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Isaac Johnson, 1844-1905
Slavery Days in Old Kentucky. A True Story of a Father Who Sold His Wife and Four Children. By One of the Children
Ogdensburg, N.Y.: Republican & Journal Print, 1901


The following annotations to Slavery Days in Old Kentucky. A True Story of a Father Who Sold His Wife and Four Children. By One of the Children were compiled in the spring 2003 by Katie Baer and Lauren Bruce, first-year students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as a class project in Professor William L. Andrews's First-Year Seminar on Slavery and Freedom in African American Literature and Film. We welcome any corrections, additions, or suggested revisions of these annotations. Send feedback to

Page 7

Green Rivera south central Kentucky River that merges with the Ohio River in Indiana.

Kentuckya slave state since its admission to the Union in 1798, Kentucky became one of the largest centers for the slave trade in the South. Kentucky was one of four slave states that remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War.

Page 8

MadagascarAn island off the Eastern coast of Africa, involved in the international slave trade until it was abolished in 1808.

$1600this amount of money is equivalent today to approximately $29,200.

"...none of whom owned slaves"In the entire population of the South, only about a third actually owned slaves.

Page 9

Bardstowna town in Nelson County about 40 miles south of Louisville in the north-central region of Kentucky.

Page 11

Beech Fork RiverA small river found in Washington and Nelson counties in the north-central region of Kentucky.

Page 12

pumpkin seed niggersa light-skinned African American, the color of a pumpkin seed.

Page 13

"he is green"someone who is young and inexperienced.

long tow shirt>A long, coarse linen shirt worn by lower-class people, including slaves, during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Page 14

Divine InstitutionThe biblical justification of American slavery. Those that supported this theory ascertained that slavery had existed perpetually throughout the ages and was encouraged in books such as Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Kings. Thus, since with this reasoning slavery was supported by religious faith, the institution of slavery in a society indicated cultural superiority.

incubusAn oppressive or nightmarish burden, supposedly in the form of a demon.

Page 15

Gristsa batch of grain that is used for grinding in a mill and producing flour.

Page 16

"My word is law"indication of the omnipotence of the master or mistress over the slave, as in Psalm 18:30, "As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless."

Page 17

Corn cribA structure for storing and drying ears of corn.

Page 18

"...with sticks very much the shape of hockey clubs."Hockey, whose creation is credited to a group of McGill students, became popular in Canada during the early 19th century and in the late 1800's caught on in the New England states of the United States, where Johnson lived after attaining his freedom.

"hiring took place"A practice by which a slave-owner allowed his slave to be hired for wages, most of which was returned to the owner.

Page 19

Hart countyA county in central Kentucky.

Mammoth CaveThe longest mapped cave system in the world, located in south central Kentucky.

Page 20

"you can 'back' your things"packing of personal belongings and placing them on his back in preparation for travel.

Page 21

Octoroona person of one-eighth black ancestry.

Grand Gulf a small town in Mississippi outside of Port Gibson, near the Mississippi River.

Jacksonthe state capital of Mississippi.

Vicksburg>a town in southwestern Mississippi on the Mississippi River.

Page 22

Nashvillethe state capitol of Tennessee.

Page 24

Louisvillea city located in the western part of Kentucky.

Page 25

The Lord's Prayer Matthew 6:9-13.

Page 26

Canadaa nation north of the United States to which as many as 50,000 runaways escaped to secure their freedom.

Cincinnati, Ohioa city located in the south west part of Ohio on the Ohio River across from Kentucky.

Page 27

hoe ganga method of organizing labor whereby slaves were divided into gangs for a specific daily job. A gang was managed by an overseer who was typically white.

skiffa small, light boat.

Page 31

garretthat part of a house on the upper floor, immediately under or within the roof.

Page 36

Abraham Lincoln16th president (1809-1865) of the United States, elected in 1861.

the warthe American Civil War, 1861-1865.

gave the guard the slip eluded the guard.

countersigna secret sign used to secure passage through a guarded area.

Page 37

Lebanona town located in the middle of Kentucky.

Page 38

DetroitA city in southeastern Michigan on the Detroit River bordering Canada.

Company A, 102nd US colored troopsOriginally the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry, this company was started in 1864 and fought till the close of the Civil War.

Canaanthat part of ancient Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, considered the Promised Land of the Israelites.

Page 39

Southern hospitalitya special degree of welcome to guests and strangers in homes of the South

Page 40

"But I say unto you, love your enemies..."Matthew 5:43-45.