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 Murray County Museum  
VANN SLAVES REMEMBER
© 2003 By Herman McDaniel

The Cherokees living in the southeastern United States copied many of the traditions and practices of their white neighbors–including the ownership of fellow humans as slaves.

Perhaps because they had observed the prosperity so often achieved by slave-holding whites, Indians of mixed-blood were more apt to own slaves. By 1800 slavery had become firmly entrenched in the Five Civilized Tribes.

In Georgia, during the early 1800s, slaves owned by the Vann Family made the bricks and milled the lumber used to build the Vann House in Spring Place. Among the several hundred slaves owned by the Vanns at that time, many were skilled craftsmen and tradesmen capable of helping build such a fine house. Their slaves also helped build the nearby Moravian mission and school in Spring Place.

When the Vanns were forced from their Spring Place home in 1834, they took many slaves with them when they fled to safety in Tennessee. The Vanns later relocated to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma.

When the last of the Cherokees were forcibly moved west in 1838, government records indicate that 1,592 black slaves were moved to Indian Territory with their owners. Numerous others had previously gone to Oklahoma when their masters voluntarily relocated.

Nearly a century later (in 1932), Joseph Vann's grandson, R. P. Vann, told author Grant Foreman that Joseph Vann had built a house about a mile south of Webbers Falls (Oklahoma) "...a handsome home...built just like the old Joe Vann home in Georgia." The impressive house reportedly stood on a plantation of nearly 600 acres which was tended by some 400 black slaves "Rich Joe" Vann owned. The grandson reported that the Vann Family lived in that house until "the War," when some 3,000 federal troops descended upon Webbers Falls. He said that those troops burned the Vann home during their pillage.

At least twenty-five of Vann's slaves participated in the Cherokee slave revolt of 1842. In the pre-dawn hours of November 15, 1842, the Negroes locked their still-sleeping masters and overseers in their homes. They rendezvoused with other slaves who had agreed to participate in the revolt, stole horses to ride to their freedom, then broke into a store to steal guns, ammunition, food, and supplies they needed for their planned escape to Mexico–where slavery was illegal. The slaves of the Creeks also joined those of the Cherokees and the band set out for Mexico.

When the Cherokees discovered that so many of their slaves had fled, they organized a search party to pursue them. Many Creeks joined the Cherokee searchers. After several days of pursuit, the Indians caught up with the escaped slaves and a heated battle inflicted casualties on both sides. When the Indians decided to return home for reinforcements, the slaves started moving again toward Mexico.

The band of escaping slaves came upon two white men who were fugitive slave hunters returning eight Negroes they had recaptured to their Choctaw master. The fugitive slaves killed the two bounty hunters and the slaves they had been returning joined those attempting to reach Mexico.

Meanwhile, the Cherokees had presented their news of the slave revolt to the Cherokee National Council at the capital, Tahlequah, and gained approval for a Cherokee Militia unit to pursue, arrest, and deliver the fugitive slaves to Fort Gibson. During their pursuit of the escaped Negroes, the Cherokee Militia discovered the bodies of the two slave bounty hunters. A few days later they caught up with the slaves, still in Indian Territory. They had run out of food and were starving, too weak and disillusioned to offer effective resistance.

Upon being brought to Fort Gibson, five slaves were held to stand trial for murdering the two bounty hunters. Others were returned to their owners. Joseph Vann took the rebel slaves belonging to him out of the Cherokee Nation and permanently assigned them to work on his steamboats.

The following year, Joseph Vann and several of his black rebels died in the explosion of his steamboat Lucy Walker during a race on the Ohio River. Although Joseph Vann's body was never found, slave Lucinda Vann revealed that one of his arms had been found, positively identified, and taken to Vann's home at Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, where it was preserved for many years.

The 1860 Census records for Oklahoma (the last Census of the slavery era), indicates that the Cherokees held 4,600 Negro slaves; the Chickasaws owned 975; the Choctaws owned, 2,344; the Creeks held 1,532; and the Seminoles reportedly owned 500. Of course, all slaves were officially freed during the Civil War.

Some 70 years after "the War," during America's Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration assigned numerous people to interview former slaves and record their recollections of slavery. So many years had passed since slavery ended that most of the former slaves then available for interviews had been born very near the end of the slavery era.

The people conducting the interviews from 1936-1938 were instructed to write the material gleaned from the interviews as closely as possible to the speech patterns of the former slaves they interviewed. Some 3,500 interviews were conducted. Those included in this collection all mention the Vanns. At the time that the interviews were conducted, the Vanns had been gone from Georgia for more than 100 years–consequently none of the slaves the Vanns owned in Spring Place were still alive.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Cornelius Neely Nave
Cherokee Freedman

    Cornelius Neely Nave was a grandson of Talaka Vann, a slave owned by Joseph Vann in Webbers Falls. Although he was born after slavery had ended, Nave's remembrances of what his father had told him about slavery days include some interesting details.
Correction Note: The preceding comments by the interviewer incorrectly depicts the relationship between the family members. However, the following narrative by the ex-slave, Cornelius Neely Nave, contains correct family relationships.

