Readers of The Kentucky Explorer have been introduced to the
Rev. John J. Dickey in past issues. Remember that he was a traveling
preacher throughout the eastern part of the state during the
years between 1880 and 1925. He helped to establish numerous
churches and at least two colleges. He was also a teacher and
a newspaper editor. However, his most enduring gift to us today
may well be his diary that he kept faithfully during some 50
years of his later life beginning in the 1880s. In all, over
6,000 pages written in his own hand make up this interesting
In this journal of his, Dickey often wrote down accounts of events
daily. Much of the material concerns his day to day life. However,
during the late 1890s he began to gather family history on various
families he met in his travels. We are offering these interviews
to our readers in the hope that they will be appreciated in the
sense that Rev. Dickey intended. These interviews were written
word for word as they were given to Rev. Dickey. Nothing has
James Gilbert (Colored)
February 23, 1898
I belonged as a slave to John Gilbert, grandson of Rev. John
Gilbert. I was much with the old man when I was a boy. He used
to take me with him to his meetings. We would leave home and
return Sunday. At the close of the services on Sunday, I have
often heard him say, "If any of you have any bull yearlings
to sell come around and tell me what you will take for them."
As we journeyed homeward Sunday afternoon it was his custom to
call at the houses we would pass and ask if they had any "bull
yearlings" for sale. By the time we would get home we would
frequently have anywhere from five to ten.
He always wore a hunting shirt, summer or winter. In winter he
would have a large cape over it. In the bosom of it he would
carry his lunch and other things. He had a great fashion of saying,
"Dear me." He injected this into everything he did.
He was old when I knew him, and his slaves had become disobedient.
His sight had partially failed. He would lay plans to get hold
of the boys or get near enough to them to strike them as punishment
for their rudeness. I have seen him lay down the fence and then
call these boys to lay it in order to get them close to him.
They would catch on; they would lay up a rail, keeping an eye
on him, and then stand aside out of his reach.
He has often told me that he was a spy in the Revolutionary War.
He said the Indians would disguise themselves in every possible
way to get to kill the whites. He discovered one wrapped in a
hog skin, grunting and trying to make believe he was a hog. He
saw the disguise and sent a rifle ball through him, killing him.
In stature he was medium or a little above, would weigh 180 lbs.
His wife was a Sizemore, I think. During the war, the Rebels
took 18 horses and mules from our folks, Mrs. Felix Gilbert and
her son John, my master. We had herded them in the woods for
weeks, but thinking all danger had passed, we brought them in
from the range, and the very next day the rebels came and took
the last one of them. They left a poor sore-backed mare, which
we nourished up and managed to finish the crop of corn with her.
Then the Federals came along and took her. As spring approached
the next year, we were casting about to know what to do that
we might raise a crop; the Federals came along and left a tired
horse in good flesh, and we made a crop with him. He was never
taken from us.
During the Christmas holidays immediately preceding freedom,
my master gave me $75. He had always treated me with great kindness.
I worked for him then at $14 per month. I was always treated
well as a slave. I was 17 years old when set free. The colored
people of Clay County did not belong to the churches, at least
only a very few of them. Old man Findley had a Baptist Church
at Newberry Gap, and near John Gilbert's home.
I forgot to tell you how old Mr. John Gilbert fell out with me.
Returning from a preaching trip, I said to him, "Old Master,
you preach the gospel and know what is right better than I do,
but why don't you buy those bull yearlings Friday and Saturday
as you go to meeting and then set a day and then come back and
take them home?'
"You little villain! I'll not take you with me any more,"
was his reply.
It was usually after night when we would reach home when we had
cattle to drive. There were no wagon roads beyond Red Bird then,
so we followed bridle paths. We used to go to where Hyden now
stands. He had a log church just above Hyden at Rock House. We
always got home Sunday night. He always rode a good horse.
February 25, 1898
I am 76 years old, and I have been blind for 14 years. I was
returning from Irvine, Estill County, during the war, with Judge
Manns (Manus?) and John Peters. We went up Station Camp, and
near the head of it we stayed all night with Larkin Chandler.
His wife was a sister of Colonel Herd of Owsley County, who was
then in command of a regiment in the Union Army. Mrs. Chandler
was a fine woman, but Larkin was worthless. They had but one
chair, one bed, one chicken, and a hen. The hen was killed and
made supper and breakfast for us. The bed was placed on the floor,
and we three slept on it. I do not know what became of Chandler
and his wife during the night. I proposed the men to give Mrs.
Chandler a dollar each. They refused, saying they had fed Larkin
too often for that. I gave her a dollar. Chandler was a soldier
but happened to be home. Since the war he has drawn a pension
and, I learned, is comfortable. This gives an idea of how people
READ MUCH MORE IN THIS MONTH'S ISSUE OF THE EXPLORER.