Annie L. Burton

Annie L. Burton

Annie L. Burton was born in Clayton, Alabama in 1858. Her mother was a house slave but ran away from the plantation after being whipped but returned after the Civil War when all slaves had been freed.

Burton moved to Boston where she became a domestic servant. She married in 1888 a man who worked as a valet in Braintree.

In 1909 Burton published her book, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days and a short biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Primary Sources

(1) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

The memory of my happy, care-free childhood days on the plantation, with my little white and black companions, is often with me. Neither master nor mistress nor neighbors had time to bestow a thought upon us, for the great Civil War was raging. That great event in American history was a matter wholly outside the realm of our childish interests. Of course we heard our elders discuss the various events of the great struggle, but it meant nothing to us.

On the plantation there were ten white children and fourteen colored children. Our days were spent roaming about from plantation to plantation, not knowing or caring what things were going on in the great world outside our little realm. Planting time and harvest time were happy days for us. How often at the harvest time the planters discovered cornstalks missing from the ends of the rows, and blamed the crows! We were called the "little fairy devils." To the sweet potatoes and peanuts and sugar cane we also helped ourselves.

Those slaves that were not married served the food from the great house, and about half-past eleven they would send the older children with food to the workers in the fields. Of course, I followed, and before we got to the fields, we had eaten the food nearly all up. When the workers returned home they complained, and we were whipped.

The slaves got their allowance every Monday night of molasses, meat, corn meal, and a kind of flour called "dredgings" or "shorts." Perhaps this allowance would be gone before the next Monday night, in which case the slaves would steal hogs and chickens. Then would come the whipping-post. Master himself never whipped his slaves; this was left to the overseer.

We children had no supper, and only a little piece of bread or something of the kind in the morning. Our dishes consisted of one wooden bowl, and oyster shells were our spoons. This bowl served for about fifteen children, and often the dogs and the ducks and the peafowl had a dip in it. Sometimes we had buttermilk and bread in our bowl, sometimes greens or bones.

(2) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

If a slave man and woman wished to marry, a party would be arranged some Saturday night among the slaves. The marriage ceremony consisted of the pair jumping over a stick. If no children were born within a year or so, the wife was sold.

At New Year's, if there was any debt or mortgage on the plantation, the extra slaves were taken to Clayton and sold at the court house. In this way families were separated.

(3) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

I remember, at the beginning of the war, two colored men were hung in Clayton; one, Caesar King, for killing a blood hound and biting off an overseer's ear; the other, Dabney Madison, for the murder of his master. Dabney Madison's master was really shot by a man named Houston, who was infatuated with Madison's mistress, and who had hired Madison to make the bullets for him. Houston escaped after the deed, and the blame fell on Dabney Madison, as he was the only slave of his master and mistress. The clothes of the two victims were hung on two pine trees, and no colored person would touch them.

After the men were hung, the bones were put in an old deserted house. Somebody that cared for the bones used to put them in the sun in bright weather, and back in the house when it rained. Finally the bones disappeared, although the boxes that had contained them still remained.

(4) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

My mother and my mistress were children together, and grew up to be mothers together. My mother was the cook in my mistress's household. One morning when master had gone to Eufaula, my mother and my mistress got into an argument, the consequence of which was that my mother was whipped, for the first time in her life. Whereupon, my mother refused to do any more work, and ran away from the plantation. For three years we did not see her again.

(5) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

One morning in April, 1865, my master got the news that the Yankees had left Mobile Bay and crossed the Confederate lines, and that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed by President Lincoln. Mistress suggested that the slaves should not be told of their freedom; but master said he would tell them, because they would soon find it out, even if he did not tell them. Mistress, however, said she could keep my mother's three children, for my mother had now been gone so long.

All the slaves left the plantation upon the news of their freedom, except those who were feeble or sickly. With the help of these, the crops were gathered. My mistress and her daughters had to go to the kitchen and to the washtub. My little half- brother, Henry, and myself had to gather chips, and help all we could. My sister, Caroline, who was twelve years old, could help in the kitchen.

