Federal Point Families
The African-American in Federal Point History
|Mount Zion Baptist Church-Federal Point Florida
|sketch by Billy Waller
The property for this church was acquired in 1920 from C. W. and "Lizzie" Brown. (my Grandparents. JB)
Dupont and family were the original occupants of Federal Point. In 1860, he is listed as owning ten slaves--6 women
and 4 men. Some of the African-Americans still living in Federal point are descendents of these slaves.
The stories below are about some of these
slaves or their children. JB
"Memories of Florida" by E. Stuart Hubbard was a five volume manuscript about the people and times in the early days
of Federal Point. These little tales are but a few dealing with our African American neighbors.
Black Floridians and the Civil War: The 21st, 33rd, and 34th United States Colored Infantry Regiments
In the Southern states during slavery days there were two distinct classes
of slaves, the field hands and the family servants. The field hands were, as
a rule, more uncouth in manner, less reliable and lacked the loyalty and devotion to the owner's family found in the highest
tradition of house servants in the best homes on plantation or in city mansion.
The training of the family servant started, often, when the boy
or girl were chosen as playmate attendant for the young children of Massa and Missus.
Naturally, they were the cream of the crop in heritage and type. Their
ancestors, likely, had been royalty, chiefs or medicine men in Africa.
Those who won favor started as cook's helper, stable boy or nurse's
assistant. Finally, if worthy, to become a cook, coachman, valet, gardener, or
mammy--as much a part of the family as any of their white folks.
There stands out in my earliest memories the personality of "Old
Man" Theodore Mitchell. Mitchell was born a slave--was raised and trained as
a house servant until, when about 18 years old, he became a soldier in the Union Army under
Colonel Shaw. When my mother showed him a picture of the monument erected to
the honor of Colonel Shaw and his colored troops, Mitchell said: "My Lawd, dats
Colonel Shaw hisself---only his hoss was black, not white. I was by his side
when he was shot. His foot hit me when I tried to catch him when he fell."
After the war Mitchell worked in some of the leading Southern
families. He told many tales of hunting and fishing parties and trips when his
responsibility was rowing or driving, safely home, the whiskey-weary scions of the aristocracy.
To Mitchell, the ritual of gracious living was as important and
sacred as the liturgy of the Church is to acolyte or priest. His waiting on table
in white apron, over fresh clothes, was something to see and to admire. The dinners
which he cooked were in the best Southern style. The chores he performed were
done faithfully and correctly, according to his understanding. But as coachman,
he was most impressive.
When we were children, the orange grove was the main producing
unit. Little horse power was needed because the groves were hoed between the
trees. Our means of land transportation was a pair of graceful marsh ponies,
Zaida and Hassan, product of the wild herds that roamed the Coastal marshes, and Donna, our donkey. A light weight, natural wood surrey, the first carriage on the Point, was the family coach. Our friends lived in the orange groves along the river shore between the Point and Palatka. When your grandmother wished to make calls, Mitchell would
curry and polish the ponies, hitch them to the surrey, dress in his black, long tailed coat, put on his white gloves and high
hat and drive to the fountain on the front walk to receive his passenger. From
then until we reached home Mitchell was moving in a different world--a world of aristocratic glamour and pageantry. With stiff, straight back, whip and reins held just so in white gloved hands, eyes front, completely ignoring
every one, no matter what greetings his colored friends might call or mischievous pickaninnies taunt him with, he was in his
realm, aloof from everything but his proud profession. When spoken to about scenery
or people he replied most graciously, with dignity. One had to appear "high hat"
when driven by Mitchell, if only to live up to his ideals in the social drama.
Steady of habits, with regular work and good wages, with a comfortable
cottage on the south side of "Three Oaks", Mitchell was the cynosure of feminine eyes.
For many years his romances were a source of interest, amusement and concern, especially to your grandmother.
At one time it was known that two widows were courting him. One
day when Mitchell was driving the family to "Moonstone" and "Esperanza", to call on the Johnsonss and the Warners, the ponies trotted through a cross roads settlement
in the pine woods. My mother asked Mitchell, "Does one of the widows live in
that corner house?" He replied, "Yes, ma'am".
