“Interview with Horace Tonsler” (date unknown)

Formal portrait of professor Socrates Maupin of the University of Virginia

Horace E. Tonsler, a man born into slavery, tells an interviewer from the Virginia Writers Project about Burkley Bullock’s attempt to emancipate himself from slavery and the nature of segregated services at his church during slavery. 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; and social relations and hierarchies shaping their relationship and conversation. Although the interviews aren’t unmediated autobiographies, they are no less authentic and are just as fruitful a source for reconstructing historical experience.


Horace Tonsler (b. 1857)

Charlottesville, Va.

Interviewer: Unknown

Date of interview: Unknown

Source: Negro in Virginia, MS version, draft no. 1, chap. 13, p. 14

Yes, I know of a case of a runaway slave. Berkeley Bullock, an’ he has two sons living here now. One day we was drivin’ up de road an’ he showed me de very road he used when he fust ‘scaped. Dis road led toBath County. He said he traveled at night by de moonshine. Said he would feel ‘round de trees an’ whichever side de moss grew on, he knowed dat was de north direction. Den he said he boarded a stage dat went as far as deOhio River. He aimed to get ‘cross. He paid his fare as other passengers an’ continued his journey. The stage was crowded.

Being of yellow complexion, he had an ole cap pulled over his eyes; he gave de man his ticket, an’ kept on walkin’ to de back jes’ like you do on de street car today. Anyway de stage made a stop, an’ he was scared about what he should do. Den de stage made another stop, an’ he was scared again. Finally de ole stage stopped again an’ dis time a drunk man got on. De man sat by him asleep; so he pulled out some Mason’s blackin’ an’ blacked him up so he looked like a nigger man. So when de stage got to de place where Bullock was ‘sposed to get off, dey put dis drunk man off, thinkin’ dat he were de nigger.

When de man went in de front do’ of de tavern, he looked up an’ seed a lookin’ glass; he looked in an’ didn’t know hisse’f at fust. Den he yelled an’ yelled at de driver, “Hol’ on dere! Hol’ on dere! you done put off de wrong man!” But de driver never stopped. Bullock was still on de stage when it got to de Ohio River. Dey caught him dere fo’ he could make it cross de river.

Source:Negro in Virginia, published version, pp. 107-8

When we git to de church, de white folks would go inside, an’ de slaves would sit round under de trees outside. Den de preacher git de white folks to singin’ an’ shoutin’, an’ he start to walkin’ up an’ down de pulpit an’ ev’y once in a while he lean out de winder an’ shout somepin’ out to us black folks. ‘Twarn’t no room inside fo’ us. Den sometimes ole nigger would git up outside an’ start in to preachin’ right along wid preacher Woodson. Softlike, of course, wid a lot of handwavin’ an’ twistin’ of his mouth widdout makin’ no noise. We would sit up an’ listen to him an’ laugh when he say just what de white preacher say. Dat was de start of de colored folks’ religion, I guess. Whites got used to it arter while an’ let us preach an’ pray under de shade trees round de church. Didn’t bother us so long as we didn’t make so much noise an’ didn’t go out of sight.

Ole John Southern used to be our preacher. Lawd, he could talk better’n de old white preacher, leastwise us used to think so. Got so de white boys used to come to service late so’s dey could stay outside an’ listen to de black preachin’. Preacher always got quiet when dey come; couldn’t trust dem white boys. Dey go back home an’ tell dey fathers dat de slaves plannin’ to run away. Dey say dat so dey have excuse fo’ not goin’ in to de services; ‘course dey gonna git a beatin’ if dey fathers fin’ dey stay outside jes’ to keep fum hearin’ ole man Woodson preach.

APA Citation:
Tonsler, Horace E.. “Interview with Horace Tonsler” (date unknown). (2021, October 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Tonsler, Horace E.. "“Interview with Horace Tonsler” (date unknown)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (28 Oct. 2021). Web. 23 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2021, October 28
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.