edsanders.com - Aunt Eve Interviewed Part 1

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AUNT EVE was a superannuated negress, whose daily perambulations brought her to the kitchens of many families in Baltimore whose sires she had known in their childhood, and whom she had long outlived. The recipient of unconsidered trifles, she acknowledged these favors by the performance of small services, which rendered her welcome to the domestics of the households, among whom she was a historical oracle. As a link between the past and the present, let her speak for herself as she sits sipping her morning coffee by the fireside:

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"Your sarvant, Sir. How's you and your wife, and all de children, maaster? I hopes you're all well. Bless de Lord ! I'm broke, sonny--poor as a snake; pick up a bone here to-day and dere to-morrow.

"Near as I can come, I'm a hundred and four year old. I was born and bred 'fore Washington's war here in Baltimore near Henshaw's church, in Sharp Street. My ole maaster's been dead fifty year, but I can 'member very well, for all dat. Ole maaster's father was English captain; ole mistuss's father was sea-captain too. My own father was a Guinea man. Lordeer was my fathers name, but maaster changed it to Nero when he bought him.

"Ye see, Guninea's a big place. Niggers dere allers a-fightin'. Dey ketch one another, and sells 'em to de ships for guns and powder, beads, check and calico, and red flannel -- de French great for red flannel -- and dat's de reason so many's come in dis country. Dey used to come in ship-loads, like de Irish do now, till ole Tyson (Nathan Tyson, an eminent philanthropist and early abolitionist.) --he was a Quaker, mind ye, and did a heap for de colored people--till he said dere should never no more come here. Dat was after de Resolutionary war. When he died all de niggers went to de burial. Ole mistuss said he was de niggers' god.

"In Guinea--'spects it's like Californy is now--dey digs gold all day, and when dey . finds a big lump--so de Guinea niggers told me--dey go home and kill a chicken or a goat, and puts de blood on de lump of gold. Dat's deir way of giving God thanks. Den dey makes rings and bracelets of it. Maaster bought ten head -- some from Mandingo, some from Soso; Father Jack and Sampson come from Missmygwongea--dat's another place. Paragratter, Vando, and Goombo was Gonah Women.

"My own father was Guinea man. I'm good breed, caise I'm de royal blood; tell you for why -- grandfather was de king's son; he come from de Wombo country; dat's what dey called it. It was a Gonah man taught me dis Guinea talk:

 Wullah, wullah, wuttoongah,
Se bungah looyah,
Coozen mooten lemba,
Hooden mat'na sings.'    

I don't know what it means, but ef I'd kep in de sperit of it den I might 'e learnt. Worst of it is, I never could learn to read. Ye see, I was young, and so foolish! Dere was a lady wrote to ole maaster to know if she might teach me to read, but he sent word to know if she wanted to teach his niggers to run away. I might 'e learnt unbeknowens to him, but I was so young and foolish like.

"I don't 'member much of de Resolutionary war, but I knowed when it was. I was small den, but I had a good head. I toted wood and water, and warmed de chile's vittels."

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The town of Baltimore was laid off by the county surveyor January 12, 1730. In 1752 there were twenty-five houses, four of which were of brick, nearly all having "hipped' roofs. The present populationis300,000. "Baltimore was very open place den; streets was nothin' but mud and mire; ladies always wore clogs. Most all de houses was frame, Dutch roofs, hipped roofs; some was brick, but no touch to what it is now! Market Street was all mud an' mire. De quality lived in Gay Street. Dere was old Congress Hall, where dey had balls and dancin'. I b'lieve it's standin' yet, if dey hain't torn it down. I could show ye where it was, in Liberty Street though I ain't got but one eye now."

Congress assembled in Baltimore on the 26th December, 1776 and occupied Mr. Jacob Fite's house, being then the farthest west, and one of the largest in the town, and was a long time called "Congress Hall." None of the streets of "Baltimore Town," except here and there on the side ways, were paved until 1789.

"Dey don't have no fairs now, as dey used to. All dere by Congress Hall every Thursday in October, when de races was, dey was sellin' cakes and liquor, and eatin' and drinkin'; dey couldn't get dem all cleared off 'fore Sunday mornin'. De racecourse was in de ole fields near dere, so thick of houses now I can't tell ye 'xactly where it is.