"Are those her children?" "Yes Ma'am".
"How many are there?" "Eight, Ma'am".
"Now Mitchell, what would we do with all those children on the place?"
Little was heard of the widows after that.
Shepherd was the affectionate name many of the church members
called Mitchell. He was a faithful church member and supporter. One Saturday he asked your grandmother to sell him a rooster. The
visiting preacher and several church brothers were to dine with him on Sunday. Come
Monday, my mother asked him how the dinner party went off. Mitchell looked sadly
thoughtful until the joy of telling a good story brightened his eyes. "Mrs. Hubbard,
I spent all morning roasting dat chicken. I had boiled onions and sweet taters
wid gravy. De preacher an de elders sat down at de table. I brung in de chicken, de onions, de taters and de gravy, an' whiles I was in de kitchen getting de biscuits
brown, Mrs. Hubbard, dem folks picked dat chicken so clean dere was only de frame lef for me."
At seventy, Mitchell was
still straight of back and erect in posture - heritage of African porters who carry all burdens along foot paths on their
heads. One day my father told Mitchell to go down to the Point and fetch a 60
pound tub of butter for the store, supposing that he would use the wheelbarrow. Presently,
we saw Mitchell coming up the walk, straight as a statue, hands at his sides, the tub of butter balanced securely on his head. He found it easier to carry 65 pounds on his head, the quarter mile, than to bother
with the wheelbarrow.
Time wore on. Old
Man Mitchell, in spite of the will and urge to serve, gradually developed infirmities.
As the dream of being cherished and cared for by a younger wife faded, he demonstrated the wisdom that should come
as the reward of a long life of faithful, devout service to ideals and one's fellow man.
Shepherd owned a cabin and garden close by his church. He chose, of his
godchildren, a young daughter of Ward Johnson, of one of the outstanding colored
families, to be his heiress. He arranged that she should inherit his home, if
she would take care of him till he died. This she did, most lovingly and faithfully.
And so passed, to his reward, a real Christian gentleman.
Born c. 1823 Died Aug 20, 1905. He is buried
in the Federal Point Cemetery
* Ballad *
Treat ma daughter kindly
an see you do no harm.
An When I dies I'll leave to you
ma house an little farm;
Ma hoss, my plow, ma sheep
ma cow, ma hog an little barn,
An all de little
chicken in de garden
The personality of the Negroes who worked for us through the years varied with the origin of their
There was Tom Williams with aquiline nose and profuse side whiskers, evidently from Ethiopian or high altitude stock. There was Bob White, short, very black with the flat nose and big nostrils of the
steaming coastal jungles. And there was uncle Peter Moore, tall, with magnificent
shoulders and chest, a powerful man at seventy.
I first remember Uncle Peter when I was a little, longhaired boy, of Little Lord Fauntelroy style. He was one of several who picked lemons near the river shore. I
liked to play around among the orange, lemon, persimmon end fig trees where the men were working.
A loud humming noise came from next where Uncle Peter was working. This
was followed by a plopping splash in the river. I excitedly asked what the noise
was, Uncle Peter said, Dats a hum bug. Its scared and flies plump into de ribber.
I ran to the house and told my parents that there was a buzz bug in the lemon trees; that it flew into the river when
it got scared. This puzzled them until they made inquiry and learned that Uncle
Peter made the humming noise and threw a lemon into the river to divert my attention from mischief.
Captain Smith had given me a quarter to buy a Jack knife
when I took him a plate of dinner for Mamma.
The darkies shoes often pinched their toes so they cut slashes in them to give their toes room. When standing on the ladder their toes showed through these holes about level with my very near-sighted
In looking for something to cut with my new knife the long, needle sharp lemon thorns were handy so I cut one, felt
the sharp point, saw a black toe and tested the point in the toe. This was too
much for Uncle Peter. He took me gently but firmly in his big arms and carried
me to the house for safe keeping.
One day I found him picking oranges for Uncle Edmund down by the cow barn.
