Testimony by a Georgia Freedwoman before the Southern Claims Commission

[Savannah, Ga., March 22, 1873]

General Interrogatories by Special Com'r–  My name is Nancy Johnson.  I was born in Ga.  I was a slave and became free when the army came here.  My master was David Baggs.  I live in Canoochie Creek   The claimant is my husband.  He was a good Union man during the war.  He liked to have lost his life by standing up for the Union party.  He was threatened heavy.  There was a Yankee prisoner that got away & came to our house at night; we kept him hid in my house a whole day.  He sat in my room.  White people didn't visit our house then.  My husband slipped him over to a man named Joel Hodges & he conveyed him off so that he got home.  I saw the man at the time of the raid & I knew him.  He said that he tried to keep them from burning my house but he couldn't keep them from taking everything we had.  I was sorry for them though a heap.  The white people came hunting this man that we kept over night; my old master sent one of his own grandsons & he said if he found it that they must put my husband to death, & I had to tell a story to save life.  My old master would have had him killed   He was bitter.  This was my master David Baggs.  I told him that I had seen nothing of him.  I did this to save my husbands life.  Some of the rebel soldiers deserted & came to our house & we fed them.  They were opposed to the war & didn't own slaves & said they would die rather than fight.  Those who were poor white people, who didn't own slaves were some of them Union people.  I befriended them because they were on our side.  I don't know that he ever did any thing more for the Union; we were way back in the country, but his heart was right & so was mine.  I was served mighty mean before the Yankees came here.  I was nearly frostbitten: my old Missus made me weave to make clothes for the soldiers till 12 o'clock at night & I was so tired & my own clothes I had to spin over night.  She never gave me so much as a bonnet.  I had to work hard for the rebels until the very last day when they took us.  The old man came to me then & said if you won't go away & will work for us we will work for you; I told him if the other colored people were going to be free that I wanted to be.  I went away & then came back & my old Missus asked me if I came back to behave myself & do her work & I told her no that I came to do my own work.  I went to my own house & in the morning my old master came to me & asked me if I wouldn't go and milk the cows: I told him that my Missus had driven me off–well said he you go and do it–  then my Mistress came out again & asked me if I came back to work for her like a “nigger”–  I told her no that I was free & she said be off then & called me a stinking bitch.  I afterwards wove 40 yds. of dress goods for her that she promised to pay me for; but she never paid me a cent for it.  I have asked her for it several times.  I have been hard up to live but thank God, I am spared yet.  I quit then only did a few jobs for her but she never did anything for me except give me a meal of victuals,  you see I was hard up then,  I was well to do before the war.

Second Set of Interrogatories by Spec'l Com'r.

1  I was present when this property was taken.

2  I saw it taken.

3  They said that they didn't believe what I had belonged to me & I told them that I would swear that it belonged to me.  I had tried to hide things.  They found our meat, it was hid under the house & they took a crop of rice.  They took it out & I had some cloth under the house too & the dishes & two fine bed-quilts.  They took them out.  These were all my own labor & night labor.  They took the bole of cloth under the house and the next morning they came back with it made into pantaloons.  They were starved & naked almost.  It was Jan & cold,  They were on their way from Savannah.  They took all my husbands clothes, except what he had on his back.

4  These things were taken from David Bagg's place in Liberty County.  The Yankees took them.  I should think there were thousands of them.  I could not count them.  They were about a day & a night

5  There were present my family, myself & husband & this man Jack Walker.  He is way out in Tatnal Co. & we can't get him here

6  There were what we called officers there.  I don't know whether they ordered the property taken.  I put a pot on and made a pie & they took it to carry out to the head men.  I went back where the officers camped & got my oven that I cooked it in back again.  They must have ordered them or else they could not have gone so far & they right there.  They said that they stood in need of them.  They said that we ought not to care what they took for we would get it all back again; that they were obliged to have something to eat.  They were mighty fine looking men.

7  They took the mare out of the stable; they took the bacon under the house, the corn was taken out of the crib, & the rice & the lard.  Some of the chickens they shot & some they run down; they shot the hogs.

