INDIANA SLAVE NARRATIVE:
JOSEPH WILLIAM CARTER
Born prior to 1836
This is an extract from material collected by the United States Government during the
1930s -- probably the Federal Writers' Project. I have been unable to locate the original
source of publication and would welcome any help with identification. Notice Joseph Carter's
mention of his tri-racial ethnicity. His mother was the European-African slave Malvina
Gardner and his father was an Indian named Buck. Explanatory material appears
Lauana Creel [Interviewer]
JOSEPH WILLIAM CARTER
This information was gained through an interview with Joseph William
Carter and several of his daughters. The data was cheerfully given to
the writer. Joseph William Carter has lived a long and, he declares, a
happy life, although he was born and reared in bondage. His pleasing
personality has always made his lot an easy one and his yoke seemed easy
Joseph William Carter was born prior to the year 1836. His mother,
Malvina Gardner, was a slave in the home of Mr. Gardner until a man named
D.B. Smith saw her and noticing the physical perfection of the child at
once purchased her from her master.
[As will be explained below,
Malvina Gardner was born circa 1823.]
Malvina was agrieved at being compelled to leave her old home, and her
lovely young mistress. Puss Gardner was fond of the little mullato girl
and had taught her to be a useful member of the Gardner family; however,
she was sold to Mr. Smith and was compelled to accompany him to his
Both the Gardner and Smith families lived near Gallatin, Tennessee, in
Sumner County. The Smith plantation was situated on the Cumberland River
and commanded a beautiful view of river and valley acres but Malvina was
very unhappy. She did not enjoy the Smith family and longed for her old
friends back in the Gardner home.
One night the little girl gathered together her few personal belongings
and started back to her old home.
Afraid to travel the highway the child followed a path she knew through
the forest; but alas, she found the way long and beset with perils. A
number of uncivil Indians were encamped on the side of the Cumberland
mountains and a number of the young braves were out hunting that night.
Their stealthy approach was heard by the little fugitive girl but too
late for her to make an escape. An Indian called "Buck" captured her and
by all the laws of the tribe was his own property. She lived for almost
a year in the teepee with Buck and during that time learned much about
When Malvina was missed from her new home, Mr. Smith went to the Gardner
plantation to report his loss, not finding her there a wide search was
made for her but the Indians kept her thoroughly concealed. Miss Puss,
however, kept up the search. She knew the Indians were encamped on the
mountain and believed she would find the girl with them. The Indians
finally broke camp and the members of the Gardner home watched them
start on their journey and Miss Puss soon discovered Malvina among the
other maidens in the procession.
The men of the Gardner plantation, white and black, overtook the Indians
and demanded the girl be given up to them. The Indians reluctantly gave
her to them. Miss Puss Gardner took her back and Mr. Gardner paid Mr.
Smith the original purchase price and Malvina was once more installed in
her old home.
Malvina Gardner was not yet twelve years of age when she was captured by
the Indians and was scarcely thirteen years of age when she became the
mother of Joseph William, son of the uncivil Indian, "Buck." The child
was born in the Gardner home and mother and child remained there. The
mother was a good slave and loved the members of the Gardner family and
her son and she were loved by them in return.
The name of Buck's
tribe is not noted, but he was almost certainly a Cherokee, being
a resident of Gallatin County, Tennessee in the 1830s.
Cherokee ancestry was quite common among ostensibly African American
root work practitioners of the 19th and 20th centuries -- and
narratives such as this one, which tell
about Native-style curing ceremonies for the condition of "Live Things In You,"
almos always come from those of mixed Native and
African lineage. See also
the "Live Things In You" narrative of the Cherokee-African-European
free man of color H. B. Holloway at this site.]
Puss Gardner married a Mr. Mooney and Mr. Gardner allowed her to take
Joseph William to her home. The Mooney estate was situated up on the
Carthridge road and some of Joseph William's most vivid memories of
slavery and the curse of bondage embrace his life's span with the
One story that the aged man relates is of an encounter with an eagle and
"George Irish, a white boy near my own age, was the son of the
miller. His father operated a sawmill on Bledsoe Creek near where it
empties into the Coumberland river. George and I often went fishing
together and had a good dog called Hector. Hector was as good a coon dog
as there was to be found in that part of the country. That day we boys
climbed up on the mill shed to watch the swans in Bledsoe Creek and we
soon noticed a great big fish hawk catching the goslings. It made us mad
and we decided to kill the hawk. I went back to the house and got an old
flint lock rifle Mars Mooney had let me carry when we went hunting.