He finished picking an orange tree. When he came to the next tree he found
a great wasp nest, six inches in diameter, black with trembling wasps. I was
well acquainted with the quickness with which they would fly out when disturbed and the fiery pain of their sting. Most men would have left the tree or have burned the nest and wasps with a torch on a long pole.
To my fascinated surprise Uncle Peter quietly approached the tree, rubbed the palms of his hands briskly together,
softly humming his "buzzy bug" hypnotic drone, reached out a big, black hand and gently plucked the nest from the tree, wasps
with it, and laid it in the branches of another tree. Not a wasp left the next. All the while he hummed his buzzing drone.
His quiet dignity, his self control and the respect his people showed him, his way with animals and insects indicate
that he would have been a witch doctor or chief in Africa and, undoubtedly, he was a descendent of such and had learned something
of the craft.
The ribs of his great chest were joined by heavy bone. The bottom ribs
were broken loose from the rest with a scar showing.
Uncle Peter said, One day I was workin' on a raf' when an ornery nigger got mad at me an' hit me wid de back of an
axe and busted two ribs loos'. I jes grabbed him by de shoulders and butted him
senseless. It was a privilege to
have been with a man like Uncle Peter Moore when a little, impressionable boy.
My mother had a winning way with little boys. They were her favorite
and main reliance as household helpers. She had the patient, sympathetic understanding
of their potential abilities the faculty of forgiving and overcoming their weaknesses that won their undying loyalty and affection
and, what was equally important, made them competent, reliable workers and Christian characters for life.
The '99 freeze was a terrible catastrophe. The wind blew a gale from the
northwest up to forty miles an hour. The temperature dropped to 160 when the
wind died, Oranges on the trees were Frozen solid, trees were killed absolutely to the surface of the ground. All citrus income stopped. New income must be found. George
Wilkinson entered the post office, shivering, hugged the roaring stove and whimsically said, in his English accent, "After
the '95 freeze dollars looked like wash tubs. Now they look like cartwheels". Economy was essential.
My mother's helper, Lincoln Hawkins, had graduated and gone North with one of the winter families to Boston. A new apprentice helper was needed as my mother spent much time managing our store which was, first opened
as a commissary to supply our field hands and ourselves with fresh, economical food. With
the coming of Mr. Hodges and his logging camp up Deep Creek and the expansion of the early potato industry, the population
of the Point grew. Money flowed more freely; others asked if they, as well as
our hands, could buy at our store. It became a country store with a varied supply
of the simple necessities of life. It took considerable of my mother's time.
Of the many boys whose parents would have been proud to have had their sons work for my mother, one was so appealing
in personal charm that he was taken on trial. Recently he said, I was nine years
old when I started working for your mother. I've been working for the family
ever since. I hope I always will."
When I came back from school, the winter of 1901-'2, Boy Moore was a well trained house boy nine or ten years old.
Boy was, and is, a complete personality, He was living with his father, Nelson Moore, back in the woods near Deep Creek
swamp, over a mile from the grove land, where he waited on table. Host children
would have been terrified to walk through the woods in deep winter darkness. not
Boy had a little 22 rifle with live ammunition which he could handle efficiently and competently.
When asked if he was afraid he said, "No, I'se not afraid. I has my rifle."
School claimed Boy for a time. Then Aunt Belle and Cousins Dora and Lucy
needed someone to help with their winter guests, The Van Wyck's, and to help with their truck garden, orange grove and ornamentals.
Boy had an intelligent, inquiring, understanding mind. He possessed the
rare faculty of getting along with emotional, vacillating women--of learning, teaching and doing while keeping the respect
and friendship of his employers and his fellow workers. He was honest, dependable,
calm and courteous. A controlled, twinkle lurked in the depths of his eyes compelling
confidence in his intentions and performance.
The Tabors of Glen St. Mary's nursery bought many palms and ornamentals from Cousin Dora. Boy learned the tricks of digging them and of propagation. What
he learned he comprehended. For many years he helped the women struggle for a
living in their, sometimes, impractical fashion.
