Sunday, August 12, 2012

"She Washed and Ironed Till She Died" Amanda Hulett, Former Slave

My novel, The Secret of Wattensaw Bayou relies a great deal on attitudes, experiences and dialog of former slaves taken from the Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. These are transcribed interviews with ex-slaves that were done by the Federal Government in the early 1930s. 2,194 such interviews were conducted. My home state of Arkansas had the largest number of interviews at 677.  The slave girl Mandy, who appears in Chapter Twenty of The Secret of Wattensaw Bayou, is based on Amanda Hulett mentioned in the Slave Narratives.   She was owned by Dr. Williams C. Hazen, also a character in my book. 

 (You can read about another character based on a real slave and my chance discovery of his grave site in an earlier entry here:

 Amanda was one of 25+ slaves who were brought to Prairie County Arkansas from Tennessee by Dr. Hazen in the early 1850s.  When the Union Army approached in August 1863, Hazen took his slaves and refugeed to Texas.  Hazen burned everything he could not carry with him, including his entire cotton crop.  He returned to Prairie County in 1865, but left his young wife Mary in a lonely Texas grave.  Many of Hazen's slaves continued to work for him and his sons after freedom came.  An interview with Amanda's daughter for the Arkansas Slave Narratives indicates that the Hazens treated their former slaves well and provided fair wages, homes, and land for a church and school.  The town of Hazen, Arkansas, founded in 1872, encompasses much of the area of Dr. Hazen's farm. 

 Here is the complete transcription of the interview of Emma Smith, Amanda's daughter:

 Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Emma Hulett Smith; Hazen, Arkansas
Age: 66

 "I was the first colored baby born here or very near here. There was only three houses in this town (Hazen). I think they muster been log houses.

 My folks belong to Dr. Hazen. He brought families from Tennessee.  When the war broke out he took em to Texas.  Then he brought em back here.  When they was freed I heard my mother say they worked on for him and his boys (Alex and Jim Hazen) and they paid them. He was good to them.  They had er plenty always. After the war they lived in good log houses and he give em land and lumber for the church. Same church we got cept a storm tore it down and this one built in place of it. He let em have a school. Same place it stands now.  My mother (Mandy Hulett) got a Union pension till she died. She cooked at the first hotel in Hazen for John Lane.  She washed and ironed till she died. We girls helped and we wash and iron all we can get now.  None of us not on relief (Fannie nor Emma).  I can't wash no more.  My hands and arms swell up with rheumatism. I still iron all I can get.

 The present conditions seems awful unsettled; wages low, prices high and work scarce at times.  Men can get work in the hay two months and bout two months work in the rice or pickin cotton, either one.  Then the work has played clean out till hay time next year.

"How do they live? Some of their wifes cooks for white people and they eat all they make up soon as they get paid. Only way they live."

Census records indicate that Mandy married Jesse Hulett, another former Hazen slave, after the war.  Her daughter mentions a "Union Pension," however I have not been able to determine if this was a Federal Government pension or one provided by the Knights and Daughters of Tabor (see more on this below.)  There is no record of her husband, Jesse Hulett, serving in the Army during the Civil War. (There was another black man named Jesse Hulett who did receive a pension, but it proved to be a different Jesse.)  Mandy Hulett is buried in an African American cemetery on the former Hazen farm. 

Just like Israel Thomas, I found Mandy's grave after discovering her in the Slave Narratives and writing her into my novel.  It seemed that she and Thomas were waiting for me to find them in this lonely graveyard not far from Wattensaw Bayou.

 If you look closely at Mandy's headstone you will see a curious inscription.  This is the symbol for the International Order of Knights and Daughters of Tabor.  It is often found on the headstones of African Americans who passed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. 

Knights and Daughters of Tabor Pin. Courtesy of Pris Weathers at

Rev. Moses Dickson founded the International Order of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor in 1872 as a fraternal order based on benevolence and financial programs. It also encouraged education and some chapters held literary and social entertainment.  It was organized similar to Freemasonry and Woodmen of the World, except that it accepted men and women on equal terms.  The order offered a burial policy and weekly cash payments for the sick and infirm.  Mandy's headstone was probably provided by the Order, and the "Union pension" that Emma mentions may have been Order benefits.

The Order was most active in the former Slave States, but had chapters in 30 states, England, and the West Indies.  Very little information is available on-line concerning the Order.  It seems to have died out sometime in the 1960s.   The Arkansas headquarters for the Order, Taborian Hall, is still standing in Little Rock and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  More photos and information concerning the building can be found at this website:

Taborian Hall in Little Rock.  Courtesy of Pris Weathers at

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE SLAVE NARRATIVES - This site offers excellent background information on the initiation and conduct of the project as well as transcripts of each of the interviews.

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