"Ye didn't see wagons and carts, as ye do now. Every Friday night all de country people come in with deir butter and radishes and greens, and so forth--cayed dem all a-horseback -- twenty, thirty pounds o' butter in de boxes, slung across de horse's back. Dey uses to cay dem dis way till it got so bad with robbin' de wemen and takin' all dey had. Ridgely's women was robbed; and dey took horses and butter and every thing as dey as comin' down to market. Dey never ketched de robbers! After dat dey had wagons and carts.

"It was great times in town when de court set. Maaster was great man 'bout de court; he was County Justiss; he always wore a scarlet vest, sometimes scarlet cassimere coat too, and had a tall cane.

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"And den when de ships come in from England, dere was great rejoicin' and feastin' over it. Dey brought de elegantest English goods. Town's monsus full o' goods now, maasterl Ef de British was to come dey'd ruin many a one, but dey wouldn't ruin me, for I ain't got any! De ships brought a great many English sarvants to be sold here: six-year, seven-year sarvants. But when dey worked deir time out dey had to go free; and ye was obleeged to give 'em a gun, a good suit of clothes, and a mattock."

Besides negroes, there was another species of servant in the colony of Maryland, of whom frequent mention is made, and who in time became a large portion of the population. White emigrants, who were unable to bear the expenses of a voyage to the New World, or to maintain themselves upon their arrival, bound themselves to serve for a limited number of years any one who would advance them the necessary funds. In time this grew to a considerable trade. The indentures were made to the captain of the ship, or some other person, and upon their arrival in the colony their unexpired time was sold to the highest bidder, to whom their indentures were then transferred. In the early ages of the colony they were called indented apprentices; afterward the general term of redemptioners was applied to them. These, upon the expiration of their term of service, became useful citizens, and enjoyed the same franchises as their more fortunate masters.

"Ye know, the laws must 'a been good for somethin' then! Never had sech laws sence old Sam Chase and lawyer M'Mechin and' Martin. Dey daasent strike a gentleman's sarvant den but dey had to go to de court and answer for it! If ye was right, dey'd see ye righted! Since dey took de beggars up, and druv de gentlemen off de streets, de laws ain't been worth a chaw tobacker! Now dese shoe-makers and bridle - makers has de upper band -- it's jest played de old boy and Tom Walker.

"Den dere was allers somethin' lively in town. De Indians dey was a straight, proper people -- a very neat, genteel people; dey come in every fall from de back places with buckskin, moccasins, baskets, and so forth, and tomahawks and scalpin'-knives too. Dey used to be all over dis settlement once. Many a time I've been hoein' corn, and I find arrow-heads and stone pots; dey fit with one and dey cooked in t'other. Now dey're all gone: I hope de Lord 'll take care of me !

"Dere was a fine den on tea. Once mistuss seen a man comin', and she took de caddy off de table and hid it under her gown tail. Den dere was a man used to come along every now and den and take a list of all de silver and every thing of de nigger kind; ye paid so much for it--if ye let him see it."

If the tea-party at Boston has been thought worthy of renown, the tea-burning at Annapolis, open and undisguised, should not be forgotten.

In August, 1774 the brigantine Mary and Jane, Captain George Chapman, master, arrived in St. Mary's River with several packages of tea on board consigned to merchants in Georgetown and Bladensburg. The Committee of Safety of Charles County immediately summoned the master and consignees before them. The explanations and submission of these gentlemen were declared satisfactory; and as the duty had not been paid, they were discharged on the pledge that the teas should not be landed, but should be sent back in the brig to London.

On the 14th October the brig Peggy Stewart arrived in Annapolis, having in its cargo a few packages of tea. The duty was paid by Mr. Antony Stewart, the owner of the vessel. This submission to the oppressive enactment of Parliament called forth the deepest feeling. A public meeting was held; the owner of the vessel and the consignees in the most humble manner apologized for their offense, and consented to the burning of the tea. But the people were determined to exact a more signal vindication of their rights. The easy compliance of Mr. Stewart with the act had aroused their anger, and threats were poured out against his vessel and himself. Mr. Stewart, to soothe the violence of the people, and to make amends for his fault, offered to destroy the vessel with his own hand. The proposition was accepted; and while the people gathered in crowds upon the shore to witness its consummation, Mr. Stewart, accompanied by the consignees, went on board the brig, ran her aground on Windmill Point, and set fire to her in presence of the multitude. So obnoxious had tea become that wherever it was discovered its owners were forced to destroy it. Two months later the people of Frederick, having met at Hagerstown, compelled one John Parks to walk bare-headed, holding lighted torches in his hands, and set fire to a chest of tea which he had delivered up, and "which was consumed amidst the acclamations of a numerous body of people."