At last the place was sold to the Atkinsons. Boy helped my father from
time to time with potatoes and rose garden.
Uncle Edmund owned land near Deep Creek swamp. Boy bought a piece of this
land, built a house and grew potatoes and garden truck on the land. He married
a fine girl, Willie Hay. They had four children.
When Cousin Dora's estate was settled I took over the mortgage on Boy's place.
During the depression wages were low, work was often lacking. With growing
children to feed, clothe and educate Boy could do little more than make token payments on interest and mortgage. When he received his soldier's bonus his first thought was to pay off the mortgage and better furnish house
After my father died Boy kept his eye on Rose Lawn and my step-mother, Frances. He
would keep track of his time cleaning up the place and keeping the house, roofs, water system in order and a supply of fire
wood on hand. He took suckers off the cyads in the front yard, planting them
in a nursery. He sold surplus rose bushes and rose blooms on trips to town with his vegetables.
We had absolute confidence in his honesty, ability and faithfulness in working for our best interests.
Boy bought another place on the William Evans place by Mays swamp.
After World War II Boy came up Two Falls and helped with the apple harvest. He
got along harmoniously with William Edwards and his colored crew. He was in charge
of a nailing crew of men and white women. His tact, ability and personality overcame
any prejudice. All worked harmoniously and efficiently.
Boy worked for J. French, Jr., who built a house on the Cole place and operated a business in Jacksonville later he
built a motor court near Ocala. Boy landscaped the motor court, painted and did
light plumbing and maintenance work. He drove home occasionally and kept an eye
on Rose Lawn.
Boy Moore is an example of the development of character and skill that can come when children have the opportunity
and privilege of working with sympathetic, understanding Christian people, one of the tragedies of our labor dominated civilization
is the forbidding of employment of children under 14 years of age, even under ideal circumstances.
The "mustard seeds" when planted in good ground, is the strength of the America which we know and love.
Note: Francis wrote the following on receipt of the first installment of
Dear Mr. Stuart. I received your Memories of Florida. It is a well done job. I enjoyed every word in it since reading
it I have been living in the past beginning in 1899. One incident I remember
the morning of the freeze of '99 my sister carried me down to the post office. And
I saw the two Wheeler Brothers, Mr. Preist, J. F.
Tenney and Frank Tenney standing around the wood stove cutting oranges and I could hear the knife blade cutting through
ice in the orange & Mr. Tenney said the fruit is all gone.
There is just a few of us left that remembers how Federal Point, Orange
Mills, Esperanza or the Warner Section use to look.
I prize this gift of Memories of Fla. as one of my most valued possessions.
Francis E. Moore
(I stopped at Tuskegee University when passing through
Alabama at Thanksgiving '52 to see Boy's son, John. He received his degree of Master of Science
in Agriculture in August and was teaching there.
Francis E. Moore born 10/31/1893-died
10/6/1957 is buried in the Federal Point Cemetery. His son is also buried there.
The highest aspiration of our colored neighbors was to preach.
The easy way of life of the preacher, the respect and reverence earned by the leaders in this profession are, indeed,
alluring. Failing this, a man longed to have a business of his own and to employ
Julius Mann preached when he was permitted. He was a great preacher in the eyes of Julius. Preaching, however,
even when supplemented with fishing up Deep Creek for bream and catfish, could not provide him with food, shelter and a preacher's
garments. So, he worked in orange grove, packing house and field, as necessity
demanded. When possible, he helped in building barns, fences or houses with saw
Now, Julius had friends in Jacksonville. The inspiration and temptation
of the great city occasionally lured him to leave his cabin and sojourn awhile in Jacksonville. When hunger or home brought him back, he spread himself in telling his farm hand neighbors of the wonders
of the city and of his exploits while there.
