Interview with Mollie Gabe, a former slave ...
Article Submitted by: Billie Runyon
Interview with Mollie Gabe, a former slave...
This article was taken from the old files of the Braxton Democrat, February 2, 1939, and reprinted October 29, 1982.
Born in slavery and sold to an unkind owner at the tender age of four, "Mollie-Gabe," who says her correct name is Mary Elizabeth Johnson, has reached the advanced age of 94, still enjoying good health and able to work every day.
In a one room cabin, about a mile from Sutton, this interesting woman, keeps house by herself, washes and irons her clothes, cooks her meals, keeps her house neat and clean and in her spare time pieces quilts. her handiwork may be seen on the bed and cot in her room. "I raised quite a bit of stuff in my garden this summer," She said, and when her son suggested that the doctor said she should not work so hard, she said she always had worked and she couldn't stop now. She has a remarkable memory and decided views on many subjects. She loves the white people and says many of her best friends, have been of the white race but she is firmly opposed to mixing the race, saying, "The whites should stay white and blacks should stay black."
She is not on relief and is supported by the kindness of her children, but she has been investigating the possibilities of an old age pension and thinks she ought to be worth half as much as she sold for as a child.
Mollie-Gabe was born at Flatwoods, the daughter of Jane Rhea, a slave woman, who was the property of Dr. John L. Rhea. Dr. Rhea, who was a traveling minister and later studied medicine, came to Flatwoods with his bride from Virginia. They brought with them a number of slaves, among them, Jane. Dr. Rhea was one of the few slave owners in Braxton County and of the few colored people in the county at this time many are descendants of his slaves.
Mollie-Gabe's childhood was happy with several brothers and sisters for companions and little work required. Although she was only four years old when she was separated from her family, she remembers the details vividly. She tells it this way: "I was playing with my sisters when a stranger rode up to the house and Dr. Rhea went out to talk with him. After a while the Dr. called, "Jane dress them chaps and bring 'em out here," That meant me and my two sisters. I was the least one. We went out and lined up and the Dr. said, 'Now take your pick and choice,' but later he said they couldn't spare the oldest sister as his wife needed her. The man looked over and said, 'How much for the little one?' and Dr. Rhea answered, '$650,' and the bargain was made."
With tears in her eyes and her voice trembling, Mollie-Gabe said she was too young to know what it all meant, but she can remember the tears streaming down her old mammy's face as she was lifted on the horse in front of her new owner and rode away, to be separated from her loved ones for many years.
Her new home was in Clay County and in that community there were no other slaves. Although she was so young that she slept in a trundle-bed beside her owners, she was expected to work and work she did, doing the family wash before she was tall enough to hang the clothes on the line and spending long hours at work in the fields and at the house.
While she was living in Clay County, the Civil War broke out and there was fighting in the neighborhood. She says she saw men shot down with her own eyes and others run through with bayonets. Both Yankee and Rebel soldiers passed often through the country and she was taught to fear the Blue coats, as she called them. She was also taught to lie but she says, "It was their doins and I couldn't help it." In the home of her owners was a trap door that led to an excavation. This was covered with homemade carpet and when the Union soldiers were in the vicinity, the family hid under the house and she was told to say that there were no Rebels around. Once when she was in the orchard she was terror-stricken when she was surrounded by seven Union soldiers. They helped themselves to apples and went with her to the house, asking where the family was. Her mistress, who was listening, said she would have her if she had told the truth.
Finally the soldiers ceased their visits and she asked what had become of them. She was told that the Graycoats got tired and gave up. She was not told of her freedom and does not know how long she was kept in ignorance but said, "I reckon I'd be down there yet if my mammy hadn't sent for me." It was in threshing time that she looked out and saw her Uncle Momen Rhea riding up and leading a horse. She was overjoyed as she had heard nothing from her family since she was sold. Her uncle's first words to her were, "Well, I reckon they told you the war is over and we are free," and she answered, "My God, no." "Well," he said "we are just as free as they are and Jane sent me to bring you home." Thus she was reunited with her family.
Shortly after her return she was married to Alexander Johnson, better known as Gabe, and thus she acquired her nickname for ever after she was known as Mollie-Gabe or Mary-Gabe. Dr. Rhea performed the marriage ceremony and the young couple went to Falls Mill to live. Here Gabe owned a little place and here she spent many years, highly respected by both white and colored people. Here she numbered among her friends, "Uncle Billy" and "Aunt Betsy" Haymond, Gabe's former owners, Mr. and Mrs. Mifflin Lorentz, later of Buckhannon, and other pioneer residents of Braxton county. In her interesting little cabin home hang pictures that they gave her.
She says the Good Lord has blessed her with unusual health and strength, and let her live to raise eleven children of her own and eight for other people. Only three of her children are now living. Hanson Johnson, who lives close by, Ella Johnson, of Long Run, Braxton County, and Oscar Johnson, of Clarksburg.
Eleven years ago Mollie and Gabe lost their little home and it was suggested that she go to live with a son while Gabe would stay with a daughter but she said "No, when I married Gabe, I promised to stick by him till death and where he goes I go." and so it was arranged. Gabe died seven years ago.
At the recent election, Mollie-Gabe walked to the polls, about a mile from her home, to cast her ballot. Needless to say, she votes a Republican ticket. She says she has been approached about selling her vote but she thinks everybody ought to vote as they think best, then she added, "I ain't got learned but I got sense and why should I go agin the party that did so much for me."
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