Prologue Magazine

Voices of Emancipation: Deposition of Mary Jane Taylor

Winter 2005, Vol. 37, No. 4

Document 5
Deposition of Mary Jane Taylor to a Special Examiner

May 13, 1919, Louisville, Ky.

Source: Civil War Pension File of Samuel Taylor, Co. A, 45th U.S. Colored Infantry, Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

My age is 69: residence and post-office address 1516 West Breckenridge Alley, Louisville, Ky.

   I am the same woman who is claiming pension as the widow of Samuel Taylor who was in the army during the Civil War in Co. A 45th U.S. Col. Inf., and who died here in this city October 11, 1895. No, I cannot give the dates of his enlistment and discharge, but have some papers showing same I think. I know that Samuel Taylor was a soldier because he always said so and he got a pension at time he died. He was never in the military service of the United States but the one time that I ever heard of.

   Yes, sir, I do claim that I am the lawful widow of Samuel Taylor: I was regularly married under license here in Louisville: the license was got at the Court House and he and I were married at the home of Brother Gaddie, pastor of the Green St. Baptist Church: we were married at Mr. Gaddie's house on Clay St. Rose Slaughter was there as a witness and Julia, I forget her last name: Yes, there were others there too: Henry Mount and Sam Morrison were there. There is a record of our marriage at the Court House because it was got once and sent to Washington.

   No, sir, I had no legal husband living at date I married Sam Taylor and he had no legal wife living at all. He had been married before and so had I. My first husband was Bill White and he was alive when I married Sam Taylor, but he and I parted a number of years before I married soldier, and he was not my legal husband at all.

   Q. Why not?

   A. Why he and I were married under the Old Constitution by slave custom and we didn't have to get any divorce at all they said. We weren't regularly married at all. He had married after we parted, that is regularly under a license, before ever I married Sam Taylor; Bill married Ann Finley up in Oldham County and I think that she died before I married Sam Taylor; then he married again. No, I never tried to get any divorce from Bill White and he never did from me at all. Yes, I am sure of that.

   Q. When you married Bill White weren't you married by ceremony, that is by a regular preacher?

   A. Yes, by Preacher Sneeden: we were married here in this county on the place of Norborne Artterburn, who was my master in slavery days: yes, that was after Freedom I am sure. It was the next year after Freedom I think.

