Jackson County Times

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Yearning for Freedom:

Voice of a Jackson County Slave Echoes Through the Years

By Dale Cox

The outbreak of the War Between the States in 1861 added yet another factor to the lives of the slaves of Jackson County. Freedom, never much of a thought before, became a word spoken in hushed whispers in their cabins late at night.

Actual interviews with slaves during this era were extremely rare, and when presented in newspapers of the time were usually presented in such a way as to reinforce either the Northern or the Southern view of the causes of the war. One of the best surviving independent interviews, however, was recorded in Jackson County in 1862 by Miss Sarah Jones, the English tutor hired to educate the children of Governor John Milton at

Sylvania plantation.

The circumstance surrounding the discussion was a planned trip by Mrs. Milton to visit the governor in Tallahassee. Among the slaves working in the house at Sylvania was a woman named Jane, who had been brought to Florida by a family fleeing the shells being rained on Charleston, South Carolina, by Union cannon. While they sought shelter in Florida’s capital, Jane was sent to live with the Miltons:

…I said: “Shall you not be glad to go and see your mistress, Jane?

“Ef I goes to see my missus I’ll want to stay wiv her. I wants t o go whar my muvver is.”

“But the Yankees have taken your mother. I dare say she would be very glad to get back, if she could.”

“Yankees treats coloured folks well. They don’t make ‘em work. Jes’ does noffin, and have a good time.”

“Oh yes, indeed you would have to work; everybody, who is good for anything, works in this world. God did not make any one to be idle.”

“Folks don’t have to work when they’re free; coloured folks don’t.”

“Yes, they do; and if you go to see your mother, the Yankees will take you, and make you work.”

“I’d ‘know.’ Ef they wanted to take me, they’d a took me when was in Charleston. They ain agoin’ to take me.”

“What did you do in Charleston?”

“I jes’ walk out wiv de children, an’ sometimes take a ride. Most every day missus gives us half a dollar to go to the ‘fectioners (confectioners) to get ice cream, and she allers say, ‘Jane, you have some too.’”

“Well, I am sure that she was very kind.”

“My missus allers was very kind, she like me, she did. She say, ‘Jane, I don’t want you to go away.’”

Poor Jane! No wonder she was so doleful always, so far away by herself. She went to a sewing school in Charleston, she told me, but she didn’t want to learn to read, which she could have done, saying, “I ain’t got no use for it;” but she liked needlework, and had learned to do it beautifully.

The woman named Jane was not the only Jackson County slave who had heard stories of the life that might await them if they could somehow reach the Union lines. As the war progressed and Federal blockade ships took up stations at Apalachicola and St. Andrew Bay, a steady stream of slaves slipped away from their labors to make their way south through the swamps and woods to the coast. They were welcomed by the Union sailors.

Some became sailors themselves. Others were taken to Cedar Key, St. Vincent Island and Key West where they were employed – for pay – as laborers or in other roles. A number of African Americans from Jackson County eventually joined the Union army and went on to fight as soldiers in the 2nd, 82nd, 86th and 99th U.S. Colored Troops.

Editor’s Note: This article was excerpted from The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States by writer and historian Dale Cox. The book is available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or can be ordered online through www.amazon.com.

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