In the year 1863, a 97-year-old woman know by the name Old Elizabeth dictated her autobiography to be shared for generations to come. Born into bondage in Maryland, Elizabeth learned much of her knowledge of the bible from listening to readings from her father. At age 11, she was sold to another owner miles away from her family, only to return and be sold and separated from her family once more.
Since the age of 5, Elizabeth had religious visions that ultimately culminated in an understanding of her calling to evangelism. In her autobiography, Old Elizabeth recounts the vision that opened her eyes to her calling,
I thought I could not live over the night, so threw myself on a bench, expecting to die, and without being prepared to meet my Maker; and my spirit cried within me … Just at this season, I saw with my spiritual eye, an awful gulf of misery. As I thought I was about to plunge into it, I heard a voice saying, “rise up and pray,” which strengthened me … My spirit was then taught to pray, “Lord, have mercy on me-Christ save me.” Immediately there appeared a director, clothed in white raiment.
Following her vision of calling and many years of suffering, Elizabeth was emancipated at the age of 30 and began attending religious meetings. It was not until the age of 42, that Elizabeth began to preach despite discouragement from male religious leaders that thought women ought not to be preachers.
I also held meetings in Virginia. The people there would not believe that a coloured woman could preach. And moreover, as she had no learning, they strove to imprison me because I spoke against slavery: and being brought up, they asked by what authority I spake? and if I had been ordained? I answered, not by the commission of men’s hands: if the Lord had ordained me, I needed nothing better.
Pressing on in spite of the obstacles in her path, Old Elizabeth traveled throughout the U.S. East Coast and Canada during her time as an evangelist. Settling for a few years in Michigan, Elizabeth opened a school for coloured orphans staffed with white teachers to avoid opposition.
In 1863, Old Elizabeth published her memoir, Memoir of Old Elizabeth, A Coloured Woman. The historical print is a testimony to Elizabeth’s life, faith and overcoming. The memoir is available in both electronic and print versions. While an emotional read, Old Elizabeth’s memoir is a testament to the resilience, strength and tremendous capabilities of Black women.
Source: Documenting the American South | Women’s History