Slave Narrative-Isaac Johnson: Story of The Father Who Sold His Wife and Four Children

2 Posted by - October 31, 2015 - Injustices, Looking Black On Today, SLAVERY

Isaac Jackson was born in the State of Kentucky in 1844. He first remembered living in the state as a young child with his parents on a farm located on the banks of Green river. In the home was his father, Richard Yeager, mother, Jane, and 3 brothers. His grandfather was an Irishman, named Griffin Yeager, he engaged in the villainous slave trade. His job was to steal blacks from Africa whenever he could.

Jackson’s mother was brought over from Madagascar and worked as a slave for his grandfather. When his grandfather died, young Jane went to his oldest son Richard Yeager, who was also called Dick Yeager. Jane and Dick Yeager began to live together as husband and wife. Jane worked the house and Richard tended to the field work. The two seemed to care great deeply for one another. Together they raised hogs and grew tobacco; their first year they made about $1,600 dollars, but unexpectedly all the hogs died. So, after the hogs died they devoted their work to growing tobacco; they became the leading tobacco growers in their part of Kentucky.

It was not long before the community began to grow. People began moving in next door and around Dick Yeager. Soon people were talking about him living with Jane his slave wife. Most of the neighbors and people throughout the community disapproved  of them carrying on like a family, and how dare Dick Yeager live in the house with Jane and help raise the children, which were all his.

There was so much talk that Yeager decided it was time to leave the area and sell his farm. So, he advertised his farm and his stock  and made the necessary arrangements to leave. At the time of the move, the children were the following ages: Louis was nine, Isaac was seven,  Ambrose was five, and Eddie the baby was two. Yeager kept his horses and decided to take them to New Orleans to the market.  Isaac and his family waited patiently for Yeager’s return. But instead of Yeager returning, two months later, the sheriff arrived and took the family to Bardstown in Nelson County, which was about a two day journey. They had no idea what was going on. The family were taken and put  in what was referred to as a “Negro pen” at the time. The next day a white crowd gathered around took turns examining and looking young Isaac, his mother, and brothers over.

The Yeager family did not know what was happening until they head the auctioneer cry out: “How much do I hear for this nigger?” Isaac remembered the look his mother’s eyes and the heartbreak. He recalled knowing something terrible was happening, but as a young child didn’t know it meant never being with his family again.

“We were instructed beforehand that we must answer all questions put to us by “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.” I was asked if I had ever been whipped, or sick, or had had the toothache, and similar questions to all of which I answered. He then cried for bids. The first bid was four hundred dollars. This was gradually raised until I was struck off for seven hundred dollars, and sold to William Madinglay, who came forward and said: “Come along with me, boy, you belong to me.” I said to him: “Let me go and see my mother.” He answered me crossly: “Come along with me, I will train you without your mother’s help.” I was taken one side and chained to a post as though I had been a horse. I remained hitched to this post till late in the afternoon. The next one sold was Ambrose. I could not see him, but I could hear the auctioneer crying for bids and my little four year old brother was sold for five hundred dollars to William Murphy. The next to be set up was my mother and our little baby boy Eddie. To the cry for bids no one responded for some time and it looked for a while that they were to escape being sold. But someone called out: “Put them up separately.” Then the cry was: “How much do I hear for the woman without the baby?” The first bid was eight hundred dollars, and this was gradually raised till she was sold for eleven hundred dollars. The next sale was of Eddie, my little brother whom we all loved so much, he was sold for two hundred dollars, to one John Hunter. Thus, in a very short time, our happy family was scattered, without even the privilege of saying “Good bye” to each other, and never again to be seen, at least so far as I was concerned.” 

Years later Isaac learned that his father had sold him, his siblings and mother for $3,300 dollars. He had sold his own flesh and blood. That is what American made possible.

“That was the “Divine institution” everyone heard so much about, the cornerstone of the proposed Confederacy. Is it any wonder the Southerners were defeated with such an incubus around their necks, dragging them down to a condition lower than their slaves, making them human demons?”


Original narrative can be found at:

The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-CH digitization project, Documenting the American South.


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