Life as a Slave

The Story of Jacob Aldrich - Beaumont, Texas

Prepared by
the Federal Writers' Project of
the Works Progress Administration
for the State of Texas.

Jacob Aldrich, born January 10, 1860 in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, was a slave and grandson of Michelle Thiebedoux. He lived in Terrebonne and St. Mary's Parishes until the Mississippi River flood of 1928, when he came to Beaumont. He now lives at Helbig, a suburban community. He was rather well-dressed, his hat, clothing and shoes being in good condition, and indicating that they had been taken care of. His face was brown. Deep furrows run from the corners of his mouth, extending along the sides of his nose.

He related his story in his own way:

"Yessir, I was born in slavery, in 1860 -- January de tenth. I was born in Terrebonne Parish over in Louisiana 'bout twelve miles below Houma, but I lives in Helbig now.

My father's name was Alfred Aldrich, and my mother was name Isabella. I had five brothers and one sister.

De marster's name was Michelle Thibedoux. Dat was de same as Mitchell Thibedoux, and some of de people called him dat. He was my Gran'pa too, my mother's father. You know in dem times de women had to do what dere masters told 'em to do. If dey didn't pick on 'em and whip 'em. If she do what he want he stop picking on 'em and whipping 'em. Old Marster was bad 'bout dat, and his sons was bad too.

Marster would come 'round to de cabins in de quarters. Sometime he go in one and tell de man to go outside and wait 'til he do what he want to do. Her husband had to do it and he couldn't do nothing 'bout it. Marster was tough 'bout dat. He had chillen by his own chillen. Some of de marsters sell dere own chillen.

Marster was mean. He hardly ever whip 'em over dere clothes. He whip 'em on de bare skin. He make de women throw dere dress up over dere head, and make de men undress.

He didn't give us anything much to eat, and you better not steal. If you did he beat you. He give 'em a peck of meal a week. Each family git de same whether it was a big family or a little one. He give you corn meal. Sometime dey grind up oats and dy give you dat meal. Sometimes he give 'em pork.

My daddy was a ploy hand. Mother, she work in de field with a hoe. Marster used to work 'em from 'kin to can't'. It take a very severe rain to bring you out de field.

Marster live in a one-story plank house. He used to live by de S.P. Track at Shriever, but he got in debt. So he sold out and move to a smaller place. Dat was twelve year before freedom. Look to me like a man fix like he was with plenty of slaves to make his own living oughtn't have to let his place git away from him. But he gamble a lot. When he lost dat place he git de place down by Houma. Dat was a big place. I guess dere was twelve or fifteen hundred acres, swamp and all, but lot of it warn't cleared up.

Sometime Marster punish his slaves like dis. He had two heavy plank with a hole for your neck and two little holes for your wrists. Dey had a iron strap at de end to lock it down. Dey have another for your feet. Dey give you twenty-five licks and clamp you in it. Next morning dey give you twenty-five more and tell you to git your breakfast and git to work. Dey whip you with a half-inch bull whip. When dey git through with you, you need a doctor. How you 'spect anybody to rest in dat thing? Dey too sore to work. I seen dat thing since free time. Sometime dey put salt and pepper on your back after dey whip you.

Marster didn't look after de place hisself. He put his son to be overseer. He was all de time fooling with gals. He had as many mulatto chillens as his daddy had. He was my uncle.

He didn't want the slave boys to have anything to do with de gals. If he see a boy talking to a gal he call him and tell him he better not let him catch him talking to dat gal no more, if he did he gwinter beat him. If any man had told me dat, dey'd have to hang me. In Virginny where my pa come from dey couldn't hang a nigger. But dey hang him in Louisana where I was raised.

When a slave man want to marry he have to see de Marster. He tell him 'Yes', and tell de gal to go with de man and dat was de way dey marry on Marster's place.

The slaves had plank houses 'bout thirty-six foot. It hac a 'vision (division) in the middle, and one family live in each end. Dey had wooden shutter for window and door. Dey take planks and make bunks to sleep on like in a camp. The mattress was jis' old crocus sack with hay in it. Marster give 'em a sheet and quilt. Dey had a box for a table or maybe a rough shack table like what dey have in camps. Dey was benches for 'em to sit on. He give 'em a cheap tin plate and knife and fork.

Dere was 'bout twenty slaves, chillen and all. Dey had a special house for de chillen, and a old woman to take care of 'em. Lots of time dey put clabber in a trough and give de chillen a tin spoon and dey all crowd 'round de trough and eat it.

De slaves clothes was made out of bed ticking. Dat was better bed ticking den what dey has now. De chillen wore shirts dat come down most to dere feet. When dey went to work dey give 'em pants.

Marster kept three wimmin in de house for him. He sent all de way to Baltimore and bought a light one for him. She carry de keys up in de house where he live. Old Missus ain't say nothing 'tall 'bout it. Warn't no use, 'cause he a hard man.

De usual price for a common laborer in de field was eight or nine hundred dollars. Wimmen brought two hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars. But trained slaves was worth lots more. Lots of time a marster send a slave off to work in a blacksmith shop or some other kind of shop jis' to learn a trade, den when he come back he be de mechanic for de plantation. Dey train up wimmen dat way to sew and cook and sich.

I don't 'member nothing 'bout soldiers. Young Marster hide out and didnt' go to de war. He say 'round with de cullud folks in de cabins and sich. De white folks look down on him but dey 'fraid of him.

Old Marster die before freedom come. Officers come from Houma and told us we free. Dey had what dey call Military Law. Dey had a man to see after de plantation. Dey call him de Provo' Marshal.

After old Marster die dey used to hear de sugar mill running. When dey go to see 'bout it dere warn't nobody dere. It was old Marster's spi't. Heap of people don't b'lieve in ghos's but dey jis' as well to. Dere was a man what marry old Marster's daughter. Dey see him going 'round three months after he dead. Everybody say he going 'round 'cause he ain't at rest. She go and see de priest 'bout it. He say it going to take three massess to git him at rest. So she pay him for dem masses and den she satisfy.

Marster's main business was making sugar. Sometimes he work his slaves right 'long through Sunday. Sometimes he don't 'low de fires to go down 'til he git a hundred hogshead of sugar. Den after de crop was in and de sugar made, he give 'em a week off. He give Christmas day off. He give 'em a little dinner and whiskey. You got all you want at Christmas.

I spen mos' my time farming. I live in Terrebonne, den I move to St. Mary Parish. I left dere and come to Beaumont nine year ago. You 'member dat big washout they had back dere in 1927? Well, when de water went down I come here.

I think dat 'bout fix up my story."