I was born after the War, about 1868, and what I know 'bout slave times is what my pappa told me, and maybe that not be very much. Two year old when my mamma died so I remember nothing of her, and most of my sisters and brothers dead too. Pappa named Charley Nave; mamma's name was Mary Vann before she marry and her papa was Talaka Vann, one of Joe Vann's slave down around Webber's Falls.

My father was born in Tahlequah just about where the colored church stands on Depot Hill. His master Daniel Nave, was Cherokee. In the master's yard was the slave cabin, one room long, dirt floor, no windows. I think I hear 'em say mamma was born on Bull Creek; that somewhere up near Kansas, maybe near Coffeyville.

Vinita was the closeset town to where I was born; when I get older seem like they call it "the junction" on account the rails cross there, but I never ride on the trains, just stay at home.

I remember that home after the war brought my pappa back home. He went to the war for three years wid the Union soldiers. But about the home--it was a double-room log house with a cooling-off space between the rooms, all covered with a roof, but no porch, and the beds was made of planks, the table of pine boards, and there was never enough boxes for the chairs so the littlest children eat out of a tin pan off the floor.

That house was on the place my papa said he bought from Billy Jones in 1895. The land was timbered and the oldest children clear the land, or start to do the work while Pappa go back to Tahlequah to get my sick mamma and the rest of the family. Because mamma was sick then he brought her sister Sucky Pea and her husband, Charley Pea, to help around wid him.

We lived there a long time, and I was old enough to remember setting in the yard watching the river (Grand River) go by, and the Indians go by. All Indians lived around there, the real colored settlement was four mile from us, and I wasn't scared of them Indians for pappa always told me his master Henry Nave, was his own father; that make me part Indian and the reason my hair is long, straight and black like a horse mane.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Cornelius Neely Nave
Cherokee Freedman

Some of the Indian families was Joe Dirt Eater, Six Killer (some of the Six Killers live a few miles SE of Afton at this time, 1938), Chewey Noi, and Gus Buffington. One of the Six Killer women was mighty good to us and we called her "mammy", that a long time after my mammy die though.

Pappa got the soldier fever from being in the War; no, I don't mean like the chills and fever, but just a fever to be in the army, I guess for he joined the regular U.S. Army after a while, serving five years in the 10th Cavalry at Fort Sill during the same time John Adair of Tahelquah and John Gallagher of Muskogee was in the army.

Coming out of the army for the last time, Pappa took all the family and moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, but I guess he feel more at home wid the Indians for pretty soon we all move back, this time to a farm near Fort Gibson.

I never would hear much about the war that my father was in, but I know he fought for the North. He didn't tell us children much about the War, except he said one time that he was in the Battle of Honey Springs in 1863 down near Elk Creek south of Fort Gibson. That sure was a tough time for the soldiers, for father said they fought and fought before the "Seesesh" soldiers finally took off to the south and the northern troops went back to Fort Gibson. Seem like it take a powerful lot of fighting to rid the country of them Rebs.

Another time his officer give him a message; he was on his way to deliver it when the enemy spy him and cry out to stop, but father said he kept on going until he was shot in the leg. Then he hide in the bushes along the creek and got away. He got that message to the captain just the same.

When father was young he would go hunting the fox with his master, and fishing in the streams for the big fish. Sometimes they fish in the Illinois river, sometimes in the Grand, but they always fish the same way. They make pens out in the shallow water with poles every little ways from the river banks. They'd cut brush saplings, walk out into the stream ahead of the pen and chase the fish down to the riffle where they'd pick em up. Once they catch a catfish most as big as a man; that fish had eggs big as hen eggs, and he made a feast for twenty-five Indians on the fishing party.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Cornelius Neely Nave
Cherokee Freedman

Florence Smith was my first wife and Ida Vann the second. All my children was from the first marriage: Thomas, Dora, Charley, Marie, Opal, William, Arthur, Margaret, Thadral and Hubbard. The last one was named for Hubbard Ross; he was related to Chief John Ross and was some kin to Daniel Nave, my father's master.

Betty Robertson
Cherokee Freedwoman

    Betty Robertson's father worked aboard Joseph Vann's steamboat, Lucy Walker. He died when the boat's boilers exploded.

Just 'bout two weeks before the coming of Christmas Day in 1853, I was born on a plantation somewheres eight miles east of Bellview, Rusk County, Texas. One year later my sister Phyllis was born on the same place and we been together pretty much of the time ever since, and I reckon dere's only one thing that could separate us slave born children.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Betty Robertson
Cherokee Freedwoman

    Betty Robertson's father worked aboard Joseph Vann's steamboat, Lucy Walker. He died when the boat's boilers exploded.

The slaves had a pretty easy time I think. Young Master Vann never very hard on us and he never whupped us, and ole Mistress was a widow woman and a good Christian and always kind. I sure did love her. Maybe old Master Joe Vann was harder, I don't know, but that was before my time. Young Master never whip his slaves, but if they don't mind good he sell them off sometimes. He sold one of my brothers, and one sister because they kept running off. They wasn't very big either, but one day two Cherokees rode up and talked a long time, then young Master came to the cabin and said they were sold because mammy couldn't make them mind him. They got on the horses behind the men and went off.

