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John G. Turner

domestic servant, teacher, and missionary, was born in Gainesville, Alabama, the daughter of Mary and Jesse Fearing, who were slaves of the planter Overton Winston and his wife Amanda Winston. At a young age Mrs. Winston removed Fearing from the care of her parents and began to train her, alongside her older sister, for work inside the plantation house.

Mrs. Winston, a Presbyterian, taught Fearing Bible stories, hymns, and the Westminster catechism, and she impressed upon Fearing the importance of foreign missions. As a young woman Fearing joined the Winstons' church, a congregation affiliated with the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States.

After the Civil War Fearing stayed in Gainesville and sought employment as a domestic servant. Motivated by a desire to read the Bible for herself, Fearing gained some measure of literacy through the help of friends. In 1871 a minister told ...

Article

Laura M. Chmielewski

convert to Methodism and religious contemplative, was born probably in New York City, of unknown but most likely enslaved parents. All the details of Zilpah Montjoy's life are derived from Abigail Mott's 1826Narratives of Colored Americans, a collection of biographical sketches of prominent and, in Mott's view, exemplary black Christians that includes Richard Allen, Benjamin Banneker, Paul Cuffe, Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano), and Phillis Wheatley as well as more obscure figures such as Billy and Jenny Poor Pompey and Old Dinah The circumstances surrounding Zilpah Montjoy s birth and parentage are unknown According to her biographer Montjoy spent her early life in domestic slavery in New York City serving masters who invested nothing in her spiritual development beyond calling her by a name that had biblical origins Montjoy was reportedly bound so tightly to her work that throughout her youth she ...

Article

Eric Gardner

fortune-teller and author, does not appear in public records until 1820, at which time she is listed in the federal census, and nothing definitive is known about her parentage or childhood. A purportedly autobiographical text that introduces one extant copy of Russel's The Complete Fortune Teller and Dream Book claims that she was born in 1745 in the “Fuller nation” three hundred miles southwest of Sierre Leone, taken into slavery, and sold to Virginia planter George Russel after experiencing the horrors of the Middle Passage. In Virginia, the narrative asserts, after great torment, she gained the power of divination and then great fame as a seer, was freed, and raised money to free other slaves.

Though the veracity of this narrative is doubtful for several reasons—for example, the birthplace it gives is in the Atlantic Ocean—it is clear that the title-page attribution of The Complete Fortune Teller ...

Article

Timothy J. McMillan

slave, Civil War veteran, author, and itinerant minister, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was Lettice Nelson, a slave on John Nelson's plantation at Garbacon Creek in eastern North Carolina; his father was a white man believed to be William Singleton. As a young child of four, William was sold by his owner and thus separated from his mother and two brothers for the first time.

Singleton was purchased by a Georgia widow who speculated in slaves buying people cheaply when they were young and selling them at a premium when they had reached adulthood He was given the common tasks of a slave child running errands and carrying goods Around the age of six Singleton decided to escape the constant whippings and his bondage in Georgia and return to New Bern He was able to ride a stagecoach from ...

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Barbara Bennett Peterson

educator and missionary, was born in slavery of unrecorded parentage. As a child Betsey was given by her owner, Robert Stockton, as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married the Reverend Ashbel Green, the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Most of Betsey Stockton's early life was passed as a slave domestic in the Green home at Princeton, except for four years that she spent with Green's nephew Nathaniel Todd when she was an adolescent. At Todd's she underwent a period of training intended to instill more piety in her demeanor, which had not been developed in the affectionate, indulgent Green household. Stockton returned to the Green home in 1816 and was baptized in the Presbyterian church at Princeton in 1817 or 1818 having given evidence through speech and deportment of her conversion to Christian ways At the time of ...