   Q. How did it happen that you married under slavery custom if it was after Freedom? How could you so marry then?

   A. I don't know but that was way it happened. Why we didn't really know that we were free until long after Freedom. I know that others married in same way even after slaves were free. I will tell you all about it. I was born on place of Norborne Arterburn: my mother was Mary Eliza Jackson and my father Reuben Jackson. My mother was given to Miss Bettie Arterburn and others of the white children had other slaves and children of the slaves belonged to their young white mistress. My father belonged to Robert Bates who also lived in same neighborhood: up on Muddy Fork in this county: the Bates family bought his mother and him in Virginia. My father came to see my mother every night. I had four brothers, Silas, Tom, Sam and one born dead: had sisters Dinah, Adeline, and Roseanna. I always lived on the Arterburne place until after Freedom: it was fully a year after Freedom before we really knew we were free: I was raised right there on that place and was never anywhere else before we came here to Louisville after Freedom. I first knew Bill White there on the place of my master: he came there when the soldiers came with Sherman's Army from the south: Col. Perry and Major Johnson came to our place to board, that is to the home of my master and Bill White was their servant and waited on them. No, I don't think he was a regular soldier at all: he was just a servant. I don't remember whether he wore a uniform or not. There were lots of white and colored soldiers camped in Muddy Fork Woods near our place and they got mustered out there. Col. Perry and Major Johnson went away and Bill White stayed there and hired out to my master: he was hired out for $25 a month. It was after the soldiers had gone that he and I were married. We were staying there just like we had in slavery days: as we had from time I can remember anything. Bill White and I were married right there: I was only a girl about 16: my mistress had told me that I was born Sept. 9, 1849: she had it down in a book, and I have always remembered that date as that of my birth. No, Bill White and I did not have any license to marry at all: we just got married by a colored preacher like they always had: my young mistress gave her consent. Bill White had been a slave he said down at Florence, Ala. and had followed the soldiers off: he had no master there: that was way he and I was married: We stayed there a year after Freedom and our old master made presents at Christmas to those that stayed: gave some $12 and some more. Then he told us we were free. I remember Bill White used to say to us "don't you know you are free"? My father who had run away to Indianapolis and made $2 a day came back and hired us all out there as I remember it: then we came here to Louisville and lived in rooms awhile until father started to build this very place where I now live. He had a little money when we come here and bought this ground and put up a little cabin and then it was added to gradually from time to time: this was home of my father until he died and of my mother until she died. Bill White came with the rest of us when we come here, and he and I lived together for a number of years: we had three children, two boys and a girl: Bill White was born first and then a boy who was born dead and then Josephine my girl: these are children I have ever had. Of same only Josephine is living she married a John Woodward and he died and she has married again but I don't really know her name now: haven't seen her for two years: she cooked for Dr. Allen on Fields Ave., Crescent Hill last I knew of her: she doesn't come around me for she drinks like her father and I won't have it. Bill White was an awful drinker: he would get drunk often and come home and want to fight and we did. We separated three different times and then he would come back and want me to live with him and I would: all my children were born in this city, and Josephine was about ten years old when Bill White and I parted for good. The last place he and I lived together was at 15th and Southgate here. Josephine is now 46 years old.

   No, sir, I never lived with Bill White at 312 East Green: I lived in rear there with my son Bill White (now dead) and my daughter, and lived on East Market St. with them, but Bill White, my slave husband, and I had then quit for good

   After I came here with my father and mother I worked out as cook right along even when living with Bill White. And after we quit I cooked right along too. I cooked on Washington St. for Mrs. O'Heal and cooked there while living on East Market too. I can't remember all the places by years, but I know that right along after Bill White and I quit I cooked and made a home for my son and daughter.

   No, sir, I did not marry any man after Bill White and I separated until I married Sam Taylor: I have never had but two husbands Bill White and Sam Taylor. No, I have never at any time or place lived with or been known as the wife of any other man. I have never had but three names in my life, Mary Jane Jackson, Mary Jane White and Mary Jane Taylor. Those are all. No, sir, I was never married under license to any other man at any time but Sam Taylor: that is true.

   Q. Did you ever know a man by the Harrison Smith?

   A. I never did to my knowledge.

   Q. Did you ever know George Boswell?

   A. I never did.

   Q. The Marriage Records of this county, the records where they put all marriages of Colored Persons show that Mary Jane White married Harrison Smith Feb. 5, 1868 and that Mary Jane White married George Boswell in June 1874, were you or were you not ever married to either one or both?

   A. I never was: that is some other Mary Jane White who married them. I was never married anywhere to anybody but Bill White and Sam Taylor. I wouldn't tell you a lie: I was raised that way.

   No, sir, I never at any time married any man by the name of Manuel Mills or any man by name of Samuel L. Day or David Miles. It was Sarah Johnson that Bill White married after Annie Finley died and he was never so as I know married in this county to any women named Georgia Brachett, or Mary Williams or Mahala Ann Oldham. He got married up in Oldham County where he lived mostly after we parted. He died up there three or four years ago. I never married any man at time named Aaron Barbour.

   Q. How many times was Samuel Taylor married before he married you?

   A. Twice: his first wife was his cousin Fannie Taylor: I knew her when I was a small girl: she belonged in slavery or her mother did to Gen. Taylor's people and lived across road from my master's place. I don't know when Sam Taylor married her but he always said it was in slavery: they parted and she later lived with Brian Craven and Joe Shipp, and was living with him when she died: she died here and was buried here: I really don't know whether she died before or after Sam Taylor and I were married. He had married Susan Fountain under license after Fannie and he separated and Susan had died before he and I were married: I did not know Susan but got acquainted with some of her kin afterwards: I raised Sam's little girl by Susan. No, Sam never got any divorce from Fannie I am sure: she was his slave wife and they just separated like Bill Whilte and I did without any divorce.

