AUTHOR: Judy Stainback; Edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter; Interview transcribed by Carolina Echeverri
Editor’s Note: The following interviews are documented conversations of two white women of two different generations, Lucille Ellington McManaway and her niece, Judy Ellington Stainback, who are discussing their memories of the African American woman they knew as Aunt Mary, or Mary Jane Jefferson Hilliard Baskerfield. It is from their point of view, and we—the readers—do not have the opportunity to learn how Mary or her family members felt about the events that were discussed. What we do learn is that Mary Jane Jefferson Hilliard Baskerfield was born around 1862 and, according to Lucille and Judy, had been enslaved by the Hilliards before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln. To provide more detail about Mary’s life and a little background information about some of the people named during the interviews, I’ve done some genealogical research on Mary and her family. Here are the results:
On Dec. 26, 1883, twenty-one-year-old Mary Jane Jefferson, daughter of George and Maria Jefferson (both deceased at that time), married twenty-two-year-old Buckner Hilliard at Nutbush, North Carolina. Buckner’s father, G. Hilliard, had already died, but his mother, Emeline Hilliard, was alive at the time of his wedding. (North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979)
Mary Jane and Buckner settled in Warren County and had several children: Almeter, Lora, George, Henry Lee, Albert, and Efston [also spelled “Epson” in records]. Almeter Hilliard married and became known as Almeter Mosley; her husband might have been named Hurley Mosley. Lora Hilliard was born Aug. 2, 1885. George Hilliard was born in Feb. 1889 and married “Lucy Clory” on July 25, 1915. Henry Lee Hilliard, commonly called “Lee,” was born in May 1890 and married Viola Durham on Dec. 20, 1927. (Both Lee and Viola are mentioned in these interviews.) Albert Hilliard was born July 17, 1892 and married Pearl, who is referred to in one of the following interviews as “Pearl Hilliard” (North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979). Efston [also spelled “Epson”] Hilliard was born in 1895 and married Mamie Drake on Feb. 11, 1916 (North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979).
It is believed that Mary’s husband, Buckner Hilliard, died sometime in 1896, although I did not locate a record to verify it. However, it is documented that on Oct. 15, 1897, Mary married twenty-two-year-old Bill Baskerfield at Warren County, N.C. (North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979). Although his surname was most often recorded as “Baskerfield,”it was also recorded as “Basterville,” “Baskerville,” “Basterfield,” and Bastervill.” Mary and Bill had at least three children: Aaron, Mary F., and Isaiah.
Aaron was born in April 1898 and married Lula Bullock on April 14, 1918. Mary was born in Dec. 1899, according to the 1900 Census. Isaiah was born on May 15, 1905 and married Carrie Belle Marrow (North Carolina Death Certificate and North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979). Isaiah and Carrie Belle are mentioned several times during these interviews. According to Lucille Ellington McManaway, Mary also had a daughter named Roselle who lived in New Jersey, but I did not find record of her.
By the time the 1900 Census was taken, Mary had had ten children, and eight of them were surviving. Mary seems to have lived in Warren County for most of her life, and she died on December 24, 1956. Mary was buried at Burchette Chapel United Church of Christ Cemetery, as were many of her children and their spouses. (Find A Grave Index)
Judy Stainback’s Introduction:
I grew up on a 300-plus-acre tobacco farm in Drewry, North Carolina. Part of the farm had belonged to the Hilliards but was later bought by my great-grandfather, George W. Ellington (sometimes I refer to the farm as Hilliard Ellington Farm). My parents, William B. and Ella Ellington, my siblings, and I grew up on the Ellington Farm where my grandparents and great-grandparents had lived.
Lucille Ellington McManaway was my aunt—my father’s sister. Born February 26, 1926 in Warren County, she was the daughter of the late James Thomas Ellington and Kate Blackburn Ellington. As an adult, she married Charles Richard McManaway II. [Lucille died November 6, 2019.]
Mary Jane Jefferson Hilliard Baskerfield, or “Aunt Mary,” as I knew her, had been enslaved by the Hilliards and was born around 1862. She died in December 1956 and was buried at Burchette Chapel United Church of Christ Cemetery. As a child growing up, I heard people say that Aunt Mary was 100 years old. After doing some research, I found that Aunt Mary was born around 1862 and died in 1956. She was about 94 years old when she died. I heard my Daddy tell the “chair story” that Aunt Lucille mentions in her interview, and I remember her as a matriarch to be respected. I decided to talk to Aunt Lucille to see what she knew and remembered about Aunt Mary.
