Kerns, Mrs. A. (Adrianna) W.

Mrs. A. (Adrianna) W. Kerns
800 Victory Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Age 85
Interviewer Samuel S. Taylor


"When they first put me in the field, they put me and Viney to pick up brush and pile it, to pick up stumps, and when we got through with that, she worked on her mother's row and I worked on my aunt's row until we got large enough to have a row to ourselves. Me and Viney were the smallest children in the field and we had one row each. Some of the older people had two rows and picked on each row.
"My birthday is on the fourth of November, and I am eighty-five years old. You can count back and see what year I was born in.

Relatives
"My mother's first child was her master's child. I was the second child but my father was Reuben Dortch. He belonged to Colonel Dortch, Colonel Dortch died in Princeton, Arkansas, Dallas County, about eighty-six miles from here. He died before the War. I never saw him. But he was my father's first master. He used to go and get goods, and he caught this fever they had then---I think it was cholera---and died. After Colonel Dortch died, his son-in-law, Archie Hays, became my father's second master. Were all with Hays when we were freed.
"My father's father was a white man. He was named Wilson Rainey. I never did see him. My mother has said to me many a time that he was the meanest man in Dallas County. My father's mother was named Viney. That was her first name. I forgot the last name. My mother's name was Martha Hays, and my grandmother's name on my mother's side was Sallie Hays. My maiden name was Adrianna Dortch.

A Devoted Slave Husband
"I have heard my mother tell many a time that there was a slave men who used to take his own dinner and carry it three or four miles to his wife. His wife belonged to a mean white man who wouldn't give them what they needed to eat. He done without his dinner in order that she might have enough. Where would you find a man to do that now? Nowadays they are taking the bread away from their wives and children and carrying it to some other woman.

Patrollers
"A Negro couldn't leave his master's place unless he had a pass from his master. If he didn't have a pass, they would whip him. My father was out once and was stopped by them. They struck him. When my father got back home, he told Colonel Dortch and Colonel Dortch went after them pateroles and laid the law down to them---told them that he was ready to kill
"The pateroles got after a slave named Ben Holmes once and run him clean to our place. He got under the bed and hid. But they found him and dragged him out and beat him.

Work
"I had three aunts in the field. They could handle a plow and roll logs as well as any man. Trees would blow down and trees would have to be carried to a heap and burned.
"I been whipped many a time by my mistress and overseer. I'd get behind with my work and he would come by and give me a lick with the bull whip he carried with him.
"At first when the old folks out wood, me and Viney would pick up chips and burn up brush. We had to pick dry peas in the fall after the crops had been gathered. We picked two large basketsful a day.
"When we got larger we worked in the field picking cotton and pulling corn as high as we could reach. You had to pull the fodder first before you could pull the corn. When we had to come out of the field on account of rain, we would go to the corn crib and shuck corn if we didn't have some weaving to do. We got so we could weave and spin. When master caught us playing, he would set us to cutting jackets. He would give us each two or three switches and we would stand up and whip each other. I would go easy on Viney but she would try to cut me to pieces. She hit me so hard I would say, 'Yes suh, massa.' And, he would say, 'Why you sayin' "Yes suh, massa," to me? I ain't doin' nothin' to you.'
"My mother used to say that Lincoln went through the South as a beggar and found out everything. When he got back, he told the North how slavery was ruining the nation. He put different things before the South but they wouldn't listen to him. I heard that the South was the first one to fire a shot.
"Lemme tell you how freedom came. Our master came out where we was grubbing the ground in front of the house. My father was already in Little Rock where they were trying to make a soldier out of him. Master came out and said to mother, 'Martha, they are saying you are free but that ain't goin' to las' long. You better stay here. Reuben is dead.'
"Mother then commenced to fix up a plan to leave. She got the oxen yoked up twice, but when she went to hunt the yoke, she couldn't find it. Negroes were all going through every which way then. Peace was declared before she could get another chance. Word came then that the government would carry all the slaves where they wanted to go. Mother came to Little Rock in a government wagon.
"She left Cordelia. Cordelia was her daughter by Archie Hays. Cordelia was supposed to join us when the government wagon came along but she went to sleep. One colored woman was coming to get in the wagon and her white folks caught her and made her go back. Them Yankees got off their horses and went over there and made them turn the woman loose and let her come on. They were rough and they took her on to Little Rock in the wagon.
"The Yankees used to come looking for horses. One time Master Archie had sent the horses off by one of the colored slaves who was to stay at his wife's house and hide them in the thicket. During the night, mother heard Archie Hays hollering. She went out to see what was the matter. The Yankees had old Archie Hays out and had guns poked at his breast. He was hollering, 'No sir, I don't.' And mother came and said, 'Reuben, get up and go tell them he don't know where the horses is.' Father got up and did a bold thing. He went out and said, 'Wait, gentlemen, he don't know where the horses is, but if you'll wait till tomorrow morning, he'll send a man to bring them in.' I don't know how they got word to him but he brought them in the next morning and the Yankees taken them off.
"Once a Rebel fired a shot at a Yankee and in a few minutes, our place was alive with them. They were working like ants in a heap all over the place. They took chickens and everything on the place.
Master Archie didn't have no sons large enough for the army. If he had, they would have killed him because they would have thought that he was harboring spies."

Interviewer's Comment
Mrs. A. (Adriarma) W. Kerns is a sister to Charles Green Dortch. Cross reference; see his story.

Source Information:
Works Project Administration. Federal Writers Project. Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Washington, D.C.: n.p.

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