One dark night, at about midnight, the night boat, City of Jacksonville
landed at Federal Point. A weary Julius, with whiskey on his breath and in his
brain, shuffled up the gang plank onto the wharf. In the darkness, he steadied
and guided following the hand rail. On reaching land, the rail ended. What little light the stars had given vanished in the shade of the spreading live oak trees which canopied
the street. Unsteadily, he groped his way along the side walk. Suddenly, he tripped, fell forward and was gripped under his arms by a snorting monster, breathing hot
vapors into his belly. Lifted off the ground, he was carried away into the darkness. Frantically wrenching himself loose, he fell, trembling, among the cows and calves
gathered on this cool, breezy, sheltered spot to sleep the night out. He had
fallen between the spreading horns of a Spanish cow. It seemed, to his uncertain
mind, as though "Ol' Debbil" himself, with something of justice, had him, sure.
There was joy in the colored community when the story spread, even to the white folks.
Julius was seen, but seldom heard, for some time thereafter.
The great city of Jacksonville was swept a holocaust of fire about 1900. Three
quarters of the city were quickly destroyed.
Workmen of all kinds poured into the city as into a vacuum to rebuild its houses, stores, warehouses, churches, offices,
hotels and all the structure of a metropolis. And among the many, Julius Mann was drawn away from the Point and from the thoughts of his neighbors.
One night, Julius arrived on the night boat. He lost no time in displaying
new clothes and evidences of unwonted prosperity. He boasted that he was a contractor-builder
of houses. This seemed doubtful to his people.
To his white folks, it was, surely, beyond his talents. Still, his assurance
and his evident affluence called for proof to support his claims.
One day, another colored citizen arrived from Jacksonville. "How about Julius?
Is he building houses on contract?" everyone wanted to know.
"Dat Julius. Ha! Ha! Ha! He is sho nuff building houses for
folks. He's building back houses. Ha! Ha! Ha!"
There was joy on the Point.
Mann, thereafter, was regarded
with more respect, he had succeeded within the limits of his talents.
He was born c. 1876 and died Feb 2, 1904
Certain individuals seem to have a natural affinity for each other.
Often persons of vastly different personality and talents are driven to each other and form a team, the ability and
goodness of one appreciating the goodness, in spite of the great deficiencies, of the other.
So it was with my father and Eugene King.
King was of medium a height, thin and wiry. the dome of his thinly haired
skull was ample but his face narrowed to a small lower jaw accented by the loss of all but a few scattered teeth, brown from
constant contact with chewing tobacco. These King displayed freely when he grinned
in appreciation of my father's friendly humor or sheepishly when caught in some stupidity or rascality, King was of dull black
King was in his forties in the nineties. He was born a slave. His right hand bore acute witness to the fact for his forefinger was a short stub ending in a large knob.
"King, what happened to your finger?" I asked.
King gave an expressive grunt "When I was a chile I was playin' in de yard wid Massa's chilluns. Dis boy, ma age, tol me to put my hand on de chopping block. An
like be - - - - if he didn't raise de ax and chop off, da finger like it was a chickens haid".
King was a rascal Not a grand rascal or a - - . rascal. He was a simple unholy lovable rascal, He sinned often in the eyes of the moral, the truthful, the pure
of heart and tongue, the efficient and wise, the religious, As often as he sinned he was forgiven. For had he done or been other than he did or was he would not have been King. And life would have been lacking in color and hair shirt-like stimulation without King to justify the correctness
of righteousness. And King was a talented field hand within his narrow limits.
King needed two controls social and industrial. My father employed, supervised
and compensated him in earning his living. The queen held a stiff rein on him socially.
Now, in his many contacts with the fair sex King had been caught and held fast by the Queen. Again, a natural partnership for life joined these two human personalities.
The Queen was ebony black. She suffered from "de misery" much of the time,
so could not work steadily the beauty of face or form had passed her by. She
could not hope to capture handsome, self-reliant, capable mate. She could love the genuine forthright nature of King, She would provide the positive authority needed to
keep King busy and on the straight and narrow path and her two very widely crossed eyes could see in all directions, even
around corners it seemed, to spy out any signs of philandering. Her temper and
vocabulary could cow King into submission to her will, we called her "Pet".
King was possessed of a vocabulary of cuss words that
was the admiration of the other field hands. He used them as naturally and freely
as a technician uses the terms of his trade. To a stranger they were blasphemous, obscene, unprintable. From King's curling lips they seemed but a part of King.