Old Master Joe had a big steam boat he called the Lucy Walker, and he run it up and down the Arkansas and the Mississippi and the Ohio river, old Mistress say. He went clean to Louisville, Kentucky and back. My pappy was a kind of a boss of the negroes that run the boat, and they all belong to Old Maser Joe. Some had been in a big run-away and had been brung back, and wasn't so good, so he keep them on the boat all the time mostly. Mistress say old Master and my pappy on the boat somewhere close to Louisville and the boiler bust and tear the boat up. Some Negroes say my pappy kept hollering, "Run it to the bank! Run it to the bank!" but it sunk and him and old Master died.

Old Master Joe was a big man in the Cherokees, I hear, and was good to his negroes before I was born. My pappy run away one time, four or five years before I was born, mammy tell me, and at that time a whole lot of Cherokee slaves run off at once. They got over in the Creek country and stood off the Cherokee officers that went to git them, but pretty soon they give up and come home. Mammy say they was lots of excitement on old Master's place and all the negroes mighty scared, but he didn't sell my pappy off. He jest kept him and he was a good negro after that. He had to work on the boat, though, and never got to come home but once in a long while.

Young Master Joe let us have singing and be baptized if we want to, but I wasn't baptized till after the War. But we couldn't learn to read or have a book, and the Cherokee folks was afraid to tell us about the letters because they have a law you go to jail and a big fine if you show a slave about the letters.

When the War come they have a big battle away west of us, but I never see any battles. Lots of soldiers around all the time though.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Betty Robertson
Cherokee Freedwoman

    Betty Robertson's father worked aboard Joseph Vann's steamboat, Lucy Walker. He died when the boat's boilers exploded.

One day young Master come to the cabins and say we all free and cant' stay there lessn we want to go on working for him just like we'd been for our feed, an clothes. Mammy got a wagon and we traveled around a few days to go to Fort Gibson. When we git to Fort Gibson they was a lot of negroes there, and they had a camp meeting and I was baptized. It was in the Grand River close to the ford, and winter time. Snow on the ground and the water was muddy and all full of pieces of ice. The place was all woods, and the Cherokees and the soldiers all come down to see the baptizing.

We settled down a little ways above Fort Gibson. Mammy had the wagon and two oxen and we worked a good size patch there until she died, and then I git married to Cal Robertson to have somebody to take care of me. Cal Robertson was eighty-nine years old when I married him forty years ago, right on this porch. I had on my old clothes for the wedding, and I ain't had any good clothes since I was a little slave girl. Then I had clean warm clothes and I had to keep them clean too!

I got my allotment as a Cherokee Freedman, and so did Cal, but we lived here at this place because we was too old to work the land ourselves. In slavery time the Cherokee negroes do like anybody else when they is a death---jest listen to a chapter in the Bible and all cry. We had a good song I remember. It was "Don't Call the Roll, Jesus Because I'm Coming Home." The only song I remember from the soldiers was" "Hang Jeff Davis to a Sour Apple Tree," and I remember that because they said he used to be at Fort Gibson one time. I don't know what he done after that.

I been a good Christian ever since I was baptized, but I keep a little charm here on my neck anyways to keep me from having the nose bleed. Its got a buckeye and a lead bullet in it. I had a silver dime on it, too, for along time, but I took it off and got me a box of snuff. I'm glad the War's over and I am free to meet God like anybody else, and my grandchildren can learn to read and write.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

    Morris Sheppard was owned by a Cherokee named Joe Sheppard. He related an unpleasant encounter with "Little Joe" Vann, son of "Rich Joe" Vann.

Old Master tell me I was borned in November 1852, at de old home place about five miles east of Webbers Falls, mebbe kind of northeast, not far from de east bank of de Illinois River.

Master's name was Joe Sheppard, and he was a Cherokee Indian. Tall and slim and handsome. He had black eyes and mustache but his hair was iron gray, and everybody like him because he was so good natured and kind.

I don't remember old Mistress name. My mammy was a Crossland Negro before she come to belong to Master Joe and marry my pappy, and I think she come wid old Mistress and belong to her. Old mistress was small and mighty pretty too, and she was only half Cherokee. She inherit about half a dozen slaves, and say dey was her own and old master can't sell one unless she give him leave to do it. Dey only had two families of slaves wid about twenty in all, and dey only worked about fifty acres, so we sure did work every foot of it good. We git three or four crops of different things out of dat farm every ear, and something growing on dat place winter and summer.

Pappy's name was Caesar Sheppard and Mammy's name was Easter. Dey was both raised round Webber's Falls somewhere. I had two brothers, Silas and George, dat belong to Mr. George Holt in Webber's falls town. I got a pass and went to see dem sometimes, and dey was both treated mighty fine.

The big House was a double log wid a big hall and a stone chimney but no porches, wid two rooms at each end, one top side of de other. I thought it was mighty big and fine.

Us slaves lived in log cabins dat only had one room and no windows so we kept de doors open most of de time. We had home-made wooden beds wid rope springs, and de little ones slept on trundle beds dat was home made too.

At night dem trundles was jest all over the floor, and in de morning we shoved em back under de big beds to git dem outn' de way. No nails in none of dem nor in de chairs and tables. Nails cost big money and Old Master's blacksmith wouldn't make none 'ceptin a few for old Master now an den so we used wooden dowels to put things together.

