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Bell, Mary A.

The subject of this sketch is Mary A. Bell, 85 years old, living in a 4-room frame cottage at 1321 Argus Street, St. Louis County, Missouri.

Mary Bell has a very light complexion, light brown eyes, mixed gray hair, very long and straight. She has fine features. She is quite bent, and shows her years, but is cheerful. She is living in the same yard with her daughter who is married and lives next door with her family, Mrs. Virginia Miller and six children. Her story follows:

"I was born in Missouri, May 1, 1852 and owned by an old maid named Miss Kitty Diggs. I had two sisters and three brothers. One of my brothers was killed in de Civil War, and one died here in St. Louis in 1919. His name was Spot. My other brother, four years younger than I, died in October, 1925 in Colorado Springs.

"Slavery was a mighty hard life. Kitty Diggs hired me out to a Presbyterian minister when I was seven years old, to take care of three children.

"I nursed in dat family one year. Den Miss Diggs hired me out to a baker named Henry Tillman to nurse three children. I nursed there two years. Neither family was nice to me. De preacher had a big farm. I was only seven years old so dey put me on a pony at meal time to ride out to de field and call de hands to dinner. After the meals were finished, I helped in de kitchen, gathered the eggs, and kept plenty busy. My father was owned by de Lewis family out in the country, but Miss Diggs owned my mother and all her children. I never attended school until I came to St. Louis, when Abraham Lincoln was assasinated I had never been to school. Dat same year I attended school at Benton Barracks and went about six or seven months. With de soldiers, there was no Negro schools or in St. Louis at dat time. The next school I attended was St. Paul Chapel, 11th and Green Streets. I went dere about six months. De next place I went to school was 18th and Warren. I went there about two years. My next school was 23rd and Morgan, now Delmar Boulevard, in a store building. I went dere between two and three years. I was very apt and learned fast. My father at de time I was going from school to school, was a nurse in Benton Barracks and my mother taken in washing and ironing. I had to help her in de home with de laundry.

"I married at de age of twenty-two and was de mother of seven children, but only have two now living, My daughter dat lives next door and in de same yard with me, and a son in the Phillipine Islands. I have eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

"I so often think of de hard times my parents had in dere slave days, more than I feel my own hard times, because my father was not allowed to come to see my mother but two nights a week. Dat was Wednesday and Saturday. So often he came home all bloody from beatings his old nigger overseer would give him. My mother would take those bloody clothes off of him, bathe de sore places and grease them good and wash and iron his clothes, so he could go back clean.

"But once he came home bloody after a beating he did not deserve and he run away. He scared my mother most to death because he had run away, and she done all in her power to persuade him to go back. He said he would die first, so he hid three days and three nights, under houses and in the woods, looking for a chance to cross the line but de patrollers were so hot on his trail he couldn't make it. He could see de riders hunting him, but dey didn't see him. After three days and three nights he was so weak and hungry, he came out and gave himself up to a nigger trader dat he knew, and begged de nigger trader to buy him from his owner Mr. Lewis because Marse Lewis was so mean to him, and de nigger trader knew how valuable he was to his owner, de nigger trader promised him he would try to make a deal with his owner for him, because de nigger trader wanted him. So when dey brought father back to his owner and asked to buy him, Mr. Lewis said dere wasn't a plantation owner with money enough to pay him for Spot. Dat was my father's name, so of course that put my father back in de hands of Marse Lewis. Lewis owned a large tobacco plantation and my father was de head man on dat plantation. He cured all de tobacco, as it was brought in from the field, made all the twists and plugs of tobacco. His owner's son taught him to read, and dat made his owner so mad, because my father read de emancipation for freedom to de other slaves, and it made dem so happy, dey could not work well, and dey got so no one could manage dem, when dey found out dey were to be freed in such a short time.

"Father told his owner after he found out he wouldn't sell him, dat if he whipped him again, he would run away again, and keep on running away until he made de free state land. So de nigger trader begged my father not to run away from Marse Lewis, because if he did Lewis would be a ruined man, because he did not have another man who could manage de workers as father did. So the owner knew freedom was about to be declared and my father would have de privilege of leaving whether his owner liked it or not. So Lewis knew my father knew it as well as he did, so he sat down and talked with my father about the future and promised my father if he would stay with him and ship his tobacco for him and look after all of his business on his plantation after freedom was declared, he would give him a nice house and lot for his family right on his plantation. And he had such influence over de other slaves he wanted him to convince de others dat it would be better to stay with their former owner and work for him for their living dan take a chance on strangers they did not know and who did not know dem. He pleaded so hard with my father, dat father told him all right to get rid of him, but Lewis had been so mean to father, dat down in father's heart he felt Lewis did not have a spot of good in him. No place for a black man.

"So father stayed just six months after dat promise and taken eleven of de best slaves on de plantation, and went to Kansas City and all of dem joined the U. S. Army. Dey enlisted de very night dey got to Kansas City and de very next morning de Pattie owners were dere on de trail after dem to take dem back home, but de officers said dey were now enlisted U.S. Soldiers and not slaves and could not be touched.

"In de county where I was raised de white people wnet to church in de morning and de slaves went in de afternoon. I was converted at the age of fourteen, and married in 1882. My husband died May 27, 1896 and I have been a widow every since. I do get a pension now, I never started buying dis little old 4-room frame dwelling until I was sixty-four years old and paid for it in full in six years and six months.

"I am a member of St. Peter's A.M.E. Church in North St. Louis. I told you my father's name was Spot, but that was his nickname in slavery. His full name was Spottwood Rice and my son's full name is William A. Bell. He is enlisted in de army in de Phillipine Islands. I love army men, my father, brother, husband and son were all army men. I love a man who will fight for his rights, and any person that wants to be something."

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