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‘You Better Pray for the South to Win’ – The Slave Narrative of William M. Adams

William M. Adams was born enslaved to the Davis family in Texas. In an interview he gave in the late 1930s, he told of slave catchers, singing and dancing, and how white preachers told the slaves to pray that the South won the war. He also tells how the slaves personally resisted by praying for the North to win.

What follows are his own words:

I was born 93 years ago, that is what my mother said. We didn’t keep no record like folks does today. All I know is I been here a long time. My mother, she was Julia Adams and my father, he was James Adams. She’s born in Hollis Spring, Mississippi, and my father, he was born in Florida. He was a Black Creek Indian.

There was twelve of us children. When I was about seven, the missus, she come and gets me for her servant. I lived in the big house till she died. Here and Marster Davis was powerful good to me.

Marster Davis he was a big lawyer and the owner of a plantation. But all I did was wait on old Missus. I’d light her pipe for her and I helped her with her knitting. She give me money all the time. She had a little trunk she kept money in and lots of times I’d have to pack it down with my feet.

Slave Life

I disremember just how many slaves there was, but there was more than 100. I saw as much as 100 sold at a time. When they took a bunch of slaves to trade, they put chains on them.

The other slaves lived in log cabins back of the big house. They had dirt floors and beds that was made out of corn shucks or straw. At night, they burned the lamps for about an hour, then the overseers, they come knock on the door and tell them to put the light outs.

Lots of overseers were mean. Sometimes they’d whip a nigger with a leather strap about a food wide and as long as your arm and with a wooden handle at the end.

Singing and Dancing

On Saturday and Sunday nights, they’d dance and sing all night long. They didn’t dance like today, they danced the round dance and jib and do the pigeon wing, and some of them would jump up and see how many times he could kick his feets before they hit the ground.

William Adams, photographed in 1936. Fort Worth, Texas.

They had an old fiddle and some of them would take two bones in each hand and rattle them. They sang songs like ‘Diana Had a Wooden Leg,’ and ‘A Handful of Sugar,’ and ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe.’ I disremember how they went.

The slaves didn’t have no church then, but they’d take a big sugar kettle and turn it top down on the ground and put logs around it to kill the sound. They’d pray to be free and sing and dance.

When war come, they come and got the slaves from all the plantations and took them to build the breastworks. I saw lots of soldiers. They’d sing a song that go something like this:

Jeff Davis rode a big white horse,
Lincoln rode a mule
Jeff Davis is our President
Lincoln in a fool.

Slave Catchers

I remember when the slaves would run away. Ol’ John Billinger, he had a bunch of dogs and he’d take after runaway niggers. Sometimes the dogs didn’t catch the nigger. Then ol’ Billinger, he’d cuss and kick the dogs.

We didn’t have to have a pass but on other plantations they did, or the patrollers would get you and whip you. They was the poor white folks that didn’t have no slaves. We didn’t call them white folk in them days. No, sir, we called them ‘Buckras.” 1The word used by Mr. Adams was transcribed as “Buskrys.”

‘Pray for the South to Win’

Just before the war, a white preacher come to us slaves and says: ‘Do you want to keep your homes where you get all to eat, and raise your children, or do you want to be free to roam around without a home, like the wild animals? If you want to keep your homes, you better pray for the South to win. All day you want to pray for the South to win, raise the hand.’

We all raised our hands because we was scared not to, but we sure didn’t want the South to win.

That night, all the slaves had a meeting down in the hollow. Ol’ Uncle Mack, he gets up and says: ‘One time over in Virginia, there was two old niggers, Uncle Bob and Uncle Tom. They was made at one another and one day they decided to have a dinner and bury the hatchet. So they sat down, and when Uncle Bob wasn’t looking, Uncle Top put some poison in Uncle Bob’s food, but he saw it and when Uncle Tom wasn’t looking, Uncle Bob turned the tray around on Uncle top, and he gets the poisoned food.’

Uncle Mack, he says: ‘That’s what we slaves is going to do. Just turn the tray around and pray for the North to win.’

After the War

After the war, there was a lot of excitement among the niggers. They was rejoicing and singing. Some of them looked puzzled, sort of scared like. But they danced and had a big jamboree.

Lots of them stayed and worked on the halves. Others hired out. I went to work in a grocery store and he paid me $1.50 a week. I give my mother the dollar and kept the half. They I got married and farmed for awhile. Then I come to Fort Worth and I been here since.

To read the original manuscript, please visit this link.

For more information on my own process for handling slave narratives, see this.

References   [ + ]

Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.