First Interview: March 2, 2019
When asked by Judy to remember Mary Jane Hilliard Baskerfield, Aunt Lucille stated the following:
“Aunt Mary Jane helped raise the children. Slavery was something that was. [sic] Aunt Mary said, ‘Mr. Lincoln freed us [enslaved people].’ We children couldn’t understand how a person could own a person! Aunt Mary disciplined us. She explained right for the grandchildren—We minded Aunt Mary. Mama and Daddy also disciplined us, but when Aunt Mary kept us, we wouldn’t dare disrespect or talk back to her! Aunt Mary would keep us when Mama went to church and church meetings. Aunt Mary would send us two at time to get cool water from the spring. She would tell us, ‘If you don’t come back in (a certain time), you don’t want me to come after you!’ Aunt Mary was our third parent.”
Judy: “Carrie Belle was our third parent.” (Carrie Belle was Aunt Mary’s daughter-in-law, Isaiah Baskerfield’s wife.)
Aunt Lucille: “Aunt Mary never spanked us! Aunt Mary explained how you treat people. She had no grudge against the white people. [After] we brothers and sisters left home for school or marriage, we would come home for visits and Aunt Mary would come down to the house to see us and visit with us.
I vaguely remember Pearl Hilliard (She was Aunt Mary’s daughter-in-law who was married to Albert Hilliard, Mary’s son with Buckner Hilliard.)
At Christmastime we couldn’t see what Santa brought us for Christmas ‘til Aunt Mary got there. We couldn’t even go in that Christmas room. Daddy (James T. Ellington) or William (son) would go get Aunt Mary and bring her to the house on Christmas morning. We would look up the road, and we would say, ‘Here comes Aunt Mary!’ There would be a chair beside the Christmas tree for Aunt Mary to sit in. She would get the first gifts. We would give her pretty handkerchiefs, cotton stockings, and Mama would make her a pretty apron. After everyone else got their gifts, we would talk, and then we’d have our meal. Aunt Mary ate in the kitchen.
Aunt Mary would come down to the house with paper, pencil, and a stamp for Mama to write a letter to her daughter, Roselle, in New Jersey. Mama was adamant about language and correct spelling, etc. Aunt Mary did not write. Mama would write the letter exactly the way Aunt Mary would tell her to. Then, Mama would read it back to her exactly the way she said it. Us children would ask, ‘Mama why did you write it like that?’ And she said that she wanted to write it like Aunt Mary had said it.”
Judy: “Did Aunt Mary associate with other Black people?”
Aunt Lucille: “Yes, she went to church with them, etc.”
Judy: “Did Aunt Mary cook?”
Aunt Lucille: “Aunt Mary was a good cook! She taught me how to make biscuits. She would tell me to put on an apron and wash my hands. She was strict about cooking and cleanliness. … Mama also cooked.”
Judy: “Did you know about Lion’s Tongue?”
Aunt Lucille: “No.”
Judy: “It is a small green plant with white berries that grows in shaded areas under pine trees. There was some behind the old log barn on the farm and Aunt Mary would ask my sister, Betsy and me to go find some for her. I think she would boil it and make a tea with it.
Did Aunt Mary go to school?”
Aunt Lucille: “Don’t know.”
Judy: “Did she ever talk about her parents?”
Aunt Lucille: “Don’t know.”
Judy: “Did she and your mother get along?”
Aunt Lucille: “Yes.”
Judy: “Did you ever see her upset?”
Aunt Lucille: “Not really; She was an easygoing person.”
Judy: “Did Aunt Mary help with chores around house?”
Aunt Lucille: “Washing, no: Cooking, yes.”
Judy: “Do you remember her little room?”
Aunt Lucille: “No.”
Judy: “It was a small dark room with a small bed on left, a table next to the bed, and a trunk either near the bed or in a corner. I always wanted to see what was in that trunk. I was only 7 or 8 at the time…
What did Aunt Mary say about the old slave cemetery?”
Aunt Lucille: “She said slaves were buried there.”
Judy: “Did she ever say anything about Pa George or Grandma Eliza?” (They were Aunt Lucille’s grandparents and my great-grandparents.)
Aunt Lucille: “No.”
