book05.gif (1110 bytes) Welcome to Wilma A. Dunaway's Online Archive for  book05.gif (1110 bytes)

Women, Work and Family in the Antebellum Mountain South  (Cambridge University Press, 2008)


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Appalachian Slave Narratives 


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Description of Slave Narratives    Access the Appalachian Narrative List

Photographs of Ex-Slaves    Read 3 Appalachian Slave Narratives

See Antebellum Illustrations of Enslaved Women

How to Access Slave Narratives Online

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Description of Appalachian Slave Narratives

This is a copyrighted document from the electronic archive for Wilma A. Dunaway, Women, Work and Family in the Antebellum Mountain South (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

County of Origin or Residence     Gender of slave

Age of slave at beginning of Civil War    

Ethnicity of WPA Interviewers

Comparison of Appalachian Narratives with the Entire WPA Collection

Access the List of Narratives

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County of Origin or Residence

Appalachian Counties of:

Number Slave Narratives









North Carolina


South Carolina






West Virginia


Total Narratives


Age of Slave at Beginning of Civil War

Age of Ex-Slave in 1861 % All Narratives
9 or younger           27%
10 to 15           40%
16 to 25           21%
26 or older           12%

Gender of Slaves

Gender of Ex-slave % All Narratives
Female 45%
Male 55%

Who interviewed the ex-slave in the 1930s?

Ethnicity of Interviewer % All Narratives
White            36%
Black            64%

Comparison of Appalachian Narratives with the Entire WPA Collection

Appalachian slave narratives are not handicapped by the kinds of shortcomings that plague the national WPA collection. Large plantations, males, and house servants are over-represented among the entire universe of respondents. In addition, two-fifths of the ex-slaves had experienced less than ten years of enslavement. The most serious distortions derived from the class and racial biases of whites who conducted the vast majority of the interviews.

  • The Southern Mountain narratives were collected over a vast land area in nine states. Thus, the significant distances between respondents offer opportunities for comparison and for testing the widespread transmission of African-American culture.

  • By checking the slave narratives against Census manuscripts and slave schedules, I established that the vast majority of the Appalachian narratives were collected from individuals who had been enslaved on plantations that held fewer than twenty slaves.

  • Most of the Appalachian respondents had been field hands, and very few were employed full-time as artisans or domestic servants. In terms of gender differentiation, the Appalachian sample is almost evenly divided.

  • In contrast to the entire WPA collection, three-quarters of the Appalachian ex-slaves were older than ten when freed. Indeed, when emancipated, one-third of the Southern Mountain respondents were sixteen or older, and 12 percent were 25 or older. Thus, the vast majority of the Appalachian ex-slaves had endured fifteen years or more of enslavement, and they were old enough to form their own memories and to retain family oral histories.

  • Perhaps the greatest strength of the Appalachian collection has to do with the ethnicity of interviewers. Nearly two-thirds   of the Appalachian narratives were written by the ex-slaves themselves or collected by black field workers. Many Tennessee and Georgia interviews were conducted under the auspices of Fisk University and the Atlanta Urban League, and all of the Virginia WPA interviews were conducted by black interviewers from Hampton Institute.

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african.gif (1328 bytes)   Photographs of Ex-Slaves   african.gif (1328 bytes)

To access these files, you will need Acrobat Reader 3 which you can download free.

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Source: Federal Writers Project, National Archives

To view the full photo image on your screen, click "View" on the Acrobat Reader menu, then "Fit in Window."

Delia Garlic      Oliver Bell     Sarah Gudger

You can access additional photos at the Library of Congress website.

book05.gif (1110 bytes)  Read Three Slave Narratives Online   book05.gif (1110 bytes)

Thomas Cole (northern Alabama)

Rachel Cruze (east Tennessee)

Sarah Gudger (western North Carolina)

Source: Federal Writers Project, National Archives

african.gif (1328 bytes) How to Access Slave Narratives Online

  • The WPA Collection of Slave Narratives is now online at the Library of Congress website, so you will be able to access most of the Appalachian narratives at that site.

  • Greenwood Press has posted the entire WPA collection online; however, a subscription fee is required. Many university libraries now own the electronic collection.