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XX 








Mississippi 





BY 



S. F. DAVIS 



Copyrighted 1914 by S. F. Davis, lndianola, Miss. 



PREFACE 



It seems to be customary for every one who write any- 
thing for the public, to give some reason, excuse or apol- 
ogy for so doing, but in offering this little bunch of literary 
efforts to the public, I have no excuse or apology to offer 
with them. In the articles herein contained, as well as 
everything else I have ever written for the public in the 
past, I have endeavored to give the reader both entertain- 
ment and information, and if I have succeeded in doing 
either, I do not count my labor lost. 

Very truly yours, 

S. F. DAVIS. 



JUL-:! 1314 ©CLA376529 




S. F. DAVIS 



The Negro in His Lair. 



From early childhood I have been a constant observer 
and an ardent admirer of the wondrous works of God. In 
my early days birds, bees, bugs and flowers were a never- 
ending source of pleasure to me; and when I was a lad of 
more mature years, I have lain for hours in the shade of 
some friendly tree and played with a toad frog or June 
bug until the dinner horn blew, when I was erroneously 
supposed to have been diligently engaged in hoeing cotton. 
In after years, I have sat silently on the seashore and 
watched the tide ebb and flow; I have climbed the lofty 
mountains and looked down upon the clouds; I have then 
descended into the Missisippi Valley and stood on the 
banks of the world's greatest river and watched its turbu- 
lent waters roll by; I have also looked above into the 
starry-decked dome of heaven and gazed upon the far- 
away planets and comets performing their stupendous 
and harmonious revolutions; and have seen written on the 
face of all things the glory and wonder of the supreme 
architect of the universe, but I have always regarded the 
negro as his masterpiece. The negro stands alone in a 
class by himself; and while the Yazoo and Mississippi 
delta is peculiarly suited to his needs, yet, he can adjust 
himself to any kind of climate or conditions and live and 
die happy under the most trying circumstances. 

He can lie down beneath the scorching rays of a noon- 
day sun and sleep the sleep of the seven sleepers of old 
without suffering any evil effects from it whatever; or he 
can weather the fiercest winter gale, clad only in a pair of 
cotton overalls and a blue jumper. He can also wear an 
overcoat to a Fourth of July celebration, or a pair of linen 
pants and an alpaca coat to a Christmas tree and be per- 
fectly comfortable, and, as strange as it may seem, any- 
body's clothes will fit him and look nice on him. King 



Solomon, in his declining years, when he had become 
thoroughly disgusted with high society and fast living, 
said that there was nothing new under the sun; that he 
had gone all the gaits and had seen the whole show, from 
the free exhibition to the grand concert, and that there 
was nothing to it, or words to that effect. But it will be 
remembered that King Solomon never had any negroes to 
deal with; nor ever tried to make a cotton crop on buck- 
shot land after an overflow, or he would have had a new 
problem to solve every day of his eventful career. 

There is nothing else like the negro anywhere under the 
sun. He sees all things, hears all things, believes all things, 
and has implicit faith in everything he sees or hears, and 
stands ready at all times to step aboard of anything that 
comes along, from a young mule to a flying machine. 

Wireless telegraphy is nothing new to him. He has 
used it for ages; every negro's mouth is a transmitter and 
every ear a receiver. If anything of importance happens 
on a plantation tonight, every negro for forty miles around 
will know all about it by morning, but if you happen to be 
a peace officer do not ask him anything about it for that 
has a tendency to make him forgetful and causes him to 
close up like a clam. 

If you ever arrive in a delta town, on the train on Sun- 
day, and the whole colored population is not at the depot 
to meet you, do not get off, for you may know of a cer- 
tainty that some catastrophe has just struck that town. 

Saturday is the negro's day by special custom and com- 
mon consent, and if you have any business to attend to in a 
delta town, on Saturday, attend to it early and get off of 
the street before you get hurt. A negro cannot see you 
Saturday, unless you owe him something, and if you get in 
his way, he is liable to step on you, sit down on you, or 
back you up against a brick wall and smother you to 
death. He does not usually do these things, or any of 
them, through any evil design, as many people sometimes 
suppose, but he simply cannot help it if you get in his way, 
for he is busy and cannot look out for you. Saturday is his 
"Rashions day," and news exchange day, and in addition 



to having all of those things on his mind, he has to shake 
hands with every other negro in town, and hug every ne- 
gro woman he meets, and you had hetter take out an acci- 
dent policy or get off of the streets. 

The standard "rashions" for a negro is a peck of corn 
meal, three pounds of salt meat, two pounds of sugar, one 
pound of coffee, one gallon of hlack molasses and one plug 
of either "Red Coon," "Blue Mule," "Dixie Land," or 
"Wild Goose" chewing tobacco a week, but he can con- 
sume all of this at one sitting if necessary, or if he is work- 
ing for you and boarding himself, he can live a week on 
three soda crackers, a box of sardines and five cents worth 
of cheese. In other words, his stomach is built on the 
same general plan of an old-fashioned accordian, and 
either contracts or expands according to the pressure 
brought to bear upon it. 

He is also immune to nearly all kinds of poisons, and 
can swallow the most deadly drugs with impunity. I re- 
member of having a negro working for me one time who 
was having chills and who was suffering from severe 
backaches. I got him a bottle of chill tonic, to take, and a 
bottle of liniment to rub his back with. The liniment 
was labeled in box car letters: "Poison. For External 
Use Only," and I cautioned him about it when I gave it to 
him, but for three days and nights before I found it out, he 
had been rubbing his back with the chill tonic and taking 
a teaspoonful of the liniment three times a day before 
each meal with excellent results. On another occasion I 
was sick myself and had a negro to wait upon me, and the 
doctor in charge of my case opened a can of antiphlogis- 
tine to make a plaster for my side, and left the can on the 
kitchen table, and when my negro went in to get his supper 
he mistook it for a can of peanut butter and ate the whole 
of it without ever discovering his mistake. 

The negro does not lay up treasures on earth where 
moth and rust would corrode them or where thieves might 
break through and steal, but when he has any money or 
other valuable thing he immediately puts it in circulation, 
and the things in which he usually invests are never of a 



8 

very permanent or lasting nature. He spends much money 
each year for legal and medical advice, presumably for 
the purpose of finding out what he ought to do so that he 
may go and do the opposite, for it is a well known fact that 
a negro was never known to shut a gate or follow any- 
body's advice about anything. 