Judy: “Did she ever say anything about Lee Hilliard?” [Aunt Mary’s son by her first husband, Buckner Hilliard]
Aunt Lucille: “He ran the farm. He said when to sow the tobacco plant bed.”
Judy: “Daddy [Aunt Lucille’s Brother] said that Lee taught him everything about farming and how to plow straight rows.”
Aunt Lucille: “Aunt Mary was a snuff dipper. We wanted to dip, too. Aunt Mary said, ‘No!’ and she told us why we shouldn’t dip. Aunt Mary said, ‘I’ll show you how to make snuff.’ She took a tin pie plate and put flour & salt in it and cooked it ‘til brown. She saved some of her snuff boxes and put the homemade [pretend] ‘snuff’ in the snuff boxes. She said we would have to go in the woods and get some special wood to make brushes for snuff dipping. (You would get a special branch of wood & chew the end ‘til it was ruffled like a brush. Then you would dip the brush in the snuff and pull out your bottom lip and brush the snuff in your bottom lip. It would make your bottom lip bulge out a bit. The saliva in your mouth would make the snuff a liquid. Then you would have to spit out the tobacco juice.)
In the summer, Aunt Mary would wear a long dress, bonnet, shoes above the ankle and a sweater. Aunt Mary would be sweating, and we would take those church fans, two at a time, and fan [her]. We would never have been disrespectful to Aunt Mary!
Aunt Mary would take a sip of bootleg or white liquor. Brother (J.T., Lucille’s brother) would go to the liquor store and buy Aunt Mary some liquor, and he told her not to drink white lightening—that it would make her sick. J.T. would bring Aunt Mary some whiskey or liquor from the ABC store, and when Aunt Mary would see him coming, she would smile.”
Judy: “Do you remember Ellington School—the one room school for Black children right before you turn to go to the Ellington Farm? Carrie Belle would walk to the school (about one mile from her house, the one on the hill) and build a fire in the schoolhouse before the children got there, then she would go home. One day, after Carrie Belle had built the fire, the school caught on fire and burned down. We were sorry that it burned down.”
Aunt Lucille: “One year (circa 1933), Daddy and I saw Isaiah [Aunt Mary’s son] about a week before Christmas. Daddy asked Isaiah, ‘Are you ready for Christmas?’ Isaiah said he hadn’t had time and hadn’t bought anything. Daddy told Mama, and they decided they would share what we were getting for Christmas with them. Their children got the big board game, and I got the little big book. I got some socks and underwear, and their children got some, too. Daddy said, ‘What would it be like to wake up on Christmas and not have anything?’ Then, Daddy went to Buchanan’s store (the country store) and bought fruit, nuts, candy, and 29₵ covered cherries for Isaiah and Carrie Belle. Daddy didn’t criticize Isaiah for not having bought any Christmas presents….”
Second Interview: March 5, 2019
Judy: “Did you all get spankings?”
Aunt Lucille: “Do ducks fly?” …
“Aunt Mary brought us up to be respectful people. We were not allowed in the sitting room, only the oldest ones in the family could go in. …Viola Hilliard (Lee’s wife, Aunt Mary’s daughter-in-law) taught Mama how to make patterns, and then they would make a quilt. The quilting frames were in the room on the right side of the house. Aunt Mary and Mama quilted.”
Third Interview: March 8, 2019
Judy: “Lee Hilliard [Aunt Mary’s son] was high on the totem pole. Why?”
Aunt Lucille: “① Lee could tell the weather.
② He knew the way animals acted.
③ If fish weren’t biting, they knew a storm was coming.”
Judy: “Did Aunt Mary come any other time or for family gatherings?”
Aunt Lucille: “[If] a letter from Roselle, from New Jersey, came for Aunt Mary, [she] came to the house and brought the letter for Mama to read to her. She wanted nobody else but Mama to read it to her. After reading the letter, Aunt Mary would want to write right back. She would return later with a stamp and stationery for Mama to write back. Mama would write the letter and read it back to Aunt Mary. It was not good English. Mama said, ‘When her daughter gets the letter, Aunt Mary would be right there!’
…I worked at the tobacco bench handing leaves. Annie Hilliard Drumgo and her husband lived in a log cabin on the farm. …Aunt Mary loved stripping tobacco in the strip house.”