8  They took it by hand   the camp was close by my house.

9  They carried it to their camps; they had lots of wagons there.

10  They took it to eat, bless you!  I saw them eating it right there in my house.  They were nearly starved.

11  I told one of the officers that we would starve & they said no that we would get it all back again, come & go along with us; but I wouldn't go because the old man had my youngest child hid away in Tatnal Co: he took her away because she knew where the gold was hid & he didn't want her to tell.  My boy was sent out to the swamp to watch the wagons of provisions & the soldiers took the wagons & the boy, & I never saw him anymore.  He was 14 yrs. old.  I could have got the child back but I was afraid my master would kill him; he said that he would & I knew that he would or else make his children do it: he made his sons kill 2 men big tall men like you.  The Lord forgive them for the way they have treated me.  The child could not help them from taking the horses.  He said that Henry (my boy) hallooed for the sake of having the Yankees find him; but the Yankees asked him where he was going & he didn't know they were soldiers & he told them that he was going to Master's mules.

12  I didn't ask for any receipt.

13  It was taken in the day time, not secretly.

14  When they took this property, the army was encamped.  Some got there before the camps were up.  Some was hung up in the house.  Some people told us that if we let some hang up they wouldn't touch the rest, but they did, they were close by.  They commenced taking when they first came.  They staid there two nights.  I heard a heap of shooting, but I don't think that they killed anybody.  I didn't know any of the officers or quartermasters.

15  This horse was as fine a creature as ever was & the pork &c were in good order.

16  Item No. 1.  I don't know how old the mare was.  I know she was young.  She was medium sized.  She was in nice order, we kept a good creature.  My husband bought it when it was a colt, about 2 years old.  I think he had been using it a year & a little better.  Colored people when they would work always had something for themselves, after working for their masters.  I most forgot whether he paid cash or swapped cows.  He worked & earned money, after he had done his masters work.  They bridled & carried her off; I think they jumped right on her back

Item No. 2.  We had 7 hogs & we killed them right there.  It was pickled away in the barrel: Some was done hung up to smoke, but we took it down & put it into the barrels to keep them from getting it.  He raised the hogs.  He bought a sow and raised his own pork & that is the way he got this.  He did his tasks & after that he worked for himself & he got some money & bought the hogs and then they increased.  He worked Sundays too; and that was for ourselves.  He always was a hardworking man.  I could not tell how much these would weigh; they were monstrous hogs, they were a big breed of hogs.  We had them up feeding.  The others were some two years old, & some more.  It took two men to help hang them up.  This was the meat from 7 hogs.

Item No. 3.  I had half a barrel of lard.  It was in gourds, that would hold half a bushel a piece.  We had this hid in the crib.  This was lard from the hogs.

Item No. 4  I could not tell exactly how much corn there was but there was a right smart.  We had 4 or 5 bushels ground up into meal & they took all the corn besides.  They carried it off in bags and my children's undershirts, tied them like bags & filled them up.  My husband made baskets and they toted some off in that way.  They toted some off in fanners & big blue tubs.

Item No. 5.  I don't know exactly how much rice there was; but we made a good deal.  They toted it off in bundles, threshed out–  It was taken in the sheaf   They fed their horses on it.  I saw the horses eating it as I passed there.  They took my tubs, kettles &c.  I didn't get anything back but an oven.

Item No. 7.  We had 11 hogs.  They were 2 or 3 years old.  They were in pretty good order.  We were intending to fatten them right next year–  they killed them right there.

Item No. 8.  I had 30 or 40 head of chickens.  They took the last one.  They shot them.  This property all belonged to me and my husband.  None of it belonged to Mr. Baggs   I swore to the men so, but they wouldn't believe I could have such things.  My girl had a changable silk dress & all had [talanas?] & they took them all–  It didn't look like a Yankee person would be so mean.  But they said if they didn't take them the whites here would & they did take some of my things from their camps after they left.

Nancy X Johnson

Testimony of Nancy Johnson, [22 Mar. 1873], claim of Boson Johnson, Liberty Co. GA case files, Approved Claims, series 732, Southern Claims Commission, 3rd Auditor, U.S. General Accounting Office, Record Group 217, National Archives. Sworn before a special commissioner of the Southern Claims Commission. The questions that correspond to the enumerated responses are not in the file. According to other documents in the file, Boson Johnson, Nancy Johnson's husband, had submitted a claim for $514.50 as compensation for the following property taken by Union soldiers: 1 mare, 625 pounds bacon, 60 pounds lard, 12 bushels corn, 8 bushels rice, 7 meat hogs, 11 stock hogs, and 25 chickens. He was awarded $155.

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 150–54, and in Free at Last, pp. 124–29.