He is also an ardent admirer of the work turned out by 
the dental surgeon, and down deep in every negro's heart 
there is a secret longing to some day have a gold tooth in 
front, one on a plate so that he can take it out and look at 
it and put it back in place at will. 

He is likewise a great admirer of art and in nearly every 
negro's home, be it ever so humble, there hangs a life-size 
crayon portrait of himself on the wall right opposite the 
front door where you will be sure to see it as you enter. 
The rest of his surplus money he usually spends for enter- 
tainment, preferably an excursion, but anything else in 
motion will do. I have frequently stood on the street cor- 
ner, on a cold cloudy winter day, and watched as many as 
fifty negroes who did not have, on an average, fifty cents 
each; and none of whom had on enough clothes to flag a 
hand car, clinging to a merry-go-round as it went round- 
and-round grinding out that well known and much be- 
loved melody, "Oh, Bill Bailey, Why Don't You Come 
Home?" and their front teeth shining like the keys of a 
piano, while hundreds of others, who did not have the 
price of a ride, were standing in the half frozen mud shoe 
mouth deep, cheering them as they came round. 

All things are pleasing to him. A circus or a funeral is 
equally enjoyable, but a protracted meeting followed by 
a big baptizing or a term of the circuit court followed by 
a public hanging is his chiefest delight. 

The negro was once the white man's slave, but that was 
only for a short time, and was a part of the great scheme 
which God had in mind to better prepare him for the en- 
joyment of the things which he meant to bestow upon him 
in the future. By long and close association with the white 
man, the negro has learned all of his ways, and can read 
at a glance his innermost thoughts, and can now size him 



up and classify him just as accurate as a cotton buyer 
does the different grades of cotton, and can do it much 
quicker. 

He is no longer a slave to man or mammon, and verily 
that scripture which says, "The first shall be last and the 
last shall be first," has already come to pass and the negro 
now has a reserve seat in the front row. If any good 
things are to be had he is sure to get his share. One day a 
negro asked me if I thought a negro had a soul. I told 
him that I most assuredly did, and if he did not have one, 
it was the only thing I had ever heard of a white man 
having that a negro did not get it if he stayed with him 
long enough. 

The negro has no great problems to solve. There is no 
race question so far as he is concerned. He enjoys the 
society of all races, ages and nationalities, and will mingle 
with any of them. He enjoys with equal pleasure the 
companionship of a five-year-old white boy or an aged 
Chinaman who can neither speak or understand a single 
word of English, for in either of those cases he gets to do 
nearly all of the talking. 

The tariff question or the currency question does not in- 
terest him in the least. Silver is his standard and he does 
not want any other kind of money. Neither does the Mex- 
ican situation worry him. All of those things are the 
white man's troubles. But if the white folks want to whip 
Mexico or anybody else for any cause, or without any 
cause for that matter, and will furnish him the arms and 
ammunition, and will back him up in it, he will be glad to 
do it for them. 

The road question was the only question that ever gave 
the negro any real trouble, but that was when he was sub- 
ject to road duty ten days out of every year, but happily 
for him the roads of the delta are now being worked by 
taxation, and all he has to do is to pack them down after 
they have been constructed. 

Neither does the levees or the want of levees bother him 
any. That is some more of the white folks' trouble. If we 
have an overflow or do not have one it is all right with 



10 

him. If we do have one, he is the first to have a boat and 
get out into it and paddle around from morning until night 
with the blessed assurance that there will be no work done 
while it lasts, and that he will draw his rations from his 
landlord or from the government, and sometimes both, 
until the water subsides. 

Whenever a negro tires of country life, he moves to 
town, acquires a charcoal bucket and a tailor's goose; 
forms an alliance with some white man's cook, and with 
his living thus assured, he opens a cleaning and pressing 
establishment. He then gets out Monday morning and 
gathers in the Sunday clothes of all the white clerks in 
town, and after wearing them himself every night during 
the week, he gets up early Saturday morning and treats 
them to a gasoline bath, and flattens them out with a red 
hot iron and rushes them home to their owner so that he 
may wear them Sunday, collects $1.50 for his services in 
that behalf and goes on his way rejoicing. But should 
there be any special function in town Saturday night 
which he wishes to attend, he holds back the best suit of 
clothes which he happens to have on hand and wears them 
to that, and carries them home Sunday morning, if he 
should wake up in time, otherwise its owner can lay in bed 
over Sunday, and he will bring the clothes back the fol- 
lowing Monday. 

If perchance his fancy does not run to cleaning clothes, 
he gets himself a gasoline stove and other paraphernalia 
wherewith to defeat the vagrant statute, and sets up a 
lunch counter where he serves all such as care to come his 
way, irrespective of race, color or previous condition of 
servitude, with hamburgers, hot cat-fish, and beef sausage, 
and sometimes sweet spirits of fermenti on the side. 

But should neither of these vocations appeal to him, he 
usually opens a colored barber shop with a pool room and 
a "crap table" in the rear, and proceeds to enjoy life until 
the city officials become obnoxious to him and he then 
goes back to the quiet country life, which is usually right 
after the Christmas holidays, and joins himself to a cotton 
planter for a period of twelve months or more and by his 



11 

certain written contract duly executed in duplicate, obli- 
gates and binds himself, heirs and assigns, to cultivate and 
gather a crop of cotton on the land therein described, and 
on the strength thereof, proceeds to eat up anywhere from 
$5.00 to $300.00 worth of grub while he is waiting for the 
ground to get dry enough to plow, and it very frequently 
happens that when the trees begin to bud; and when the 
birds begin to whistle; and the grasshopper begins to sing; 
Mr. Negro is seized with wanderlust, and he suddenly dis- 
appears and the people who once knew him know him no 
more forever. 

Every delta town also has its full quota of negro women, 
who like the lily, toil not, neither do they spin, yet the 
Queen of Sheba in all of her glory was never clad like unto 
one of them. 

Surely the negro is fearfully and wonderfully made and 
his ways are past finding out. 



The Reason Why a Negro is 
Called a "Coon." 