One hot spring day, after potato digging, we were planting corn out by the colored church. we were planting in the old plantation way. I led with a hoe,
chopping a hole with one stroke in the sandy soil, Percy Fordam, sixteen, handsome of face, physique and smile, followed strewing
a small handful of aromatic nitrate, fish, cotton seed, phosphate and potash fertilizer about the hole, leaving a clean spot
for the seed. Sukey,(Isiah Schuman) tall, awkward as a hound pup, broad of grin, full of mischievous humor, dropped three
large white grains of corn in the hole. King pushed the pile of soil back into
the hole covering the corn and firmed it with his foot. It was my responsibility
to set a steady, rhythmic pace so that the team moved steadily along but not too fast for accuracy or endurance in the hot
sun. A bull bat zoomed from the sky with a startling roar of wings.
As we moved steadily along, the boys and King maintained a constant battle of wits or a succession of stories, chatter
Sukey;- "King, yo ought to be shamed of yo self cussin' so much. I bet
yo' a quarter yo' caint go ten minits without cussin'".
King:- "Go on, Dats my quarter".
The boys changed the subject. They talked of other things. Then Percy
gave King a sly verbal dig in a chronically sore spot. Sukey added his aggravating gibe.
King worked his quid of tobacco faster, the while contorting his lips, finally emitting a stream of tobacco juice and
a stuttering flow of cuss words calculated to blast his tormentors to shame. With
a whoop of laughter, dropping of buckets, slapping of thighs the boys demanded their twenty five cents while King added another
stream of oaths to cover up his discomfiture. No money changed hands for King
had none. Twenty-five cents was a quarter of a day's pay and the Queen was either
on hand to get the groceries at our commissary and what cash might remain from King's wages or was waiting for him when he
reached home Saturday evening. There would be no money to pay foolish bets.
My father's family did not swear nor my mother's. I never heard my father
say anything profane or obscene that would have shocked my mother. He could,
when exasperated, express himself in tone and inflection so strongly that a culprit would shrink with shame or, if innocent
with outraged pride. In King he often found an outlet for his feelings. He might hit his thumb when nailing boxes. Shaking
his hand with the pain, fearful of having a sore thumb, he would say, cuss it, King"! And King would cuss the hammer so thoroughly
that the pain was eased and feelings soothed while my father's record remained clean.
King believed that he could perform any kind of work and understand orders and directions perfectly. In fact, his talents were limited, mainly to the use of ax, hoe, scythe, wheelbarrow, shovel, clippers
and lifting. If told explicitly what to do and how it should be done he would
express complete confidence in his understanding of his orders and his ability to do the job.
We learned, by sad experience, that the tree or plant we wished to have left was sure to be the one King would cut
down or hoe out from among the worthless ones unless we stood over him and watched closely.
And he could start to do something correctly and soon be making a botch of it.
My father once went to Jacksonville on the steamer Crescent. Mr., Johnson
of "Moonstone" and his second wife were, happy, on board. They joined in the
welcome conversation of friends who seldom see each other, Mr. Johnson opened a bag of oranges which he proceeded to cut into
halves with a keen knife and to remove a strip of the yellow, irritating rind around the cut edge for eating out-of hand. Now Mrs. Johnson was a lady from the
north. They had been recently married, Mrs. Johnson provided the cultural companionship
so essential to Mr. Johnson's welfare and happiness in the orange grove home on the bank of the beautiful river. She, in turn, expected from him the solicitous attentions of the gallant gentleman that her husband was. Mr. Johnson prepared and handed his wife the blossom end of an orange saying to my
father rather wistfully, "In an unguarded moment I told my wife that the blossom end of an orange is sweeter and juicier than
the stem end. I have been eating stem ends ever since".
"By the way", Mr. Johnson asked my father "A darkie, Eugene King, has been working for me in the grove. I need someone to prune the orange trees. He says that he
can prune them, that he prunes Mr. Edmund Hart's trees. Can I trust him to prune
them? Does he know how?"
My father's eyes opened wide in surprise at the idea of King pruning a tree.
