Valley of the Shadow
The Eve of War
Fall 1859–Spring 1861

Letters & Diaries


WPA Narratives About Augusta County (1930s)

These two narratives are taken from Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-Slaves, ed. Charles L. Perdue, Jr., Thomas E. Barden and Robert K. Phillips, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), 243-44 and 346. Weevils is one of the finest collections of the 1930s WPA interviews. Only two examples mention slavery in Augusta county.

Mrs. Melinda Ann ("Roty") Ruffin

(b. 1839)

  • Uledi, Playford Mining Works, Waynesboro, Va.
  • Interviewer: Unknown
  • Date of Interview: Unknown
  • Source: Pencil Copy, Lewis Papers

[The following sketchy notes are all that were found for Melinda Ruffin. They are given here as written.--Ed.]

1839--102yrs--17th Aug (16th). David E. Corner--master--

No "slave now." Didn't buy nigger, didn't sell nigger.

Mary Ann Corner

Roty Brent--mother--cooked

Edmund West

Andy Thomas, Woodson, Joshua, Hanry, Cyrus, [all] Brents

Married that thing sittin' up.

Wheat, oats, rye, flax.

Edmund West belonged to Jack Ellis-Oben.

2 Charles--Big, Little.

Ant Polly, Uncle Bob, Henry--Whip 'em every morning before they eat mouthful. Slip over nightfall & get mother to grease back to git de shirt on--keep from sticking.

Ring & twistle--whipping post.

Sellin' block--Ballard Smith--auctioneer--wanted me for nurse--Put her on block.

Walked down just as big as gall.

Sell her for nurse.

That's why I ain't no Democrat.

Uncle hedman--let soldier in--soldier--nobody to hurt you.

Came in--canvas covered wagon.

To see who's got good massa--8-9 days you're gonna be free, Stay wid Massa if he good.

Monroe Orcutt--fiddler.

Wm Smith--husband--died after 15 yrs.

Working on bldg--collapsed--bricklayer--heard crash--looked over--saw him fallin' in cloud of dust.

Cross river--fish biting legs--run right--busted all my clothes--found him in wreckage--2 ribs broke, arm fractured--plaster saved him.

Oldest son--blind (Henry)--Willie Smith dead in Ptsbg.--Massa raised--Dr. said had to take leg off--Alice Thomas sold me out, brot me here. Lizzie--Leona-dead--Harry--Jessie--Deola.

Husband worked for undertaker--sick--poisoned by fellow (jettie Meads) who wanted job--put something on seat--behind swolt up--testaments [testicles?] swell up--&that's this big--other thing--Oh, Lordy--stood up like my arm--swolt up to his neck--died 3 days later. Jettie wouldn't dare drive the hurse.

Wm. Ruffin--77--Fla.--Pa. 50 yrs.

Smell like cigarats.--Reckon folks think I'm a monkey

Doctor ford lives with Thomas.

Calls self same as family.

Mother did all the whippin' on our place

Hands feel might soft--you don't work none.

Want's to be lookin' saintly when you take my picture.

Mrs. Mary E. ----wsey

(b. ?)

  • 674 E. Beverly St., Staunton, Va.
  • Interviewer: Susie R. C. Byrd
  • Date of interview: Unknown
  • Source: Pencil copy, Lewis papers

My mother belong to William H. and Susan Marshall. She was born 1835. Mary Grason she was--

While I was out at the home place where my mother belonged on the plantation I was looking in the book case and came across that book and I wouldn't take anything for finding it.

Just think when they died (white folks) they didn't have dresses on back. Son in law gave them clothes.

Yes they were good when you could work but when you got sick they sold you.

I had an aunt took fever in war time--left her feeble-minded. She wandered off sometimes. They sold her. they knew at big house traders was coming--kept it from her. Answer was, when they broke news to her she said, she just as soon belong to one white man as another. Tole us all good by like she was going on a visit. We never saw her no more.