Nearly every one knows, in a general way, that there is, 
in all of the Southern states, a certain small animal closely 
allied to the bear, that is listed in Webster's Dictionary as 
"rac-coon," and they also know, or should know, if they 
have been south of the Ohio river, that this animal has 
long since lost the "rac" and is now known as just plain 
simple "coon," which is pronounced "Koon." 

They also know, in the same general way, that there are 
many negroes in the same locality and that they are often 
referred to as "Coons," but not all of them know the 
reason why. 

It is argued by some well-known scientists, that all men, 
irrespective of race, color or previous condition of servi- 
tude, are lineal descendants of a prehistorical bald face 
monkey. And while I do not subscribe to that doctrine, 
still, I must admit that there are many men, who, from 
their facial expressions, mental achievements and muscu- 
lar movements, seem to bear out this doctrine, and when- 
ever I meet a man who claims to be a grandson of a 
baboon or an ourang-outang, I always take it for granted 
that he knows, or ought to know, more about his own fam- 
ily history and ancestors than I do, and for that reason, I 
never argue the question with him and accept his state- 
ment as to his individual case as being true. 

But be that as it may, the colored brother also bears 
many striking resemblances to the "coon," not so much in 
facial expressions as the marked similarity of habits and 
feet. They each have very dark India-rubber feet built on 
the same identical pattern, differing only in size; and they 
each have an ungovernable appetite for a certain specie of 
Southern fish commonly called a "grunnel" and which is 



i*V" 



13 

found in great numbers in all shallow lakes and cypress 
breaks. 

Both the negro and the real "coon" each have a great 
fancy for all kinds of domestic fowls, and any experienced 
negro house-boy, or yard-man, can go into your poultry 
house the darkest night that ever descended upon a lost 
and sin cursed world, and tell the kind, age, grade and sex 
of all fowls therein by deftly running his fingers over the 
toes on the roost pole, in the same manner that a musician 
tests the tone of a piano by running his fingers over the 
keys, and can do it without ever disturbing their lightest 
dreams. 

Neither the negro or the "coon" ever suffer from insom- 
nia while the sun shines, and can sleep soundly anywhere 
during the day wherever they may be, whether that be on 
a barren island in the midst of the sea or in a rolling mill. 
But when darkness settles down upon the earth, they each 
become active and wide-awake, or in the language of the 
poet: 

"The rac-coon is a mighty man, 
He rambles in the dark; 
He never knows what trouble is, 
Till he hears old Rattler bark." 
The same beautiful thought so aptly expressed by that 
author in reference to the "coon" is also applicable to the 
negro, but the words should be revised so as to read : 
"The negro is a mighty man, 
He rambles in the dark; 
He never knows what trouble is, 

Till he hears the Capt'n's automatic 44 begin 
to bark." 
From time immemorial, the negro and the "coon" have 
been closely and intimately associated together, and be it 
said to the credit of the former, that they have certainly 
led the latter a merry chase, as will readily be seen by the 
number of pelts of the latter tacked on to the sunny side 
of the cabin of the average plantation negro. 

Well do I remember, when I was a small boy, just be- 
ginning to study the glorious history of my country, that 



14 

the thing that impressed me most of all about the picture 
of the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the great American 
statesman, and the emancipator of the negro, was the 
"coon" skin tacked on the outer wall of his humble cot- 
tage, and I now know the significance of that picture; and 
further know that none other than a master hand of a true 
son of the bright and sunny South executed it, because 
every Southern man knows that no picture that pertains 
O anything connected with the negro in any way — be it 
ever so slight or indirect — is ever complete without a 
"coon" skin showing up somewhere in the background. 

Whenever it becomes necessary to catch a negro, or a 
"coon" for any purpose, the same methods are employed 
in each case. There are three ways by which either can be 
caught, namely: by traps, by still hunting, and with 
hounds. If a trapper wants to catch a "coon" in a trap, he 
either baits it with sardines, salmon or some other kind of 
loud smelling canned fish; or he baits it with some bright 
object, say a piece of broken plate about the size of a silver 
dollar, or a little piece of new tin, and if a "coon" passes 
that way, he will most likely fall a victim of either his ap- 
petite, or his curiosity. He simply cannot resist the temp- 
tation. 

If an installment man or a peddler wishes to trap a 
negro for his pelt, he goes about it in the same manner. 
He first shows him some flashy plated jewelry, lace cur- 
tains, hand mirrors or safety razors, and if none of these 
things will land him, he goes out to his wagon and gets a 
can or bottle of something and opens it up and sticks it 
under the negro's nose and lets him smell it for a few 
minutes, and his downfall is then assured. 

When a negro wants a "coon" for table purposes, he 
either locates his den and hangs around and shoots him 
when he comes out, or else he goes after him on the 
ground, with a pack of blue speckled hounds, and runs 
him down, but in either case he gets him just the same. 

If a white man wants to catch a negro for the purpose of 
lynching him, or sending him to jail, he uses the same 
simple "coon" tactics on him. He either locates the house 



15 

where the negro's "lady friend" is stopping and waylays 
that until he catches the negro slipping in or out some 
morning before day, and nabs him; or else he gets the 
state's bloodhounds and runs him down. 

I do not claim, nor do I believe, the negro is any blood 
relation to a "coon," but on account of the similarity of 
their habits, and the long and close connection existing 
between them, the negro has long since been aptly termed, 
a "coon." 



A Negro's Version of Heaven 

and Hell. 



One Sunday night in the month of August, some years 
ago, I was passing by Mount Ever Rest Colored Church, 
the doors and windows were open and the congregation 
was singing: 

"God showed Noah by the rain bow sign, 
No more water, but the fire next time," 
and as they finished the last stanza, the Rev. George W. 
Flowers, a minister of ebony hue, and who was an ac- 
quaintance of mine, arose and began to address them, as 
follows : 

"Bretheren, and sisteren, my discourse dis even am 
gwine to be on the beautifulness of heavn, and de horriful- 
ness of hell, and one or de other of dem two things ought 
to reach every man, 'oman and chile in this vast assembli- 
ment. 

"My text am like de brains of de most of my hearers 
here tonight, somewhat scatterin, but de thought dat I 
wishes to convey to you am gwine to be more constimated 
and to de pint. 

"My text am scattered all through dis good old book 
from kiver to kiver, like chicken feed in de straw, and if 
any of you smart Alecks doubts any thing dat I has to say 
here to you here tonight, you can take dis book down and 
sarch out des vital thruths for yerselves, after I am 
through wid my expostulations. 