They was so many of us for dat little field we never did have to work hard. Up at five o'clock and back in sometimes about de middle of de evening long before sundown, unless they was a crop to git in before it rain or something like dat.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

When crop was laid by de slaves jest work round at dis and dat and keep tol'able busy. I never did have much of a job, jest tending de calves mostly. We had about twenty calves and I would take dem out and graze-em while some grown-up negro was grazing de cows so as to keep de cows milk. I had me a good blaze-faced horse for dat.

One time old Master and another man come and took some calves off and Pappy say old Master taking dem off to sell I didn't know what sell meant and I ast Pappy is he going to bring em back when he git through selling them. In ever did see no money neither, until time of de War or a little before.

Master Joe was sure a good provider, and we always had plenty of corn pone, sow belly and greens, sweet potatoes, cowpeas and cane molasses. We even had brown sugar and cane molasses most of de time before de War, sometimes coffee, too.

De clothes wasn't no worry neither. Everything we had was made by my folks. My aunt done de carding and spinning and my mammy done de weaving and cutting and sewing , and my pappy could make cowhide shoes wid wooden pegs. Dey was for bad winter only.

Old Master bought de cotton in Ft. Smith, because he didn't raise no cotton, but he had a few sheep and we had wool mix for winter.

Everything was stripedy cause Mammy like to make it fancy. She dye with copperas and walnut and wild indigo and things like dat and made pretty cloth. I wore a stripedy shirt till I was about 11 years old and den one day while we was down in the Choctaw Country old Mistress see me and nearly fall off her horse. She holler, "Easter, you go right now and make dat big buck of a boy some britches!"

We never put on de shoes until about late November when de front begin to hit regular and split our feet up, and den when it git good and cold and de crop all gathered in anyways, they is nothing to do 'cepting hog killing and a lot of wood chopping and you don't get cold doing dem two things.

De hog killing mean we gots lots of spare-ribs and chitlings and somebody always git sick eating to much of dat fresh pork. I always pick a whole passel of muscadines for old Master and he make up sour wine, and dat helps out when we git the bowel complaint from eating dat fresh pork.

If somebody bad sick he git de doctor right quick, and he don't let no negroes mess around wid no poultices and teas and sech things, like cupping-horns neither!
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

Right after the War, de Cherokees that had been wid the South kind of pestered the freedmen some, but I was so small dey never bothered me; jest de grown ones. Old Master and Mistress kept on asking me did de night riders persecute me any but dey never did. Dey tole me some of dem was bad on negroes but I never did see none of dem night riding like some say dey did.

Old Master had some kind of business in Fort Smith, I think cause he used to ride into dat town about every day on his horse. He would start at de crack of daylight and not git home till way after dark. When he get home he call my uncle and ask about what we done all day and tell him what we better do de next day. My uncle Joe was de slave boss and he tell us what de Master say do.

When dat Civil War come along I was a pretty big boy and I remember it good as anybody. Uncle Joe tell us all to lay low and work hard and nobody'd bother us and he would look after us. He sure stood good with de Cherokee neighbors we had, and dey all liked him. There was Mr. Jim Collins, and Mr. Bell, and Mr. Dave Franklin, and Mr. Jim Sutton and Mr. Blackburn that lived around close to us and dey all had slaves. Dey was all wid the south, but dey was a lot of dem Pin Indians all up on de Illinois River and dey was wid de North and dey taken it out on de slave owners a lot before de War and during it too.

Dey would come in de night and hamstring de horses and maybe set fire to de barn, and two of em named Joab Scarrel, and Tom Starr killed my pappy one night just before the War broke out. I don't know what dey done it for, only to be mean, and I guess they was drunk.

Them Pins was after Master all de time for a while at de first of de War, and he was afraid to ride into Ft. Smith much. Dey come to de house one time when he was gone to Fort Smith and us children told dem he was at Honey Springs, but they knowed better and when he got home he said somebody shot at him and bushwhacked him all the way from Wilson's Rock to dem Wildhorse Mountains, but he run his horse like de devil was sitting on his tail and dey never did hit him. He never seen them neither. We told him bout de Pins coming for him and he just laughed.
Us Cherokee slaves seen lots of green corn shootings and de like of dat but we never had no games of our own. We was too tired when we come in to play any games. We had to have a pass to go any place to have signing or praying, and den they was always a bunch of patrollers around to watch everything we done. Dey would come up in a bunch of about nine men on horses and look at all our passes, and if a negro didn't have no pass dey wore him out good and made him go home. Dey didn't let us have much enjoyment.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

When de War come old Master seen he was going into trouble and he sold off most of de slaves. In de second year of de War he sold my mammy and my aunt dat was Uncle Joe's wife and my two brothers and my little sister. Mammy went to a mean old man named Pepper Goodman and he took her off down de river, and pretty soon Mistress tell me she died cause she can't stand de rough treatment.

When Mammy went old Mistress took me to de Big House to help her and she was kind to me like I was part of her own family. I never forget when they sold off some more negroes at de same time, too and put dem all in a pen for de trader to come and look at.

