“But dey come and tie us in de line and lead us round de big white house. Den we see so many ships in de sea. Cudjo see many white men, too. Dey talking wid de officers of de Dahomey. We see de white man dat buy us. When he see us ready he say goodbye to de chief and gittee in his hammock and dey carry him cross de river. We walk behind and wade de water. It come up to de neck and Cudjo think once he goin’ drown, but nobody drown and we come on de land by de sea. De shore it full of boats of de Many-costs. (See note 6.)5
“De boats take something to de ships and fetch something way from de ships. Dey comin’ and goin’ all de time. Some boat got white man in it; some boat got po’ Affican in it. De man dat buy us he git in a Kroo boat and go out to de ship.
“Dey takee de chain off us and placee us in de boats. Cudjo doan know how many boats take us out on de water to de ship. I in de last boat go out. Dey almost leavee me on de shore. But when I see my friend Keebie in de boat I want go wid him. So I holler and dey turn round and takee me.
“When we ready to leave de Kroo boat and go in de ship, de Many-costs snatch our country cloth off us. We try save our clothes, we ain’ used to be without no clothes on. But dey snatch all off us. Dey say, ‘You get plenty clothes where you goin’.’ Oh Lor’, I so shame! We come in de ’Merica soil naked and de people say we naked savage. Dey say we doan wear no clothes. Dey doan know de Many-costs snatch our clothes ’way from us. (See note 7.)6
“Soon we git in de ship dey make us lay down in de dark. We stay dere thirteen days. Dey doan give us much to eat. Me so thirst! Dey give us a little bit of water twice a day. Oh Lor’, Lor’, we so thirst! De water taste sour. (Vinegar was usually added to the water to prevent scurvy—Canot.)7
“On de thirteenth day dey fetchee us on de deck. We so weak we ain’ able to walk ourselves, so de crew take each one and walk ’round de deck till we git so we kin walk ourselves.
“We lookee and lookee and lookee and lookee and we doan see nothin’ but water. Where we come from we doan know. Where we goin, we doan know.
“De boat we on called de Clotilde. Cudjo suffer so in dat ship. Oh Lor’! I so skeered on de sea! De water, you unnerstand me, it makee so much noise! It growl lak de thousand beastes in de bush. De wind got so much voice on de water. Oh Lor’! Sometime de ship way up in de sky. Sometimes it way down in de bottom of de sea. Dey say de sea was calm. Cudjo doan know, seem lak it move all de time. One day de color of de water change and we see some islands, but we doan come to de shore for seventy days.
“One day we see de color of de water change and dat night we stop by de land, but we don’t git off de ship. Dey send us back down in de ship and de nexy mornin’ dey bring us de green branch off de tree so we Afficans know we ’bout finish de journey.
“We been on de water seventy days and we spend some time layin’ down in de ship till we tired, but many days we on de deck. Nobody ain’ sick and nobody ain’ dead.8 Cap’n Bill Foster a good man. He don’t ’buse us and treat us mean on de ship.
“Dey tell me it a Sunday us way down in de ship and tell us to keep quiet. Cap’n Bill Foster, you unnerstand me, he skeered de gov’ment folks in de Fort Monroe goin’ ketchee de ship.
“When it night de ship move agin. Cudjo didn’t know den whut dey do, but dey tell me dey towed de ship up de Spanish Creek to Twelve-Mile Island. Dey tookee us off de ship and we git on another ship. Den dey burn de Clotilde ’cause dey skeered de gov’ment goin’ rest dem for fetchin’ us ’way from Affica soil.
“First, dey ’vide us wid some clothes, den dey keer us up de Alabama River and hide us in de swamp. But de mosquitoes dey so bad dey ’bout to eat us up, so dey took us to Cap’n Burns Meaher’s place and ’vide us up.
“Cap’n Tim Meaher, he tookee thirty-two of us. Cap’n Burns Meaher he tookee ten couples. Some dey sell up de river in de Bogue Chitto. Cap’n Bill Foster he tookee de eight couples and Cap’n Jim Meaher he gittee de rest.
“We very sorry to be parted from one ’nother. We cry for home. We took away from our people. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ’nother. Derefore we cry. We cain help but cry. So we sing:
“‘Eh, yea ai yeah, La nah say wu
Ray ray ai yea, nah nah saho ru.’
“Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama. Oh Lor’!”
Kossula sat silent for a moment. I saw the old sorrow seep away from his eyes and the present take its place. He looked about him for a moment and then said bluntly, “I tired talking now. You go home and come back. If I talkeed wid you all de time I cain makee no garden. You want know too much. You astee so many questions. Dat do, dat do (that will do, etc.), go on home.”
I was far from being offended. I merely said, “Well when can I come again?”
“I send my grandson and letee you know, maybe tomorrow, maybe nexy week.”
Cap’n Jim he tookee me. He make a place for us to sleepee underneath de house. Not on de ground, you unnerstand me. De house it high off de grounds and got de bricks underneath for de floor.
“Dey give us bed and bed cover, but tain ’nough to keepee us warm.
“Dey doan put us to work right away ’cause we doan unnerstand what dey say and how dey do. But de others show us how dey raisee de crop in de field. We astonish to see de mule behind de plow to pull.
“Cap’n Tim and Cap’n Burns Meaher workee dey folks hard. Dey got overseer wid de whip. One man try whippee one my country women and dey all jump on him and takee de whip ’way from him and lashee him wid it. He doan never try whip Affican women no mo’.
“De work very hard for us to do ’cause we ain’ used to workee lak dat. But we doan grieve ’bout dat. We cry ’cause we slave. In night time we cry, we say we born and raised to be free people and now we slave. We doan know why we be bring ’way from our country to work lak dis. It strange to us. Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk wid de udder colored folkses but dey doan know whut we say. Some makee de fun at us.
“Cap’n Jim, he a good man. He not lak his brother, Cap’n Tim. He doan want his folks knock and beat all de time. He see my shoes gittee raggedy, you know, and he say, ‘Cudjo, if dat de best shoes you got, I gittee you some mo’!’ Now dass right. I no tellee lies. He work us hard, you unnerstand me, but he doan workee his folks lak his brother. Dey got de two plantation. One on de Tenesaw River and one on de Alabam River.
“Oh Lor’! I ’preciate dey free me! We doan have ’nough bed clothes. We workee so hard! De womens dey workee in de field too. We not in de field much. Cap’n Jim gottee five boats run from de Mobile to de Montgomery. Oh Lor’! I workee so hard! Every landing, you unnerstand me, I tote wood on de boat. Dey have de freight, you unnerstand me, and we have to tote dat, too. Oh Lor’! I so tired. No sleepee. De boat leak and we pumpee so hard! Dey ain’ got no railing on de boat and in de night time if you doan watchee close you fall overboard and drown yo’self. Oh Lor’! I ’preciate dey free me.
“Every time de boat stopee at de landing, you unnerstand me, de overseer, de whippin’ boss, he go down de gangplank and standee on de ground. De whip stickee in his belt. He holler, ‘Hurry up, dere, you! Runnee fast! Can’t you runnee no faster dan dat? You ain’t got ’nough load! Hurry up!’ He cutee you wid de whip if you ain’ run fast ’nough to please him. If you doan git a big load, he hitee you too. Oh, Lor’! Oh, Lor’! Five year and de six months I slave. I workee so hard! Looky lak now I see all de landings. I callee all dem for you.
“De first landin’ after de Mobile it de Twenty-One-Mile Bluff; de nexy it de Chestang; de nexy it de Mouth of de Tenesaw; den de Four Guns Shorter; den we pass Tombigbee; den de nexy it de Montgomery Hill; den de nexy it Choctaw Bluff; den de Gain Town; den Tay Creek; den Demopolis; den Clairborne; den Low Peachtree; den Upper Peachtree; den we come to de White Bluffs; den de Blue Bluffs; de nexy after dat it de Yellow Jacket. De river it is shallow dere so
“De war commences but we doan know ’bout it when it start: we see de white folks runnee up and down. Dey go in de Mobile. Dey come out on de plantation. Den somebody tell me de folkses way up in de North make de war so dey free us. I lak hear dat. Cudjo doan want to be no slave. But we wait and wait, we heard de guns shootee sometime but nobody don’t come tell us we free. So we think maybe dey fight ’bout something else.
