Slave Narrative of Charlotte Beverly

In an effort to chronicle the experiences of people who had once been enslaved, the Federal Writers' Project collected interviews and photographs of more than 2,300 former slaves. The results of this initiative, organized to provide employment during the Depression for out-of-work writers, were published in multiple volumes of "Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves." Writers documented the memories of nearly 700 former slaves living in Texas, including Charlotte Beverly, who was living with one of her adult children in a small house between Cleveland and Shepherd in 1937.

Beverly was unsure of her own age and the interviewer estimated her to be around 90 years old. Born in Montgomery County, Texas, Beverly was owned by Captain Francis B. Pankey and his wife Martha, as was her mother Phillis, but another man owned her father, who lived nearby.

Beverly recalled her responsibilities in the Pankey household, such as cleaning the silver collection and Martha Pankey's snuff box. Captain Pankey allowed his slaves, in their limited free time, to work some of his land and grow their own cotton crop to sell. He also allowed one of the slaves to act as a preacher to the rest. As long as the man preaching was not too loud, Beverly recalled, then there was no reason for someone from the "big house" to make him quit because he was making a disturbance.

Beverly spoke highly of her former owners, saying, "Lawd, they was good to us. Us didn' know nothin' 'bout bad times and cutting and whipping and slashing." The slaves were permitted to participate in holiday rituals and meals, and sometimes they attended the white church with their owners. Beverly also recalled that Martha Pankey, without children of her own, seemed to take special interest in the approximately 40 slaves they owned. She would often care for the children of the field workers herself, and she did not allow Charlotte to "do any heavy work." Beverly remembered that as Martha Pankey was dying, the mistress expressed concern for her and said, "You take care of Charlotte."

Despite the fairly favorable memories Beverly shared more than 70 years after slavery ended, records show that the Pankeys considered young Charlotte, her mother and others as property. Before Martha Pankey offered words of concern for Beverly on her deathbed, she had arranged in her will for Beverly and other slaves to be passed to her niece. Martha Pankey died in early 1861, just as the Civil War began and four years before Beverly, her mother, and other slaves were legally emancipated.

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