“Interview with Archie Booker” (Date Unknown)


Archie Booker, a man born into slavery, tells an interviewer from the Virginia Writers Project about his life. Some of his major memories include witnessing the Battle of Yorktown (1862) and the community of free Black people who lived near the plantation where he was enslaved. This interview, along with other Virginia Writers Project interviews, offer a composite portrait of interviewees’ self-styled personal stories. Interviewers’ interests, lived experiences, and editing choices, as well as their social relations and expectations shaped their relationship and conversation with the interviewees. Although the interviews aren’t unmediated autobiographies, they are no less authentic and are just as fruitful a source for reconstructing historical experience.



Archie Booker (b. 1847)

Poorhouse Road, Hampton, Va.

Interviewer: Claude W. Anderson

Date of interview: Unknown

Source: Va. State Lib.

Muh name is Archie Booker. Ah wuz bo’n neah Charles City in 1847. Ah will be ninety de nex fif o’ August. Muh marstuh’s name wuz Mistuh Gus Crenshaw. He wuz a doctuh.

Marstuh owned jes an average plantashun. He had slave quahtuhs an’ right smart numbuh o’ slaves, but he nevuh beat ary a one. He come home fum Richmund on Sady an’ go back to Richmund on Sunday. Ole overseer, he undertake to beat de slaves, but he got beat hissef.

Marstuh’s wife ol mistess wuz ve’y nice. To muh knowin ah only had two sistuhs an’ six brothuhs.

When de slaves git married, de marstuh always marry em. He read to em suppin in a book. Den marstuh, he give de bride way. Yes, dey had church meetins. People ustuh go fum house to house. Ol Harry Brown, he wuz a kinda preachuh. He ustuh preach to us rite sma’t. Cose dey hada watch fe de paddyrolluhs; dey gen’aly come in twos and t’rees. Dey come twixt eight an’

— page 53 —

twelve at night. Ef dey ketch ye havin meetins, dey’d res’ [arrest] ye. Yessuh! Dey had bloodhounds wid em. ‘Twarn no way in de worl ye could git way. Nossuh! Dey didn have de same men on de patrols all de time. Diffunt men come ev’y night.

Marsa was de onlies’ man in de house. Slaves had to wear his suits, no matter what size dey was. Dem suits of marsa’s look right funny when dey git pieced out wid all sorts of extra pieces.

Dem days dey raise co’n, wheat an’ terbaccy an’ give ye rations fur a week at a time. We wuk fum sun to sun. All de slaves wuk. Onlies speshul slave dey had wuz a man whut blow de ho’n fur us to go to wuk an’ to come home at night. Ol doc’ didn hire out any slaves ceptin one, an’ he wuz my bruthah. Bruthah come ev’y Christmas to pay his marstuh an’ went ret back New Year’s Day.

Dere wuz a free nigguh town neah by de plantashun. Some o’ de nigguhs in it wuz set free, some tu’ned free, an’ some wuz free bo’n. My ol boss ustuh hire some o’ em to wuk at harves time. Den dey had lil places o’ dey own to wuk on. Why dey had stores, shops an’ ev’ything. Dey all wuk. Some wuz wheelwright an’ some wuz blacksmiths. None o’ dem live by stealin. Dey wuked an’ made a hones livin. De town didn’ have no taxes. Marstuhs o’ de diffunt plantashuns give money to keep de town goin.

When de Civil War come, ah foller de army back . It wuz den dat ah saw de battle o’ Yawktown. It happen in de evenin’ ah wuz follerin de army fum Williamsbu’g to Yawktown. Two battleships come up an’ hep de troops. Dey laid roun Yawktown a long while. A great numbuh o’ slaves follered de army roun. Govu’ment supported em.

When de war wuz ovuh, de govu’ment jes let de slaves drop. Den ye had tuh “root like a pig er die.” Ah went to night school right roun heah an’ den ah bought dis place fum de white folks.

Some white folks kep’ slaves wukin aftuh de war. Way back in de woods dey made ye wuk an’ give ye nuffin fur it. Po’ slaves! Dey didn’ know no bettuh. Dey doin’ it now down Souf. Dem sharecroppuhs is jes like slaves. Dey don’ know slavery is ovuh.

De onlies big man ah kin think o’ dat ah seen wuz Grant. Ah seen him neah Richmund once.

Ah had a bruthuh whut wuz a sojer in de war. Haven’ seen im since he went in de army. De othuh bruthuh whut wuz hired out, went to school in Richmund aftuh de war. He tu’ned out to be a real smart school teachuh. Yessuh!

— page 54—

Ah think de reason fur de rebels bu’nin Hampton in 1863 wuz to keep de Yankees out, but dey taken it anyway. Mos o’ de Union sojers wuz cullud men. Dat is dem whut taken Hampton wuz. De place wuz ovuh run wif cullud troops. Cullud men ev’ywhah.

Sometimes ah think slavery wuz bettuh den freedom in one sense. Ef ye wuz sick, ye hadda doctuh. Den ye git food too. But now ef ye git sick an’ ye hain’ got no money, ye jis die. Dat’s all!

Ah can’ see much hope fur de youn’ folks. White folks is too greedy. Looks like de mo a man labors, de mo de othuhs try to git it fum im.

APA Citation:
Booker, Archie & Anderson, Claude. “Interview with Archie Booker” (Date Unknown). (2021, July 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Booker, Archie, and Claude Anderson. "“Interview with Archie Booker” (Date Unknown)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (12 Jul. 2021). Web. 11 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2021, August 18
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