(6) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

My mother came for us at the end of the year 1865, and demanded that her children be given up to her. This, mistress refused to do, and threatened to set the dogs on my mother if she did not at once leave the place. My mother went away, and remained with some of the neighbors until supper time. Then she got a boy to tell Caroline to come down to the fence. When she came, my mother told her to go back and get Henry and myself and bring us down to the gap in the fence as quick as she could. Then my mother took Henry in her arms, and my sister carried me on her back. We climbed fences and crossed fields, and after several hours came to a little hut which my mother had secured on a plantation. We had no more than reached the place, and made a little fire, when master's two sons rode up and demanded that the children be returned. My mother refused to give us up. Upon her offering to go with them to the Yankee headquarters to find out if it were really true that all negroes had been made free, the young men left, and troubled us no more.

(7) Annie L. Burton, Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909)

The times changed from slavery days to freedom's days. As young as I was, my thoughts were mystified to see such wonderful changes; yet I did not know the meaning of these changing days. But days glided by, and in my mystified way I could see and hear many strange things. I would see my master and mistress in close conversation and they seemed anxious about something that I, a child, could not know the meaning of. But as weeks went by, I began to understand. I saw all the slaves one by one disappearing from the plantation (for night and day they kept going) until there was not one to be seen.

All around the plantation was left barren. Day after day I could run down to the gate and see down the road troops and troops of Garrison's Brigade, and in the midst of them gangs and gangs of negro slaves who joined with the soldiers, shouting, dancing and clapping their hands. The war was ended, and from Mobile Bay to Clayton, Alabama, all along the road, on all the plantations, the slaves thought that if they joined the Yankee soldiers they would be perfectly safe.

As I looked on these I did not know what it meant, for I had never seen such a circus. The Yankee soldiers found that they had such an army of men and women and children, that they had to build tents and feed them to keep them from starving. But from what I, a little child, saw and heard the older ones say, that must have been a terrible time of trouble. I heard my master and mistress talking. They said, "Well, I guess those Yankees had such a large family on their hands, we rather guessed those fanatics on freedom would be only too glad to send some back for their old masters to provide for them."

(8) Annie L. Burton, Abraham Lincoln (1909)

In a little clearing in the backwoods of Harding County, Kentucky, there stood years ago a rude cabin within whose walls Abraham Lincoln passed his childhood. An "unaccountable" man he has been called, and the adjective was well chosen, for who account for a mind and nature like Lincoln's with the ancestry he owned? His father was a thriftless, idle carpenter, scarcely supporting his family, and with but the poorest living. His mother was an uneducated woman, but must have been of an entirely different nature, for she was able to impress upon her boy a love of learning. During her life, his chief, in fact his only book, was the Bible, and in this he learned to read. Just before he was nine years old, the father brought his family across the Ohio River into Illinois, and there in the unfloored log cabin, minus windows and doors, Abraham lived and grew. It was during this time that the mother died, and in a short time the shiftless father with his family drifted back to the old home, and here found another for his children in one who was a friend of earlier days. This woman was of a thrifty nature, and her energy made him floor the cabin, hang doors, and open up windows. She was fond of the children and cared for them tenderly, and to her the boy Abraham owed many pleasant hours.

As he grew older, his love for knowledge increased and he obtained whatever books he could, studying by the firelight, and once walking six miles for an English Grammar. After he read it, he walked the six miles to return it. He needed the book no longer, for with this as with his small collection of books, what he once read was his. He absorbed the books he read.

During these early years he did "odd jobs" for the neighbors. Even at this age, his gift of story telling was a notable one, as well as his sterling honesty. His first knowledge of slavery in all its horrors came to him when he was about twenty-one years old. He had made a trip to New Orleans, and there in the old slave market he saw an auction. His face paled, and his spirits rose in revolt at the coarse jest of the auctioneer, and there he registered a vow within himself, "If ever I have a chance to strike against slavery, I will strike and strike hard." To this end he worked and for this he paid "the last full measure of devotion."