(Memaw wrote the following memories of Papaw's life.)
Papaw was born June 23, 1923 at Newellton, Louisiana to James Alexander Chapman and Floy Thomas Davidson Chapman. He was a fine baby boy. He was number nine in a family of ten living children. Floy, his mother, had lost two babies before him from miscarriages. He was the youngest of five boys. There were four girls older than he was. His parents named their new baby boy William Franklin, and they called him Buddy.
The name Franklin came from the plantation where they lived when he was born. Buddy's father was the plantation manager of Franklin Plantation in Tensas Parish in north Louisiana near Newellton. This was a large plantation in the cotton delta country. Robert Clark of Natchez, Mississippi owned it. There were many employees on Franklin Plantation. Most of them were housed on the place. There were separate quarters for Mexican, Negro and White farm hands. Each group had their own quarters. Each family was provided with a little shotgun house and a plot of land to grow a garden. They all worked together in the fields but were segregated for living and sleeping. There were fights and disagreements among the groups. Mule teams and plows cultivated the farm. They worked from sun-up until sundown with an hour off at noon for lunch. The big plantation bell located at the main house rang to tell them when to go to work and when to rest. The animals were taken care of after the long day in the fields. They were unharnessed, rubbed down, and watered and fed. The field workers were then free until sun-up the next day.
Cotton and corn were the main crops on the plantation. Cotton was a big commodity at that time. It was picked by hand and then baled at the cotton gin. Then it was shipped down the river by boat to be sold. Steamboats took the cotton down the river to New Orleans. The corn was grown for feed for the livestock and was ground into cornmeal for bread for the table. Cotton was chopped (weeded) by hand. It was not unusual to see hundreds of men, women, and children with hoes chopping the grass and weeds from the many rows of cotton and corn. The mule teams pulled cultivators to keep it plowed.
Things at the plantation house were great. The cooks in the kitchen were always busy cooking the big meals for the large family and anyone else who happened to be there at mealtime. There were starched white tablecloths on the table, and the table was always laden down with good food.
Baby Buddy thrived on all the love and attention he received from his older brothers and sisters. He was twenty-one months old when he developed pneumonia. Their doctor, Dr. Noble, sent him to the hospital in Natchez, Mississippi to be treated. The doctors there operated and removed a portion of a rib on the right side of his back and placed a tube to drain the infection. It made him well. All of this was a traumatic experience for a little tot like Buddy. He threw tantrums and threw his food, and he cried for fat meat. He liked turnip greens and fat meat.
Back home from the hospital life was beautiful for a tow-headed little boy who had sisters that played with him and older brothers that catered to his every whim. One day he was playing with his sister Lucille, and they were watching some baby kittens through a crack in the floor of the front porch when someone yelled that the house was on fire. The plantation house burned to the ground. Buddy's mother rang the plantation bell, and the farm hands came to help, but everything was lost. The piano was the only thing saved from the fire. The family moved into a small house on the place until another house could be built.
Now someone new had come on the scene, and Buddy was no longer the baby. His baby sister Virginia was born when he was five years old. Mr. Clark, the owner of the plantation had mortgaged the plantation to the Bank of Newellton. He couldn't pay the debt, so he lost the plantation to the bank. Mr. Chapman leased the plantation from the bank. He was successful for several years, and then he too had to turn the place back to the bank. The Chapman family had to move away from Franklin Plantation.
While under Mr. Chapman's management of Franklin Plantation, there was a lot of unrest. There were always fights among the field hands and their families. On one occasion two Mexican men got into a fight over one of the ladies. One of the men stabbed the other one to death in the harness room of the barn. There was blood everywhere. The Chapman children were afraid to go near the barn after that.
All was not well with the manager and one of the black employees. One morning when the black man didn't come to work, and Mr. Chapman had heard that he was bad mouthing him, Mr. Chapman went down to his cabin to see what the problem was. The black man met him at the door with a gun in his hand. There was gunfire, and the black man was killed. It was claimed self-defense, and Mr. Chapman wasn't charged with the crime.