"I wishes to further say, dat I sees in dis congregation, a 
big flock of black sheep without a sheperd; one in which 
de bline am 'temptin to lead de bline. De very openin 
song dat you has just sung show dat you am followin after 
false doctrin. And I mought just as well tell you now as 
any other time, by way of introductatory, dat my remarks 



17 



to you on dis auspicious occasion am not gwine to be long 
de old and well beaten path followed by all of my prepos- 
sessors, but am gwine to be entirely new to de most of 
you. 

"Now hear me people, and give your ears over to under- 
standin. De Bible specifies dat all flesh am not de same 
flesh; dat dare am one kine of flesh of men; another kine 
>f birds; and still another of fish and fowls; and it mought 
a ve further said dat all flesh of men am not de same kine 
of meat, for we has de flesh of de white folks; de flesh of 
de nigger; de flesh of de Injun; and at last de flesh of de 
Chinaman, all differin in glory de same as one star differs 
from another star in glory. 

"Listen now, and hear me people, all heavens, and all 
hells, am not de same kine either. 

"(I am gwine to ax de brother dat is settin de closest to 
dat dawg to please kick him out of dis sanctuary 'fore I 
proceeds any further, and I wants to again call de atten- 
tion to all of you to dat scripture dat says, 'cast not your 
pearls before a hawg, nor feed holy things to er dawg.' 
Dat am de third time now dat I has seed that same dawg 
trying to lift dat kiver from off dat sacrement beard, and I 
am gwine to ax you once more to leave dem dawgs at 
home in de future. ***** Thank you my brother, be 
seated.) 

"Now hear me people and harken unto my voice, don't 
you all know dat de Bible says dat dare am seven heavens; 
and don't you all further know dat wid all dat room dat 
dey aint gwine to be anways crowded; and dat dare will 
be plenty of room for all dat gits dare widout mixin up de 
different races. 

"All you niggers what think you gwine to set down and 
eat wid de white people at de feast of de lamb am gwine 
to be disappinted. De white folks aint gwine to stand for 
nothin like dat, and 'sides dat if you was in dare, de way 
dey am gwine to have dare grub cooked would'nt suit you 
no how, and you mought just as well git dat off your mine, 
for you ain't gwine to be dare. 



18 

"De New Jerusalem aint gwine to be no 'coon town,' and 
it ain't gwine to have no ile mills, or compresses in it; and 
dare ain't gwine to be no fruit stands or lunch counter on 
dem golden streets. Dat town am gwine to be strictly for 
de white folks, and dey ain't gwine to have no niggers 
blockin up dem pearly gates. No nigger is ever gwine to 
git any further in dat town dan Paradise Ally. 

"De nigger settlement in heaven am gwine to be some 
miles out, on de east side of de River of Life, and hear me 
people, and give heed to my supplication, de cat-fish in dat 
river am gwine to be as big as a whale * * * *'cordin to 
de size of de whale, of course * * and the watermelons 
and sweet 'taters am gwine to grow wile and spontanious 
all up and down dat fertile valley. 

"Oh my brethern, me thinks I see dat place now, dimly 
in de distance, through de twilight; and I thinks I can see 
wid my mine eye, a twelve pound 'possum wid his tail 
twined 'round a 'simmon limb and a young Plymouth 
Rock rooster roostin on de lot fence. * * * Glory be to 
God in the highest . Amen. 

"But bretheren, hear me now, and despise not the mes- 
senger of de Lord, what am you gwine to do on dat awful 
day of judgment; dat day when de Lord of Lords and 
King of Kings comes down in all of his glory to judge dis 
old world. Dat am not gwine to be any perlice court trial. 
False swearin ain't gwine to git you nothin dare. Dat am 
gwine to be one time when you am gwine to git all dat is 
comin to you, and den some, even to de uttermost farthin 
— whatsumever dat mought be. 

"Oh my bretheren, it makes me tremble, tremble, when 
I thinks of what you gwine to do when dat trial is over; 
and when de good Sheperd 'gins to separate de goat from 
de sheeps. Oh my brother, I 'magines I can hear him now 
sayin, 'Depart from me, you big bobtail billy goat from 
Riverside Plantation, git off de exhibition ground alto- 
gether, I never knewed you.' Den dare will be weepin, 
wailin and mashin of teeth; and de wicked will be cast out 
into outer darkness widout so much as a two-bit three 
burner headlight on; and on down into dat awful region 



19 

where de sun never shines, and where the thermometer 
stands fifty degrees below zero on de Fourth of July. 

"Oh my bretheren, and sisteren, I beseches you to be- 
ware of dat awful place where hell is friz over all de year 
round; and where de devil am gwine to roll you in de snow 
throughout de countless ages of eternety. 

"Oh my brother, think about what you gwine to do when 
dem awful icicles go slidin down your back. Oh what am 
"on gwine to do in dat awful hour. De north pole what 
Dr. Cook has done told so many horrifyin and conflictin 
tales about, am a plum tropical climate 'side of dat awful 
region. 

"Oh, my bretheren, de very words in your mouth am 
gwine to freeze hard and drap down on dat icy floor and 
rattle like tinklin brass and clashin symbles, when you 
tries to cry out in your agony. De very breath of your 
nostrils am gwine to freeze and beat you in de face like a 
snow storm; and hail and sleet am gwine to blow and beat 
on dat old leaky roof of hell continously. 

"Oh my bretheren, let me exhaust you to quit your cus- 
sin; lyin; stealin; crap shootin; whisky drinkin, and back- 
biting one another to de white folks, and prepare your- 
selves for dat awful day what am bound to come. 

"And now may de good Lord have mercy on your poor 
ignited souls 'fore it is everlastinly too late shall ever be 
my prayer. 

"Now brethern, and sisteren, while de congregation 
stands, I am gwine to ax all of you to jine me in singin: 
" 'It rains and it hails, 

And it is cold and stormy weather; 
De people weeps, and dey wails, 
And Lord, I flees to Thee for shelter.' " 

On the following morning, I saw George, and said : 

"George, what sort of a hell was that you were telling 
your people about last night?" 

"Who, me?" 

"Yes, you. I happened to be passing Mount Ever Rest 
last night and stopped outside and listened to you preach 
for a while." 



