Slave Narrative of Daphne Williams

The Federal Writers' Project entitled "Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves" encompasses a rich oral history of slavery from those who experienced it. Completed between 1936 and 1938 during the Great Depression, this Works Project Administration endeavor had two goals: to employ writers and to record the stories of still-living former slaves. Daphne Williams is one of those former slaves who shared her story.

Daphne Williams, uncertain of her exact age, was estimated to be about 100 in 1937 when she spoke to the Writers' Project from her home near Hillister in Tyler County, Texas. She was born in Tallahassee, Florida, and came to Texas as a girl around the time that the Civil War began. Most of her recollections of slavery centered on her years in Florida, where her owner Nancy Herring lived. From her earliest recollections, she was a caretaker for the Herring children and was seldom allowed to interact with the other slave children. Her job was to make sure no harm came to her charges, and she told of having to “be careful not to let the briar scratch him or he git a scar on him," or her owners would "put a scar" on her. Williams later became the cook when her mother died.

Williams recalled that her widowed mistress sent most of her slaves to Texas just before the Civil War began, in what Williams recalled as an attempt to "smuggle," and Williams was also moved to Texas, traveling in a boat "as big as a house." Williams recalled arriving and seeing "all the pretty trees" in East Texas, a site unfamiliar on the bare and flat landscape around Tallahassee. The Herrings and their slaves settled about five miles from Woodville in Tyler County.

When freedom came to Texas after the war's end, Herring let the former slaves stay on for a bit and then gave an allowance to those who wanted to move on. Williams' uncle told her to "go and look out for number one" and so she moved on. Records indicate that she remained in Tyler County and lived there until her death in 1941.

Images

Daphne Williams near Hillister When interviewed and photographed for the Slave Narrative project, Daphne Williams was living northeast of Hillister along Turkey Creek. Source: Library of Congress Manuscript Division
Daphne Williams At the time this photograph was taken in Tyler County in 1937, Daphne Williams' age was estimated to be about 100. Source: Library of Congress Manuscript Division
Death Certificate of Daphne Williams Although Daphne Williams' exact age was unknown, her death certificate listed it at 112, meaning she would have been born in 1829. But census records indicate she was most likely born in the 1840s. Source: Texas, Death Certificates, 1903–1982, Ancestry.com
1850 Slave Census This 1850 record, annotated with an arrow, lists the slaves Nancy Herring owned in Leon County, Florida, and presumably includes Daphne Williams. Source: National Archives and Records Administration

Location

Metadata

Melissa Harding, “Slave Narrative of Daphne Williams,” East Texas History, accessed November 27, 2022, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/111.