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Roanoke College Builders

Waterloo Daily Courier March 8, 1934

"Reverend P.M. Lewis, Born a Slave in Virginia, Passes His 85th Birthday."

Fred P. Fisher in  Waterloo Daily Courier March 8,1934

"Rev. Peyton M. Lewis Van Buren street, recently passed his eighty fifth birthday. The striking fact about this announcement is that he was born a slave Feb 27th, 1849, on the 7,000-acre plantation of Benjamin Deyerle, down in Roanoke county, Virginia, five miles from Salem. His father was the first slave owned by his master and was purchased in about 1830. Peyton grew up on this plantation until he was 16 years old when the Civil war ended slavery. He didn’t wait, however, for Lee’s surrender. Scouting parties from the Union army under General Thomas were raiding the country in search of horses, and Deyerle bred many fine horses on his plantation. A few months before the surrender a detachment of soldiers arrived and proceeded to round up the horses. An officer with his carbine commanded Lewis, with three other colored boys, to mount some of the finest horses, which in the excitement, they did without much reluctance, and rode away, waving a fond farewell to the master and mistress who stood looking on, and soon joined Union army camped near Lynchburg.

Up to this time Lewis could not read a word, but was eager to learn; but teaching a slave was absolutely forbidden. With his new-found freedom, however, after the close of the way, he secured a little schooling, and soon found his way to the Hampton Normal Institute in Hampton, VA, where he became a schoolmate of Booker T Washington, and finally graduated with honors, being chosen valedictorian of his class of 37 members. After teaching school for six years in Virginia, being the first colored schoolteacher in the state, he entered the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal church, in which he has completed 54 active years.

Mr. Lewis has a vivid recollection of his life on the old plantation, in which were blended with his childhood days, some pleasure, and much of pathos romance, hardship and death. Hard work was the rule, Corn was the principal crop and the big cribs were never empty, the hundreds of head of hogs and cattle were butchered every year for market. Tobacco was also an important crop, but no cotton was raised. Deyerle was a man of diversified interests. He had a large distillery in which much of his grain was turned into whiskey. On one of the streams that flowed thru the plantation, he erected a mill for grinding all kinds of grain and built kilns for burning brick and furnished brick for many buildings thru the country,

Deyerle was a hard driver and was cruel at times, but would not sell his slaves of which he owned about 60. Traders would often visit the plantation, buying up the best to ship down south where the market was more active and prices of slaves higher. When Peyton was about 8 years old, a trader came along one day and offered his master $500 for him, which frightened him badly, as he had seen families broken up, husbands torn away from their wives and mothers sold away from their little children. He cried and tried to run but his master said soothingly “Oh don’t be afraid. I won’t sell ya to ‘im.”

Slaves were always nicknamed, but with such titles as were not dignified but rather belittling and humiliating. He overheard the white children calling their mother by the name “mother” and thought he might do the same with his own, but his mistress hearing it, threatened to whip him to death if she heard him repeat that. He must say “mammy.” Deyerle’s son, who lived on an adjoining plantation, was a monster in cruelty. One of his slaves ran away but was finally captured on a Sunday night, and brought back to the home place, taken to the barn and bound to a post, and there the young master had him flogged with willow whips every day from Monday till Friday, and Lewis was compelled to furnish the willows for ordeal.

Mr. Lewis classifies slave owners into three groups: First, those who were kind and who treated their slaves well and didn’t punish them: second those who would provide well in food and shelter but who worked their slaves almost to death and whipped them severely: third, those who beat their slaves to death or sell them."