Early Life of John S. Williams and Care by "Old Quam"

John Shoebridge Williams wrote,

“In one thing we count ourselves most fortunate. As is customary in the South, aged blacks take care of the children. Old Quam was appointed my guardian, and a more faithful one never protected a ward. There is something surprising about blacks, as well as Indians, that attach them to children, and children to them, more firmly than can, under similar circumstances bind whites. It is an undeniable fact that blacks are more faithful nurses than whites, or at least children seem to think so. I thought nobody equal to old Quam; he thought there never was such a fine, black-haired, curly headed, blue-eyed boy before born, as I was, although I kept him running after me in day time, like a hen after one chicken. I had a deal of Welsh blood about me, and would go when I pleased, and Quam would not cross me, not he; and thus he was perpetually in a stew to keep me out of every danger, both real and imaginary. He loved my mother as if she were his own, and he knew besides the loss I would be to him; my death would almost kill her, as I was by more than ten years her youngest child. Old Quam escaped from a deal of anxious concern at his death.

“My being so much the youngest, and living in a slave country, which makes white children scarce, my only companion during my first four years was Old Quam. He was eminently pious and pre-eminently innocent. He was just such a nurse as was calculated to have a good effect upon me. I remember him well and very vividly the time of his death, by which, at four years, I lost my friend. Previously he had taught me many of the essentials of religion. He had most firmly impressed on my mind that there was a Great Good Man who made everything. That he lived away up in the sky. That he could see all we did. That when we did good he loved and smiled at us, but when we hurt anything or did anybody harm he was sorry, and would frown at us and would not like us. That is was very wrong to displease him. Although Quam knew not a letter, he could repeat whole verses of Scripture, and, as I have heard, some chapters. He used to tell me of wicked people, how they oppressed and destroyed one another, and how the Great Good Man was so angry at some wicked people that he made their country so dark that they could feel the darkness like grains of corn.

“In this way he would so impress me as to make me cry, till the family would be drawn to know what was the matter. My good mother was eminently pious, too, and always took much pains to impress my mind with love and fear for the Supreme Being, but I could not understand her as I could Quam’s simple illustrations.

“I was very much indulged, and had it not been for Quam’s pious influence, a boy of my wayward propensities could scarcely have been kept within tolerable bounds. There is no wonder I was indulged when we consider my situation as last in the family and first in the heart of my widowed mother, who, however, never let her feelings overcome her prudence, but kept me within reasonable bounds after Quam’s death. While Quam lived, he was not satisfied to be parted from me the whole of any night. He would get up every night in sweet-potato time, and have some roasted by three or four o’clock, and then I was just as regular to wake and my sister must carry me out to Quam in the kitchen. There I would eat potatoes and ask him questions, and we would chat over all our concerns till near daylight, when I would tumble down on his bunk and finish the night in sleeping and he in watching. These things seem to me almost as if they happened last year.

“Old Quam’s great indulgence in satisfying all my inquiries to the best of his ability, and never checking me in asking and inquiring, I have no doubt, the same was of essential service to me. I have not a particle of doubt that it gave me an early memory. I can well remember when two and a half years old, being held one night in a door by my sister to see the sawmill burn, which was, say forty rods from the house. I remember the fire that flew towards our house, and their anxiety and precaution in extinguishing sparks on the roof on which was old Quam, and how my teeth chattered with fear and cold. I believe, too, that not only this early and definite memory was the result of his indulging all my inquiries, but that it gave me great facilities in attending to studies and in acquiring knowledge in after life.

“It is miserable treatment to rebuke a child who, form the affection of knowing, will ask a thousand questions. Sometimes burdensome, to be sure, but when we consider that upon that affection of knowing is built all the child’s advancement in knowledge afterwards, how cruel it is to rebuke the inquiries of the infant. Many a parent has ruined his child by this kind of discouragement, and afterwards chastised him for not loving and attending to studies and for making slow progress therein, when his own thoughtless course had produced that apathy and inability. All innocent inquiries by infants and children at all proper times should be indulged and encouraged, how pestersome soever they may seem."