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A Slave's Story
Dunn, Lucy Ann
The following data is extracted from North Carolina Slave Narratives.
Voices from Slavery
100 Authentic Slave Narratives
Edited By: Norman R Yetman
If you are a relative or know anyone who is related to Lucy Ann Dunn please contact us.  We need your help!  We believe that Dempsey and Rachel Dunn may be buried at the site.


Aunt Lucy's Love Story

An interview with 90 years old, 220 Cannon Street, Raleigh, N. C.

My pappy, Dempsey, my mammy, Rachel an' my brothers an' sisters an' me all belonged ter Marse Peterson Dunn of Neuse, here in Wake County. Dar wus five of us chilluns, Allen, Charles, Corina, Madora an' me, all borned before de war.

My mammy wus de cook, an' fur back as I 'members almost, I wus a house girl. I fanned flies offen de table an' done a heap of little things fer Mis' Betsy, Marse Peterson's wife. My pappy worked on de farm, which wus boun' ter have been a big plantation wid two hundert an' more niggers ter work hit.

I 'members when word come dat war wus declared, how Mis' Betsy cried an' prayed an' how Marse Peter quarreled an' walked de floor cussin' de Yankees.

De war comes on jist de same an' some of de men slaves wus sent ter Roanoke ter hep buil' de fort. Yes mam, de war comes ter de great house an' ter de slave cabins jist alike.

De great house wus large an' white washed, wid green blinds an' de slave cabins wus made of slabs wid plank floors. We had plenty ter eat an' enough ter wear an' we wus happy. We had our fun an' we had our troubles, lak little whuppin's, when we warn't good, but dat warn't often.

Atter so long a time de rich folkses tried ter hire, er make de po' white trash go in dere places, but some of dem won't go. Dey am treated so bad dat some of dem cides ter be Ku Kluxes an' dey goes ter de woods ter live. When we starts ter take up de aigs er starts from de spring house wid de butter an' milk dey grabs us an' takes de food fer dereselbes.

Dis goes on fer a long time an' finally one day in de spring I sets on de porch an' I hear a roar. I wus 'sponsible fer de goslins dem days so I sez ter de missus, 'I reckin dat I better git in de goslins case I hear hit a-thunderin'.

'Dat ain't no thunder, nigger, dat am de canon', she sez.

'What canon', I axes?

'Why de canon what dey am fightin' wid', she sez.

Well dat ebenin' I is out gittin' up de goslins when I hears music, I looks up de road an' I sees flags, an' 'bout dat time de Yankees am dar a-killin' as dey goes. Dey kills de geese, de ducks, de chickens, pigs an' ever'thing. Dey goes ter de house an' dey takes all of de meat, de meal, an' ever'thing dey can git dere paws on.

When dey goes ter de kitchen whar mammy am cookin' she cuss dem out an' run dem outen her kitchen. Dey shore am a rough lot.

I aint never fergot how Mis' Betsy cried when de news of de surrender come. She aint said nothin' but Marse Peter he makes a speech sayin' dat he aint had ter sell none of us, dat he aint whupped none of us bad, dat nobody has ever run away from him yet. Den he tells us dat all who wants to can stay right on fer wages.

Well we stayed two years, even do my pappy died de year atter de surrender, den we moves ter Marse Peter's other place at Wake Forest. Atter dat we moves back ter Neuse.

Hit wus in de little Baptist church at Neuse whar I fust seed big black Jim Dunn an' I fell in love wid him den, I reckons. He said dat he loved me den too, but hit wus three Sundays 'fore he axed ter see me home.

We walked dat mile home in front of my mammy an' I wus so happy dat I aint thought hit a half a mile home. We et cornbread an' turnips fer dinner an' hit wus night 'fore he went home. Mammy wouldn't let me walk wid him ter de gate. I knowed, so I jist sot dar on de porch an' sez good night.

He come ever' Sunday fer a year an' finally he proposed. I had told mammy dat I thought dat I ort ter be allowed ter walk ter de gate wid Jim an' she said all right iffen she wus settin' dar on de porch lookin'.

Dat Sunday night I did walk wid Jim ter de gate an' stood under de honeysuckles dat wus a-smellin' so sweet. I heard de big ole bullfrogs a-croakin' by de riber an' de whipper-wills a-hollerin' in de woods. Dar wus a big yaller moon, an' I reckon Jim did love me. Anyhow he said so an' axed me ter marry him an' he squeezed my han'.

I tol' him I'd think hit ober an' I did an' de nex' Sunday I tol' him dat I'd have him.