Judy: “The strip house is still standing but it needs a lot of repairs. …
Aunt Lucille: “We had no telephones back then. We had a bell in the backyard, and when something drastic happened, they would ring the bell. When Ms. Lottie Paschall died at night [She lived across the creek and through the woods] the Blacks had already gotten there to pay their respects when Daddy got there.
Fourth Interview: May 10, 2019
Judy: “Describe Aunt Mary.”
Aunt Lucille: “Aunt Mary was not even 5 ft. tall. She was a good person. She was our third parent. She corrected us. She taught us how to act and treat people. When we went home, she was always there to see everybody: Everybody loved her. Respect is not taught today to children. It needs to be taught to children.”
Judy: “Was Aunt Mary religious?”
Aunt Lucille: “Yes.”
Judy: “How do you know?”
Aunt Lucille: “The way she talked, and she went to church every Sunday. Black people seem to be more religious. The Black ones I worked with seemed to be more religious.”
Judy: “What church did she go to?”
Aunt Lucille: “On Sunday afternoons, we’d be sitting on the front porch, and we’d see Aunt Mary and others cutting through the Paschall farm from across the creek, walking up the hill by the house. [They were] coming home from church.”
Judy: “That would have been Burchette Chapel Church. Did Aunt Mary sing?”
Aunt Lucille: “Never heard her.”
Judy: “Did she ever have a boyfriend?”
Aunt Lucille: “Not to my knowledge.”
Judy: “Where did she live?”
Aunt Lucille: “She lived a lot of places on the farm: She lived in the ① log house, ② with her son, Lee and his wife, Viola, ③ and with her son Isaiah and his wife, Carrie Belle in the little house on the hill.”
Judy: “The last place Aunt Mary lived before she died was the little house on the hill. After I was born in 1947, that was my first home. I lived with my daddy, Mama, and sister Betsy. After my grandparents, Thomas & Kate Ellington, became in poor health, we moved down to the big house to help take care of them. Not long after that, Aunt Mary, her son Isaiah Baskerfield, and his wife, Carrie Belle, moved in the little house on the hill. Aunt Mary died in 1956.”
Judy: “Did you ever hear Aunt Mary talk about slavery?”
Aunt Lucille: “Two women lived in the big house. Aunt Mary carried around a chair in case they needed to sit down. Aunt Mary said, ‘President Lincoln freed us.’”
Judy: “Did Aunt Mary have chickens?”
Aunt Lucille: “I’m sure she did.”
Judy: “Did she ever have a cow?”
Aunt Lucille: “Don’t know.”
Judy: “Did she have a garden?”
Aunt Lucille: “She grew popcorn and would bring us some in a snuff box. She also liked to grow peanuts.
…One time, she told us to get a quilt, and we spread it out on the grass on the side yard. She said the quilt would keep bugs from getting or biting us – She would dip her snuff and we would dip ours [ the pretend snuff made of flour and salt] Then we would spit in a jar!
At one time, Aunt Mary said she helped to raise our daddy. She told us how [mischievous] he was, and of course, that tickled us to death!
One day my sister, Eleanor, and I were arguing over who had fanned Aunt Mary last and who would fan her [next]. Aunt Mary wore a long dress, high top shoes, and a bonnet, even in the summertime. We would fan her with those old church fans. She would be hot, and we would fan her. She always remembered who had fanned last. Sometimes we would both fan her.
Judy: “Did Aunt Mary say that she [had been enslaved]?”
Aunt Lucille: “Yes, when I was a little girl, they talked about slavery. I wondered how a person could own another person. You could own a pet, but how could a person own another person? Aunt Mary said she had been a slave. On the farm/plantation where she lived, she had to walk behind the old maid sisters, carrying a chair, so when they got tired, they could sit down. She said, ‘President Lincoln freed us, and we were free, and we couldn’t be owned anymore.’ That came out of her mouth. I am convinced…she told us [the truth]; I had no reason to disbelieve her. We would have never disrespected Aunt Mary; if we had, the other 3 of us would have told Mama and Daddy, and we would have been punished. Aunt Mary was part of our family.
A Note from the Interviewer, Judy Ellington Stainback:
I’d like to give special thanks to my Aunt Lucille for allowing me to interview her about Aunt Mary’s life.
Aunt Lucille and I were fortunate to know Aunt Mary Jane. She was Black, and we are white, but we loved her, and she loved us. She was free, and she chose to stay at the place that was familiar with the people she knew. Slavery was and is wrong. We should learn from the mistakes of the past.
(Click images to enlarge)