"When de tea and sugar and' salt was throwed overboard, maaster said dere would be war. So we moved to Green Spring Valley, to ole Maaster Robert's place. Mistuss wanted 'to go furder, to Fredericktown, but 'maaster wouldn't. Warn't dat a stylish place though ? I worked twenty-three year on dat plantation arter maaster died. Things was cayed up de country -- some things never got back. When we got dere dey had no other house but dat one room in de old tiny house 'hind de parlor now, kivered with oak shingles, and so forth. So maaster got a house from Dr. Walker, and put ole Mother Grace and Phebe and us to stay dere till de new house was built. I picked wool, and de ole woman spun. Me and another gall fotched all de water dat made de mortar for dat house. I've been through a good deal of hardship, but never got no beatin' about work; only when I was mischcevous and saasy, and dat was for want of puttin' to other practices. I had to be at somethin'!

"Once Uncle Tom told me ef I got some black rags and things, and fixed 'em on like wings, I could fly like a turkey-buzzard. I tried it, and I had a sweet fall, mind I tell ye! 'Nother time I clum up on de roof to 'tend to dryin' some water-million seed, and masster like to have 'tended to me, only I talked him out of it. He said he wasn't goin' to let me teach de chil'n to break deir necks, and told me to come down and let him whip me.

"'Lor, masster!' sez I, I gwine up here to comb my head, and den I'll clean de knives and keep myself neat and tidy, and not let de meat get burnt;' and I talked to him most as long as I been talking to ye here - but I didn't come down! De carpenters was workin' dere, and dey began to laugh, and den he laughed, and went into de house, and when I was sure he was gone I come down, and kep' out of his way. Den I used to get de scissors, and go into de garret and cut holes in de gowns; and once -- den, ye mind, de saddles was all fringed -- I cut all de fringes off de saddles. I was young, wild, and wicked! I didn't know no better! Mistuss told mother to whip me for dat. She did whip me, 'deed she did, heap harder dan mistuss! Mistuss never let any body tetch me but her and mother. Miss Betsy, she was housekeeper -- a very tough woman, a rale yaller-jacket, I'll tell ye -- she never let her teteh' me!

"Great times den among do quality! Dressin' ain't quite so touchy now as it was den: silk, satin, brocade, lutestring, polaneese---yes! long polaneese and short polaneese and cassatees. 0 Lor', chile, dey did dress beautiful !. De elegantest, beautifulest things come from England. Mistuss, when she took de dresses out de chist, dey stood up stiff as a table, or a piece of plank stuff. Great ostrian feathers, some red and some' blue, and all colors; de ladies wore dem in deir rolls. Rolls -- cushions dey was, with deir hair combed over dem--slick and powdered; den de ostrian feathers atop o' dat, and rows of beads acrost 'em, goin' through de rooms like little air castles! Ladies, and gentlemen too, powdered. De ladies wore long sacques and hoops -- sich full dresses, flounced and tapered off; side hoops and round hoops, and high-heeled shoes, and sich little heels! Dey come from de ole countries -- from England. Mistuss had great trunkful fotched home. Good calicoes for common, and chinches, and silk and fur cloaks for winter.

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"Gentlemen dressed elegant too. Beautiful silver-set buckles, glass and stone in 'em; goolden on de coats and waistcoats, flowered like ladies' dresses; and three - cocked hats, bound round with gold-lace; and long boots or gaiters when dey was a-horseback. Dey wore wigs, long wigs with queues, and short wigs without 'em. Tom C----- wore a long wig. Deir coats was mostly blue, black, and drab, and nankeen for summer. Tell ye, chile, dey was fine! I was so took up with dem many a time I couldn't eat my vittels. Mother licked me often for not comin' to my dinner!

