Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project 1936-1938
Emma was really rough.
Narrative Begins: Emma Knight, living at 924 North Street,
Hannibal, Missouri, was born in slavery on the farm of Will
and Emily Ely, near Florida, Monroe County...
SOURCE WPA Slave Narrative Project, Missouri Narratives,
COLLECTION Federal Writer's Project, United States Work
Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress
Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers'
Project, 1936-1938 Missouri Narratives, Volume X Emma was
Emma Knight, living at 924 North Street, Hannibal Missouri,
was born in slavery on the farm of Will and Emily Ely, near
Florida, Monroe County. The following is her story as she
"We lived on a Creek Near Florida. We belonged to Will
Ely. He had only five slaves, my father and mother and three
of us girls. I was only eight or nine years old. De Elys had
eight children. Dere was Paula, Ann, Sarah, Becky, Emily,
Lizzie, Will, Ike, and Frank. Lizzie was de oldest girl and
I was to belong to her when she was married.
"De master of de house was better to us dan de
mistress. We didn't have to work none to hard, 'cause we was
so young, I guess. We cut weeds along de fences, pulled
weeds in de garden and helped de mistress with de hoeing. We
had to feed de stock, sheep, hogs, and calves, because de
young masters wouldn't do de work. In de evenings we was
made to knit a finger width and if we missed a stitch we
would have to pull all the yarn out and do it over. De
master's girls learned us to read and write. We didn't have
hardly no clothes and most of de time dey was just rags. We
went barefoot until it got real cold. Our feet would crack
open from de cold and bleed. We would sit down and bawl and
cry because it hurt so. Mother made moccasins for our feet
from old pants. Late in de fall master would go to Hannibal
or Palmyra and bring us shoes and clothes. We got dem things
only once a year. I had to wear de young master's overalls
for underwear and linseys for a dress.
"My father was took away. My mother said he was put on
a block and sold 'cause de master wanted money to buy
something for de house. My told me she come from Virginia or
down south some place. Dey brought her in a box care with
lots of other colored people. Dere was several cars full,
with men in one car, women in another, and de younger ones
in another, and de babies in another with some of the women
to care for dem. Dey bought dem to Palmyra and sold dem.
Master Kly bought my mother. I don't know where my father
"Mistress always told us dat if we run away somebody
would catch us and kill us. We was always scared when
somebody strange come. De first we knew der was a war was
when some soldiers come through. We was sure scared den.
Once a man come and we thought he was a patroller but he
asked for something to eat. Mother took him to de mistress.
She gave him something to eat wrapped in a paper and told
him to get off de place.
"Some Union soldiers come and told us that we was free
like dey was and told us not to be afraid, dey wouldn't hurt
us. Day told us de war was over. De master told mother not
to go away, dat if she stayed for a while he would give her
a couple hundred dollars. We stayed a while but she never
got no money.
"We come to Hannibal in an ox wagon. We put up at de
barracks and den mother wen to live with Hiram Titchner. He
lived right where de post office is now. I hired out Mrs.
James across de street for my clothes and schooling. Mrs.
James had two girls. One of dem learned me not to be such a
tomboy and not to be so rough. I tell you I was a bad girl
when I was young. I could climb every tree on de master's
farm and my clothes was always in rags from being so rough.
My mother used to whip me most every day with a broomstick
and even hit me with chairs. I guess I was bad. If I had a
dollar for every broom handle that was laid across my back I
would have lots of money. I tell yo we was raised plenty
tuff dem days.
"De young folks can't stand such raising dese days. Dey
just couldn't go through what we was through. The young
folks now just couldn't do it all. We never was 'lowed on
the street after nine o'clock. We sure run for home when the
church bell done rung on de hill and nine o'clock.
Now-a-days de young folks stay out half de night and dey
steal and even kill each over over triflin' things. I know
it 'cause I see them do dese things. I 'spose dere parents
are a lot to blame.
"I was married when I was young, less dan twenty I
reckon. I had one girl but she is dead now. Her boy lives
with me. I gets a pension, seven dollars a month, for about
a year now. This little old shack belongs to me. I go to de
Baptist Church over on Center Street whenever I can. We used
to go to church on de corner 'cross from de post office.
Dere is a big store dere now."