As girls they were slaves. As freed young women they were wives and mothers and workers. As old women they were neighbors. And through it all they were sisters.
Sisters Scott Hooper and Louise Mathews were born into slavery in Shelby County in east Texas. In 1872 their family moved to Fort Worth. About 1936 they recalled their lives to an interviewer of the Federal Writers’ Project.
Federal Writers’ Project abstract.
In Scott Hooper’s own words:
Well, I’ll do de best I can to tell yous ’bout my life. I used to have de good ’collection, but worryment ’bout ups and downs has ’fected my ’membance. I knows how old I is, ’cause mammy have it in de Bible, and I’s born in de year 1856, right in Shelby County, and near by Bucksnort, what am call Tenaha now.
[Although Scott Hooper recalls that Bucksnort became “Tenaha” (of the Tex Ritter song), most modern sources say Bucksnort became the town of Buena Vista. Bucksnort was so-named in the early 1830s supposedly because a buck snorted at “granny” Elizabeth Richards when she tried to chase him from her pea patch. The town was renamed “Buena Vista” when it received a post office in 1848. But Buena Vista faded away soon after it was bypassed by the Houston, East and West Texas Railway in 1885. (1866 map detail from Pete Charlton’s “Antique Maps of Texas and the Southwest Volume 1” CD.)]
Massa Turner am de bestest man he could be and taken good care of us, for sho’. He treat us like humans. There am no whuppin’s like some other places has. Gosh. What some dem old slaves tell ’bout de whup and de short rations and lots of hard work am awful, so us am lucky.
Massa don’t have de big place, but jus’ seven families what was five to ten in de family. My mammy had nine chillen, but my pappy didn’t live on us place, but on Jack Hooper’s farm, what am four mile off. He comes Wednesday and Saturday night to see us. His massa am good, too, and lets him work a acre of land and all what he raises he can sell. Pappy plants cotton and mostest de time he raises better’n half de bale to the acre. Dat-a-way, he have money and he own pony and saddle, and he brung us chillen candy and toys and coffee and tea for mammy. He done save ’bout $500 when surrender come, but it am all ’Federate money and it ain’t worth nothin’. He give it to us chillen to play with.
Massa Turner am de Baptist preacherman and he have de church at Bucksnort.
[The 1850 Shelby County census lists a Robert Turner who was a Baptist clergyman.]
He run de store, too, and folks laughs ’cause ’sides being a preacherman he sells whiskey in dat store. He makes it medicine for us, with de cherry bark and de rust from iron nails in it. He call it, “Bitters,” and it a good name. It sho’ taste bitter as gall. When us feels de misery it am bitters us gits. Castor oil am candy ’side dem bitters!
My grandmammy am de cook and all us eats in de shed. It am plenty food and meat and ’lasses and brown sugar and milk and butter, and even some white flour. Course, peas and beans am allus on dat table.
When surrender come massa calls all us in de yard and makes de talk. He tells us we’s free and am awful sorry and show great worryment. He say he hate to part with us and us been good to him, but it am de law. He say us can stay and work de land on shares, but mostest left. Course, mammy go to Massa Hooper’s place to pappy and he rents land from Massa Hooper, and us live there seven years and might yet, but dem Klu Klux causes so much troublement. All us niggers ’fraid to sleep in de house and goes to de woods at night.
[Scott Hooper (“14, F, B”) is listed in Buena Vista with her family in the 1870 census.]
Pappy gits ’fraid something happen to us and come to Fort Worth. Dat in 1872 and he farms over in de bottom.
[The 1880 census lists Scott Hooper (“B, F, 24”) in Tarrant County, married to Vanus Hooper.]
I’s married to Steve Hooper den, ’cause us marry when I’s thirteen years old. He goes in teamin’ in Fort Worth and hauls sand and gravel twenty-nine years. He doin’ sich when he dies in 1900. Den I does laundry work till I’s too old. I tries to buy dis house and does fair till age catches me and now I can’t pay for it. All I has is $8.00 [$128 today] de month and I’s glad to git dat, but it won’t even buy food. On sich ’mount, there am no way to stinch myself and pinch off de payments on de house. Dat am de worryment.
In 1900 Scott is listed with husband Vanus and son Henry—both teamsters—in Fort Worth. Two of her children could read; none could write.
The 1940 census lists Scott, eighty-five, living with her extended family at 2821 Ennis Avenue.
