- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MONONGAHELA, Pa. (AP) - William Smallwood was born into slavery in the South, and as an ornery child, his tricks occasionally drew a slapping from his “old mammy,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1893.

“I lived for fun and had it,” Smallwood stated in an article published Sept. 20, 1893, in The Daily Republican about five Monongahela residents who were born the children of slaves.

Smallwood, who was never told his date of birth in Maryland, went on to say “the girls liked me as well as I liked the girls.”

The “narrative memoirs” were found by Terry Necciai, a Monongahela architect and historian who has researched black history in the Mon Valley.

“It really interests me that this was in the newspaper at that particular time,” Necciai said. “There is something about this community that allowed for this diversity.”

Smallwood’s life drastically changed after his mistress died when he was 15 years old and her slaves were transferred to her brother, Ignatius Jamison.

“Then our hard work begun,” Smallwood recalled. “I worked on the farm, but I wasn’t allowed to look in a book or see anything out in town.”

Smallwood, who wanted to learn to read, said he and another slave ran away after Jamison took away all of his books.

He said they made the mistake of going into a town where they were captured, landing him behind bars for a year.

He later successfully escaped from his master and joined the Union Army in New Jersey after making it to Pennsylvania, and he never again returned to Maryland.

The reporter asked him if he ever saw his family again.

“Not long after I was sold from my mother, the boss read an account of her death in Charleston, (W.Va.),” Smallwood replied. “She had been assaulted on the street by a white man, and making a resistance, was fairly kicked to death. I had four sisters and three brothers, but I never heard of any but one, and that was of his death somewhere in Pennsylvania.”

W. Thomas Mainwaring, a history professor at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, said former slaves were aging in the 1890s, and some of them must have felt a need to tell their stories to remind their neighbors why the Civil War was fought.

“Slavery wasn’t this happy institution,” Mainwaring said. “There was cruelty and separation of family.”

Mainwaring said the name of the local newspaper, The Daily Republican, was interesting because it drew its name from the party of President Lincoln.

Most slave stories in Washington County were told through the eyes of white people, and to have the individual names of former slaves telling their own stories is important to black history, he said.

“I guess it’s a matter of reconciliation, putting away the bitterness and hate,” Mainwaring said.

The published narratives led off with Esther Cochran telling her story of fleeing from “the bitter hatred” of a Northern Democrat who opposed the war to the “friendly shelter” of a stop on the Underground Railroad. She said she carried her infant son all night while walking in knee-deep mud and pouring rain to reach her destination.

She said she was eventually rescued by Union soldiers and carried in a wagon with her children to “the borderland of freedom.”

Cochran, who had lived in Virginia, said she was never abused as a slave but had “stood at the window of my little cabin near the big house” and witnessed her mistress’s sons abuse many slaves. She said the men would tie up slaves, force them to kneel in snow and whip their bodies “until the blood-stained snow was like a lake of fire.”

Another man interviewed for the narratives, James Banks, spoke with high regard about his master, Richard Cave, also of Virginia. Banks said Cave was kind and considerate to his 22 slaves.

The reporter asked Banks if he had seen a man whipped.

“Yes. So badly that for weeks he would have to wear a greased shirt to keep the garment from sticking to his flesh,” Banks replied.

Katherine Reese also said she wasn’t badly abused, “but we were slaves and treated as such.”

Reese recalled she struck her master with a broken table leg when she was 5 years old when he attempted to whip her mother.

She said her master never again attempted to assault his slaves, and he would laugh and say she “was a match for him.”

The last woman to be interviewed, Amanda Turner, said her father searched for her for 13 years after she was sold from Virginia to Warren County, Ky., when she was 13 months old. After he found his daughter, he returned her to her native state, where she was “compelled to do housework, fieldwork, anything a man, woman or child could do, in any sort of weather.”

She spoke about a fight with her master when he attempted to whip her because she wanted his permission to feed her children breakfast before going to work.

“He in turn got the whipping,” she said. “I got a blow in the head which nearly cost me my life and which today shows its effect in many a severe headache.”

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Online:

http://bit.ly/2m4QxKV

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Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com

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