Submitted by Levi Branhams granddaughter, Lucille Branham
Photo is Levi Branham, at seventy-seven years old, who tells his experiences in his own way.
I met Miss Lucille, as she is known and loved, at the Dalton, Georgia Senior Center. Every Friday I visit the center to sing, eat, and listen to stories of days gone by and provide my mother with a day out of the house. These visits are the highlights of my week.
It is rare that we have the opportunity to read and experience first-hand accounts of slavery. Here a former slave, Levi Branham, has written his memories for his descendants.
His granddaughter, Miss Lucille Branham has graciously allowed U.S. Legacies to reprint his 64 page memoir for your reading pleasure.
Over the next months you will be able to take a trip back in time, reliving the Civil War, slavery, and post war experiences from the viewpoint of a slave. I truly hope that you find this to be as entertaining and enlightening as I have.
My thanks to Miss Lucille for allowing me, and you, this glimpse into history.
I was born in 1852 in Murray County, Georgia, and lived there until 1863. Then I refugeed from here (Murray County) to South Georgia, Terrell County, of which Dawson was the county seat.
My first owner that I am able to recollect was Dr. Black, who later sold me to Mr. Jim Edmondson. Dr. Black not only sold me but he sold all of his Negroes to Mr. Edmondson, declaring that he (Mr. Edmondson) would not separate the Negroes.
A white boy, Sam Carter, brother of Sooth Carter, was my first white playmate that I am able to remember. We would tie pine tops together to make a seine to catch fish. The place where we fished in our childhood days is now under cultivation. During Sam's and my play together he claimed that I gave him the whooping cough. That was during the Civil War and Sam was living in Spring Place.
In 1873 I left the South and came back to Murray County to see my old playmate. When I arrived at his home he was sick of the measles which he said he was going to give me because I gave him the whooping cough. Sure enough I took the measles.
I spent a large portion of my life in the Chief Vann house with my old master, Mr. Edmondson. He had a daughter by the name of Jennie. Jennie has a waitress who was named Tein. Another of his daughters was Sug, whose waitress was Fannie. Another one of his daughters was Georgia whose waitress was Elvie. These were all of the single daughters that Mr. Edmondson had when I was with him, but he had three married daughters whose names were Harriet, Sallie and Sue. Harriet married Bob Anderson, Sue married Street, and Sallie married Dr. Mathis.
One of my young masters was John Edmondson, another, Tom Polk Edmondson. I was Tom Polk's waitman until he went to the Civil War between the North and South. Bill, the youngest, was quite small. All of the waitmen and waitresses stayed in the Edmondson house now known as the Chief Vann house. The room in which we stayed had a fine carpet on which we slept. Mr. Edmondson gave us fine blankets and we surely did sleep warm and comfortable.
My old mistress, "Miss Beckie", was very good to us. She took more pains with us darkies than our parents did, simply because she had more to care for us with, and too, she loved us.
Photo of the Vann House, Murray County, Georgia
Occasionally "Miss Beckie" would give us tea for medicine. She had a hard time getting this tea in me, but I had to take it after all. Sometimes she would give me peach brandy which I was always glad to get. Sometimes we would pretend that we were sick so we could get sweetened coffee and buttered biscuits which certainly tasted good to us darkies. I thought as much of "Miss Beckie" as I did my mother.
When all the white boys and girls would be away "Miss Beckie" would gather the little Negro children around the fire and talk with us. One day I said to "Miss Beckie"; "Why do we little Negro children have to work for you?" She said, "That's the way our fore-parents fixed the matter." I said to her, "when I get grown I am going to change the situation somewhat."
While I was still a little boy I was very fond of plowing. There was an old black man who plowed for my master. Sometimes I would give him a dime or a nickel to let me plow a round. That's the way I learned how to plow.
