While doing some genealogy research I cam across some interviews of former slaves in South Carolina. This interview is former slave Emanuel Elmore of Gaffney, SC.
These are stories give us a first hand look of what life was during slavery in South Carolina.
I was born on June 20th and I remember when the war broke
out, for I was about five years old. We lived in Spartanburg
County not far from old Cherokee lord. My father was Emanuel
Elmore, and he lived to be about 90 years old.
My master was called by everybody, Col. Elmore, and
that is all that I can remember about his name. When he went to
the war I wanted to go with him, but I was too little. He joined
the Spartanburg Sharp Shooters.
They had a drill ground near the falls. pa took me to see them drill, and they were calling him Col. Elmore then. When I got home I tried to do like him and everybody laughed at me. That is about all that I remember about the war. In those days children did not know things like they do now and grown folks did not know as much either.
I used to go and watch my father work. He was a molder
in the Cherokee Iron Works, way back then when everything was
done by hand. He molded everything from knives and forks to
skillets and wash pots. If you could have seen pa’s hammers, you
would have seen something worth looking at. It was so big that it
jarred the” whole earth when it struck a lick.
Of course it was a forge hammer, driven by water power. They called the hammer
“Big Henry”. The butt end was as big as an ordinary telephone pole.
The water wheel had fifteen or twenty spokes on it, but
when it was running it looked like it was solid. I used to like to
sit and watch that old wheel. The water ran over it and the more
faster came over the more power the wheel gave out.
At the Iron Works they made everything by hand that was
used in a hardware store, like nails, horse shoes and rims for all
kinds of wheels, like wagon and buggy wheels. There were molds for
everything no matter how large or small the thing to be made was.
Pa could almost pick up the right mold in the dark, he was so
used to doing it. The patterns for the pots and kettles of different sizes were all in rows, each row being a different size. In my mind I can still see them.
Hot molten iron from the vats was dipped with spoons
which were handled by two men. Both spoons had long handles, with
a man at each handle. The spoons would hold from four to five gallons of hot iron that poured just like water does. As quick as the men poured the hot iron in the mold, another man came along behind them and closed the mold. The large molds had doors and the small molds had lids. They had small pans and small spoons for
little things, like nails, knives and forks. When the mold had
set until cold, the piece was prized out.
Pa had a turn for making covered skillets and fire dogs.
He made them so pretty that white ladies would come and give an
order for a pair of dogs’, and tell him how they wanted them to
look. He would take His hammer and beat them to look just that way.
Rollers pressed out the hot iron for machines and for
special lengths and things that had to be flat. Railroad ties were
pressed out in these rollers.
Once the man that handled the hot iron to be pressed through these rollers got fastened in them himself. He was a big man. The blood flew out of him as his bones were crushed, and he was rolled into a mass about the thickness and width of my hand. Each roller weighed about 2,000 pounds.
The man who got killed was named Alex Golightly. He
taught the boys my age how to swim, fish and hunt. His death was
the worst thing that had happened in the community. The man who
worked at the foundry, made Alex a coffin. It had to be made long
and thin because he was mashed up so bad.
In those days coffins were nothing but boxes anyway, but Alex’s coffin was the most
terrible thing that I have ever seen. I reckon if they had
pretty coffins then like they do now, folks would have bought
them to sleep in.
Hundreds went to Alex’s funeral, white and black, to see
that narrow coffin and the grave which was dug to fit it. On
the way to the graveyard, Negroes sang songs, for Alex was a good
man. They carried him to the Cherokee graveyard on the old Smith
ford Road, and there they buried him. My father helped to build
the coffin arid he helped haul him to the graveyard, pa worked at
the Iron foundry until he was very old. He worked there before I
was ever born.
My father was sold four times during slavery, then he
was brought to Virginia he was put on the block and auctioned off
for 4,0O0. He said that the last time he was sold he only brought
1,500. He was born in Alabama. When he was bought he was carried
from Alabama to Virginia.
It was Col. Elmore who took him. He wanted to go to Alabama again, so Col. Elmore let a speculator take him back and sell him. He stayed there for several years and got
homesick for South Carolina. He couldn’t get his master to sell him back here, so he just refuged back to Col. Elmore s plantation.
Col. Elmore took him back and wouldn’t t let anybody have him.
Pa married twice about the same time. He married Dorcas Cooper, who belonged to the Coopers at Staunton Military Academy.
I was the first child born in Camden. She had sixteen children. I
was brought to Spartanburg County when I was little. Both ma and
pa ware sold together in Alabama. The first time pa came to South
Carolina he married a girl called Jenny. She never had any children.
When he went to Alabama, Dorcas went with him, but Jenny stayed
with Col. Elmore. Of course, pa just jumped the broom for both of
When pa left Alabama to refugee back, he had to leave
Dorcas. They did not love their master anyway. He put Dorcas up
on the block with a red handkerchief around her head and gave her
a red apple to eat. She was sold to a man whose name I have forgotten. When they herded them she got away and was months making her way back to South Carolina. Those Africans sure were strong.
She said that she stayed in the woods at night. Negroes along the
way would give her bread and she would kill rabbits and squirrels
and cook and eat in the woods. She would get drunk and beat any
one that tried to stop her from coming back. When she did get back
to Col. Elmore’s place, she was lanky, ragged and poor, but Col.
Elmore was glad to see her and told her he was not going to let
anybody take her off. Jenny had cared so well for her children
while she was off, that she liked her. They lived in the same house
with pa till my mother died.
Col. Elmore said that Negroes who were from Virginia and
had African blood could stand anything. He was kind to ma. He fed
her extra and she soon got fat again. She worked hard for Col. Elmore, and she and pa sure did love him. One time a lot of the Negroes in the quarter got drunk and ma got to fighting all of them.
When she got sobered up she was afraid that Col Elmore was going to send her back to Alabama so she went and hid in the woods. Pa took food to her. In about a month Col. Elmore asked where she was, and pa just looked sheepish and grinned. Col. Elmore told pa to go and bring her back, for he said he was tired of having his rations
carried to the woods; so ma came home. She had stayed off three
months. She never felt well anymore, and she died in about three
more months. Pa and Jenny kept us till we got big and went off to
Jenny was born and raised in South Carolina, and she was
good to everybody and never fought and went on like ma did. Ma
liked her and would not let anybody say anything against her. She
was good to pa till he died, a real old man. Jenny never had any
children. She was not old when she died, but just a settled woman.
We felt worse over her death than we did over ma’s, because she
was so good to us and had cared for us while ma and pa were in
Alabama then she was good to us after Dorcas died and when she
hid in the woods. It seems that folks are too tender now. They cant stand
much. My ma could stand more than I can. My children can’t stand
what I can right now.
Sycamore St., Gaffney, S.C.
Interviewer: Caldwell Sims, Union, S.C.