20 

"Oh pshaw, Capt'n," said George, with a broad smile on 
his face, "I know dat de Bible say dat hell am a lake of 

•e and blue stone, but den you knows a nigger well 
enough to know dat it don't do not good to try to skeer 
him wid hot weather, and dat if you wants to git next to 
him. you got to threaten him wid cold." 



The Negro Law of /Mississippi. 



There has been much written about the common law, 
the civil law, the statutory law and the so-called "unwrit- 
ten law," but we have another important branch of the 
law here in Mississippi, about which I have never seen 
anything written, nor do I know of any school in which 
this branch of the law is taught. It must be learned by ex- 
perience and observation, and it is one of the most com- 
plicated branches of the law. I refer to the "negro law." 
Any attorney from a foreign state might examine our con- 
stitution and statutes and find that this was a common-law 
state, and that, except where it was modified by some stat- 
ute, the common law was in full force and effect, and 
would further find that, if he was a citizen of the United 
States, above the age of twenty-one years, of a good moral 
character, and could pass a satisfactory examination on 
the common law and the statutory laws of this state, he 
would be granted a license to practice law in all of her 
courts, upon his taking the oath prescribed by the statutes. 
He might also believe himself qualified to do so, but that 
is where he would make a very great mistake. The law 
which he has spent time and money to learn, and about 
which he has been interrogated on his examination for his 
admittance to the bar, is for the white people of this state; 
and the law he is going to be called on to practice more 
than any other, and especially in the early years of his 
practice, is "negro law," about which (unless he is native 
born) he knows absolutely nothing, and about which no 
book on earth, so far as I know, sheds the faintest ray of 
light. 

The "negro law" of Mississippi is a law of many parts, 
and is composed partly of the common law, statutory law, 
and unwritten law, and to be able to tell just which one of 
these several parts of the law applies in any given case is 



22 

an art rarely, if ever, possessed by any one, except the 
native born attorney of this state. From the letter of our 
statutes, a stranger might justifiably infer that they ap- 
plied to all persons within this state, without regard to 
race, color, or previous condition of servitude, but nothing 
? farther from the truth. The judges, lawyers and jurors 
^1 know that some of our laws are to be enforced against 
everybody, while others are to be enforced against the 
white people, and others are to be enforced only against 
the negroes, and they are enforced accordingly. 

Descent and Distribution. 

Under our system of administering the law, a negro 
has the same right to acquire, enjoy and dispose of prop- 
erty, both real and personal, that a white man has, and 
when he dies intestate, leaving any property, it is dis- 
tributed according to our statute of descent and distribu- 
tion, but beyond that the rule varies and shifts from one 
to the other; sometimes in favor of the white man, and 
sometimes in favor of the negro. 

Civil Actions. 

Whenever a civil controversy arises between two or 
more negroes, it takes its regular course, and is either 
tried in the justice of the peace court; the circuit court, 
or the chancery court, depending altogether which court 
has jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter, 
but whenever any minor controversy arises between a 
white man and any negro working for him, whether civil 
or criminal, he generally gives the negro an ex-parte 
hearing in the barn or gin house, at which time and place, 
he impresses his theory of the case on the aforesaid negro 
with a piece of gin belting, or about three feet of the butt 
end of an old buggy trace, which is usually very effective; 
and the hearing is then adjourned sine die. 

There are some cases, however, that do sometimes arise 
between a white man and a negro that cannot be adjusted 
in this manner, and when there is enough property in- 
volved to justify the employment of counsel to represent 



\ 



23 

the respective parties, it is always a wise move on the 
part of counsel representing the negro to get the case in 
the chancery court on one ground or other, for by doing 
so he dodges a jury of twelve white men who might feel 
embarassed in reaching a proper verdict where the con- 
troversy was between a white man and a negro; and he 
also avoids any chance of having the negro embarassed 
by their verdict. Under our system, if our chancery 
court once acquires or assumes jurisdiction over any 
matter for any purpose, it retains jurisdiction over it 
until it is finally terminated, and adjusts all of the rights 
of the parties, although they may be purely legal rights 
as well as equitable rights, and it is always much safer to 
try your negro's case in that court, if possible. 

Divorce and Alimony. 

We have, in this state, eleven statutory grounds for di- 
vorce, and if in the course of his married career, a white 
man is so unfortunate as to get his domestic affairs in such 
a tangle that it becomes necessary to sever his matri- 
monial bonds to insure his future happiness, he must 
allege, and must prove by two or more creditable wit- 
nesses, in addition to his own testimony, that his wife has 
at least crossed one of the boundary lines fixed by the 
statute, and he must pay all cost of the action, including 
a reasonable attorney's fee to counsel representing him, 
which ranges anywhere from $50.00 to $500.00 according 
to the social and financial standing of the parties; and 
must also furnish his wife with ample means to procure 
counsel of equal, and in many cases better, qualifications 
to represent her side of the case; and must pay her ali- 
mony pendente lite in such sum as the court thinks is in 
keeping with his ability to pay, and his wife's necessities 
and social standing demands, before his case can even be 
heard on its merits, or demerits, as the case may be; and if 
a decree is finally rendered in his favor, he is frequently 
required to pay permanent alimony ever afterwards, 
which ipso facto robs him of all of the pleasures usually 
attending a legal victory, and which renders him in con- 



24 

tempt of court at any time should he fail to promptly pay 
the alimony on the day it fell due, and which would sub- 
ject him to a term in the county jail without further notice. 
Or, in other words, the legislature and the courts of this 
state have never done much towards encouraging and 
facilitating divorces among its white citizens. 

Now when it comes to the negroes, the rule is different. 
In the first place, a negro does not need a divorce, but a 
great many of them want them and are willing to pay for 
the privilege of having them; and are always willing to 
pay the clerk fifty cents extra for a certified copy of the 
decree, if he will put a gilt seal on it instead of the ordi- 
nary impress; and seventy-five cents extra where the seal 
is attached to a little piece of blue ribbon with a scallop 
in the loose end of it. 

