Abner Jordan Shares His Life as a Slave
Abner Jordan was interviewed by a member of the Work Projects Administration for a Federal Writer’ Project that was documenting North Carolina slave narratives. Jordan has never left North Carolina since he was born there and agreed to the interview despite being the old age of 95. He discussed his birth with hesitance, claiming that he was “bawn about 1832 in Staggsville, Marse Cameron’s place”. Jordan ‘belonged’ to Marse Paul and interestingly enough, lived in an overcrowded two-story slave house on the Staggsville Plantation along with his parents and 13 other brothers and sisters. When he was of age, Abner Jordan attempted to run away with his closest friend (Marse Benny) and enlist in the war, however his master went and brought him back scolding him for “being too young to go and fight de Yankees”. Paul Cameron owned more than nine hundred slaves and he spread them out along his thirty thousand acre plantation. It was established in 1787 by the Bennehan and Cameron families, Stagville was the largest plantation in North Carolina. Abner Jordan said Paul Cameron owned so many slaves that, “when he meet dem in the road he wouldn’t know dem and when he ased dem who dey belonged to, dey’ tell him dey belonged to Marse Paul Cameron and he would say dat wus all right and from dem to go right on along”. Jordan’s father was a blacksmith who was also in charge of blowing the horn for the other slaves to come in from the fields at night. He noted that slaves were forbidden to leave the fields without Marse Cameron telling them they could, and only then could they go to their respective parts on the plantation. When the Civil War reached Stagville, the plantation was seized but rather than being concerned with the slaves, Northern soldiers were instead only interested in provisions, horses, and where Cameron had hid his silver & gold. After the surrender, Jordan’s family was one of the few couplings of African Americans to remain with Paul Cameron, and they did so for around five years.
An exterior picture of the two-story slave house on the Stagville Plantation for which Abner Jordan lived in, offers an extra step into the life that Jordan was trying to humanize. Paul Cameron ordered the slave house to be built in the hopes that it would improve the health of those who had been living in poorly-constructed, leaky, dirt-floored cabins (which were very common on his plantation). After all, slaves that were healthy and rested could produce much more for their masters than those who were malnourished. The house that Jordan lived in is the only surviving two-story slave house in North Carolina, it housed African Americans with a common family name and lineage, with a single family consisting of 5-7 individuals living in each other four rooms in the house. The Stagville plantation is located in parts of what are now Orange, Durhman, Wake and Granville counties.
- Whaley, Daisy, WPA Slave Narrative Project, North Carolina Narratives (Durham County: Federal Writers Project, 1930).
- Kelo, Dan, Stagville Plantation House (North Carolina: USWPA, 1990).