The subject of this sketch is Mintie Gilbert Wood, 90 years old. She
lives at 4321 West Belle Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, with her widowed
daughter, Emma Swift, 69 years old. In the living room of a 10 room brick
residence located in the better class section of the Negro district of the
city, Mintie lives with her oldest daughter and two granddaughters. The
old woman has been blind for 8 years. She is quite bent and shows the
burden of her years. She is hard of hearing and her mind is no longer
keen and alert. Her daughter claims a recent illness has caused the
latter trouble. However, the ex-slave very feebly tells the following
"I was born in Bethel, Giles County, Tennessee, September 9, 1847.
Marse Carey Gilbert was my owner and I lived on his farm until 1892, when I
moved to Little Rock Arkansas. Marse Carey was mighty nice to his slaves
and he had a host of ‘em. Can’t begin to say how many. My old
uncle was de overseer of us younguns, about 50 young darkies, and he trained
us up till we get a certain age, then they turn us over to the grown up lot,
where the white overseer took charge of us. I don’t ‘member everything
so good, but I do de best I can. I ‘member when Marse Gilbert’s daughter
Miss Rebecca married Marse Maples they lived ‘bout 8 or 10 miles from her
daddy’s farm, and she use to come home ever so often to visit. She looked so
fine de slaves working in de field see her coming dey all stop and rest on der
hoe to look at her pass by on her way to see her mamma, and she would tell
‘em, you niggers better pray my father never die. Cause if he died, I
wouldn’t ‘low none you niggers to lif' your heads for de time you got to work
till you quit. My niggers work and never stop. Marse Gilbert gave
her 4 slaves as a wedding present, and they had a hard time, but her parents
was mighty fine.
"Dey owned so much land, cattle, corn, sorgum, tobacco, millet, barley and
everything the very finest kind and the wealth was handed down from one
generation of the Gilberts to the other. Dey was so rich dey didn’t know
how much dey was worth themselves, but dey was altogether different than most
of dem slave owners. Dey was prosperous ‘cause dey was better folks.
When peace was declared, everyone of Marse Gilbert’s slaves dat had sense
enough and did stay with him got half of everything they earned turned in on
land and stock to be independent right der on de same spot where we had been a
slave. And he had so many of his family and darkies, too, he has his own
graveyard where everyone of us black or white dat ever been in de Gilbert
family can be buried without costing us a penny.
"He owned so much I can't begin to tell it, and nobody else I don’t expect.
Right now a gang of his old slaves’ children is livin’ right there owning and
working property their parents slaved on, de old Gilbert estate and his folks
der wid ‘em, yes m’am. None of us ever cared for Miss Rebecca. She
made her slaves eat wid de hogs, even poured der milk in the hog trough and de
hogs and slaves at and drink together. She was worse dan de whole family
of Gilberts. I get a blind pension. I never did learn to read or write,
but my husband was a school teacher and he never was a slave. He was a
soldier in the Rebel army. I had 6 children, 6 grandchildren, 5 great
grand children and 3 great, great grandchildren. I liked to sew, knit and make
quilts fore I was blind.
"I never used snuff or tobacco in my whole life. I have 2 sisters
living, one 82 years old, one 84 years old and a brother 87 years old.
Dey all live in Prospect, Tennessee, where they were born and raised. My
husband died in 1914. Den I went back to Tennessee to live with my father
until 1916 when I came to St. Louis to live with my younger daughter Lydia
King Davidson until 1920.
"Den I was called back home on account of the death of my father.
After the funeral I went to Loneoak, Arkansas, to live with my oldest
daughter, Emma Swift and been with her often and on ever since. I only
eat 2 meals a day, that’s breakfast around 7 o’clock and dinner between 1 and
2 o’clock, the rest of the time I drink plenty water all and day and all
through the night.
"We moved to St. Louis in the year 1922. I just can’t get used to this
younger generation. Dey sure is a reckless lot. Cause my life had
plenty work ‘tached to it. When I was coming along I split rails, hauled
wood, raised de white folks family den turned right around and raised my own
"I believe in regular hours doing things, work, rest and everything else it
takes to make up life. I worked as hard after freedom as I did in
slavery. After all we got to work for a livin’. I don’t believe in
all dis galavantin’ around at night. You ain’t for no work in de
day when you don’t rest at night. And I always believe in helping de
fellow who needs help and can’t help hisself, much as I can. I even ask
my neighbors to save me all the old rags and bottles, and anything they don’t
want no more so as I can sell it and git whole of a little something’ to help
somebody, what ain’t got some help like I got. I don’t lose nothin’
for that, and I get joy out of it. I always keeps my little old pocket
book pinned in my pocket to put that little extra change in, and I got it here
right now and some change in it, too. I never did vote, and never lived
in Virginia nor know nothing about it. I do know de slaves ‘spected a
salary for der work when got free. Some of ‘em got part of de
promise, but most of ‘em got nothin’ but de promise. My owners were
exceptions. Dere might have been some more like ‘em, but not many.
At least I heard never of em. All my old favorite songs us slaves use to
sing, I can’t separate ‘em anymore. I try to think of ‘em, so I can sing
‘em, but I jest find myself mixin’ ‘em up, and can’t tell one from the other.
Just singing. But the songs I like best dis day and time is Life is
Like a Mountain Railroad, God Will Take Care of You, and I maybe
blind, and I can not see, I may be crippled and I can not walk, but I’ll meet
you at the station when the train comes along."