Slavery's Echoes - Necessities

at Missouri State Museum

In many cases, only the bare necessities were provided to slaves. They endured many hardships because things we take for granted were luxuries to them. Click on their names to hear the audio.


Fil Hancock, Rolla, Mo.

“Our old granny was de white folk’s cook. Up to de cabins where de other niggers was, had salt meat, cabbage, ‘taters, and shortnin’ bread three times a day. We all had plenty vegetables we raised ourselves. Once a week we had hot biscuits.”

Dave Harper, Montgomery County, Mo.

“De next morning after he bought me, de boss carried me to de old woman and told her to take care of me. Dat morning de kettle was full of spare ribs and de people fished dem out with sticks. I didn’t see no knives or forks. When dey asked me why I didn’t get something to eat, I asked ‘bout [de forks] and a table where I could eat. De overseer just cried.”

Harry Johnson, Mississippi County, Mo.

“I looks back sometimes and thinks times was better for eatin’ in slavery dan what dey is now. My mammy was a reg’lar cook and she made me peach cobblers and apple dumplin’s. In dem days, we’d take cornmeal and mix it with water and call ‘em dodgers and dey awful nice with plenty butter. We had lots of hawg meat and when dey kilt a beef a man told all de neighbors to come get some of de meat.”

Gus Smith, Osage County, Mo.

“My goodness! We don’t have nothin’ to eat now like we did then. All kinds of game, wild ducks, geese, squirrels, rabbits, ‘possum, pigeons, and fried chicken… Great big ‘pound cakes a foot and a half high. You don’t see such things now-a-days.”


Sarah Waggoner, Savannah, Mo.

“In de winter old Miss made us stockings out of yarn, and we had brogan shoes. Dey was neither lined or bound. …if dey did hurt we had to wear ‘em anyway. Dem old brogans; I’m sure glad they’re gone.”

Charlie Richardson, Warrensburg, Mo.

“Big boys and g’own folks wore jeans and domestic shirts. Us little kids wore just a gown. In the wintertime we wore the same only with brogans with brass toes.”

Bill Simms, Osceola, Mo.

“We never knowed what boughten clothes were. We made our own clothes: had spinning wheels and raised and combed our own cotton, clipped the wool from our sheep’s backs, combed it, and spun [them] into cotton and wool clothes. I learned to make shoes when I was just a boy and I made shoes for the whole family.”

Sarah Graves, Nodaway County, Mo.

“Nowadays, when you-all want a nice dress, all you got to do is go to the store and get it. When I was growin’ up an’ wanted a nice wool dress, we would shear the sheep, wash the wool, card it, spin it and weave it. If we wanted striped, we used two threads. We would color one by using herbs or barks.”


Will Daily, St. Louis, Mo.

“We had a doctor and good care when we was sick. I’s don’t remember much ‘bout what kinds of medicine we took, but I know it was mostly homemade.”

George Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

“Aunt Polly en mammy allus know’d what to do when a body waz ailln’. Dey alus had a bag o’ herbs hangin’ under de porch.”