What Is It About Being a Slave That You Don’t Understand?

I guess you can’t blame newsmen for these sloppy stories about so-called black Confederates.  After all they don’t know who to talk to or what questions to ask.  Such is the case in the present story about a slave from Mississippi by the name of Isaac Pringle:

Born in May, 1841, Isaac, or Ike as he was better known, was owned by the Pringle family that lived and owned land around Vimville. Ike took on the name of his owners and was forever called Ike Pringle.

At an early age he was given to the grandson of the family, Frank Pringle. Not that far apart in age, the two basically grew up together until the Civil War began. At that time, Frank Pringle joined the 24th Mississippi. Ike Pringle followed him into service. Some say Ike Pringle followed on his own accord and out of obligation to Frank Pringle.

What exactly does it mean to say that Isaac followed his master “on his own accord and out of obligation…”  This points to the fundamental problem with these types of stories which is an almost complete lack of serious analysis or understanding of the concept of slavery.  Unless you have some kind of documentation that demonstrates the ability on the part of Isaac to refuse an order without consequences than stay away from making such claims.  Consider the following passage:

Both men survived the war and were in Atlanta when the last cannons fell silent. From that moment on, Ike Pringle was a free man. Frank Pringle gave him his freedom there and moved to Pensacola, Fla., according to records. But Ike Pringle decided to return home to Vimville.

Again, another example of sloppy writing.  Was Frank really in a position at that point to decide the legal status of Isaac in the final days of the war or should we see the war itself as having something to do with Isaac becoming free?  Such claims are vacuous in the extreme.  Even more so are the comments regarding Isaac’s apparent participation in veterans events and his collection of a pension from the state of Mississippi in 1920.  The reporter admits that there is no evidence of wartime service beyond Isaac’s presence with his master while serving in the 24th Mississippi, but somehow we are to believe that these facts trump the dearth of official documentation.  Isaac Pringle was clearly involved in veterans events and this is indeed worthy of analysis by historians.  I’ve spent considerable time examining “Stonewall” Jackson’s personal servant’s participation in postwar events and it is clear that it has nothing to do with his “service” in the army.  There could be any number of reasons during the height of Jim Crow that blacks were accepted in one way or another into these organizations.  Unfortunately, here is how this reporter concludes his story:

Many of the details are still unknown at this time but whatever his role was, it was enough for the State of Mississippi to grant Ike Pringle a pension in 1920 for being a member of the Confederate army during the Civil War.

And the nonsense continues.

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7 comments… add one

  • John Maass Nov 26, 2007

    I generally agree with you on this whole issue fo the so-called black Confed’s. However, could it not be also possible, such as in this case, that Ike did “on his own accord” follow his master? What if he had been given a choice by his owners to stay on the plantation or go with Frank? I don;t see that as out of the realm of reason, esp. if the two were attached to each other. I am not ignoring the imbalanced nature of such a relationship at all, but if Ike had a choice (we don’t know) between the drudgery (or worse) of plantation life vs. going with his master to new places to experience new things, why is it so tough for us all to imagine that he did? That’s hardly nonsense. It is also not a “complete lack of serious analysis or understanding of the concept of slavery.” Again, I am leery of this black Confed thing too, it is mostly just an attempt to deflect the harsh truth of slavery. But, at the same time, if we are to accept that slavery was an institution characterized by ambiguity, porous borders, and many facets, then I think we must also be willing to allow that in this light, Ike may not have been forced to anything at all.

  • Kevin Levin Nov 26, 2007

    John, — I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here. My problem, however, is that just about every news item that I’ve come across draws similar conclusions. Of course it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Isaac willingly followed his master, but why are we so quick to draw conclusions about motive with little or no evidence? I don’t think I’ve ever read in one of these stories a reporter suggest that much more work needs to be done to examine the way the war altered racial boundaries and the master-slave relationship in particular. Instead we are pointed to one of two extremes and usually it is reminiscent of the same tired stories that have for far too long dominated popular imagination. Again, I have no problem with the idea that Isaac went off to war voluntarily for any number of reasons, but before we draw specific conclusions let’s be a bit more careful about what exactly we are talking about.

  • Tim Lacy Nov 26, 2007

    The problem begins with the trope “Some say… .”