Negro divorces in this state are a staple just the same as 
cotton or any other native product, and are to be had by 
him, as a matter of course, whenever he wants one, at a 
fixed price, to-wit: $25.00 for attorney's fee and $5.00 for 
court cost, in the delta, and a little less in some parts of 
the hills. When a negro decides to invest some money in 
a divorce, he goes to some attorney and makes his wants 
known; makes a cash deposit of $15.00 as a guarantee of 
good faith, and makes affidavit to the original bill pre- 
pared by the aforesaid attorney; and is instructed to be 
back at the court-house of his county, on the first Tuesday, 
or the second day of the next term of the chancery court, 
and to have with him then $15.00 more of the lawful coin 
of the realm, and two good substantial witnesses, if he can 
get them — and he usually can — but in no case to overlook 
that balance of $15.00 which is so essentially necessary to 
carry his case through without any hitch. The first Tues- 
day of each term of the chancery court is set apart and 
specially dedicated to the trial of negro divorce cases; and 
in order to expedite matters, it is customary with a great 
many chancellors, especially in the black belt, to appoint 
the different members of the bar who are not otherwise 
engaged, to sit as commissioners, or vice-chancellors on 
these cases, and if, after ascertaining whether or not ser- 



25 

vice has been had on the defendant, and after having 
heard the evidence, or some of it, he should recommend a 
divorce, the chancellor signs the decree; and the clerk fur- 
nishes the negro with a copy of same, under the seal of his 
office, and that is the end of it. 

Criminal Actions. 

There are many things declared by the statutes of this 
state to be a crime that a negro may do with impunity and 
never be molested, while a white man for the same act, 
would get not less than ten years in the penitentiary. For 
instance, as above stated, divorces are not compulsive with 
a negro, and he may have two or more wives at one and 
the same time, with or without being married to any of 
them and no one care; and it is not uncommon for the pre- 
siding judge to instruct the grand jury not to take any no- 
tice of it in case it is called to their attention by any wit- 
ness who might be before them on other business. On the 
other hand, if any white man should be guilty of the same 
offense, he would be promptly indicted, and if convicted, 
he could safely count on getting anywhere from three to 
ten years in the penitentiary. 

Gambling. 

Under our criminal statute it is a misdemeanor for any 
person to wager any money or other valuable thing on 

ny game of chance, or to play for money at any game of 
cards or dice, etc.; but it is the unwritten law — and the un- 
written law applies in this case — that all negroes may 
play a game of chance with dice, commonly called "craps" 
for money or any other valuable thing, on Saturday nights 
or any time during the first day of the week commonly 
called Sunday; provided, however, that said game is con- 
ducted in a quiet, orderly manner in a vacant cabin or cot- 
ton house on the back side of the plantation. But it is also 
the unwritten law of this state, that a white man must not, 

't any time or place, for either love or money or any other 
valuable thing, play a game of "craps," that being recog- 
nized as a negro game exclusively. 



26 

It is also the unwritten law of this state, that all white 
persons above the age of twenty-one years, may play a 
game of chance with cards, commonly called "poker," for 
money and other valuable things; provided, however, that 
said game is conducted in a quiet, orderly manner in some 
private place, after business hours, but a negro must not, 
under any circumstances, play a game of "poker," for love, 
money or anything else, that being recognized as strictly a 
white man's game. 

Larceny. 

If a white man be guilty of petit larceny in this state, he 
is either lynched, deported or sent to the county convict 
farm for a long term, but if a negro be guilty of petit lar- 
ceny, he is either cursed, whipped or made to pay the value 
of the thing stolen, or is sent to jail, all depending on what 
he has stolen and from whom he has stolen it. If he steal 
anything from another negro, he is arrested, tried before a 
justice of the peace, and usually sent to the county convict 
farm to work out the fine and cost, especially the cost, but 
under certain circumstances the fine may be held up dur- 
ing good behavior, where satisfactory arrangements can 
be made as to the cost. If he steals from a white man, he 
is not usually arrested or tried at all, but is given one of 
those ex-parte hearings above mentioned, and made to re- 
turn the article stolen or pay its value, according to the 
circumstances. If he steals tobacco, whisky, chickens or 
watermelons from any white man for whom he is work- 
ing, or for whom he has ever worked, nothing is ever done 
*■ said to him about it at all, for it is well known to all 
white people that he cannot help taking those things, and 
is not responsible for his acts in the premises, and if any 
white man should ever undertake to prosecute him on a 
charge of this kind, he would have no more show before 
a Mississippi jury than a paper shirt in a bear fight. 

Concealed Weapons. 

If a negro is guilty of selling whisky, cocaine, or carry- 
ing a pistol he is severely dealt with, that being absolutely 



27 

necessary to protect the lives of both the white people, and 
the negroes themselves, for there never was a more dan- 
gerous combination than a negro, whisky or cocaine and a 
pistol. He is just bound to kill somebody, and he does not 
care who, when he has a pistol and is under the influence 
of cocaine or mean whisky. On the other hand, all able- 
bodied white males above the age of sixteen years, who 
live in the black belt, where the negroes outnumber the 
whites ten to one, are all supposed to have pistols of stand- 
ard make and size, and are supposed to carry them all the 
time, either concealed or otherwise, and are supposed to 
know how to use them to the best advantage on the short- 
est notice — and they usually do — notwithstanding, the 
statute says that if any person who carries concealed, in 
whole or part, and bowie knife, dirk knife, butcher knife, 
pistol, etc., shall, on conviction, be fined not less than 
$25.00 and the weapon so carried, shall be forfeited to the 
state, and shall be, by the sheriff of the county where the 
conviction occurred, publicly destroyed, etc., but this stat- 
ute applies only to the negroes and the people who live in 
the white belt and has no application to any white person 
who lives in the black belt. 

Homicide. 

The statutes of Mississippi also say, that if any person 
shall be convicted of murder, he shall suffer death, unless 
the jury rendering the verdict shall fix the punishment at 
imprisonment in the penitentiary for the life of the con- 
vict. This statute only applies to a white man who kills 
another one about something else besides a woman. If 
the killing was about a woman, he is tried by the unwrit- 
n law, and is either hanged, sent to the penitentiary or 
acquitted, all depending on what woman the killing was 
about, and what the facts were in that particular case. But 
this statute does not apply to a negro at all. If he kills a 
white man, and is caught, he suffers death in some form 
other, the time, place and manner of his execution de- 
ending altogether on who caught him, the sheriff's posse 
r the friends of the deceased. If the sheriff's posse are 



28 

the first to get to him, he is hanged the fourth Friday after 
court adjourns, but if the friends of the deceased are the 
rst to get possession of him, he is executed at once, at or 
near the place where the homicide occurred; the manner 
of his death being always a matter of individual taste of 
the parties conducting the ceremonies. 