When I got back where George was, the big bird was still busy catching
goslings. The first shot I fired broke its wing and I decided I would
catch it and take it home with me. The bird put up a terrible fight,
cutting me with its bill and talons. Hector came running and tried to
help me but the bird cut him until his howls brought help from the
field. Mr. Jacob Greene was passing along and came to us. He tore me
away from the bird but I could not walk and the blood was running from
my body in dozens of places. Poor old Hector, was crippled and bleeding
for the bird was a big eagle and would have killed both of us if help
had not come."
The old negro man still shows signs of his encounter with
the eagle. He said it was captured and lived about four months in
captivity but its wing never healed. The body of the eagle was stuffed
with wheat bran, by Greene Harris, and placed in the court yard in
"The Civil War changed things at the Mooney plantation,"
said the old man. "Before the War Mr. Mooney never had been cruel to me.
I was Mistress Puss's property and she would never have allowed me to be
abused, but some of the other slaves endured the most cruel treatment
and were worked nearly to death."
Uncle Joe's memory of slavery embraces the whole story of bondage and
the helpless position held by strong bodied men and women of a hardy
race, overpowered by the narrow ideals of slave owners and cruel
"When I was a little bitsy child and still lived with Mr.
Gardner," said the old man, "I saw many of the slaves beaten to death.
Master Gardner didn't do any of the whippin' but every few months he
sent to Mississippi for negro rulers to come to the plantation and whip
all the negroes that had not obeyed the overseers. A big barrel lay near
the barn and that was always the whippin place."
Uncle Joe remembers two
or three professional slave whippers and recalls the death of two of the
Mississippi whippers. He relates the story as follows:
"Mars Gardner had
one of the finest blacksmiths that I ever saw. His arms were strong,
his muscles stood out on his breast and shoulders and his legs were
never tired. He stood there and shoed horses and repaired tools day
after day and there was no work ever made him tired."
The old negro man so vividly described the noble blacksmith that he
almost appeared in person, as the story advanced. "I don't know what he
had done to rile up Mars Gardner, but all of us knew that the blacksmith
was going to be flogged when the whippers from Mississippi got to the
plantation. The blacksmith worked on day and night. All day he was
shoein horses and all the spare time he had he was makin a knife. When
the whippers got there all of us were brought out to watch the whippin
but the blacksmith, Jim Gardner did not wait to feel the lash, he jumped
right into the bunch of overseers and negro whippers and knifed two
whippers and one overseer to death; then stuck the sharp knife into his
arm and bled to death."
Suicide seemed the only hope for this man of strength. He could not
humble himself to the brutal ordeal of being beaten by the slave
"When the war started, we kept hearing about the soldiers and finally
they set up their camp in the forest near us. The corn was ready to
bring into the barn and the soldiers told Mr. Mooney to let the slaves
gather it and put it into the barns. Some of the soldiers helped gather
and crib the corn. I wanted to help but Miss Puss was afraid they would
press me into service and made me hide in the cellar. There was a big
keg of apple cider in the cellar and every day Miss Puss handed down a
big plate of fresh ginger snaps right out of the oven, so I was well
fixed." The old man remembers that after the corn was in the crib the
soldiers turned in their horses to eat what had fallen to the ground.
Before the soldiers became encamped at the Mooney plantation they had
camped upon a hill and some skirmishing had occurred. Uncle Joe
remembers the skirmish and seeing cannon balls come over the fields. The
cannon balls were chained together and the slave children would run
after the missiles. Sometimes the chains would cut down trees as the
balls rolled through the forest.
[Below we learn that the half-Indian
"negro" slave Joe Carter maintained ties with his Native (probably Cherokee)
father's family, for here he mentions a cousin who was a full blooded
"Do you believe in witchcraft?" was asked while interviewing the aged
negro. "No" was the answer. "I had a cousin that was a full blooded
Indian and a Voodoo doctor. He got me to help him with his Voodoo work.
