“I Will Always Remember that Walk”

This is part of my new Monday morning series “In Their Own Words”

A scene from McDowell County, N.C., 1862-63. The words of Mary Barbour when she was elderly in the 1930s.

“One of the first things that I remember was my Pappy waking me up in the middle of the night, dressing me in the dark, all the time telling me to keep quiet. One of the twins hollered some and Pappy put his hand over its mouth to keep it quiet.

“After we was dressed he went outside and peeped around for a minute, then he comed back and got us. We snuck out of the house and ‘long the woods path, Pappy toting one of the twins and holding me by the hand, and Mammy carrying the other two.

“I reckon that I will always remember that walk, with the bushes slapping my legs, the wind sighing in the trees, and the hoot owls and whippoorwills hollering at each other from the big trees. I was half asleep and scared stiff, but in a little while we passed the plum thicket and there were the mules and wagon.

"The Effects of the Proclamation-- Freed Negroes Coming into our Lines at Newbern [sic], North Carolina," Harper's Weekly, Feb. 21, 1863. Courtesy, Library Company of Philadelphia

“The Effects of the Proclamation– Freed Negroes Coming into our Lines at Newbern [sic], North Carolina,” Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 21, 1863. Courtesy, Library Company of Philadelphia

“There was a quilt in the bottom of the wagon, and on this they laid we young’ uns. And Pappy and Mammy got on the board across the front and drove off down the road.

“I was sleepy, but I was scared, too, so as we rides long I listens to Pappy and Mammy talk. We was scared of the Yankees to start with, but the more we think about us running away from our masters the scareder we get of the Rebs. Anyway, Pappy says that we is going to join the Yankees.

“We traveled all night and hid in the woods all day for a long time, but after awhile we get to Dr. Dillard’s place, in Chowan County. The Yankees had taken this place so we stopped over, and had a heap of fun dancing and such while we were there.

“The Yankees tells Pappy to head for New Bern. My Pappy was a shoemaker, so he makes Yankee boots, and we got ‘long pretty good. I was raised in New Bern.”


Source: Mary Barbour, interviewed by the WPA in the 1930s, escaped from slavery in McDowell County, North Carolina, during the Civil War. From George P. Rawick (general editor), The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography vol. 14, “North Carolina Narratives” (1941).


One thought on ““I Will Always Remember that Walk”

  1. That is amazing! That has to be over 450 miles traveling at night time with a mule drawn wagon thru the hostilities of war, from the mountains to Cannon’s Ferry on the Chowan to New Bern. I don’t think I would have the guts to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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