There was a pond in which the boys of the neighborhood would go swimming. Usually when they were swimming I would have something to do. I would hoe off the ends of the row and two or three rows on each side then I would say that I was through and then would go to the "Black Stump," which was the name of the swimming pool. Strange to say, I now own the pond on which we called the black stump.
All of those boys with whom I used to play are dead and gone. There were the Wilson and Rembert families; they are all gone. The last of them that I remember was Jim Henry. He was one of my first friends. The same year Jim Henry died he told me to clean out the swamp where the black stump was so it could be making grass while I slept. He said "some day another people will be saying old Boisey died trying to make a nickel," and old Jim Henry died trying to make a nickel. This was the last conversation that I remember having with him. He was then clerking in Fite's store, Dalton, Georgia. When he died I waited patiently at Spring Place, thinking he would be buried here, but he was buried in Dalton, therefore I did not get to see the remains of his body.
The old Chief Vann house had been torn away considerably now from what it was when we lived there. There were large sliding doors in the house. Sometimes when there would be dances, there would be as many as sixteen in a set at one time. I have often seen old Mr. Frank Peeples on the dancing floor, but oh, my! He was cutting a shine. Now Mr. Peeples is like me, he is not able to do any dancing.
My old mistress would always say she was going to whip me, but she never whipped me but once. She was always threatening to whip me and one morning after the others had gone to work and I was still lying in the bed, my old mistress came upstairs to my room with an old cow hide and struck me three or four licks. I jumped up and ran to the field. That was the first cow hide and the last one that I have seen. She never had a chance to whip anyone else, or me either, because I took the hide and cut it in two with an axe and then I buried it.
I had a very bad time when I was small, and some very good times too. Mr. Edmondson, my master, owned two farms, one in Tennessee and another in Georgia. My mother was in Tennessee on his farm while I was in Georgia with my old mistress, whom I loved as well as my mother, for she was very dear to me.
On one occasion a group of boys and I decided to go on a fishing trip. We secured several dress pins and made them into fish hooks as best we could, and then started off on our trip. We went down on the Conasauga River. We wandered around for a while fishing here and there until at last one of the boys noticed a grape vine across the river. Then we began to play with it. We pulled it up, and to our surprise there was a fish basket on it which contained about five or six trout weighing from four to five pounds. We carried the fish home to Mr. Edmondson. He asked us where we got such fine fish as we told him we caught them, so he asked us where were our hooks, and when we showed him our pin hooks he said, "Pshaw."
Image of Conasauga River
After we had exhibited the fine fish to almost the whole plantation, our next job was to prepare them for cooking. When the fish were cooked nicely by the cook and ready for the table, all the white folks helped themselves then it was left to the colored to eat their share, and by the time we had finished eating, the owner of the fish basket came up. How he knew we were the boys that got his fish, I don't know, but I suppose someone told him what fine fish they had seen a group of us colored boys with. He came and told Mr. Edmondson about it. To settle the matter Mr. Edmondson paid him a half dollar.
In those days people pulled up the cotton stalks with their hands. This was mostly the children's job. One day while a crowd of children and I were pulling up stalks, my hands became very tired so I went to the house. Mr. Edmondson asked me why I quit. I told him that I was tired, so to punish me for my laziness he carried me upstairs and put me on a very high porch so that I could not escape. He told me to watch the other children and make them work, while at the same time they were about a mile from me, but I could see them. They seemed to be having a very good time and I wanted to be with them, but could not get down until someone came after me. Within a few days from then I began to play off again, so Mr. Edmondson thinking the high porch punishment was too good for me, made it harder for me. He carried me to a dark room in the Chief Vann house and made me stay up there until dark and you may know that I got enough of it that time. When they brought me down again I was glad to stay down and from then on I never tried to play off anymore.
Published May 2004 U.S. Legacies
Written By Levi Branham
Submitted by Lucille Branham
Posted by Kathryn Seiley
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All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reprinted without the prior consent of U.S. Legacies, American Legacies or the original author.