A lot of people both white and black sent for the Indian when they were
sick. I told him I would do the best I could, if it would help sick
people to get well. A woman was sick with rhumatism and he was going to
see her. He sent me into the woods to dig up poke roots to boil. He then
took the brew to the house where the sick woman lived. Had her to put
both feet in a tub filled with warm water, into which he had placed the
poke root brew. He told the woman she had lizards in her body and he was
going to bring them out of her. He covered the woman with a heavy
blanket and made her sit for a long time, possibly an hour, with her
feet in the tub of poke root brew and water. He had me slip a good many
lizards into the tub and when the woman removed her feet, there were the
lizards. She was soon well and believed the lizards had come out of her
legs. I was disgusted and would not practice with my cousin again."
[This is a typical Cherokee "Live Things in You"
cure -- except that one piece of information has been elided by the narrator: Poke Root
is an emetic and the cure, in its traditional form, involves drinking an
emetic such as Poke Root or Black Root (Leptandra)
and vomiting up the "live things" -- lizards, snakes, frogs, or
"So you didn't fight in the Civil War," was asked Uncle Joe.
"Of course I did, when I got old enough I entered the service and
barbacued meat until the war closed." Barbacueing had been Uncle Joe's
specialty during slavery days and he followed the same profession during
his service with the federal army. He was freed by the emancipation
proclamation, and soon met and married Sadie Scott, former slave of Mr.
Scott, a Tennessee planter. Sadie only lived a short time after her
marriage. He later married Amy Doolins. Her father was named Carmuel. He
was a blacksmith and after he was free, the countrymen were after him to
take his life. He was shot nine times and finally killed himself to
prevent meeting death at the hands of the clansmen.
Joseph William Carter is a cripple. In 1933 he fell and broke his right
thigh-bone and since that time he has walked with a crutch. He stays up
quite a lot and is always glad to welcome visitors. He possesses a noble
character and is admired by his friends and neighbors. Tall, straight,
lean of body, his nose is aquiline; these physical characteristics he
inherited from his Indian ancesters. His gentle nature, wit, and good
humor are characteristics handed to him by his mother and fostered by
the gentle rearing of his southern mistress.
When Uncle Joe Carter celebrated the 100th aniversary of his birth a
large cake was presented to him, decorated with 100 candles. The party
was attended by children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors. "What
is your political viewpoint?" was asked the old man.
"My politics is my love for my country". "I vote for the man, not the
Uncle Joe's religion is the religion of decency and virtue. "I don't
want to be hard in my judgement," said he, "But I wish the whole world
would be decent. When I was a young man, women wore more clothes in bed
than they now wear on the street."
"Papa has always been a lover of horses but he does not care for
automobiles nor aeroplanes," said a daughter of Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe has
seven daughters, he says they have always been obedient and attentive to
their parents. Their mother passed away seven years ago. The sons and
daughters of Uncle Joe remember their grand-mother and recall stories
recounted by her of her captivity among the Indians.
"Papa had no gray hairs until after mama died. His hair turned gray from
grief at her loss," said Mrs. Della Smith, one of his daughters. Uncle
Joe's smile reveals a set of unusually sound teeth from which only one
tooth is missing.
Like all fathers and grandfathers, Uncle Joe recounts the cute deeds and
funny sayings of the little children he has been associated with: how
his own children with feather bedecked crowns enacted the capture of
their grandmother and often played "Voo-Doo Doctor."
Uncle Joe stresses the value of work, not the enforced labor of the
slave but the cheerful toil of free people. He is glad that his sons and
daughters are industrious citizens and is proud they maintain clean
homes for their families. He is happy because his children have never
known bondage, and he respects the laws of his country and appreciates
the interest that the citizens of Evansville have always showed in the
After Uncle Joe became a young man he met many Indians from the tribe
that had held his mother captive. Through them he learned much about his
father which his mother had never told him.
Though he was a Gardner slave and would have been Joseph Gardner, he
took the name of Carter from a step father and is known as Joseph
This material is reprinted from
A Folk History of Slavery in the United States
From Interviews with Former Slaves
Typewritten Records Prepared by
The Federal Writers' Project
The Library Of Congress Project
Work Projects Administration
For The District of Columbia
Sponsored by The Library of Congress
the Federal Writers' Project of
the Works Progress Administration
for the State of Indiana
Produced by Jeannie Howse, Andrea Ball, Terry Gilliland and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team. Produced from images provided
by the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division