Fountain Hughes

Fountain Hughes was born into enslavement in West Virginia. Growing up, he endured harsh conditions and cruel enslavers, likening the experience to being in jail. His grandfather is believed to have been enslaved to Thomas Jefferson.




“We didn’t know nothin’ ‘cause they didn’t allow you to look at no book.”

Fountain Hughes was born in 1848 near Charlottesville, Virginia. It is believed that his grandfather was Wormely Hughes, a man enslaved by Thomas Jefferson. Wormely was Jefferson’s gardener. Hughes’ father was killed while serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Fountain Hughes recounted his time growing up under the harsh conditions of enslavement. He was interviewed in 1949 in Baltimore by Herman Norwood. The original recordings are located in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

Voice-Over Introduction

Fountain Hughes was born into enslavement in 1848 near Charlottesville, Virginia. He was the grandson of a man enslaved  by Thomas Jefferson, probably Wormley Hughes, Jefferson’s gardner. Fountain was 101 years old at the time of his interview. Although enslavement for him was a long time gone, he never forgot what he had endured during his enslavery.


Things come to me in spells you know, but I remember… I remember when we were slaves I was a little boy with no shoes. They didn’t let us boys wear shoes. Boys never wore no shoes until they was 12 and 13 year old. You walk, you know… you walk and you be barefooted and cold. Many a time I stumped my toes and blood run out of ’em, but that didn’t make them buy me no shoes and no pants either.

I wore a dress like a woman ’til I was… I believe then uh… 12, 13 year old. Didn’t wear no pants. They didn’t make pants for us boys, we wore dresses. ‘Course we didn’t have no beds when we were slaves. We always slept on the floor, a palette here and a palette there, and we didn’t know nothin’ ’cause they didn’t allow you to look at no book.

It was just the same as we was in jail. I couldn’t go from here ‘cross the street ‘out hav’ a note or somethin’ from my master. And if I had that pass — that was what we called it, a pass — if i had that pass I could go wherever he sent me and I have to be back you know and whoever he sent me to they’d give me another pass and I’d bring that back so as to show how long I’d been gone.

We couldn’t just walk away like people do now you know… We were slaves we belonged to people and they’d sell us like they sell horses and cows and hogs and all like that. You wasn’t no more than a dog to some of them in them days. You wasn’t treated as good as they treat dogs now. I could say a whole lot more, but I won’t. ‘Cause it make people feel bad. You know. Makes me feel bad. All I know is if I thought that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all. End it all.

Voice-over by Guy Johnson