Old Elizabeth, as she is known to the world now, was born around 1766 and died around 1866. At the ripe old age of 97 she recounted her time as a slave, and the record was “taken from her own lips” then (1).
Elizabeth was born into slavery, and was taken from her parents when she was young. She tried to return to her mother, but was taken back to another plantation. There she had a religious awakening. Later she struggled with her visions and was returned to the plantation where her mother was enslaved. After some time she was sold to a minister who had mixed feelings about owning slaves, so he freed Elizabeth when she was about 30.
After she was free, Elizabeth would attend church services, but she was too shy to speak or to minister to other people. Then when she was about 42 she seems to have had a religious revelation. She began to hold religious meetings that were basically forbidden. Still she retorted to a watchman who came to break up her meeting, “how do they rest when the ungodly are dancing and fiddling till midnight? Why are not they molested by the watchmen? and why should we be for praising God, our Maker?” (2) Needless to say, the watchman excused himself and went away.
Elizabeth continued on her preaching path. She traveled around to many places including Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, and even Canada. Some places they tried to arrest her for being a Black woman who had the audacity to preach. Other places they just couldn’t believe that a “coloured” woman could actually minister. She settled in Michigan for a while, and opened “a school for coloured orphans” (3). When she reached 87 she was tired and settled in Philadelphia, and finally recorded her life at 97.
From the Memoir of Old Elizabeth, a coloured woman…
“In the eleventh year of my age, my master sent me to another farm, several miles from my parents, brothers, and sisters, which was a great trouble to me. At last I grew so lonely and sad I thought I should die, if I did not see my mother. I asked the overseer if I might go, but being positively denied, I concluded to go without his knowledge. When I reached home my mother was away. I set off and walked twenty miles before I found her. I staid with her for several days, and we returned together. Next day I was sent back to my new place, which renewed my sorrow. At parting, my mother told me that I had “nobody in the wide world to look to but God.” These words fell upon my heart with ponderous weight, and seemed to add to my grief. I went back repeating as I went, “none but God in the wide world.” On reaching the farm, I found the overseer was displeased at me for going without his liberty. He tied me with a rope, and gave me some stripes of which I carried the marks for weeks.
After this time, finding as my mother said, I had none in the world to look to but God, I betook myself to prayer, and in every lonely place I found an altar. I mourned sore like a dove and chattered forth my sorrow, moaning in the corners of the field, and under the fences.”
(1) Memoir of Old Elizabeth, a colored woman and other testimonies. 2010. Oxford: Benediction Classics. (pg. 1).
(2) Memoir, (pg. 5).
(3) Memoir, (pg. 10).