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introduction | 19th century hoodoo | 20th century hoodoo | 21st century hoodoo



Born in Crenshaw County, Alabama

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 Sam Jordan's mention of Cherokee ancestry -- this admixture was quite common among ostensibly African American root work practitioners. Explanatory material appears [in brackets].

I don't know my age. They never told me my age.

My mother was name Polly Nichols before she married my father whose name was Henry Jordan. After they were married my father had permission to leave his Master's plantation and come over to her Master's plantation to see her twice a week, viz: Wednesdays and Saturdays nights.

My father was a half Cherokee Indian. I was the only child. I was not old enough to work before freedom. I played in the streets on days while my mother and father work for Master Jordan.

I had one pair of shoes a year for winter. There were no schools so us children only played during the days.

Our beds were made of striped ticking cloth with a long slit in the middle where grass or shucks was stuffed in and could be sewed up, they termed, making up the beds for soft sleeping. The beds were made of wood when there was a bed.

The only food we had was furnished us from Master's smoke house. There were no individual gardens. The cooking was done on fireplaces in pots, skillets with lids and corn cakes called Jonny cakes roasted or baked on the hearth.

The plantation was four miles long and far in width, he said. There were about 75 or 100 slaves on the plantation who worked as early as they could see and till 'twas too late or dark to see, and sometime on bright moon shiny nights.

The slaves were not taught to read till after freedom. At nights the slaves would at nights slip around in the quarters and even from plantation to plantation as they worked from Monday morning till Saturday nights. On Sunday mornings they would go and get their rations for the week consisting most of meal, meat, black molasses, lard, rice, a cooking of flour for Sunday, and some seasoning, as salt, soda, etc.

After freedom I courted and married a girl in Montgomery County, which joined my county. She was name Mattie Murray and my first wife.

My Master owned two large plantations joining each other and his house sat about the middle of them. His house was a big 2- story white house with a large yard in which a large ration house called smoke house sat off to one side. He had 6 children, 2 boys and 4 girls. The quarters were long, and built of logs and called Nichols quarters.

There were two overseers, one for each plantation and they both poor and mean. They would punish by whipping with bullwhip if the slaves failed to work to suit them.

The slaves was not taught at all but some of them managed to learn to read and write by another slave my Master bought, and when the overseers found out that this Negro could read and write and was teaching the other slaves, they whipped him, giving him 500 lashes and cut off his index finger so that he could not write nor teach the other slaves.

After freedom a teacher from the North was sent to teach the slaves. This white lady taught our school and slaves for 2 years. Her name was Miss Clanzy and the blue-back speller was our school book. For some reason she went back home and a man, Mr. Cottrige, came in her place. Each morning he would read the Bible and pray and then teach Bible lessons to us. He was a whale of a good teacher.

As my Master had so many slaves now and then one would run away and as he also kept 5 or 6 Negro hounds in which to catch them. These hounds would run all through the quarters and through the Negro houses hunting for runaway slaves, but wouldn't bother any of the other Negroes, but would catch the runaway and if the runaway would fight them, they would jump on him and bite him so badly they would have to get a doctor for him, and if he didn't fight them they would just find him and stand around him and bark tremendously until Master and overseers came. Sometime some of the runaways would kill hounds and get away and some of them would smear fresh cow manure under the bottom of their feet so that the blood hounds couldn't scent them.

[Here the FWP interviewer begins to intrude and the narrative is more obviously directed by questioning.]

In asking him did you ever see any patrollers he replied: "I seen them but I never had any tarry with um."

When a slave took sick the overseers would go to see about them and if serious would get a doctor who would come and give them blue-mass pills. If one would die they would make one of the slaves take him in a wagon and take him to the woods and dig a little hole and put him in.

The Negro slaves were very superstitious and believed in voodooism. All of them wore a silver dime on a raw cotton thread around their ankles to keep from being voodooed.

[Note that the terms "voodooism" and "voodooed" here are the words of the interviewer, not the words of the informant. The silver dime spell described was very common in former times and may be considered among the earliest of hoodoo amulets. For a more detailed account, also at this site, see "Voodooism in Tennessee" by Sallie M. Park.]

On the day that the Yankees came to set us free, he says, "A dark cloud rose and brought darkness almost as night and the sun wasn't down."

The Yankees after freedom also came to see that the Negroes attended school and the white people didn't bother them. They would put up tents in the quarters and stay around and see that the Negroes attended school each day.

As there were no land for the Negroes they continued to live in the quarters.

"My first wife was name Mattie Murray. We had 12 children to live. After her death I married Mabel Jordan and we had 1 child. I don't know much about my children by my first wife as they are still in Alabama. The child by my second wife is here with two grandchildren."

In reply as to what he thinks of Abraham Lincoln, he says: "We'll never git anothern."

In reply as to Jeff Davis, he said, "Jeff Davis was like Thomas Heffling, I don't know nothing good of um and can't say anything good 'bout um." Thomas Heffling, he said, was a Congressman from Georgia who went about making speeches after freedom and persuading Negroes to vote Democratic tickets.

"I was freed by the Republicans and will die a Republican."

Heffling said in one of his speeches he was making to a white crowd that: "We educate Negroes to do what we tell them and if they don't we'll hang them to a limb."

In asking him about Booker T. Washington he said, "I think him a great man and next to Lincoln."

After freedom he said the Negroes made up this song:

Hung Jeff Davis in the sour apple tree
Hung Jeff Davis in the sour apple tree
Hung Jeff Davis in the sour apple tree
Now we go marching home
Sung in the tune of the chorus of Glory, Glory Hallelujah.

I asked him: "Now that slavery is over what do you think of it?"

He says, "Well I can't down on our Master."

He replies in these words, "I can't come down on um so much perpendicular, as he bought um, he ought to own um and have um."

This last question created upstir in the old man that he cried most sadly when I asked him concerning the overseer as poor white trash.

He said, "You ask me dat question and I never talk to nobody 'bout dis," he said, "I seen him one day strip my mother's clothes down to her waist and made her own blood brother hold her while he beat her and that stirs my soul today and I don't talk 'bout it to nobody. I hate to think 'bout the dirty dogs."

This material is reprinted from


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