The following paragraphs are excerpted from Joseph Sutton's conversations with Shepard Krech III about life among rural blacks in Talbot County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have been edited by Krech, an anthropology professor at George Mason University:
Some people that owned slaves, they set em free turned em free. I heard some of the old slave people talkin bout was a man they said come down on Bay Side, bought four head and was carryin em home and they sang and prayed so until he stopped and told em they was free; they could go back home. And I don't know whether them was Colonel Lloyd's slaves or the slaves they bought in Easton to what they used to call the market house -- that's where they used to auctioneer slaves off. And I heard an old man say they had certain days to sell slaves like they sellin calves and sheep and stuff like that. I don't know what they got for em. They didn't get as much as a good horse'd cost, I'm pretty sure. This day, they was sellin, this man say he was with his mother, and when she was sold and the people bout ready to take her away, he grabbed her dress and commenced to cryin; he was a little fellow. And the auctioneer come along and didn't pull his hand loose and struck him on the arm and broke his grip on his mother's dress. That was terrible though.
After the Civil War and they come home, they had no place to go, and some of em claimed that they was in worse fix than they was when they was owned by a master, because some of em, they didn't get work enough to feed theirself decent. Some of em said they fared better in slave-time. In slave-time they could bet on somethin to eat and after they was freed, well, the women didn't get anything to do. Maybe some of em got a job washin for somebody, but they eventually stopped workin in the field. Then the men that worked and had families, and they had to work and feed the wife and feed the children, but before that, they got some allowance for children. And lay-in, they call it, for the wife and lay-in for the man.
Whenever I went to see my greatgrandmother she'd tell me how to get along in the world and what I should do. She'd always give me a lecture, what children to play with, and children not to play with. It wasn't because I was doin something that I shouldn't do, that was for my benefit And she always did walk with a stick. She used to carry that for dogs -- wasn't afraid of no dogs. Used to walk me from Copperville clear down to Wye when I was four and five years old. We used to go to Glebe often as we did to Wye. That was after I got 5 or 6 years old. John Blackwell was on the Glebe for years and years. When we'd go to Wye, if his wife was home, she'd stop there. His wife used to cook for the Lloyds.
I was around 10 years old and a doctor wanted me to come to him to work in Easton. My great-grandmother wouldn't let me go. Well, I'm glad I didn't go or it probably been just like she said. I'd got in with the worstest ones there, and that'd been too bad. You can always get acquainted with the good-for-nothin ones quicker and easier than you can ones that's decent.
I went to work 9 years old. Always did go to Tunis Mills, and this man picked me out. I heard he told a man there in the store, say, "that seems to be a bright intelligent boy. I'd like to have him." say "I've got two men on this schooner, but when I have to load or unload, and one of them men is a cook, and I have to load or unload," say, "I've got nobody to cook. And he have to try to cook and load and unload," and he said, "I'd like to have that boy just to keep the fire up under the food and watch it and put water into it when it need." So then he asked me one day would I like to go with him, so I told him yes, say "but you have to see my mother." And he saw my mother, told my mother he'd give me four dollars a month. Four dollars, that was big money them days, and she let me go.
And I went on that bay schooner. He had two men on the schooner and times he went to sailin, he needed two men on deck or when he was loadin stuff, and my job was to keep the fire up under the food after the cook put it on the stove. It wasn't no heavy work. that schooner was just runnin itself different places on this side of Chesapeake Bay. It didn't carry any grain while I was on it, and that's what they carried up and-down the Chesapeake Bay then. But before time to carry grain, my mother made me quit. We went to Kent Island and made several trips to places they call Piney Neck for Dr. Tilghman. We made two trips or more with just green posts, fence posts. Somebody had saw mill. We carried building lumber, post. May've been somethin else.
I think I was on there three or four months and never got three cents. Never got nothin. Man never paid my mother a cent. He always had an excuse when it's come to the end of the month. I don't think I got one cent. My mother didn't. He was goin to give the money to her. I was just willin to whatever she said. One way, it was up to her, and then she wouldn't want me to go if I wasn't satisfied. And I liked it. I expected everything to happen when I was away. In them months, I should've been goin to school.
My mother took me off and I went cullin oysters and I'd called oysters until it'd get too cold for me. And the other children goin to school.