    I remember a documentary on Fox News, Outfoxed from 2004, that railed on “news” stories that begin with the phrase “some say.” Who said it? Give a source, or acknowledge the contingency.

    Was it Frank Pringle, in this case, who started that rumor to soften the fact that he commanded Ike to go? Was it simply the case that Ike followed Frank because Ike was not educated to understand what freedom could mean to the latter?

    Finally, who is Brian Livingston and what are his credentials with The Meridian Star?

  • Richard Phillips Nov 26, 2007

    Hello Kevin

    It seems to me that some detective work needs to be done on Issac. I would be curious to know Isaacs racial classification in the 1870 census. The story says that Isaac took the name of his master. Was this because he liked his master or was the master his father? I bring this up because in my research in Jones and Onslow Counties I have found several examples of slaves with white fathers. Adds a whole new dynamic to the question.

  • Donna Lawrence Nov 27, 2007

    I am interested in Isaac Pringle as well as others that are trying to get a gravemarker for him.He is listed as black on 1880 census.
    He is listed as light in color so of course there is a possiblility he was fathered by a Pringle and does seem to identify with their views. This is a slave narrative he made .

    From the WPA Slave Narratives:
    Isaac Pringle

    Foreword: Isaac Pringle is a small man, about five feet four or five, rather light brown in color, living on the Monroe Harper place, four miles from Vimville, in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. He is ninety-six years old and rather feeble but his mind is remarkably clear. He is a gentle old man, dignified and somewhat reserved until his confidence is gained, but loves to talk and, even more, to listen to the better class of white people, among whom he has many friends. He started to vote as soon as negroes were enfranchised but always sided with his white folks and, so highly is he regarded that, although not legally entitled to do so for many years, he is still permitted to cast his ballot unchallenged. He has spent his entire life, except for the war period, within five miles of where he was born, his travels, “all over de world,” being to the extent only of his war experience and attendance at Confederate reunions, which latter are the high spots in his life. He is totally unreconstructed, a true negro of the Old South, and, although entirely free from any taint of servility or slavishness, still believes firmly that “‘fo’ de war” days were best.

    “I was born right here in dis county, on de ninth day of May, eighteen hundred and forty-one, at Vimville; but, Law’, I been pretty near all over de world sence dat time.

    “I was born on de W. S. Pringle place. He was my old boss. My pa and ma both belonged to him.

    “Dey call me Ike, but my name is Isaac, for my pa. My ma, she was named Beadie.

    “My old boss was mighty strict for us to have plenty to eat. Dey raised all dey ate on de place, an’ dey drawed deir rations every Wednesday night. Dey had a big meat box dat never was empty. We had plenty to eat an plenty clothes.

    “Dey had spinnin’ wheels an’ a loom, an my Ma did de spinnin’ an’ weavin’. All de women folks would card an’ spin every night till bed-time. Miss Sally run de house. Lem me see if I can count ‘em. Dere was Joe, ‘n William, ‘n Frank, ‘n Abraham, n’ Mary, n’ Laura; six child’en dey had.

    “De cullud people had deir to-dos on Saturday night but I never could dance. Never could learn.

    “We went to church too, wid de white folks. Dere was a circuit rider used to preach on Sunday night at de old church (Mt. Gilead dey called it den) an’ white an’ cullud went to church together. Hit was two or three years after de war before dey separated us.

    “My old boss give me to one of his grandsons, named Frank. He was about my age. We youngsters was like chickens an’ turkeys, we was so thick, an’ one day de old man lined us all up an’ say, ‘Now, Frank, look ‘em all over an’ take your choice’. Mr. Frank studied us all for a while an’ den he say, ‘I’ll take dis one’, an’ dat was me, so I went home wid him.

    “Dey took me for a house boy, an’ when de war started I went all through hit with him. We went to Atlanta an’ went in de war in April 1862 an’ come out in April 1865. Perryville, Kentucky, in August 1862, I was tied up all day in dat battle.

    “Colonel W. F. Dowd was colonel of de 24th Miss. regiment, ridin’ up an’ down in front de lines, an’, when de first shells come over, hit scared his horse so bad he run away straight through de Yankee army an’ we never did see him no mo’.

