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SUBMITTED BY:  George E. Vick, Jr.

THE LENOIR COUNTY NEWS, Wednesday, March 22, 1950

Old Retainer Lives on Memories of the Past: Born in Slavery, Ike Davis Now Served By Those He Helped Rear

By Fred Whitaker

In the white-painted, oldest little house on the Simon Parrott Jackson farm near Kinston the days are getting “dim and misty” for Ike Davis. Those days began back in slavery for Ike, just a few months before the end of the War Between the States in 1865. Until lately, and since his early youth, Ike “nussed” and “raised” the Jackson chillun in the Big House up the road for the Boss and Miss Lize.

For the past four years Ike’s activity has been confined to the picturesque and attractive yard of the little house in his flower garden. But now dimness and mist of the days keep him on the stoop of the little house or resting on the old spool bed left to him by his mammy. He never married – never wanted to – but in the little house with him live the memories of a full life.

His mop of wooly hair and his beard are sprinkled with white to make him a symbol of traditional gentility now fast disappearing. Ike’s welfare now gets the loving care of the Jackson “chillun,” and he says their affection comes from treatment given them on the instruction of the Boss, their father.

The advice of the Boss, Ike says, was “Whup dem chillun and make dem mind, and dey will love you more in your old age.” Ike says he whupped them when they needed it, and washed, dressed and fed the eleven of the brood when they needed it.

The chillun say his sharp eye and tongue sharp to reprimand – lovingly – reminded them constantly to be as good as their Mammy and Pappy. Ike’s classification of the chilluns “my (indecipherable) white folks.” His classification of himself is “Ole [N—–].” The chillun say that gentle rule of their lives was discreet and modest, and executed with great finesse to keep the memory of their heritage always before them.

Old Ike was Young Ike on April 28, 1880, when the Boss, Jesse Jackson II, brought his bride to the Big House. He was about 16 years old. He remembers the “big time.” There was barbecue and all manner of good things to eat. And a band was brought out special from town four miles away to play for the gathering of the “rich folks.” On that day Ike’s career began in earnest. He worked in the fields of the plantation, he washed, he cooked and he raised his “little white folks.” Those chores ranged from answering a cry of distress from the nearby fish pond to the now forgotten custom of “chawing” for the youngsters.

Ike said he had to “chaw vittles” for only one of the chillun. He said that one had good teeth though, but was a little lazy and hard-headed and “knew I would chaw for him.”

He recalls, too, the chillun who have marched away to war, and their chillun who followed them. One who did not come back, Burwell, was impatient to fight “dem Germans,” Ike says. Two other Jackson chillun served in World War I, and six of their chillun fought in World War II.

The chiefest person in Ike’s life was his mammy. Her name was Annike Herring. He doesn’t remember his father very well. That was Sampson Davis. They were torn apart by the stubbornness of one unreconstructed rebel after the “Civilized War” was over. His mammy told him. Ike was just a babe in arms. The son of their pre-war owner, John Haywood Jones, took them with a wagon caravan of others, south to continued slavery in Alabama. Ike says his mammy told him that the Union troops at Kinston were told that they were being “taken back to their folks.”

It was six and one-half years after the end of the War Between the States before slavery ended for Ike and Annike. They were freed then from the Alabama plantation and sent back to North Carolina on a special train. One of Ike’s earliest memories is the slow, crawling journey of his only train ride.

Since then he has travelled on to Kinston, four miles away. He came back to the Jackson plantation to stay. In all the years since he has lived on the same stretch of road less than a mile from the Big House.

Annike has been dead now for 50 years, but the memory of her is still fresh with Ike in the little two-room house. On the mantel sits the clock she paid ten dollars for in time long past. It does not run now, but it could, Ike says. One of the cords of the weights broke, and he does not trust it in a trip to town for repair.

In the room too are old trunks holding the collection of his life. In one of the trunks, made of horsehair, are Annike’s clothes. Ike says they are as good today as they ever were. He has them packed in tobacco leaves to keep the moths away. On the walls of the little house are many calendars of years past that Ike put there because they were “purty.” And littered on the table of the little room are the broken souvenirs of Ike’s stewardship to the Jackson chillun . . . bits of crayon, broken pencils, a rusty little knife, marbles and many other wonderful things so dear to the very young.

His days became “dim and misty” in January. Ike blames the ‘flu. Mattie Sanderson makes regular trips from the Big House now to bring his vittles and build his fires. He used to cook his own food at the open hearth with his pot and skittle, but his eyes are too dim and misty now to tend a fire. Mattie says he is a little finicky in his eating. He does not take much to vegetables. His favorites are cheese, butterbeans and fresh neck bones. Ike is partial also to high toast salt snuff. He likes the kind that comes in a bladder.

That forced trip to Alabama after the end of the “Civilized War” tore Ike’s parents apart, and now he says he knows none of his kinfolks. His father married again when he and Annike completed their long trek back to North Carolina. Ike says he has a half-brother “some place up “nawth.”

Sampson Davis had many children in his three marriages, and Ike says he has nephews ”way off in the county, but no close kin.” The jonquils and the “fried eggs” are bursting out into a riot of color now in Ike’s flower garden beside the front stoop under the giant maple tree, but he cannot see them this year through the dimness and the mist.

Just the other day “Baby”, the youngest of his White Folks and now 43 years old, came to see Ike as he sat in his sunlit doorway. She told him how beautiful his flowers were.

“Is they pretty?” Ike asked. “Pick yo’self some Baby.”

Baby picked some, a huge bouquet, and placed them on the towsack covering his knees. Ike ran his bent, work-worn hands over them.

“Thank you Baby,” he said.

Painting of Ike Davis by Eliza Jackson Casteen (click to enlarge)

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