When a negro is indicted for killing another negro, he is 
seldom, if ever, tried at all. The usual practice is for the 
court to appoint some young inexperienced attorney to 
defend him; then partly out of sympathy for the negro, 
and partly out of sympathy for the young attorney, the 
state's attorney will allow the negro to plead guilty with 
the understanding that the jury will fix his punishment at 
life imprisonment, and they will be instructed to bring in 
a formal verdict to that effect. This plan always works 
perfectly satisfactory to all parties concerned — the state 
saves the expense of a long drawn out trial, the negro is 
saved from being hanged, and the state gets another cotton 
producer on the state farm. If he is a young negro — and 
in most cases he is — he is good for about twenty years 
service at the least, and ought to raise on an average of ten 
bales of cotton each year, under the scientific methods 
used there, and this cotton, after deducting the customary 
shrinkage and graft, ought to net the state as much as 
$75.00 per bale, or a sum total of $15,000.00, which from a 
business standpoint, is worth a great deal more to the tax 
payers than a public hanging. 

There are only a few of the unwritten rules of practice 
in this jurisdiction, the whole of which would fill a large 
volume, and are rarely, if ever, understood by any one, 
except the native born attorneys of this commonwealth. 



State of /Mississippi vs. Dink 

Coleman. 



Some years ago, in the early part of June, Dink Cole- 
man, a gent of ebony hue, a driver for the Delta Transfer 
Company by occupation, and for many years past a resi- 
dent of the city of Greenville, the county seat of Washing- 
ton County, Mississippi, and which is situated on the east 
bank of the "Father of Waters," sat upon the levee and 
watched the sun disappear behind the willow fringed 
shore of the Arkansas side; he watched the towboat Hen- 
rietta drift slowly by with a long raft of logs in tow; he 
also watched the steamer Ruth land, discharge her freight 
and resume her southward journey. He then arose, 
yawned, rubbed his eyes, stretched his arms and walked 
across Washington avenue and down Walnut street to the 
"Twilight Cafe," a place of refreshment for colored folks 
only, and which was presided over by Ephriam Brown, 
likewise a gent of color and who was its sole proprietor 
and general manager. 

Soon after Dink had seated himself on a vacant stool at 
the refreshment counter, he and Ephriam had a disagree- 
ment about the age, grade and quanity of hot-cat-fish that 
had been served to Dink for the amount of money ex- 
pended by him, to-wit: two bits, or the fourth part of a 
dollar of the lawful money of the realm. Hot words be- 
tween them were soon followed by blows; negroes ran 
through the open door, and some jumped through the 
windows; crockery crashed against the floor; furniture 
was reduced to kindling wood; and pandemonium 
reigned supreme. 

When the dust of battle had cleared away, Ephriam 
Brown lay on the floor in the midst of the wreckage, with 
several ugly wounds on different parts of his person, in- 



30 

flicted by a certain deadly weapon, to- wit: a razor in the 
hands of Dink Coleman, who was promptly arrested and 
placed in the county jail to await further developments. 

As soon as time, nature and local surgical talent had 
made sufficient repairs on Ephriam to enable him to ap- 
pear in court as the chief witness for the state, Dink was 
given a preliminary hearing before His Honor, Judge 
O'Riley, justice of the peace for district No. 3 of Washing- 
<m county, on an affidavit charging, that he did, on or 

about the 8th day of June, A. D. 19 -, in the county and 

state aforesaid, with force and arms, wilfully, maliciously, 
feloneously and of his malice aforethought, commit an 
assault and battery upon the person of one Ephriam 
Brown, with the intent, him the said Ephriam Brown, to 
then and there kill and murder, against the peace and 
dignity of the state of Mississippi. 

When Dink was brought into court, and the charge had 
been read to him, he was asked the usual question, "how 
do you plead, guilty or not guilty?" 

To which he replied : "No siree, jedge, I ain't done none 
of them things to dat nigger." 

"This is er put up job on me jedge. Dese here good-fer- 
nuthin niggers is all got it in fer me jedge, 'cause I's er 
nigger what mines my own business jedge and don't both- 
er no body." 

"No siree, jedge, I'se not guilty sir." 

"Never was 'rested 'fore in my life, jedge, for nothin. 
All the white folks in dis town will tell you dat 'bout me, 
jedge." "And 'sides dat, jedge, dat nigger done hit me 
once wid er fryin pan on my jaw 'fore I cut em, jedge." 

"Won't some of you gen'emen over dare, please sir 
phone Mr. Jimmie Coleman to come over here right quick. 
He's my whitefolks and my lawyah." 

"Mr. Jimmie" to whom Dink had referred, was the Hon- 
orable James B. Coleman, one of the most able criminal 
lawyers at the local bar. Before the war, Dink's father 
had belonged to Mr. Coleman's father, and the feeling 
which existed between him and Dink was similar to the 
feelings which usually exist between two first cousins who 



31 

have never had any conflicting property rights, and Dink, 
as a matter of course, expected "Mr. Jimmie" to fight all 
of his legal battles for him. 

In due time, Mr. Coleman appeared in court, perspiring 
freely, and took charge of Dink's defense, or rather lack of 
defense. 

The state introduced witness after witness who swore, 
that Dink had voluntarily entered the "Twilight Cafe" 
and without any reason, real or apparent, had proceeded 
to provoke a difficulty with the proprietor thereof, and 
then carve him up in the most approved style with a razor. 
Each of these witnesses was subjected to a grilling cross- 
examination by Mr. Coleman, which was greatly enjoyed 
by Dink, as well as all of the other negroes present, but 
their testimony remained unimpeached. Dink offered no 
testimony, and after some wrangling between counsel for 
the state, and the defendant, it was agreed that Dink 
should be placed under bond in the sum of one hundred 
dollars to await the action of the next grand jury, which 
bond was accordingly given, and Dink released from cus- 
tody. 

On the second Monday of the following July, the regular 
criminal term of the circuit court of Washington county 
convened, with Judge Harrison, a true type of the old 
school, presiding. The weather was extremely warm and 
the court room was filled to overflowing with a squirming 
mass of humanity varying in color from the fair skinned, 
blue eyed, red headed Anglo-Saxon to the jet black Afro- 
American. 