    “We didn’t go to Virginia, jus up to de line. Den we went to Chattanooga an’ fought aroun’ till dey wallered everything out aroun’ dere, den we went to Atlanta, Georgia.

    “All dem three years of de war I never got to touch a horse. We’d walk all day an’ a good piece of de night. An’ dem campfires, wid ten thousand men around, you never saw anything like it. Hit looked like de whole world was lighted up.

    “When we got word of de surrender, we wasn’t mustered out. We all just scattered for our homes.

    “After de war, Mr. Frank went to Florida but I come on back to de old home place.

    “I didn’t know what to think when I was freed. I’d always been tuk care of an’ now I had to hit out for myself. We was in Washington County, Alabama, when I was freed. De boss told me I was free to go where I like an’ do what I like, but, if I want to stay on wid him, he’d pay me ten dollars a month an’ my keep, so I stayed.

    “My wife belonged to a man by de name of Tarrell, in dis county. She stayed on wid her people an’ I come to see her once a month. Mr. Tarrell was a good man too.

    “I married my first wife in January 1860 an’ she died de 23d day of September, 1868. Mary Tarrell was her name.

    “My regular job was haulin’ wood to de M. & O. Railroad at Deer Park. Dey burned wood den.

    “Den we went to live two years wid my brother-in-law at Pritchut, Alabama, till my wife died.

    “After dat, I come back here an’ went to farmin’. I bought me a track of land, eighty acres, over here about a mile, an’ a big fine mare an’ raised my own mules.

    “Hit was big talk den dat everybody was goin’ to git forty acres an’ a mule, but, when I got my mule, I bought him. Dey made powerful promises, but didn’t anybody I know git nothin’.

    “We never had no slave trouble around here. I heard about de underground railway an’ found out hit was covered wagons, but nobody went from here. I wasn’t tryin’ to git away.

    “I never had no use for de Yankees. I hired out to ‘em in Mobile after de war an’ I had enough of ‘em den. Dey made me nurse an’ everything. But dere was a heap of trouble after de war. Kep’ up so long, look like hit never would git settled, but hit did. Dere was a man named Aaron Moore, was a ringleader, always stirrin’ up trouble. He was our regular blacksmith around here an’ got elected to de legislature. He was a big man but I never wanted to go wid him. I always voted for our side de house. Dey got after him one time an’ he walked an’ run all de way to Jackson an’, if his strength hilt out, I reckon he’s goin’ yit. He never come back here no more. Dey looked for him on de train but he kep’ to de rood.

    “Dere was plenty of Ku Klux but dey wasn’t lookin for me. I never was bothered wid ‘em.

    “I farmed an’ was just as successful as a man could be. Always had money in de house. Gold money.

    “I sold my place about twenty-five years ago, cause white folks bought all de land around, an we was de only cullud people in de neighborhood, so we moved over here.

    “I’m too old to farm now, an’ my wife too, but she picks some cotton, an’ my granddaughter’s got an interest in dis cornfield over here. I got more grandchildren dan any two men in de county.

    “Mr. Harper’s good to us, an’ I got a little Confederate veteran’s pension, four dollars a month, an’ we’re makin’ out.

    “Dese here my badges from de Confederate reunions. I been to every one, up to 1934, in Chattanooga. I’m de biggest fool in de world about dem things, an’ I love to look at ‘em.

    “I think I’ll ask ‘em to bring me wid dis one.

    Interviewer: Unknown
    Transcribed by Ann Allen Geoghegan

    Mississippi Narratives
    Prepared by
    The Federal Writer’s Project of
    The Works Progress Administration
    For the State of Mississippi

  • Kevin Levin Nov 27, 2007

    Donna, — Thanks for taking the time to share the WPA entry. These are some of the most difficult sources to interpret for the obvious reasons.

  • Rick Richardson Feb 8, 2008

    GLAD TO FIND THIS PIECE OF INFORMATION, TRYING TO FIND ANY HISTORY ON ANY ONE OR ANY
    THING ABOUT OLD TOWN DEER PARK, ALABAMA -
    WHO MAY HAVE LIVED THERE ARE HAD VISITED
    BETWEEN THE 1700’S AND 1900’S.

    THANKS.

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