"People lived high -- first chop! Grand dinner - parties dey raly had; danced till day in dat ole room dere. What! yah! yah! Here de silks come rattlin' through de rooms dere like a passell of ole dry leaves. Dance till day! All dem people's dead and gone now!

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"Dere was Captain L-----, as pretty a dancer as need to-be of mankind! He's taken many a drink of water out of de bucket on my head when he was haulin' in his wheat to mill. He used to drive de team hisself. He's dead now ye know. And ole Stephen Shamydine!" Sure God makes every body, but I do think he was de homeliest white man I ever saw. With his hairy bear-skin cap and rigimentals and sword. It's God's truth! And when his house was done, dey sent him a present of a big brass knocker fur de front-door, de elegantest knocker ever ye see; dat's for why dey named dat place Pomona, arter de imidge on de knocker, so dey tells me. Tom C----,as good a man as ever stepped de land, he lived with Dr. H----, a little man, but like a piece of fire; elegant doctor, but as cross a man as ever drawed de bref of life; as impident a piece of goods as ever I see for a little man! And Major Howard! He went to de war after, and got wounded. Ladies was very sorry for it, for be was de very apple of deir eye. I heard dem talk of it. He was at our house many a time. And Crack-brained Davy T----, a coarse lookin' fellow, a hot-blood, fox-huntin', racin', sportin' character. It was so his mother nicknamed all dem chil'en --- Crack-brained Davy, Gentleman Mordecai, Blackguard John, Extravagant Joshua, Miser Tom; and de girls was Whip-poor-will Betty and Butterfly Rachel. Mordecai was a pale, thin, blue-lookin' man, and Tom was as beautiful a dancer as could be, he was. You seen his pitchur', with de murroon velvet and gilt buttons, and de sea compass in his hand? And Sam W-----, he could beat any body dere a-makin' a bow, though he did dress in homespun. Den dere was Cornelius H------, the survoeor. He was a Methodist, but he was a very good man to his people; he didn't dance neither jigs, nor reels, nor court-lil-yows, nor minuets, nor fisher's hornpipes, nor nothin'! He was raly good to his people, and used to pay for any harm dey did, rather than whip dem. But L-----'s was a whippin' house, G-----'s was a whippin' house, K-----'s was a whippin' house -- whippin' and cuttin' every Monday mornin' all over de neighborhood. Some had got deir maaster's horse and gone 'way out to Elk Ridge to a nigger dance; some for one thing, some for another, but ginerally whip anyhowl Den dere was ole K-----, a fox - huntin', racin' character. Didn't you never read his history on de tombstone at de church? I don't know from A to Izzard, but dey tells me dat somebody's wrote it so 'as it reads he was a darned rascal.

"Dat fox-huntin' made gay old times. Be up at two o'clock in de mornin': sich runnin', racin', ridin! Maaster kep' deir company, but he didn't keep hounds. We niggers had our time too. Every Saturday night we had leave to go dance at de quarter, or at de barn in warm weather, and at Christmas and Whitsuntide and Easter we had a great frolic, we had. Sich dancin'! My Lord! plenty to eat and drink - meat, cabbage, turnips! Same thing at de huskin' matches -- till dey got to fightin' and stobbin.'

"Nathan Cromwell's Pepin and Philpot's Jack and Worthington's Mingo was de greatest fidders of de county. Dey used to go 'Way down to 'Noppolis" (Annapolis). "Our Starling was a great fiddler. Mistuss let kim go any where he choosed -- never took no money from him -- till one time he went to Baltimore to learn play Hail CoIumby, and he didn't come back for twenty years -- den he staid. Blind Johnny and Club-foot Davy was white men and great fiddlers for de quality; colored people ketched a great deal from 'em. De great tunes den was Bob and Joan, Dusty Miller, Jack ma Green, and so on. Den dere was' card-playin' and black-gamblin', and horseracin' twice a year in Gist's fields.

'If ye will bet thousands, my gentlemen all,
I will bet millions on de famous skew-balL
Spare us a venture on de courses of all,
I'm sure of winning on de famous skew-ball.'

Dat was a song dey used to sing. I can't sing now; I's got no teeth.

'I was drunk last night,
I was a little hoddy--
Oh, plantation gals,
Can't ye look at a body !
Hi dompty, dompty, 
Hi dompty, dompty!'

