Sunday, 19 October 2014

Federal Writers' Project

James Goings (Ex-Slave) 
Volume X - Missouri 
Page 120

"'en we wuz all living pretty good.. plenty to eat, an clothes enuf. Dey wuzn't no scool out dere, an' I didden know nothin' 'bout reedin' ' bout writin." -  

This was an unexpected view to come across so early in the account of a slave living at the time of American Civil War.  With dwindling resources, in a  disputed border state in the (then seen) western frontier where agriculture was the main industry, that a slave could view his situation of bondage as " pretty good.. plenty to eat..". However, his understanding that his situation could be worse, i.e. if he lived in the deep south is unsepcified. 

The beginning of the interview was did provide some historic context to his situation as a slave . James Goings describes in the first paragraph of the interview, Who his mother was, "Teresa Cannon wuz my mammy. She belonged to old Dr,Cannon, of Jackson, when i was born." showing he was born like many others into slavery, and his father "Tom Goings wuz my daddy ; he lived on a near-by plantation"  it begs the question; why did this female slave receive the owners Surname specifically and His father who was from another plantation came to be his father , were they deliberately forced to conceive a slave child for some reason? 

Also, James also describes how he and his mother. are traded between owners, Dr. Cannon then Mrs Dunn (Female slave owner" '"Den Massa Lige Hill got us from her". 

The role of James on Lid Hill's estate which consisted of " bout twenty slaves on de place" near WhiteWater, is described by him as " I jes' done 'chores' carrin in de wood 'en water en' such like" showing that slaves where required to do heavy manual labour even at such a young age. James's  record was taken in the late 1930's and he claims to " I wuz 'bout ten year old wen de war wuz over..". That would make him 71 or more years old. So he would have been required to do physically demanding 'chores' at the age of ten years or younger.

The rest of James Goings account, surprised me greatly. Many other slave narratives, describe the  tale of the horrific field work,  punishments and the slaves living conditions. However, James's account focuses mainly on the effects of the civil war on his area of Missouri. Historical accounts of the civil war are mainly  from soldiers of the time, army associates and there are large amounts of records about the main battles fought in the central eastern states e.g. Virginia. However, the conflict in western border states such Missouri and Kentucky, was informal and badly recorded . So to gain a first person insight of the fighting and the results of the conflict by a slave was very unexpected. " 

James recollection of armed conflict in the area was simple, vague and short, but also deeply meaning full and unlike other civil war accounts  "There wuz a battle over at White Water, I didden see it , but i heard de shooting and seed some o'de wounded men"  as well as the fighting he also describes  how confederate soldiers came to the estate and commandeered/looted supplies from corn and  live stock, showing that the war was localized and affected the domestic workings of those civilians caught in the middle of it, slave and owner alike.

 the event of the confederate looters at first gave me an impression that James's master would be of a negative opinion of the confederate cause. However,  "Den word came dat de' Yankees (union men) wuz comin'. 'Old George (maybe another slave) was sent to take de horses to de woods'en hide 'em...." This shows how James master did not wish  for his horses to be takes by pro-union forces. Master Lige Hills allegiance is primarily down to him being a slave owner and would rather the pro-slavery Confederate cause prevail. 

The graphic description of the outcomes of confederate and union conflict is very daunting especially when described by a illiterate, uneducated slave, a man of limited or no agenda, recalling the events years later just from memory. "De Dead wuz laying all long de road an' dey stayed dere, too. In dem days it wuzn't nuthin' to fin' a dead man in de woods".  

His account of the war in Missouri continues describing the effect it had on the local population. "We often saw sojers on de roads, but dey didden bother us much, but de bushwhackers (informal pro-confederate militias) de' wuz bad." 
and how neighbors (Bill Noeman and his step-mother) of the estate came to the estate after suffering a raid by Bushwhackers 
"She had a print dress 'en sunbonnet, 'en dat wuz all she had left in de world." Why would James (a slave) , describe the situation of a local white women (probally a owner of slaves herself) in a manner that instills sympathy in the reader, and why he insights no opinion on the situation of the women other than comment on how their property was destroyed. 

James Goings account is one of complexity. his recollections of time as a slave child are simple but present a graphic insight into life as a slave living during the civil war. presenting memories of conflict and death with no bias to which sides actions could be deem as right or wrong. 

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