Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jessie Lee Carter, May 5, 1980. Interview H-0237. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Brandon Mill provides good work environment for many children

There were plenty of children working alongside Carter in Brandon Mill, she recalls. Girls often worked as spinners and boys as doffers. It was a good work environment for children, Carter believes: there were no accidents, the kids worked well with one another, and her uncle, who ran the mill, never whipped anyone for bad behavior.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jessie Lee Carter, May 5, 1980. Interview H-0237. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you get to go to school at all?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
I went to the fourth grade. I stayed in one room. I wouldn't have no other teacher. Only one I had, it was Miss Jessie, and we was the sweetest little old thing. She'd want to put me in another grade, and I said, I won't go in another grade. I stayed right in her grade the whole time I went to school.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Then you finally stopped and went to work?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
I went to work when I was twelve years old. And you didn't have to sign them up for twelve. Anybody could go to work that wanted to. They could take the children and go to work anytime they wanted to.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were there other children who were…
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
Oh, yes, there were plenty of them just my age in the mill. We had a neighbor, her name was Miss Lamb, and she had a nursing baby, and she worked. She'd take that baby in her roping boxes and she'd take a quilt and she'd lay him in that roping box and she'd work, 'cause they didn't have any help. Now that's how bad they were for help. And they'd her bring her baby down and keep it in the mill all day long.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Was she the only one you ever knew that did that?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
Yes, and she did it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
But there were lots of little girls?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
Children nine years old, my age, working in the mill. Twelve years old.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Where did the girls work?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
Most all of them worked in spinning. Some of them filled boxes in the weave shop. They put them just wherever they needed them.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Now what about the little boys?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
The boys did the same thing.
ALLEN TULLOS:
You had some boys in the spinning room?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
The doffers was boys. We had four doffers on one section. They called him the head doffer. He'd bear down the frames, and each boy'd doff half a frame a piece. They had four of them, two on each side. Then he'd start up the frames, and any threads come down, he pieced them up. But now they don't doff that way no more. One doffer doffs both sides of the frame. Then they had four doffers. That's the way they started off.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember any accidents with any children?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
No. There never was any. If there was, I never heard tell of it. We never got hurt. We was always particular.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Sometimes did the children go to sleep on the job?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
[laughter] No. They never went to sleep on the job. They could set down if they got sleepy. They could sit down on one of them boxes and sleep if they wanted to. So maybe somebody'd see them setting there and nodding or sleeping and they'd go shake them and wake them up. We had a good time. I mean, the work run good then, and the people enjoyed working.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you ever see any of the children get a whipping in the mill?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
No. They didn't allow that. My uncle never whipped one.
ALLEN TULLOS:
It seems with all those children working in there that now and then one of them would get in a fight?
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
No, they didn't. Everybody got along good. It ain't like it is now. Children was different from what they are now.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Part of that was because they knew something would happen to them if they didn't.
JESSIE LEE CARTER:
That's right. And when the bossman told them to do anything, they went ahead and done it. They didn't say, ‘no, I'm not going to do that; I don't have to do it.’ They went right ahead and done it just like it'd been their parents telling them to do it. Children minded that worked in the mill. They'd mind their bossman, because he was good to them. So they didn't have no cause not to mind him.