"Mr. Hart wouldn't dare let King have a pair of pruners in his grove. He
has never pruned orange trees and would be sure to ruin them", my father said. I
thought so', said Mr. Johnson, "I told King that it was all very well if Mr. Hart has him prune his trees, but that he was
not going to prune my orange grove."
King was an expert with ax and grub hoe in digging out yellow pine and lightwood stumps when clearing land. The pine woods had been logged of their virgin pine before the Civil War.
a second growth of trees from saplings up to eighteen inches in diameter had grown up.
and the heart of "lightwood" of the original pine stumps still remained, extending deep and solid into the sand and
clay. These stumps, new and old, had to have their great tap roots, which were
like giant molars with massive divided roots, cut off below plow level. This
required digging a wide hole alongside the stump fifteen inches deep and wide enough in which to swing an ax almost horizontally. There were no stones or particles of sand larger than mustard seed in our soil. An
ax can strike into the soil without being dulled or nicked.
King could swing the heavy, long, straight handled ax with power and accuracy in the hot sun of summer when most white
men could have collapsed with the heat and effort. Every time the ax bit into
the solid heart wood King would grunt, letting the air, compressed in the tense effort, escape. He would cut under his chip then slanting downward until he had chipped out as far as the under cut, then
under cut again. When a notch six or eight inches deep had been made he would
split down through the stump removing a slab to expose a fresh straight surface to be chopped into, This was done on opposite
sides of the stump, the worker kneeling with one knee on the bank with the other foot in the hole. This is the hardest of work, so hard that less tough, expert ax-men would dig holes on two sides of the
stump and keep lightwood fires burning against the tap root until it was burned through at the desired level.
One day King came to work at sun up. We noticed that he frequently stepped
from the packing house where he was mixing fertilizer to look down the path to the street "Dat Sister", he said "gwine bring
me ma breakfast. It wa'nt ready when I lef'". Sister was a nine year old niece
who was living with King and Queen. As the morning progressed no Sister appeared. Come noon, still no Sister with lunch. At
two o'clock my father said "Haven't you had anything to eat yet?" King said "No suh, I hasn't had nuthing to eat all day. Dat trifling chile must be off playing whilst de Queen is up Deep Creek fishing what
are you going to do about it"? my father asked. "Boss, when I gits home Ise gwine
eat me a hell of a bait", King exclaimed.
When we were little children King was as careful and kind to us as a shepherd dog with its sheep.
He was courteous to his white folks, liked by his neighbors. But always
he was expected to be a lovable rascal.
My mother had a long succession of household helpers. Sometimes they were
old colored Mammies with slavery-life training, some were young daughters who worked for little more than meals and training. Her main reliance was on the persons of a succession of young boys, from 9 to 16 years
old. These were more certain to be on hand everyday than their mothers who saw
to it that the boys went to work while they were prone to find excuses and fail to appear when most needed.
Recently, in preaching the Sunday School sermon to the first, second and third grades, I told this story to secure
their interest and attention and to teach the consequences of breaking the Ten Commandments.
When I was a youth in Florida, my mother had a young colored boy as a house servant.
His name was John Schuman. We called him Me John because he always said
me instead of I when talking about himself.
Me John set the table, washed the dishes, swept and cleaned the house, filled the wood boxes end learned to do the
many chores of a country home.
One day my mother bought a basket of ripe, red strawberries. She placed them in the ventilated cabinet on the porch
till she could hull them for dessert. When she finally came for them she found
a hollow instead of a rounded mound of berries on top of the basket. Puzzled
at first, she caught sight of a nervous, self conscious Me John sweeping the porch, rolling the whites of his eyes in apprehensive
glances at the basket of berries. Investigation disclosed a trail of strawberry
hulls leading to the wood pile.
Me John, did you eat the berries on top of this basket? my mother asked no, maam, me ain't et no strawberries, John
"But John, when I put the basket in the safe it was piled up with big berries.
Now, it is sunk down. The big berries are gone. How could that happen? she asked.