Scott Hooper’s house on Ennis Avenue in Riverside still stands.
Federal Writers’ Project abstract.
In Louise Mathews’s own words:
Sho’, I ’members dem slavery times, ’cause I’s eleven when de break-up come. Everybody call my massa Jedge Turner, but him am a Baptist preacher and have de small farm and gen’ral store. My pappy and mammy don’t live together, ’cause pappy am own by Massa Jack Hooper. Massa Turner done marry dem. Mostest de cullud folks jus’ lives together by ’greement den, but massa have de cer’mony.
Us live in log cabins with de dirt floor and no windows, and sleep on straw ticks. All de cookin’ done in de eatin’ shed but when pappy come over twict de week, mammy cooks him de meal den.
Let me tell yous how de young’uns cared for. Massa give dem special care, with de food and lots of clabber and milk and pot-liquor, and dey all fat and healthy.
Massa am a preacher and a farmer and a saloonkeeper. He makes de medicine with whiskey and cherry bark and rust offen nails. It mus’ be good, ’cause us all fat and sassy. Gosh for ’mighty. How I hates to take dat medicine! He say to me, “Take good care de young’uns, ’cause de old ones gwine play out sometime, and I wants de young’uns to grow strong.”
Massa Turner wants de good day’s work and us all give it to him. Every Saturday night us git de pass if us wants to go to de party. Us have parties and dancin’ de quadrille and fiddles and banjoes.
On Sunday massa preach to us, ’cause he de preacher heself. He preach to de white folks, too.
I ’member dat surrender day. He call us round him. I can see him now, like I watches him come to de yard, with he hands clasp ’hind him and he head bowed. I know what he says, “I likes every one of you. You been faithful but I has to give you up. I hates to do it, not ’cause I don’t want to free you, but ’cause I don’t want to lose you all.” Us see de tears in he eyes.
Mos’ everybody leaves, and us go to pappy’s place, den comes here in 1872, right here where us live now. My sister, Scott, she lives up de street. It warn’t no houses here den.
I gits married in 1874 to Henry Daggett and he dies in 1884.
[Because slaves often took the surname of their owner, if Henry Daggett was an African-American man, and if he, too, had been a slave, he may have been a slave of the prominent Daggett family, who came to Fort Worth from Shelby County.]
Den I marries Jim Byers in 1885 and he am lazy and no ’count. He leaves on Christmas Day in de mornin’, and don’t come back. Dat de only present he ever give me! He am what you calls de buck passer. I does de washin’ and ironin’ and he passes de bucks I makes. I marries Bill Mathews and he my las’ husband. He dies on May 15th, dis year. I has seven chillen and four of dem am right in dis town.
I never votes but once, ’bout four years ago. I jus’ don’t care ’bout it. Too much fustin’ round for me. My husband allus voted de Lincoln ticket.
I gits ’round and it won’t be long ’fore I goes to de Lawd’s restin’ place. My sister am 81 and I’s 83, and she lives in de next block yonder way. Us am de cons’lation to each other.
In the 1937 city directory “William Matthews” at 2712 Ennis Avenue no doubt was Bill Mathews, the husband of Louise Mathews. Scott Hooper is listed at 2821 Ennis Avenue.
Scott Hooper and Louise Mathews: ex-slaves, neighbors, sisters. (Photos from Library of Congress.)
Some caveats: (1) Many of the ex-slaves interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project in the late 1930s had been children during slavery and may have received less-harsh treatment (and thus have retained less-harsh memories) than did adult slaves who were no longer alive to be interviewed in the late 1930s. (2) Lacking mechanical recording equipment, the interviewers sometimes took notes during interviews and transcribed the notes afterward, relying on memory, not “taking dictation” as the ex-slaves spoke. (3) The ex-slaves may have told interviewers, who were usually white, what the ex-slaves thought the interviewers wanted to hear (e.g., that white overseers had been kind). (4) The interviews were conducted during the Great Depression, when ex-slaves may have been afraid to endanger their often-precarious financial situation by offending the white establishment of their community.
More memories of ex-slaves:
Verbatim: “I’se Bo’n in Slavetime” (Part 1)
Verbatim: Philles and William (“Jesus’ Lamb” and “Dat Old Cuss”)
Verbatim: “I Hears Marster Say Dem Was de Quantrell Mens”
Verbatim: “We’s Free and It Give Us All de Jitters”
More “Verbatim” memories