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Black Elders of Portsmouth


Frances Tilley SatchellMy grandmother was a slave in Virginia. She came up here as a baby sitter...for a white family. She lived to be 101. My father was in his own moving business. He moved with horses not a truck. We didn't have trucks in his days. He'd go from here to Newburyport and different places, even to Boston. He used to take his team, get up 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning and get my brothers up and they'd go off on a moving spree. He would move anything. He also worked on the navy yard, moving stuff for the government. He had four horses. They were a team of horses. We had the stables right in back of the house. I used to comb their tails and braid them. My father would shine--his harnesses would shine like new money! We had the most beautiful horses in town! They were in parades and everything. Those horses would eat if he didn't have a job and nothing came in. He'd say to my mother, "I'm sorry, Kate, but the horses have got to eat." So she'd have to go out doing housework and make it for us while he made it for the horses.

First, I went to the old Franklin School on Maplewood Avenue, that little brick building out there. There were two rooms. I went in the fifth grade up in the New Franklin School. Whipple School, I went to junior high there. Then, I went to the old high school on Islington. I quit my last year. My sister died and left children, one, two and three years old. My mother kept me out of school a few months to take care of them, and don't want to go back. It's hard to make up. I often thought of doing it. But we stayed out to help take care of those children.

I still sing in the choir [at the black church] When I was young, I sang and I recited. They'd give me the longest piece to learn. One day I recited the Emancipation Proclamation from memory. And a lot of poems I know now I learned when I was eight and nine years old. I can say them all by heart now. I used to learn a lot of them. I'd sit down and read them over and get up and say it.

My mother would say you don't go by what somebody tells you, you go by what you know and what you see--and that's the way we were brought up.

(c) Valerie Cunningham
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