“De Yankees dey at Fort Morgan, you unnerstand me. Dey dere on account de war and dey doan let nothin’ come passee dem. So po’ folks, dey ain’ gottee no coffee an’ nothin’. We parchee de rice and makee de coffee. Den we ain’ gottee no sugar, so we put de molassy in de coffee. Dat doan tastee so good, you unnerstand me, but nobody cain do nothin’ ’bout it. Cap’n Jim Meaher send word he doan want us to starve, you unnerstand me, so he tell us to kill hogs. He say de hogs dey his and we his, and he doan wantee no dead folks. Derefo’ you know we killee hogs when we cain gittee nothin’.
“When we at de plantation on Sunday we so glad we ain’ gottee no work to do. So we dance lak in de Afficky soil. De American colored folks, you unnerstand me, dey say we savage and den dey laugh at us and doan come say nothin’ to us. But Free George, you unnerstand me, he a colored man doan belong to nobody. His wife, you unnerstand me, she been free long time. So she cook for a Creole man and buy George ’cause she marry wid him. Free George, he come to us and tell us not to dance on Sunday. Den he tell us whut Sunday is. We doan know whut it is before. Nobody in Afficky soil doan tell us ’bout no Sunday. Den we doan dance no mo’ on de Sunday.
“Know how we gittee free? Cudjo tellee you dat. De boat I on, it in de Mobile. We all on dere to go in de Montgomery, but Cap’n Jim Meaher, he not on de boat dat day. Cudjo doan know (why). I doan forgit. It April 12, 1865. De Yankee soldiers dey come down to de boat and eatee de mulberries off de trees close to de boat, you unnerstand me. Den dey see us on de boat and dey say ‘Y’all can’t stay dere no mo’. You free, you doan b’long to nobody no mo’.’ Oh, Lor’! I so glad. We astee de soldiers where we goin’? Dey say dey doan know. Dey told us to go where we feel lak goin’, we ain’ no mo’ slave.
“Thank de Lor’! I sho ’ppreciate dey free me. Some de men dey on de steamboat in de Montgomery and dey got to come in de Mobile and unload de cargo. Den dey free too.
“We ain’ got no trunk so we makee de bundles. We ain’ got no house so somebody tellee us come sleepee in de section house. We done dat till we could gittee ourselves some place to go. Cudjo doan keer—he a free man den.”
After dey free us, you unnerstand me, we so glad, we makee de drum and beat it lak in de Affica soil. My countrymen come from Cap’n Burns Meaher Plantation where we is in de Magazine Point, so we be together.
“We glad we free, but den, you unnerstand me, we cain stay wid de folks what own us no mo’. Derefo’ where we goin’ live, we doan know. Some de folks from cross de water dey done marry and got de wife and chillun, you unnerstand me. Cudjo not marry yet. In de Affica soil when de man gottee de wife, he build de house so dey live together and derefo’ de chillun come. So we want buildee de houses for ourselves, but we ain’ got no lan’. Where we goin’ buildee our houses?
“We meet together and we talk. We say we from cross de water so we go back where we come from. So we say we work in slavery five year and de six months for nothin’, now we work for money and gittee in de ship and go back to our country. We think Cap’n Meaher and Cap’n Foster dey ought take us back home. But we think we save money and buy de ticket ourselves. So we tell de women, ‘Now we all want go back home. Somebody tell us it take lot of money to keer us back in de Affica soil. Derefo’ we got to work hard and save de money. You must help too. You see fine clothes, you must not wish for dem.’ De women tell us dey do all dey kin to get back in dey country, and dey tellee us, ‘You see fine clothes, don’t you wish for dem neither.’
“We work hard and try save our money. But it too much money we need. So we think we stay here.
“We see we ain’ got no ruler. Nobody to be de father to de rest. We ain’ got no king neither no chief lak in de Affica. We doan try get no king ’cause nobody among us ain’ born no king. Dey tell us nobody doan have no king in ’Merica soil. Derefo’ we make Gumpa de head. He a nobleman back in Dahomey. We ain’ mad wid him ’cause de king of Dahomey ’stroy our king and sell us to de white man. He didn’t do nothin’ ’ginst us.
