Bell Wilks’ Story 

WPA Slave Narrative Project, Arkansas Narratives, Volume II, Part 7, Pages 147 and 148 Interviewee: Bell Wilks, Holly Grove, Arkansas, age 80 Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson 

“I was raised in Pulaski, Tennessee, Giles County. The post office was at one end of town, bout half mile was the church down at the other end.   Yes’m.   That way Pulaski looked when I lived there. My father’s master was Peter or Jerry Garn — I don’t know which. They brothers? Yes’m.

“My mother’s master was John Wilks and Miss Betty. Mama’s name was Callie Wilks and papa’s name was Freeman. Mama had seven children. She was a field hand. She said all on their place could do nearly anything. They took turns cooking. Seems like it was a week about they took milkin’, doin’ house work, field work, and she said sometimes they sewed.

“Father told my mother one day he was going to the Yankees. She didn’t want him to go much. He went. They mustered out drilling one day. He had to squat right smart. He saw some cattle in the distance looked like army way off. He fell dead. They said it was heart disease. They brought him home and some of dem stood close to him drillin’ told her that was way it happened.

“The man what owned my mother was sorter a Yankee hisself. We all stayed ’til he wound up the crop. He sold his place and went to Collyoka on the L and N Railway.* He give us two and one half bushels corn, three bushels wheat, and some meat at the very first of freedom. When it played out we went and he give us more long as we stayed there.

“When mama left she went to a new sorter mill town and cooked there till 1869. She carried me to a young woman to nurse for her what she nursed at Moster Wilks befo freedom. I stayed wid here till 1876. I sure does remember dem dates. (laughed)

“Yes’m, I was nursin for Dr. Rothrock when that Ku Klux scare was all about. They come to our house huntin’ a boy. They didn’t find him. I cover up my head when they come bout our house. Some folks they scared nearly to death. I bein’ in a strange place don’t know much bout what all I heard they done.

“I don’t vote. I don’t know who to vote for. Let people vote know how.

“I get bout $8 and some commodities. It sure do help me out too. I tell you it sure do.” 

Source: Transcribed by Betty Collins from Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 


* The L and N is the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Collyoka is Culleoka in Maury County.

Neither the 110th or 111th U.S. Colored Troops includes a soldier with the surname Freeman, but there is a Freeman Rutledge in the 110th and a Freeman McClure in the 111th, the latter born in Giles.   No surname Garn is found in either regt.,   but a William Garnes and a William Garr are found in the 111th.

No John or Betty Wilks/Wilkes is found on the 1860 Giles County census. There were a number of Wilkes, but all in the Lynnville area. Nor is a Jerry, Jeremiah or Peter Garn or Garnes, etc. found on the 1860 Giles census. The 1870 Giles census includes a John S. Wilks, 29, TN, Lawyer, with Florence A., 25, AL, Lizzie S., 2, TN, and Fannie, 2/12, and Lizzie Barker, 31 AL, in the Pulaski District, p. 128, HH 65. The only two Freeman families in Pulaski in 1870 are both white.

A Robbert Rothorck, 33, M, W, TN, is in HH256 of Cornersville P.O., District 17, in the 1870 Giles census, but no blacks are in his household.

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