Abner Jordan, interviewed by Daisy Whaley at his home in Durham County, North Carolina, WPA Slave Narrative Project, North Carolina Narratives, Volume 11 Part 2, Federal Writers' Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Accessed via Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936–1938, American Memory, Library of Congress.
Abner Jordan, Ex-slave, 95 years.
"I wus bawn about 1832 an' I wus bawn at Staggsville, Marse paul Cameron's place. Most obviously, the world of Mr. Jordan's childhood included slavery, an institution that is thankfully not a part of our lives today. Living under slavery surely had a tremendous impact on Mr. Jordan, influencing his daily life and his perceptions of the world around him. Hard work, poor living conditions, meager rations, supervision by overseers who could be cruel and demeaning, and the constant fear of being abused, sold, or separated from loved ones all made life difficult for enslaved people. However, slaves managed to find subtle ways of resisting the institution without being caught and were able to craft a rich culture that valued their families, kept African traditions alive, and provided a network of support for one another throughout the antebellum period. You might want to brainstorm about some of the ways in which the institution of slavery would have shaped Mr. Jordan's childhood and influenced his perspective.. My pappy's name wus Obed an' my mammy wus Ella Jordan an' dey wus thirteen chillun on our family.
I wus de same age of Young Marse Benehan, I played wid him an' wus his body guard. Yes, suh, Where ever young Marse Benehan went I went too. Very few children in America today know what it is like to be (or to have) a servant. Given child labor laws, it is highly unlikely that one child would be another child's servant today. Imagine how this relationship might have worked, How would it feel to be someone's playmate but also his or her servant? What kinds of things do you think a child's servant would be asked to do? How fair do you think a child would be to a servant who worked for him or her? How do you think Mr. Jordan might have felt about Bennehan Cameron? And do you think his feelings for him might have changed over time or depending on what was going on during a particular week? This may have been a complicated relationship. Unfortunately, we don't know much about it from this narrative, but we might find more about the relationship between Bennehan Cameron and Abner Jordan in the Cameron family's papers.. Young Mrse Benny run away an' 'listed in de war, but Marse Paul done went an' brung him back kaze he wus too young to go and fight de Yankees.
Marse Paul had heap if niggahs; he had five thousan'. Having to answer to someone about whom you belonged to or what you were doing whenever you were out on the road would have been a regular reminder of your status as a slave. While slaves at Stagville may have been less restricted in their comings and goings than some — Paul Cameron didn't, according to this account, ask to see a written pass or inquire any further about where slaves were going or what they were doing — they were still not free to travel away from their work on the plantation without permission and would have to answer to any white person who asked them about where they were going, who owned them, or what they were doing. How do you think that would have made you feel? What impact would these kinds of restrictions have had on your ability to see family or friends on neighboring plantations? To sneak in opportunities to see a loved one, worship as you pleased, tend a side garden, fish or hunt to supplement your family's food, or pursue other activities? How would the knowledge that you would be subject to this kind of scrutiny from whites effect any possible plans to run away?.
My pappy wus de blacksmith an' foreman for Marse Paul, an' he blew de horn for de other niggahs to come in from de fiel' at night. Dey couldn' leave de plantation without Marse say dey could.
The world described in this narrative is a world at war. Unlike recent wars the U. S. has fought in foreign lands, the Civil War brought the realities of war into the daily lives of American non-combatants, especially in the South where most of the battles took place. We now know, of course, that the Union won the Civil War and slavery ended, but when Union troops came to Stagville, Mr. Jordan would not have had the benefit of that knowledge. What reactions do you think slaves at Stagville would have had to the arrival of Union troops? Why might they have welcomed the Union troops? Why might they have feared them or been concerned? Do you think the reactions of slaves who felt certain that the Union would be victorious would be different from those who thought the Confederacy might win the war? How much do you think slaves knew about the outcome of battles or the general trend in the war? Given that most slaves could not read or write, they would have been reliant on word of mouth or on whites for that information. Why might white plantation owners have been disinclined to share information about Confederate defeats with their slaves? How do you think the Cameron family felt about the soldiers' arrival? How do you think the slaves reacted in the presence of the Camerons? Do you think they might have reacted differently in front of whites than they did in the slave quarters?. But mammy say she didn' know whare dey put it, an' dey would jus' have to kill her for she didn' know an' wouldn' lie to keep dem from hurting her.
De sojers stole seven or eight of de ho'ses an' foun' de meat an' stole dat, but dey didn' burn none off de buildin's nor hurt any of us slaves.
The transition from slavery to freedom and the need to totally rebuild one's life in a span of a few short years is an experience that is completely foreign to us in the twenty-first century. Why, after enduring the hardships of slavery, would people have stayed with those who had enslaved them? What challenges did former slaves face? What needs would they and their families have, and how might they go about meeting them? What kinds of discrimination and hostility might they have faced from whites in the South if they remained in the region — and how could that discrimination and hostility have had an impact on their opportunities and their futures?. I ain' never been out of North Carolina eighteen months in my life. North Carolina is good enough for me."