He never come until the next day, so dey had to sleep in dat pen in a pile like hogs.

It wasn't my Master done dat. He done already sold 'em to a man and it was dat man was waiting for de trader. It made my Master mad, but dey didn't belong to him no more and he couldn't say nothing.

The man put dem on a block and sold em to a man dat had come in on a steamboat, and he took dem off on it when de freshet come down and de boat could go back to Fort Smith. It was tied up at de dock at Webbers Falls about a week and we went down and talked to my aunt an brothers and sister. De brothers was Sam and Eli. Old Mistress cried jest like any of de rest of us when de boat pull out with dem on it.

Pretty soon all de young Cherokee menfolks all gone off to de War, and de Pins was riding round all de time, and it ain't safe to be in dat part around Webber's Falls so old Master take us all to Fort Smith where they was a lot of Confederate soldiers.

We camp at dat place a while and old Mistress stay in de town wid some kinfolks. Den old Master get three wagons and ox teams and take us all way down on Red River in de Choctaw Nation.

We went by Webber's Falls and filled de wagons. We left de furniture and only took grub and tools and bedding and clothes, cause they wasn't very big wagons and was only single-yoke.

We went on a place in de Red River Bottoms close to Shawneetown and not far from de place where all de wagons crossed over to go into Texas. We was at dat place two years and made two little crops.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

One night a runaway negro come across form Texas and he had de blood hounds after him. His britches was all muddy and tore where de hounds had cut him up in de legs when he clumb a tree in de bottoms. He come to our house and Mistress said for us Negroes to give him something to eat and we did.

Then up come de man from Texas with de hounds and wid him was young Mr. Joe Vann and my uncle that belong to young Joe. Dey called young Mr. Joe "Little Joe Vann" even after he was grown on account of when he was a little boy before his pappy was killed. His pappy was old Captain "Rich Joe" Vann, and he had been dead ever since long before de War. My uncle belong to old Captain Joe nearly all his life.

Mistress try to get de man to tell her who de negro belong to so she can buy him, but de man say he can't sell him and he take him on back to Texas wid a chain around his two ankles. Dat was one poor negro dat never go away to de North and I was sorry for him cause I know he must have had a mean master, but none of us Sheppard negroes, I mean the grown ones, tried to get away.

After de War was over, Old Master tell me I am free but he will look out after me cause I am just a little negro and I ain't got no sense. I know he is right, too.

Well, I go ahead, and make me a crop of corn all by myself and then I don't know what to do wid it. I was afraid I would get cheated out of it cause I can't figure and read, so I tell old Master about it and he bought it off'n me.

We never had no school in slavery and it was agin' the law for anybody to even show a negro de letters and figures, so no Cherokee slave could read.

We all come back to de old place and find de negro cabins and barns burned down and de fences all gone and de field in crab grass and cockleburs. But de Big House ain't hurt cepting it need a new roof. De furniture is all gone, and some said de soldiers burned it up for firewood. Some officers stayed in de house for a while and tore everything up or took it off.

Master give me over to de National Freedmen's bureau and I was bound out to a Cherokee woman name Lizzie McGee. Then one day one of my uncles name Wash Sheppard come and tried to git me to go live wid him. He say he wanted to git de family all together agin.

He had run off after he was sold and joined de North army and discharged at Fort Scoot in Kansas, and he said lots of freedmen was living close to each other up by Coffeyville in the Coo-ee-scoo-wee District.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

I wouldn't go, so he sent Isaac and Joe Vann dat had been two of Old Captain Joe's negroes to talk to me. Isaac had been Young Joe's driver and he told me all about how rich Master Joe was and how he would look after us negroes. Dey kept after me about a year, but I didn't go anyways.

But later on I got a freedman's allotment up in dat part close to Coffeyville, and I lived in Coffeyville a while but I didn't like it in Kansas.

I lost my land trying to live honest and pay my debts. I raised eleven children just on de sweat of my hands and none of dem ever tasted anything dat was stole.

When I left Mrs. McGee's I worked about three years for Mr. Sterling Scott and Mr. Roddy Reese. Mr. Reese had a big flock of peafowls dat had belonged to Mr. Scott and I had to take care of demWhitefolks. I would have to go tromp seven miles to Mr. Scott's house two or three times a week to bring back some old peafowl dat had got out and gone back to de old place!

Poor old master and mistress only lived a few years after de War. Master went plumb blind after he move back to Webber's Falls and so he move up on de Illinois River, about three miles from de Arkansas, and there old Mistress take de white swelling and die and den he die pretty soon. I went to see dem lots of times and they was always glad to see me.

I would stay around about a week and help em and dey would try to git me to take something but I never would. Dey didn't have much and couldn't make anymore and dem so old. Old Mistress had inherited some property from her pappy and dey had de slave money and when dey turned everything into good money after de War dat stuff only come to about six thousand dollars in good money, she told me. Dat just about lasted em through until dey died, I reckon.

