I was born in Overton, Texas, April 12, 1856. Jim Barrens of Virginia was my master, he moved from Virginia to Hamilton County, Texas. He had ten slaves dat he brought to Texas wid him. We was freed in '65 but my mother remained wid him 'till 1869. He was a good marster an' mama thought t'would be better to stay on wid him den, to be goin' about wid us chillun lookin' fer a place to work, an us be half-hungry an no close to wear. He was good an' she knowed we would have enought to eat an' a few close dere. She didn' leave Marster Jim' s until 1869, I was thirteen years old den an' big 'nough to do mos' all kind of work. From Marster Jim's we went to Mr. Gabe Smith's place whar my mother was a domestic servant an' had nice work in de house. She didn' hav' to work in de field or milk any of de cows. Mr. Smith had a farm an ranch. Dere I worked on de farm when dere was farm work to be did. Odder tim's I worked about de ranch, to round up de cattle an' I have helped brand de young calves an drive de odders to market or to de shippen' pen, to go off on de train. I don' know nothin' 'bout my father. He left when I was very young, befo' de war. My mother never did talk or tell us about him, I don't think she ever knowed whar he was at after he separated an' lef her. I started life foh my self when I was sixteen years old. De fust man I worked foh was Mr. Jack Keys , he lived in dis county (Coryell) at Gatesville, Texas, dat was in 1872, an' I has been here ever since save when I went to see my chillun dat live in Oklahoma. I married Mary Ann Mayberry of dis place, de daughter of a pioneer fasbly, on February 13, 1881, an' lived wid her 'till she died November 7, 1926. As I wasn't a slave when I married, my wedden' was about like mos' of de colored weddens now. I didn' have no fine close, I was workin' for small wages an' I jus' had what I could buy, a suit an' clean shirt, looked de best I could an' dat was all. We had fourteen chillun five boys an' nine girls. Dere is two boys an' seven girls livin' now. I got one boy in Los Angeles. California; one boy in Tulsa, Oklahoma; an one girl in Italy, Texas. I also got five grand-chillun liven' an' two dead. All my chillun work an git along good, de boys work at common labor an' de girls work about peoples homes doin' de washin' an ironin' an' some of dem cook. I hab allus lived a good useful live an' have never been convicted or charged wid any crime. I have never been threatened in any way dat I knows of. No'm I can't read an' write 'cause I had no chance to go to school, since dere was no schools in de days of early youth an' my mother was a widder wid odder chillun dependent on me as I was de first born an' oldest chile my mother had. 'Course all de slaves thought freedom would be better dan slavery but my mother said ef de slaves had a good an' kind marster dat dey was better off in de way of a liven' when dey was slaves. 'Cause ef dey got sick de marster had de same doctor wid dem he had wid his own chillun an' wife. When I was a chile, back in de days 'fore freedom, we jus' played about de place in de yard wid de white chillun some, dey always did like to play wid us colored or (nigger chillun) as dey called us 'cause we allus humored dem an dey could allus have dere way about what ever we was playin'. We played wid marbles an a lot of singin' games dat we would ring up to do. No'm I don't 'member none of de songs it hav' been so long an' besides de white chillun knowed dem mos' de time an' we jus' listened to dem an' knowed what to do. On Saturday afternoon an' Sundays if we would get permission from de over-seer we could go to see de slaves on odder farms an' mother would always clean us up an' dress us in our best when she took us to anodder farm to see de slaves dere. We never did go to church. It seemed like de church was jus foh de white folks.
Slave Narrative, Jake Barrens, circa 1936
Jake Barrens on his front porch in the late 1930s. He likely gave his narrative during this time period.
Jake and Mary Ann Barrens with one of their children, Ida in the 1890s.
This picture depicts Rose Johnson fleeing with her family from Hamilton County, Texas as described in Dr. Weatherly Keats' narrative. Jake is represented by the oldest boy in the picture. The family is arriving at Lincolnville.
SHARPLESS: How was it that the blacks came to settle in the area around Lincolnville?
KEATTS: Now, that I don’t know. I think it might have been because when they were freed they continued to just remain in that area. They were all in that area because—and on up as far as toward Hamilton, they—just that area. But they didn’t settle—didn’t any of them settle in Hamilton because Hamilton was a community that did not allow blacks and they couldn’t buy any land in those areas. But down further, the further you got this way, they were able to buy property, because one of my mother’s—Aunt Annie, she was the oldest one, her mother, I mean her husband’s mother, Aunt Rose Johnson, when they were freed, walked from Hamilton because see, she had to get out and she walked, she and her family. She had, I think, four or five children. I know four of them, three boys and one girl because one of her sons married my mother’s sister. And then another one married one of the Tanzie Snow’s mother.
Rowena Weatherly Keats, Baylor University - Institute of Oral History, "Lincolnville",
May 5, 1986 – April 15, 1987
The gravestone of Jake's mother, Rose Johnson. She is referenced above in the narrative from Mary Ann's niece
The picture depicts Jake and Mary Ann's 1881, wedding in Lincolnville.
This artwork is inspired by family "Firsts". One of Jake's daughters, Ida (the tallest woman pictured in the back of the line and same girl pictured above in the 1890s) was likely the first to attend college in my family. Ida was born in 1887 and probably graduated before 1910. Three younger siblings would later graduate from college. Another side of my maternal family is depicted. Tealie Taft migrated north from Bowie County, Texas to Detroit, MI where he worked as a barber and later purchased a car. A bonus in the picture in the far left is his grandmother (my 2x great-grandmother) who was born one year before the end of slavery. Tealie inspired my picture, "Prosperity."
I drew the picture ("No Predetermination") on the right after hearing the results of the Georgetown University study that black girls are perceived as more aggressive, promiscuous, and dishonest. Click on the picture to the left to read the article in full and access the link to the Georgetown University study. In my picture, a mother and her child are pictured with their own set of wings. The mom's wings are like stain glass that filter out the negative/harmful things said (as symbolized by the broken window behind them and the sunlight). In the mom's loving care, the little girl's self-image and self-worth can be protected as her wings develop.