He aint kissed me yet but de nex' Sunday he axes my mammy fer me. She sez dat she'll have ter have a talk wid me an' let him know.

Well all dat week she talks ter me, tellin' me how serious gittin' married is an' dat hit lasts a powerful long time.


I tells her dat I knows hit but dat I am ready ter try hit an' dat I intends ter make a go of hit, anyhow.

On Sunday night mammy tells Jim dat he can have me an' yo' orter seed dat black boy grin. He comes ter me widout a word an' he picks me up outen dat cheer an' dar in de moonlight he kisses me right 'fore my mammy who am a-cryin'.

De nex' Sunday we wus married in de Baptist church at Neuse. I had a new white dress, do times wus hard.

We lived tergether fifty-five years an' we always loved each other. He aint never whup ner cuss me an' do we had our fusses an' our troubles we trusted in de Lawd an' we got through. I loved him durin' life an' I love him now, do he's been daid now fer twelve years.

The old lady with her long white hair bowed her head and sobbed for a moment then she began again unsteadily.

We had eight chilluns, but only four of dem are livin' now. De livin' are James, Sidney, Helen an' Florence who wus named fer Florence Nightingale.

I can't be here so much longer now case I'se gittin' too old an' feeble an' I wants ter go ter Jim anyhow. The old woman wiped her eyes, 'I thinks of him all de time, but seems lak we're young agin when I smell honeysuckles er see a yaller moon."

Although slaves prayed for the day that they would become free, the majority of the South’s slave population died in bondage. It was thus through death that they attained freedom. The funeral practices of slaves seemed to reflect this thought. Mary Waring continued her article in the Atlanta Constitution by describing a slave funeral: “In former times, the burial took place at night, and a long procession of friends and relatives, bearing lighted torches, escorted the corpse to the graveyard.”Then, describing a specific burial, “A young female house servant died on one of the plantations. Her coffin was brought out into the back yard at sunset and placed upon trestles before the cabin door. At dusk the negro children joined hands and went round it in a kind of dance, singing all the time.”The funerals that Waring described seem to have followed a normal pattern of slave burial. Many funerals took place at night, and were “impressive, eerie ceremonies” that did not interrupt the work day. Singing and dancing, a tradition carried over from Africa, was also common. Funerals were a time of “sadness and consolation” as the deceased had, for some, returned home to Africa, and for others gone to heaven, “where bondage is never known.”Slave funerals were generally attended by both blacks and whites, and when permission was granted, slaves from neighboring plantations could pay last respects. The funeral service was often held weeks and even months after burial, and sometimes several funerals were preached at once. It is unknown whether this practice reflected African tradition or was necessary due to the uncertainty and lack of time available for slaves to attend such services. Funerals were the last cycle of ceremonies in the lives of slaves, and were a special time which asserted that their lives had dignity and meaning beyond the definitions bondage created.Historically, rural southern cemeteries followed the Christian tradition in regards to burial. Individuals were aligned with their heads to the west and feet to the east, “so de daid won’t hab ter tu’n iroun’ when Gabr’l blows the risi’ trumpet in de east.” Those who committed unforgivable sins, such as suicide, were often aligned north to south as punishment or were placed face-down in their coffin.After burial, graves were decorated with trinkets, usually sea shells and broken pots or bottles. On large graves there could be found “broken pitchers, soap-dishes, lamp chimneys, tureens, coffee-cups, sirup jugs, all sorts of ornamental vases.” Ernest Ingersoll wrote to the Journal of American Folklore in 1892 with a description of graves he had seen, and offered a possible explanation for the practice:

The negroes themselves hardly know how to account for this custom. They say it is an ‘old fashion’…What the significance of so many cracked pitchers and jugs I do not know. They are found on graves of all ages. Surely the Negro of Colombia does not regard this particular earthenware with special admiration or affection. Can it have any allusion to the proverb that the pitcher that goes often to the well shall at last be broken? or better be memory to the prophet’s line ‘and the golden bowl shall be broken’?29

Ingersoll’s remark considering the “old fashion” grave decorating gives insight into the history of this practice. For slaves in the Antebellum South, the scattering of shells and pottery onto graves probably held little significance besides the fact that it had always been done, yet significance varied between slave communities.

The Afro-Christian religion that slaves practiced shaped their views of both death and the afterlife, which in turn influenced funeral and mortuary practice. Through the study of slave cemeteries, these practices can be observed concretely, furthering scholarship in the areas of both slave religion and culture.

 

 

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