Abner Jordan, interviewed by Daisy Whaley at his home in Durham County, North Carolina, WPA Slave Narrative Project, North Carolina Narratives, Volume 11 Part 2, Federal Writers' Project, United States Work Projects Administration (USWPA); Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Accessed via Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936–1938, American Memory, Library of Congress.
Abner Jordan, Ex-slave, 95 years.
"We learn Mr. Jordan's age, although the age listed in the title (ninety-five years) doesn't match up to the age he gives in his narrative. If we were ninety-five in roughly 1937, he would have been born in 1832. If we was born in 1832, he would have been 105 in 1937. an' We learn that Mr. Jordan was a slave at Stagville, Paul Cameron's plantation in Durham County, North Carolina.. I belonged to Marse Paul. We learn that Mr. Jordan was a slave at Stagville, Paul Cameron's plantation in Durham County, North Carolina..
Here, Jordan gives us additional information about his age. He says that he was the same age as "Young Marse Benehan." Bennehan Cameron was the son of planter Paul Cameron, the owner of Stagville plantation. We can find out that he was born September 9, 1854. So we now have three possible approximate birthdates for Mr. Jordan: 1832, 1841, and 1854. Without consulting plantation records to verify the birthdate of a slave named Abner born to parents named Obed and Ella at Stagville, we have no way of knowing for sure what Mr. Jordan's date of birth really was. We can, however, make an educated guess about which is most plausible. Given the restrictions in both law and custom on teaching slaves to read and write, it is unlikely that Mr. Jordan was literate during the time period when he was enslaved. He and his parents, therefore, probably never saw a written record of his birth and probably couldn't read a written record even if they had seen one, so his memory of being born about 1832 might be unreliable. We also don't know how the interviewer arrived at the age "95 years" — it certainly doesn't match up to Mr. Jordan's claim that he was born in 1832, so it may be that the interviewer guessed at his age based on his appearance or that she didn't believe him to be over 100 years old as a birthdate of 1832 would have made him, so she took roughly ten years off his estimate to arrive at ninety-five. Regardless, this too seems like less-than-solid information. It seems highly likely, though, that if Mr. Jordan remembers playing with Bennehan Cameron as a child that they were within a few years of each other in age. This childhood memory seems reliable for a few reasons. First, it seems unlikely that a memory of playing with someone as a child would be false. People tend to remember their playmates and, most of the time, children play with others who are close to their own age. Second, this memory, unlike the recollection of the 1832 birthdate, isn't arbitrary — 1832 is just a number that probably had little meaning to Mr. Jordan (evidenced by his recollection that it was "about 1832" and not definitely 1832) and which could easily be forgotten or confused with another arbitrary number. Remembering a childhood playmate, though (especially when that playmate was someone as well-known on the plantation as the planter's son), is specific, personal, and vivid. Finally, while knowing that he was born in 1832 might rely on literacy to some extent, remembering a playmate does not. So all signs point to a birthdate of around 1854 (or perhaps a few years earlier, since he served as a body guard to Bennehan Cameron and might have been a little older than him) being the most plausible, making Mr. Jordan about eighty-two years old at the time of the interview., Here Mr. Jordan explains some of his duties as a boy: he played with Bennehan Cameron but also served as his bodyguard.. I waited on him. Young Mrse Benny run away an' 'listed in de war, but Marse Paul done went an' brung him back kaze he wus too young to go and fight de Yankees.
Mr. Jordan says that Paul Cameron owned 5,000 slaves. It's been revealed that roughly 1,000 slaves lived at Stagville.. When Mr. Jordan illustrates, here, that Paul Cameron owned so many slaves that he wouldn't know them all on sight. He also reveals that slaves who were on the road would be stopped and questioned to determine who who owned them and, presumably, whether they were supposed to be away from the plantation..
Mr. Jordan explains that his father was a blacksmith and foreman on the plantation, meaning that he was a skilled artisan who probably worked more closely with whites than field hands did., an' This information gives us some insight into work patterns at Stagville — field hands doing agricultural labor would be called in every evening by a horn blown by the foreman, Mr. Jordan's father. We also get further confirmation that slaves were not allowed to leave the plantation without Paul Cameron's permission..
We learn here that Union troops apparently reached Stagville, but we don't know when or under what circumstances. nion soldiers were looking for cash and valuables on the plantation and asked Jordan's mother where they were hidden.. But mammy say she didn' know whare dey put it, an' dey would jus' have to kill her for she didn' know an' wouldn' lie to keep dem from hurting her.
Despite the seizure of horses and meat, it sounds like the plantation was spared any major damage by Union troops..
We learn that Mr. Jordan and his family continued to live at Stagville after the war and then remained nearby for all of Mr. Jordan's life.. I ain' never been out of North Carolina eighteen months in my life. North Carolina is good enough for me."