“Derefore we join ourselves together to live. But we say, ‘We ain’ in de Affica soil no mo’ we ain’ gottee no lan’.’ Derefo’ we talk together so we say, ‘Dey bring us ’way from our soil and workee us hard de five year and six months. We go to Cap’n Tim and Cap’n Jim and dey give us de lan’, so we makee houses for ourself.’
“Dey say, ‘Cudjo, you always talkee good, so you go tell de white men and tellee dem whut de Affican say.’
“All de Afficans we workee hard, we gittee work in de saw mill and de powder mill. Some us work for de railroad. De women work too so dey kin help us. Dey doan work for de white folks. Dey raisee de garden and put de basket on de head and go in de Mobile and sell de vegetable, we makee de basket and de women sellee dem too.
“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, it one day not long after dey tell me to speakee for lan’ so we buildee our houses, Cudjo cuttin’ timber for de mill. It a place where de school-house at now. Cap’n Tim Meaher come sit on de tree Cudjo just choppee down. I say, now is de time for Cudjo to speakee for his people. We want lan’ so much I almost cry and derefo’ I stoppee work and lookee and lookee at Cap’n Tim. He set on de tree choppin splinters wid his pocket knife. When he doan hear de axe on de tree no mo’ he look up and see Cudjo standin’ dere. Derefo’ he astee me, ‘Cudjo, what make you so sad?’
“I tell him, ‘Cap’n Tim, I grieve for my home.’
“He say, ‘But you got a good home, Cudjo.’
“Cudjo say, ‘Cap’n Tim, how big is de Mobile?’
“‘I doan know, Cudjo, I’ve never been to de four corners.’
“‘Well, if you give Cudjo all de Mobile, dat railroad, and all de banks, Cudjo doan want it ’cause it ain’ home. Cap’n Tim, you brought us from our country where we had lan’. You made us slave. Now dey make us free but we ain’ got no country and we ain’ got no lan’! Why doan you give us piece dis land so we kin buildee ourself a home?’
“Cap’n jump on his feet and say, ‘Fool do you think I goin’ give you property on top of property? I tookee good keer my slaves in slavery and derefo’ I doan owe dem nothin? You doan belong to me now, why must I give you my lan’?’
“Cudjo tell Gumpa call de people together and he tell dem whut Cap’n Tim say. Dey say, ‘Well we buy ourself a piece of lan’.’
“We workee hard and save, and eat molassee and bread and buy de land from de Meaher. Dey doan take off one five cent from de price for us. But we pay it all and take de lan’.
“We make Gumpa (African Peter) de head and Jaybee and Keebie de judges. Den we make laws how to behave ourselves. When anybody do wrong we make him ’pear befo’ de judges and dey tellee him he got to stop doin’ lak dat ’cause it doan look nice. We doan want nobody to steal, neither gittee drunk neither hurtee nobody. When we see a man drunk we say, ‘Dere go de slave whut beat his master.’ Dat mean he buy de whiskey. It belong to him and he oughter rule it, but it done got control of him. Now dass right, ain’ it? When we speak to a man whut do wrong de nexy time he do dat, we whip him.
“We call our village Affican Town. We say dat ’cause we want to go back in de Affica soil and we see we cain go. Derefo’ we makee de Affica where dey fetch us. Gumpa say, ‘My folks sell me and yo folks (Americans) buy me.’ We here and we got to stay.
“Free George come help us all de time. De colored folks whut born here, dey pick at us all de time and call us ig’nant savage. But Free George de best friend de Afficans got. He tell us we ought gittee de religion and join de church. But we doan want be mixee wid de other folks what laught at us so we say we got plenty land and derefo’ we kin build our own church. Derefo’ we go together and buildee de Old Landmark Baptis’ Church. It de first one round here.”
Cudjo dismissed me by saying abruptly, “When you come tomorrow I like you take me down de bay so we gittee some crab.”
He had on his battered hat when I drove up the next day. His rude walking stick was leaning against the door jamb. He picked it up and came on out to the car at once and we drove off. Without the least prompting he began to talk about his marriage.
“Abila, she a woman, you unnerstand me, from cross de water. Dey call her Seely in Americky soil. I want dis woman to be my wife. She ain’ married, you unnerstand me, and I ain’ gottee no wife yet. All de folks from my country dey got family.
Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes