Port Washington's African-American Heritage

Minnie (Townsend) Biddle (1870-1971)

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Minnie Biddle, December 25, 1946

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Click the arrow above to hear a complete interview from 1964 (31 minutes), or read excerpts below.

 

I lived on Harbor Road all my life.  I was born where Bob Mitchell used to live, where Valley Road is.  I remember when Solomon Cocks had the mill down there, the end of Harbor Road.  They grew everything, the farmers did – the chickens, the eggs, the hog. . . all kinds of meat.  They cured it themselves  We called them “the richest people” because they owned them big homes and they were the richest people we met.  They had acres of planting field and we were allowed to get all we could get and we didn’t have to buy them – “just for the asking,” as the farmers say.  You could get anything you wanted.  Every week we take our bag an’ go get our groceries ’cause we had everything there.  We only had to go to the store for a little sugar or somethin’ like that. . .

I used to take care of women.  I was a midwife.  They said I was a comforter, mostly a healer.  I used to get Indian herbs by the big bagload, different leaves to make eas and lineamints.  I took care of many people – people coming to this place they didn’t know anybody, didn’t know who to go to, or what not.  I’d even put ‘em on the floor with a straw bed and let ‘em lie here ’til they turn around and understood the country a little bit.  The Polish an’ the Italian an’ the Jewish. Sure, I been a good mixer.  I met ‘em coming. . .

We used to walk everywhere, even to Roslyn.  An’ 4 o’clock it was dark.  You had to take a lantern to find out where all the creeks and lakes they had all over the place were.  The trees were so big they would meet one another for miles all the way from here to Manhasset.  They’ve taken them away now.  An’ now the whole world look like a map to me.  They’ve made our ol’ country like a city now. . . Oh, give me my life over again!  It’s more like livin’.  An’ people were so warming.  Everybody act like “you good as I am.”  You know, people’s got to the point they don’t want to bow to you.

I’d be very happy if some of the children could be listening to what I’m sayin’.  I wish they could have known Port Washington as I knew it when I was young.

Interviewed by James Salerno and Jean Wood, 1964

Interview courtesy of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society

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