The court was duly organized and called to order; the 
grand jury was empanelled, sworn and charged; the dock- 
et was then sounded; after which court adjourned for 
dinner. 

Dink silently followed Mr. Coleman back to his office, 
dropped his hat on the floor and himself into an empty 
chair. Mr. Coleman also removed his hat, mopped his 
brow, seated himself in a chair by an open window over- 
looking the Mississippi, and gazed long and earnestly 
across its waters. For quite a while neither he or Dink 



32 

spoke. Finally Dink said : "Mr. Jimmie, what you think 
'bout our case now?" To which he replied, "Dink, I don't 
like the looks of your case at all." 

Dink's lower jaw dropped, his eyes shone like twin 
moons, great beads of perspiration stood out on his ebony 
brow, and an expression of utter spread over his face as he 
said: 

"My Gawd, Mr. Jimmie, don't you think we can beat dis 
case?" 

"I am afraid not," said Mr. Coleman, "with the evidence 
the state has against you, Dink." 

"It seems to me, from what all of the witnesses say about 
; t, that you just simply went down to this joint and 'raised 
a rough house' without any provocation whatever, and 
with that evidence against you, the jury, under their oaths, 
will be bound to convict you." 

"Den what?" said Dink. 

"Well, in that case, you will be sent to the penitentiary, 
that's what," said Mr. Coleman. 

"My Gawd, Mr. Jimmie," said Dink, "I was just as drunk 
as er biled owl when I done gone down dare and started all 
dis trouble, and didn't no more know what I was doin than 
er new born merino lamb. Please sir git me out of dis 
mess." 

"Drunkness is no defense to crime, Dink," said Mr. 
Coleman, but of course, I am going to get you out of it if I 
can, but am doubtful about being able to do it this time." 

"Den don't you think I had just better be mozying on off 
from 'bout here?" said Dink. 

"Well," said Mr. Coleman, "as an attorney, I could not 
advise you to do that. You are under bond to be in the 
court room when your case is called, and unless you are 
there, a forfeiture will be taken on your bond." 

"What am dat, Mr. Jimmie?" said Dink. 

"Your bondsmen will have to pay the amount of your 
bond," said Mr. Coleman. 

"Yas sir, yas sir, I see," said Dink. 

"But if you are there," said Mr. Coleman, "I think you 
will be convicted, and I know that if you are convicted, ^ 



33 

you will be sent to the penitentiary; there is no doubt 
about that." 

"Thank you, Mr. Jimmie, thank you sir. I think I begins 
to understand you now sir, yas sir," said Dink, and taking 
up his hat he bowed himself out of the office and down 
the stairs and was soon out of sight around the corner. 

Before court adjourned for the day, the grand jury re- 
turned several true bills, one of which was against Dink 
Coleman, charging him with assault and battery with the 
intent to kill and murder one Ephriam Brown, against the 
peace and dignity of the State of Mississippi. 

On the following morning Judge Harrison seemed to be 
in a particularly bad frame of mind, due partly to the op- 
pressive atmosphere, and partly to his advanced age. His 
paint brush whiskers stood straight out; great beads of 
perspiration rolled off of his round bald head, and his 
eyes gleamed defiantly. It further appeared, that no one 
who had been recently indicted was particularly anxious 
for that speedy trial guaranteed to them by both State, and 
Federal constitutions. First one lawyer and then another 
was wrangling for a continuance. Some had sickness in 
their families; others had certificates and affidavits from 
reputable physicians showing that their client, or witness 
was physically unable to attend court at this time, and 
were further prepared to show that they could not safely 
go to trial without him. Case after case had been called 
and passed for the present, when the court called out in 
an irritable voice, "State of Mississippi vs. Dink Coleman; 
what sayeth the state?" 

"Beady, your Honor," answered the district attorney. 

"What sayeth the defendant?" said the court. 

No answer. 

"State of Mississippi vs. Dink Coleman, charged with as- 
sault and battery with the intent to kill and murder," 
called the court again. 

Still no answer. 

"Does any member of the bar represent the defendant 
in this case?" stormed the court, but no one spoke. 



34 

"Mr. Sheriff," said the court, "where is the defendant in 
this case?" 

"I don't know, your Honor," said the sheriff, "but I think 
he is out on bond. He was here yesterday, but I don't 
think I have seen him in here this morning." 

"Mr. Clerk," said the court, "enter a fine of $50.00 against 
this defendant for not being present in the court room 
when his name was called, and Mr. Sheriff, I want you to 
see that this fine is paid too." 

Then an old wrinkled faced negro woman as black as 
the proverbial ace of spades, slowly arose in the rear of 
the crowded court room, and pointing a withered finger 
towards the court, said : "Jedge, may I have a few words 
wid you?" 

"Sit down," thundered the court, and she automatically 
dropped back into her seat. 

"Mr. Sheriff," said the court, "I want you to keep order 
in this court room. Call the defendant in this case. Go 
o the window and call him." 

"Dink Coleman, Dink Coleman, Dink Coleman, come 
into court," called the sheriff, but no response. 

"Mr. Clerk," said the court, "enter another fine of $50.00 
against the defendant in this case. And, Mr. Sheriff, you 
o out on the street and arrest him and bring him in here 
before me, and I will learn him that the court room is the 
place for him to be when court is in session, and not out on 
some street corner." 

For quite a while now everything was quiet in the court 
room, save for the regular tick of the wall clock over the 
judge's stand, and the gentle purr of a small electric fan 
on the mantel at his right. 

When the sheriff finally returned, he reported, that after 
strict search, and diligent inquiry, Dink Coleman could 
not be found. 

The same old woman again arose, and looking dubious- 
ly around the room, said: "Jedge, may I speak a few 
words to you?" 

"Yes," said the court, "what is it you want?" 



35 

She said: "Ain't dat Dink Coleman you all been axin 
'bout?" 

"Yas," said the court, "what do you know about him?" 
"Well," she said, "as I were comin to town dis morn in, 
1 seed Dink, 'bout nine miles south of here, settin on de 
'cvee, and he told me, dat if I seed any body up here axin 
'bout him, to giv em his regards and tell em dat he's done 
gone to Arkansaw." 



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