By and by I married Nancy Holdebrand what lived on Greenleaf Creek, bout four miles northwest of Gore. She had belonged to Joe Hildebrand and he was kin to old Steve Hildebrand dat owned de mill on Flint Creek up in de Going Snake District. She was raised up at dat mill, but she was borned in Tennessee before dey come out to de nation. Her master was white, but he had married into de Nation and so she got a freedmen's allotment too. She had some land close to Catoosa and some down on Greenleaf Creek.

We was married at my home in Coffeyville, and she bore me eleven children right. We never had no church in slavery, and no schooling, and you had better not be caught wid a book in your hand even, so I never did go to church hardly any.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Morris Sheppard
Cherokee Freedman

Wife belong to de church and all de children too, and I think all should look after saving their souls so as to drive de nail in, and den go about de earth spreading kindness and hoeing de row clean so as to clinch dat nail and make dem safe for Glory.

Of course I hear about Abraham Lincoln and he was a great man, but I was told mostly by my children when dey come home from school about him. I always think of my old Master as de one dat freed me, and anyways Abraham Lincoln and none of his North people didn't look after me and buy my crop right after I was free like old Master did. Dat was de time dat was the hardest and everything was dark and confusion.

Johnson Thompson
Cherokee Freedman

    Johnson Thompson's father had been owned by "Rich Joe" Vann. A brother was owned by another Vann Family in Tahlequah.

Just 'bout two weeks before the coming of Christmas Day in 1853, I was born on a plantation somewheres eight miles east of Bellview, Rusk County, Texas. One year later my sister Phyllis was born on the same place and we been together pretty much of the time ever since, and I reckon dere's only one thing that could separate us slave born children.

Mammy and pappy belong to W.P. Thompson, mixed blood Cherokee Indian, but before that pappy had been owned by three different master; one was the Rich Joe Vann who lived down at Webber Falls and another was Chief Lowery of the Cherokees. I had a brother named Harry who belonged to the Vann family at Tahlequah. Dere was a sister named Patsy; she died at Wagoner, Oklahoma. My mother was born way back in the hills of the old Flint district of the Cherokee Nation; just about where Scraper Oklahoma is now.

My parents are both dead now--seems like fifty, maybe sixty year ago. Mammy died in Texas, and when we left Rusk County after the Civil War, pappy took us children to the graveyard. We patted her grave and kissed the ground ...telling her goodbye. Pappy is buried in the church yard on Four Mile Branch.

I don't remember much about my pappy's mother; but I remember she would milk for a man named Columbus Balreade and she went to prayer meeting every Wednesday night. Sometimes us children would try to follow her, but she'd turn us around pretty quick and chase us back with: "Go on back to the house or the wolves get you."
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Johnson Thompson
Cherokee Freedman

Master Thompson brought us from Texas when I was too little to remember about it, and I din't know how long it was before we was all sold to John Harnage, "Marse John" was his pet name and he liked to be called that-a-way. He took us back to Texas right down near where I was born at Bellview.

The master's house was a big log building setting east and west, with a porch on the north side of the house. The slave cabins was in a row, and we lived in one of them. It had no windows, but it had a wood floor that was kept clean with plenty of brushings, and a fireplace where mammy'd cook the turnip greens and peas and corn--I still likes the cornbread with fingerprints baked on it like in the old days when it was cooked on a skillet over the hot wood ashes. I eat from a big pan set on the floor---there was no chairs--and I slept in a trundle bed that was pushed under the big bed in the daytime.

I spent happy days on the Harnage plantation going squirrel hunting with the master---he was always riding, while I run along and throw rocks in the trees to scare the squirrels so's Marse John could get the aim on them; pick a little cotton and put it in somebody's hamper (basket) and run races with other colored boys to see who would get to saddle the masters horse, while the master would stand laughing by the gate to see which boy won the race.

Our clothes was home-made---cotton in the summer, mostly just a long-tailed shirt and no shoes, and wood goods in the winter. Mammy was the house girl and she weaved the cloth and my Aunt Tilda dyed the cloth with indigo, leaving her hands blue looking most of the time. Mammy work late in the night, and I hear the loom making noises while I try to sleep in the cabin. Pappy was the shoe-maker and he used wooden pegs of maple to fashion the shoes.

The master had a bell to ring every morning at four o'clock for the folks to turn out. Sometimes the sleep was too deep and somebody would be late, but the master never punish anybody, and I never see anybody whipped and only one slave sold.

Pappy wanted to go back to his mother when the War was over the slaves was freed. He made a deal with Dave Mounts, a white man, who was moving into the Indian country to drive for him. A four mule team was hitched to the wagon and for five weeks we was on the road from Texas finally getting to grandma Brewer's at Fort Gibson. Pappy worked around the farms and fiddled for the Cherokee dances.

Den I went to a subscription school for a little while, but didn't get much learning. Lots of the slave children didn't ever learn to read or write. And we learned some things about religion from an old colored preacher named Tom Vann. He would sing for us, and I'd like to hear them old songs again!
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Johnson Thompson
Cherokee Freedman

The first time I married was to Clara Nevens, and I wore checked wool pants, and a blue striped cotton shirt. Dere come six children; Charley, Alec, Laura, Harry Richard and Jeffy, who waS named after Jefferson Davis. The second time I married a cousin, Rela Brewer.

