Mintie Gilbert Wood  

The Story of a Giles County Ex-Slave      

In the mid-1930's, the federal government embarked upon an ambitious effort to interview former slaves and document their stories.   The resulting narratives have been made available online at the website of the Library of Congress.     

What follows is the interview of Mintie Gilbert Wood who had been a slave of Cary and Eunice Gilbert of Giles County.   She offers not only insight into her life as a Gilbert slave and how treatment of slaves varied, but also just some good common-sense advice on life itself.  This narrative is truly a treasure, as was Mintie.      

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers� Project, 1936 � 1938

St. Louis, Missouri Ex-Slave Stories:  Mintie Wood 

Ex-Slave, Blind but Happy

The subject of this sketch is Mintie Gilbert Wood, 90 years old.  She lives at 4321 West Belle Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, with her widowed daughter, Emma Swift, 69 years old. In the living room of a 10 room brick residence located in the better class section of the Negro district of the city, Mintie lives with her oldest daughter and two granddaughters.  The old woman has been blind for 8 years.  She is quite bent and shows the burden of her years.  She is hard of hearing and her mind is no longer keen and alert.  Her daughter claims a recent illness has caused the latter trouble.  However, the ex-slave very feebly tells the following story.

"I was born in Bethel, Giles County, Tennessee, September 9, 1847.  Marse Carey Gilbert was my owner and I lived on his farm until 1892, when I moved to Little Rock Arkansas.  Marse Carey was mighty nice to his slaves and he had a host of �em.  Can�t begin to say how many.  My old uncle was de overseer of us younguns, about 50 young darkies, and he trained us up till we get a certain age, then they turn us over to the grown up lot, where the white overseer took charge of us.  I don�t �member everything so good, but I do de best I can.  I �member when Marse Gilbert�s daughter Miss Rebecca married Marse Maples they lived �bout 8 or 10 miles from her daddy�s farm, and she use to come home ever so often to visit.   She looked so fine de slaves working in de field see her coming dey all stop and rest on der hoe to look at her pass by on her way to see her mamma, and she would tell �em, you niggers better pray my father never die.  Cause if he died, I wouldn�t �low none you niggers to lif' your heads for de time you got to work till you quit.  My niggers work and never stop.  Marse Gilbert gave her 4 slaves as a wedding present, and they had a hard time, but her parents was mighty fine.  

"Dey owned so much land, cattle, corn, sorgum, tobacco, millet, barley and everything the very finest kind and the wealth was handed down from one generation of the Gilberts to the other.  Dey was so rich dey didn�t know how much dey was worth themselves, but dey was altogether different than most of dem slave owners.  Dey was prosperous �cause dey was better folks.  When peace was declared, everyone of Marse Gilbert�s slaves dat had sense enough and did stay with him got half of everything they earned turned in on land and stock to be independent right der on de same spot where we had been a slave.  And he had so many of his family and darkies, too, he has his own graveyard where everyone of us black or white dat ever been in de Gilbert family can be buried without costing us a penny.

"He owned so much I can't begin to tell it, and nobody else I don�t expect.  Right now a gang of his old slaves� children is livin� right there owning and working property their parents slaved on, de old Gilbert estate and his folks der wid �em, yes m�am.  None of us ever cared for Miss Rebecca.  She made her slaves eat wid de hogs, even poured der milk in the hog trough and de hogs and slaves at and drink together.  She was worse dan de whole family of Gilberts.  I get a blind pension. I never did learn to read or write, but my husband was a school teacher and he never was a slave.  He was a soldier in the Rebel army.  I had 6 children, 6 grandchildren, 5 great grand children and 3 great, great grandchildren. I liked to sew, knit and make quilts fore I was blind. 

"I never used snuff or tobacco in my whole life.  I have 2 sisters living, one 82 years old, one 84 years old and a brother 87 years old.  Dey all live in Prospect, Tennessee, where they were born and raised.  My husband died in 1914. Den I went back to Tennessee to live with my father until 1916 when I came to St. Louis to live with my younger daughter Lydia King Davidson until 1920.

"Den I was called back home on account of the death of my father.   After the funeral I went to Loneoak, Arkansas, to live with my oldest daughter, Emma Swift and been with her often and on ever since.  I only eat 2 meals a day, that�s breakfast around 7 o�clock and dinner between 1 and 2  o�clock, the rest of the time I drink plenty water all and day and all through the night.

"We moved to St. Louis in the year 1922.  I just can�t get used to this younger generation.  Dey sure is a reckless lot.  Cause my life had plenty work �tached to it.  When I was coming along I split rails, hauled wood, raised de white folks family den turned right around and raised my own family.

"I believe in regular hours doing things, work, rest and everything else it takes to make up life.  I worked as hard after freedom as I did in slavery.  After all we got to work for a livin�.  I don�t believe in all dis galavantin� around at night.   You ain�t for no work in de day when you don�t rest at night.  And I always believe in helping de fellow who needs help and can�t help hisself, much as I can.  I even ask my neighbors to save me all the old rags and bottles, and anything they don�t want no more so as I can sell it and git whole of a little something� to help somebody, what ain�t got some help like I got.   I don�t lose nothin� for that, and I get joy out of it.  I always keeps my little old pocket book pinned in my pocket to put that little extra change in, and I got it here right now and some change in it, too.  I never did vote, and never lived in Virginia nor know nothing about it.  I do know de slaves �spected a salary for der work when got free.   Some of �em got part of de promise, but most of �em got nothin� but de promise.  My owners were exceptions.  Dere might have been some more like �em, but not many.  At least I heard never of em.  All my old favorite songs us slaves use to sing, I can�t separate �em anymore.  I try to think of �em, so I can sing �em, but I jest find myself mixin� �em up, and can�t tell one from the other.  Just singing.  But the songs I like best dis day and time is Life is Like a Mountain RailroadGod Will Take Care of You, and I maybe blind, and I can not see, I may be crippled and I can not walk, but I�ll meet you at the station when the train comes along."  


Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. The Library of Congress and the Giles County Web site contributors do not endorse the views expressed in these collections, which may contain materials offensive to some readers.

Submitted by: Jane Gilbert.