   Yes, I am sure that Sam Taylor did not marry any woman from time that Susan Fountain died until he married me. No, I never heard or knew in any way that he got a license to marry a woman named Alice Fishback. Yes, I have heard of other Sam Taylors here but never knew anybody else by that name.

   No, sir, Bill White and I never went to the Court House after Freedom or any time and declared that we wished our slave marriage made legal. No, I never heard in any way that Sam Taylor and Fannie Taylor made their slave marriage legal in that way. No, Sir, Bill White and I never went anywhere and got a license and got married over again regularly by law.

   Q. Did you live with Sam Taylor continuously from very day you married until day he died?

   A. Yes, sir, and we always lived fine together: never any trouble or fights as with Bill White. Yes, I was living with him day he died and he and I were never separated at all. We were never divorced. When he died I took him to Taylortown to bury him beside his mother just as he wanted to be. Watson was the undertaker.

   Q. Exactly where have you lived since he died, that is since October 11, 1895?

   A. I made my home right here, that is is this was place always came back to, except that for quite a time I kept home at 645 Russell Alley. I always have cooked out since Sam Taylor died until two years ago when I came here to cook and keep house for my brother whose wife had died. I stayed for some years after Sam Taylor died at the white people where I worked. I cooked for 4 years for Mr. and Mrs. John Tilford in country above Pewee Valley and then I cooked different places around country, each summer for twelve years at Camp Meeting Ground up above Pewee Valley, where white folks lived in summers. I lived at 717 Jefferson St. awhile and cooked for Captain Parker who lived there on that street. I also cooked for Mrs. Shouse on Frankfort Ave about two years.

   Q. Who is there that has known you ever since you were a girl in slavery?

   A. My sister Rosey Taylor, wife of Rufus, who lives near corner Shelby & Jackson, my brother Sam Jackson with whom I live and Joe Lewis who lives down here on Gallagher Street. My cousin Fannie Anderson who lives in alley between Market and Jefferson and Shelby & Clay and her mother Kitty Trowell who lives in Portland at 24th and Lighter. They belonged in same family in slavery.

   Q. What witnesses can you name to show that you never married after you and Bill White parted until you married Sam Taylor and that you lived with latter, without divorce, until he died and that you have married no man since?

   A. All those named know that Minnie Hopalite and Lena Mayman, white, near here: their father ran a grocery over here and they knew us forty years. Mattie Cox has known me since she was a girl: she lives over here on Breckenridge Street.

   Q. By what witnesses can you show that soldier was legally married to you, that is that he was not married before except as you have made oath and that he had a right to marry you?

   A. His brothers Abner Taylor at Taylortown, Ky above Worlington and Ras Taylor on Coke Street here in Louisville know that. I got a record of death of Susan Taylor at City Health Office I know. There are plenty here who know she died before I married Sam Taylor.

   None of my white folks are alive yet except one, Mrs. John Hardin who lives somewhere up in Oldham County.

   While I lived on Russell Alley rented of Mr. Neff and Mattie Forbes and Mary Lewis knew me: latter now lives here, that is rents room of me and is here Sundays: she cooks out: my brother guves me money for that room.

   No, I have not made any agreement with anyone to pay a fee if my claim is allowed. No, I have not paid any fee to anyone. I have paid small amounts for drawing up papers and notary's fees.

   I do not wish to be present or represented during taking of testimony in my claim. I understand your explanation of my rights as to that.

   If I was made to swear in my original application for pension under this new law that I was divorced from Bill White they put it down wrong for I never was divorced from him at all.

Have heard foregoing deposition and it is correct.

Mary Jane Taylor
her mark

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