Lucinda Vann
Cherokee Freedwoman

    Although Lucinda Vann was owned by Jim Vann, she told about the death of "Rich Joe" Vann and the recovery of one of his arms, following the deadly explosion on his steamboat, the Lucy Walker.



Yes Sa. My names' Lucinda Vann, I've been married twice but that don't make no difference. Indians wouldn't allow their slaves to take their husband's name. Oh Lord, no. I don't know how old I is; some folks say I'se ninety-two and some say I must be a hundred.

I'se born across the river in the plantation of old Jim Vann in Webbers Falls. I'se born right in my master and missus bed. Yes I was! You see, I'se one of them sudden cases. My mother Betsy Vann, worked in the big house for the missus. She was weavin when the case came up so quick, missus Jennie put her in her own bed and took care of her. Master Jim and Missus Jennie was good to their slaves. Yes Lord Yes. My missus name was Doublehead before she married Jim Vann. They was Cherokee Indians. They had a big big plantation down by the river and they was rich. Had sacks and sacks of money. There was five hundred slaves on that plantation and nobody ever lacked for nothing. Everybody had fine clothes everybody had plenty to eat. Lord yes su-er. Now I'se just old forgotten woman. Sometimes I eat my bread this morning none this evening.

Seneca Chism was my father. He was a slave on the Chism plantation, but came to Vann's all the time on account of the horses. He had charge of all Master Chism's and Master Vann's race horses. He and Master took race horses down the river, away off and they'd come back with sacks of money that them horses won in the races.

My mother died when I'se small and my father married Delia Vann. Because I'se so little, Missus Jennie took me into the Big house and raised me. Somehow or other they all took a liking to me, all through the family. I slept on a sliding bed. Didn't you never see one of them slidin' beds? Well, I'll tell you, you pull it out from the wall something like a shelf.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Lucinda Vann
Cherokee Freedwoman

Marster had a little race horse called "Black Hock" She was all jet black, excepting three white feet and her stump of a tail. Black Hock was awful attached to the kitchen. She come up and put her nose on your just like this---nibble nibble, nibble. Sometimes she pull my hair. That meant she want a biscuit with a little butter on it.

One day Missus Jennie say to Marster Jim, she says, "Mr. Vann, you come here. Do you know what I am going to do? I'm gonna give Lucy this black mare. Every dollar she make on the track, I give it to Lucy." She won me lots of money, Black Hock did, and I kept it in the Savings Bank in Tahlequah. My mother, grandmother, aunt Maria and cousin Clara, all worked in the big house. My mother was seamstress. She bossed all the other colored women and see that they sew it right. They spun the cottons and wool, weaved it and made cloth. After it was wove they dyed it all colors, blue, brown, purple, red, yellow. It look lots of clothes for all them slaves.

My grandmother Clarinda Vann, bossed the kitchen and the washing and turned the key to the big bank. That was sort of vault, where the family valuables was kept. Excepting master and mistress, couldn't nobody put things in there but her. When they wanted something put away they say, "Clarinda, come put this in the vault." She turned the key to the commissary too. That was where all the food was kept.

All the slaves lived in a log house. The married folks lived in little houses and there was big long houses for all the single men. The young, single girls lived with the old folks in another big long house.

The slaves who worked in the big house was the first class. Next came the carpenters, yard men, blacksmiths, race-horse men, steamboat men and like that. The low class work in the fields.

Marster Jim and Missus Jennie wouldn't let his house slaves go with no common dress out. They never sent us anywhere with a cotton dress. They wanted everybody to know we was Marster Vann's slaves. He wanted people to know he was able to dress his slaves in fine clothes. We had fine satin dresses, great big combs for our hair, great big gold locket, double earrings we never wore cotton except when we worked. We had bonnets that had long silk tassels for ties. When we wanted to go anywhere we always got a horse, we never walked. Everything was fine, Lord have mercy on me, yes.

The big house was made of log and stone and had big mud fireplaces. They had fine furniture that Marster Vann had brought home in a steamboat from far away. And dishes, they had rows and rows of china dishes; big blue platters that would hold a whole turkey.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Lucinda Vann
Cherokee Freedwoman

Everybody had plenty to eat and plenty to throw away. The commissary was full of everything good to eat. Brown sugar, molasses, flour, corn-meal, dried beans, peas, fruits butter lard, was all kept in big wooden hogsheads; look something like a tub. There was lots of preserves. Everything was kept covered and every hogshead had a lock.

Every morning the slaves would run to the commissary and get what they wanted for that day. They could have anything they wanted. When they get it they take it back to their cabin. Clarinda Vann and my aunt Maria turned the keys to the vault and commissary. Couldn't nobody go there, less they turn the key.

We had a smoke house full of hams and bacon. Oh they was good. Lord have mercy I'll say they was. And we had corn bread and cakes baked every day. Single girls waited on the tables in the big house. There was a big dinner bell in the yard. When meal time come, someone ring that bell and all the slaves know its time to eat and stop their work.

In summer when it was hot, the slaves would sit in the shade evenings and make wooden spoons out of maple. They'd sell 'em to folks at picnics and barbecues.