"Me sure don't know, Miss Hubbard. Oh! Me remembers. De two Johnson boys came up from de Point goin' to Miss Dora's. Dey
mus' have taken dose berries," said Me John, rolling his eyes while standing, first on one bare foot and then the other.
Now John, you know perfectly well that those boys did not eat those berries.
How could they know the berries were there? They wouldn't go to the wood pile.
I will tell your mother about this", my mother said.
"Oh, Mis' Hubbard, please doan tell my mudder. Po'ter will beat me terrible,"
begged Me John.
Now, Me John's mother was Mrs. Schuman whose present husband was Porter. And
Porter was very, very tall. And Porter was long of legs, slender of body, one
eyed and strict in punishing his step-children for their many childish sins.
So Mrs. Schuman was summoned and told about the berries, "Who do you think ate those berries? my mother asked.
"John done it, Mis' Hubbard. John done it.
Porter will tend to John. He won't never steal no more berries, Mis' Hubbard.
He sho won't steal no mo' berries!" Mrs.
"Oh, Mrs. Schuman, don't let Porter hurt John too much", my mother pleaded.
Next morning a drooping, limping Me John dragged his weary way up the back steps.
"What's the trouble, John" my mother asked.
Porter beat me terrible, Mis' Hubbard. Porter beat me terrible. When me turned off de street into de yard Porter was waitin' fo' me.
He had a big strap in his hand, Me John dolefully related, while leaning listlessly against the door jamb. But as he
proceeded with the stirring story his manner changed, he came erect, his eye shone, he leaned eagerly forward, dramatizing
"Me started to go aroun' the corner ob de house, Porter close after me. He
went into de back do' through de house, out de front do', around the chicken coop, aroun' de well, into de house, under de
bed an' Porter stretched his long self clear over de bed un' catched me comin' out de other side. I sho' gave him a chasen. John's expression changed from eager
excitement to dejected slouch. "An' Porter took dat strap and beat me terrible,
Mis' Hubbard. Jes' look at ma back an' ma legs.
We cain't hardly walk dey hurts so. An', Mis' Hubbard, me won't nebber
steal nuthing, ever, no mo." And he never did while he was with us.
Our Uncle Ambrose was visiting us at the time. He was a vastly amused
spectator of all these goings on. And he was an idol to Me John as he to all children and adults as well. His personality
was genial and compelling; his quiet sympathy and understanding drew everyone to him; his humor and mischievous play with
his friends was timely and delightful; his fund of stories inexhaustible; his telling of them fascinating.
That afternoon Uncle Ambrose strolled across the verandah towards Me John, a fish pole in hand with dangling line and
"Is you goin' fishin Cap'n. Hart?" Me John asked.
"Yes, I would like to catch something big, but I have no bait. Now, if
I could have a big, red strawberry to bait my hook with, I'm sure I could get a bite", said Uncle Ambrose with solemn face
and twinkling eyes.
"Oh, Cap'n Hart! Oh, Cap'n Hart! You
couldn't ketch me wif no strawberry! Me won't nebber steal nuthin agin. No Sur!" said Me John half hanging his head, half grinning as he enjoyed the attention
and joke on him by his adored teaser.
Not only did we never know of anything being missed while Me John was with us but he later became a professional house
cleaner in Jacksonville. A profession where a man must be both courteous and
So you see, children, we must not covet or desire other people's things, as Me John coveted my mother's berries. For, if we do, we will be tempted to steal. And,
if we steal we will be tempted to bear false witness against our neighbors, as Me John did when be said that the Johnson boys
might have taken the berries. We know that our fathers and mothers will be hurt
if we do wrong and break Gods Commandments. We do not honor them when we steal
or lie or blame other people for things they do not do.
But, if we really learn what the Commandments mean, if we know that we will surely be punished for breaking the Commandments
by doing what they tell us not to do, we can be sure that we will be forgiven for doing wrong if we are sorry and learn not
to be tempted to do the wrong thing again. And,
as Me John was happy and proud of being trusted and faithful so we are happiest when we are trusted and loved for honoring
God and our parents and doing to others as we would like them to do to us.
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