Maria Tilden Thompson was 101 years old when interviewed in 1937. Born a slave on the Engledow plantation in Jefferson County, Texas, she never knew her parents. Her mother shortly after giving birth, and she knew nothing of her father. At the time of the interview, she lived with her niece in Austin. What follows is her own description of her time as a slave.
I’m named Maria Tilden Thompson, and I was born 101 years ago, down in Jefferson County. I don’t know nothing about them early days and my mammy died when I was only six weeks old. I never did know nothing about my daddy. I know that I had a brother by the name of Charles. He died in 1908. The reason that I know about my age is because a old white gentleman down in Nueces County said that he knowed all about my age, and that I was fifteen years older than he was, and that he was eighty six years old. That makes me 101. This white man what knows all about me is Mr. Eli Merriman, a writer from down Corpus Christi.
When I stayed on the Engledow place near Corpus Christi, I learned to ride a horse like a man excepting that I rode side-saddle. I sure could ride a horse. Later in life I became a midwife, and I rode horse back all over that countryside. I was doctor and midwife to many children. I nursed them all. I reckon that I was a midwife for at least fifty children. Why some families had seven children, and I brought them all into the world. I never did lose a case when I took it. I would always charge about ten dollars for a case. Sometimes I had to charge more because there was times when I had to help out one family for a entire month. But I got good pay for it. I even nursed children for folks what lived on the King ranch and on other ranches. At Engledow’s ranch I had to do housework and nurse the children. I don’t remember none of the children’s names.
During slavery time the folks what owned us was pretty mean to us. The Engledows was pretty good folks, but the would whoop us, too. Even when I was in my late twenties I still got a whooping for doing something that I should of done better. But us slaves was just plain ignorant, and a lot of times we didn’t know right away how to do something what they wanted us to do. You must remember that we never had no education, and none was give to us. We wasn’t allowed to go to school and we wasn’t showed how to do our A B C’s. But, I do remember how some of the Engledow girls would try to show me my A B C’s, but they would get a whooping for showing me if they was caught at it. I didn’t get to go to school after freedom, because there wasn’t no school to go to. I can read my Bible a little but I can’t write much. I just picked it up myself because I never got no schooling.
We never did get paid for our work and we just got our eating and a place to stay. I had a room in the big house, because I was a house-girl but later Master Engledow built a small house for me to live in. I was took from Jefferson County to Nueces County, and I was brought to the Engledow ranch about ten miles from Corpus Christi. This was nothing but a big ranching county at that time. There was big ranches everywhere. The King ranch was the biggest one down there.
One day Master Engledow called me into the big house. He told me: Now Maria , you is as free as I is. But you can stay on here if you want to. We want you to stay. But he never said nothing about paying me for my work and my sweetheart didn’t want me to stay. Master Engledow said that I should get married on his place. I had been going with Fountain Thompson, a man what had worked and bought his freedom long before freedom come for the rest of us. Fountain had a truck farm near Corpus Christi, and he took his vegetables to town in a wagon. Fountain was also a good horse doctor. I felt good and left a shouting because I was free. I felt right sorry for the Engledow children because they like me so much, but I didn’t mind a leaving the older folks. Oh, but the children cried and seemed to be so hurt because I was leaving them.
I married Fountain on Master Engledow’s ranch, and we was the first colored couple to be married by license and preacher in Nueces County. The City Clerk was Joseph Fitzsimmons and our marriage license is dated March 31, 1866 and we got it at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. A white preacher married us. We never did have no children.
We was now free but I still remember how my brother Charles was sold during slavery for nine hundred dollars, but he said that when he got free that he couldn’t get seventy-five cents for his days work. After freedom I found life right pleasant. I had a good man for a husband. He was a hard worker and a quiet man. I sure did like the Corpus Christi Country and I wish that I was down there now. That climate in summer is good for the old folks. I liked that salty breeze down there. I never did take a bath in the bay or in the Gulf of Mexico. It was all right for them what liked it, but I didn’t care for it. I didn’t know how to swim and I didn’t want to learn. I never did care to go into deep water. Suppose that that water would of took a flirt and come on shore in big waves–then what?
A lot of times I took old Yellow Jacket, a favorite horse of mine, and rode it side-saddle down to Corpus, and I’d ride up and down the beach. Ole Yellow Jacket was a pacer and a good one. It’s easier on you when you ride a pacer.
During slavery time there was lots of times when the scared slaves would get together and talk about getting their freedom. They would get together, polish up their hunting guns, and be ready to start something. This was just before freedom. The main thing that the slaves wanted was to get their freedom, but the masters had better not hear about it.
Them times will never come to me again. Many was the times during slavery that I’d get to thinking about being slaves and I’d sit down and cry and cry. I would rather die than live through them days again. But, them days will never come to me again.