Everybody had a good time on old Jim Vann's plantation. After supper the colored folks would get together and talk, and sing, and dance. Someone maybe would be playing a fiddle or a banjo. Everybody was happy. Marster never whipped no one. No fusses, no bad words, no nothin like that.

We had out time to go to bed and our time to get up in the morning. We had to get up early and comb our hair first thing. All the colored folks lined up and the overseer he tell them what they must do that day.

There was big parties and dances. In winter white folks danced in the parlor of the big house; in summer they danced on a platform under a great big brush arbor. There was seats all around for folks to watch them dance. Sometimes just white folks danced; sometimes just the black folks.

There was music, fine music. The colored folks did most of the fiddlin'. Someone rattled the bones. There was a bugler and someone called the dances. When Marster Jim and Missus Jennie went away, the slaves would have a big dance in the arbor. When the white folks danced the slaves would all sit or stand around and watch. They'd clap their hands and holler. Everybody had a good time. Lord yes, su-er.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Lucinda Vann
Cherokee Freedwoman

When they gave a party in the big house, everything was fine. Women came in satin dresses, all dressed up, big combs in their hair, lots of rings and bracelets. The cooks would bake hams, turkey cakes and pies and there'd be lots to eat and lots of whiskey for the men folks.

I'd like to go where we used to have picnics down below Webbers Falls. Everybody went---white folks, colored folks. There'd be races and people would have things what they was sellin' like moccasins and beads. They'd bring whole wagon loads of hams, chickens and cake and pie. The cooks would bring big iron pots, and cook things right there. There was great big wooden scaffolds. They put white cloths on the shelves and laid the good on it. People just go and help themselves, till they couldn't eat no mo! Everbody goin' on races gamblin', drinkin', eatin', dancin', but it as all behavior everything all right. Yes Lord, it was, havy mercy on me yes.

I remember when the steamboats went up and down the river. Yes, Lord Yes. Sometimes there was high waters that spoiled the current and the steamboats couldn't run. Sometimes we got to ride on one, cause we belonged to Old Jim Vann. He'd take us and enjoy us, you know. He wouldn't take us way off, but just for a ride. He tell us for we start, what we must say and what to do. He used to take us to where Hyde Park is and we'd all go fishin'. We take a big pot to fry fish in and we'd all eat till we nearly bust. Lord, Yes!

Christmas lasted a whole month. After we got our presents we go way anywhere and visit colored folks on other plantation. In one month you have to get back. You know just what day you have to be back too.

Marster had a big Christmas tree, oh great big tree, put on the porch. There'd be a whole wagon-load of things come and be put on the tree. Hams cakes, pies, dresses, beads, everything. Christmas morning marster and missus come out on the porch and all the colored folks gather around. Someone call our names and everybody get a present. They get something they need too. Everybody laugh and was happy. Then we all have big dinner, white folks in the big house, colored folks in their cabins. People all a visitin'. I go to this house, you come to my house. Everybody, white folks and colored folks, having a good time. Yes, my dear Lord yes.

I've heard em tell of rich Joe Vann. Don't know much about him. He was a traveler, didn't stay home much. Used to go up and down the river in his steamboat. He was a multi-millionaire and handsome. All the Vann marsters was good looking.
The following slave narratives all mention the Vanns.

Lucinda Vann
Cherokee Freedwoman

Joe had two wives, one was named Missus Jennie. I dunno her other name. Missus Jenni lived in a big house in Webbers Falls. Don't know where the other one lived. Sometimes Joe bring other wife to visit Missus Jennie. He would tell em plain before hand, "Now no trouble." He didn't want em to imagine he give one more than he give the other.

The most terrible thing that ever happen was when the Lucy Walker busted and Joe got blew up. The engineer's name was Jim Vann. How did they hear about it at home? Oh the news traveled up and down the river. It was bad, oh it was bad. Everybody a hollerin' and a cryin'. After the explosion someone found an arm up in a tree on the bank of the river. They brought it home and my granmother knew it was Joe's. She done his washing and knew the cuff of his sleeve. Everybody pretty near to crazy when they bring that arm home. A doctor put it in alcohol and they kept it a long time. Different friends would come and they'd show that arm. My mother saw it but the colored chillun' couldn't. Marster and missus never allowed chillun to meddle in the big folks business. Don't know what they ever did with that arm. Lord it was terible. Yes Lord yes.

I went to the missionary Baptist church where Marster and Missus went. There was a big church. The white folks go first and after they come out, the colored folks go in. I joined the Catholic church after the war. Lots of bad things have come to me, but the good Father, high up, He take care of me.

We went down to the river for baptizings. The women dressed in white, if they had a white dress to wear. The preacher took his candidate into the water. Pretty soon everybody commenced a singing and a prayin'. Then the preacher put you under water three times. There was a house yonder where was dry clothes, blankets, everything. Soon as you come out of the water you go over there and change clothes. My uncle used to baptize 'em.

When anybody die, someone sit up with them day and night till they put them in the ground. Everybody cry, everybody'd pretty nearly die. Lord have mercy on us, yes.

When the war broke out, lots of Indians mustered up and went out of the territory. They taken some of their slaves with them. My marster and missus buried their money and valuables everywhere. They didn't go away, they stayed, but they tell us colored folks to go if we wanted to.

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