My! don't talk! Didn't we jump in dem days!

' Where did ye come from?
I come from Virginny.
Who's in de long-boat ?
Simon and Caesar.' 

Dem was de songs - sing and dance 'em too. Den dere was a great song of dem days my young missus used to sing:

'Dere's na luck about de house,
Dere's na luck at all;
Dis is de time to mind yer work,
While--'

Let's see --

Dere's little pleasure in our house
While our goodman's awa.'

I can't 'xactly 'member it. Enoch Story used to sing it. He was de music-maaster, a little man, a furriner. He come up from town and used to teach mistuss's daughter to play de spinner. No more spinners now ! Dey was made like a piano, with ivory teeth. I tell ye, I 'member it !"

The spinner, or spinet, was a musical instrument of the harpsichord kind, but differing in shape and power; formerly much in use, though now entirely superseded by the piano-forte. The tone was comparatively weak, but pleasing, and as the instrument was small in dimensions and cheap in price, it answered the purpose of those who did not find it convenient to purchase a harpsichord.

"For women of quality dere was Miss Betsy X-----; she had a tongue equal to any lawyer ;a clinking tongue! and Miss Hannah W-----, a sickly woman; she died o' consumption; and Nelly R----, Nick 0-----'s wife; and Hannah J-----; she was a big, stout lady, with a brown skin; and Betsy R-----; she was a good fortune; and Polly W-----, Passon W------'s daughter. Ole John Tilly, who come from Jamaica or some furrin parts, courted her; she had headpiece enough, but her Maaster above called for her, and she went home.

"Maaster's daughter, Miss Becky, was as pretty a woman as ever de sun shined on; counted de beautifulest woman in dem days for fair skin, pretty teeth. A genteelmade woman, of beautiful behavior -- nufff to charm de heart of a stone! When she was married missus let me creep into de room, de back parlor dere. De gentlemen thought she was an angel from heaven, in a white satin dress, and white ostrian feathers in her rolls--feathers so tall she had te leave her shoes off till she come down stairs - and buckles with stones in her shoes! So busy, lookin' and cryin' together, nobody seed me; women a-cryin', and gentlemen tickled at it. It was de dreadfulest rainy night ever ye see. Passon Chase was fetched from town -- a very handsome man; had some fringy thing on when he married dem; 'twas about seven or eight o'clock, by candle-light, in de old back parlor dere, De groom was in light clothes, and de groomsmen and all saluted de bride down de stairs. Den dey went to dancin'; supped before de dance, and den handin' round between de dancin'. And at de supper dere was every thing ye could desire - roast pig, chicken, turkey, ham, cherry tarts, apple tarts screamin' time dey had, mind I tell ye! Oho! ha, ha! 'deed dey did dance dat night; dreadfulest rainy night ever I see! Stormy weddin', I tell ye. Afterward it took three weeks to get round de visitin', dinin', and dancin'.

"Captain L----- was dere; Captain L------'s mother -- no, she wasn't dere; she'd gone home to glory: a little bit of a Scotchwoman, de least woman I ever see; she wanted to be carried home to Ireland to be buried -- a pretty piece of business ! She was buried somewhere in town here 'mong de Presbyterians.

"Den dere was Betsy B------ was dere, and her brother; both had red heads. She had some misfortin; dey fit a jewill about it, and she went away to England. And Dr. H----- and Mistuss H-----; she was as de Lord made her, but she was a very homely woman; Wylet H------, a jolly big woman, brown skin, monsus big; and Becky Plowman, she was raly a mere pictur', a very jolly - made lady, nice round - made lady, not so very tall. Most all dese people are buried in Garrison Forest church-yard.

"Every end of dem Y--------s buried deir husbands. So much of dis eatin', drinkin', and feastin'! And when all's gone dese people turns round and says ye're so extravagant and wasteful. Dey be de very first people to talk! 'Ye may stand to it while ye live, but de chil'en come to want. Can't measure de snake till he's dead. Niggers and every thing else must go. Seen miny a plantation lost so. Be neighborly, kind, and all dat; go to church; mind what I say, but mind what I do! Click here for part 2


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Copyright 1997 by Ed Sanders.