed ‘em in de big house a-laffin’ an’ goin’ on an’ I slipped out ter ‘im ter see ef he wan’ anything. He say he ain’ eat nuffin’ in days an’ ax fur somepin ter eat. I slipped in de kitchen an’ brung ‘im all de ‘llasses an’ co’nbread I could carry. Den I climbed up on de buggy an’ cram hit in ‘is mouf. Den he wan’ some water. I was goin’ ter git dat when de ole man come outen de house an’ seed me. He run fur de buggy ter git de whip an’ whup me but I got away in de bushes. Den dey wen’ back ter beatin’ Unc’ Toney ‘gain. ‘Bout middle o’ de afternoon dey stop an’ pickle ‘im an’ let ‘im down. He mos’ nigh died. Atter he got well dey sol’ ‘im down Souf.
Dey never give you ‘nough ter eat. I mos’ night starved all de time. I useter sit by de side o’ de fiahplace in de cabin an’ po’ch co’n an’ eat it. One day my dress ketched on fiah behin’. I felt hit an’ runned outside. When I got out dere, it blazed up good. A man seed me an’ threw his coat ‘roun’ me an’ smothered it out. I were burned on de neck an’ laigs. I was in de bed a long while. When I got up, I couldn’t walk wid out a crutch fur a lon’ time.
Dat burn kept me f’om being sol’ dough. One day I notice Aunt Rose what cook in de kitchen jes a lookin’ at me an’ cryin’. She say, “Honey, I don’ never ‘spect ter see you anymo’.” I were too youn’ ter unnerstan’. De nex’ day de ole man took me an’ a team o’ purty claybank ponies ter Norfolk. I never will fergit. We wen’ raight down Main Street. I saw a man up on a block an’ a lot o’ people was jes a-hollerin’ ‘roun’ him, biddin’ on ‘im, I guess. De ole man took me in de back o’ er vacant store an’ took my clothes off me. Den he an’ ‘nother man examined me. De other man wouldn’ buy me ‘cause he ‘fraid I won’ be no good on account o’ de burn scars. Atter a while we wen’ back ter Huntersville.
Dey kept sellin’ slaves untill dey only hab two men ter work on de farm an’ me ter do all de housewuk. Richmond fell good bit befo’ dat. Dat why all de slaves left. I never knowed I was free. Dey didn’t tell me until I were ‘bout 15 yeahs ole. Dey wuked me lak a dog an’ beat me somepin terrible. I didn’t know. I thought I were still a slave.
Atter I were free an’ didn’t know it, I had a job mindin’ turkeys. Dat was at Huntersville too. I don’ know whether you ever mind any turkeys or no but if you hab you know dat dey runs eve’y which-a-way. Dere was sojers at de fair groun’s den. Dat were ‘cross de creek. Lawd! I kin’ ‘member jes as well! I seed de sojer patrollin’ by wid his gun on his shoulder. Den I heared his gun shoot—a Bang!—an’ purty soon he come trompin’ back wid dat turkey slung ‘cross his shoulder. One o’ dem turkeys done got ‘cross de creek an’ dat sojer done shot ‘im. I were scared weak. I herded de res’ o’ de turkeys tergedder an’ tuk ‘em on back home ter de farm. Ole missus was standin’ out dere a countin’ ‘em an’ all at once she yell ter ole marse, “Isaac! One o’ dem yaller turkeys is gone!” Dat man grabbed me an’ strip me naked—after freedom min’ you—an’ whupped me wid a bull whup ontwill I fainted. Atter dat I don’ know how long he beat me. When I come ‘roun’ dey were washin’ me down in pickle.
I stayed dere ontwill I was about thirteen, I guess. Den I left. How long I been free I don’ know. I wondered why eve’ybody done gone, but dey kept me so close in de house I couldn’ fin’ out. Dis de way I fin’ out. My pappy druv a team all de way f’om No’th Carlina up heahonce. He foun’ me an’ was goin’ ter take me back. Missus telled me paw done married ‘gain an’ dat he married grandmaw Goodman. Den she say grandmaw had terrible fits. She knowed I was scared o’ anything dat had fits. I wouldn’ go cause I believed her. When paw come ter git me, dey wouldn’ let ‘im see me so he went on ‘way. Atter dat dey beat me worsen ever. Eve’y mornin’ I hadda git up ‘bout fo’ ‘clock an’ make a fire. Purty soon after eve’ything got warm, de white man come down an’ milk de cows. Den he’s rest an’ I’d go out ‘roun’ Norfolk sellin’ milk. Dey started me at dat as soon as I could manage a gallon. Den as I grew, dey increase de amount o’ milk an’ made me milk de cows too. Chile, I suffered. You had ter carry de milk in a pail an’ walk. Where you walk? You walk anywhere you could fin’ customers. Couldn’ come home ontwill you selled all de milk. An’ you had ter be back by nine ‘clock er you didn’ git any breakfas’. I try hard but I never could make it. I begged food f’om door to door. Spen’ some o’ de money? Lawd no! Had ter take all de money back ter de Hunters. Down de lower end o’ Church Street dere was a house called, “Free an’ Easy,” a house o’ bad women. I sol’ dem milk, butter an’ aprons. De cook dere was very nice. He done give me many a breakfas’. When it snowed, de wuk was very hard. I kin ‘member carryin’ milk in snow when it were snowin’ so hard dat you couldn’ see a foot ahead yourse’f. When I got back I was so cold I couldn’t git my han’ off de bucket handle. Dey had ter pry it off. My feet wud frez to. Missus useter thaw my han’s an’ feet out eve’y winter mornin’. Dat de way I lived.
Robert Hunter were ‘bout my size. He useter jump on me an’ beat me somepin terrible fur nuffin. Ef I walked by ‘im, he’d slap me. One day he beat me very bad an’ de ole man called me an’ tol’ me, “Don’ you let ‘im beat you dat way anymo’. You fight ‘im back. I don’ fergot ter tell you but you is free, you know. You don’ have ter take dat mess offen him. Nex’ time you hit ‘im.” Nex’ time I did. I had a penny what a colored man done give me an’ I bought some cakes wid it. He come by an’ said, “What you doin’ wid dem cakes,” an’ slapped me hard as he could. I drew back an’ hit him as hard as I could an’ ran ‘way ‘cross de fiel. I never did come back. I stayed wid a family o’ colored folks—de Foremans—at Norfolk Mission College. Dere was a school dere called de Butler School den. I wuked out in a fiel’ on Princess Anne Avenue. I got paid fur it too. Den I got a service job and took care ‘o myse’f.
[This seems to be an extreme elaboration of an incident referred to in the pencil copy of Adams’s interview found in the Lewis Papers.—Ed.]
Guess I was ‘bout 15 years ole when Marse come back from de fightin’, mean as ever. Never did say nothin’ ‘bout de war, an’ I didn’t even know ef it’s over or not. But one day Marse Bob, his son, was switchin’ me in de woods playful like an’ he say, “Whyn’t you strike me back, Mici? You’s free. Dat’s what de war was fo’, to free de niggers.”
I took dat switch away an’ beat him hard as I could ‘cross de haid tell it busted. Den I run ‘cross de fields to some colored folks ‘bout 6 miles away. Dey name was Foremans, an’ dey was free sho’ ‘nough. Dey tole me dat was right. I been free mo’n a year. Ain’t never been back to dat place since.