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In this way, I gathered much information in pronouncing many hard words in the Scriptures. It was a long time before I learned the meaning of the numeral letters put in the Bible over the chapters. I had often seen them in the spelling book running alongside a column of figures; but no one ever told me that they were put there for the same use as the figures.
Just about the close of my apprenticeship, and as I began to feel myself a man, I commenced to visit the girls, which induced me go still more frequently to church. At that time, there were four churches in Fredericksburg.
The colored people had apartments for worship with the white people, at each of these churches. They were Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Baptist. I had no particular preference for any one of these denominations, more than another; but, went wherever my favorites went. One night a young lady invited me to go to the Methodist church, where a prayer-meeting was to be held. During the meeting, a venerable old gentleman rose to his feet, and related an account of the sudden death of a young lady, which he had read in a newspapers.
When he related that solemn circumstance, it so affected me, that I felt as if I was about to die, in a sudden manner also. Having always, from parental training, purposed in my mind to become religious before I died, I thought that now was the time to begin to pray. But I could not try to pray in the church, for I was afraid that the girls would laugh at me.
Yet I became so troubled, that I left the house, girls and all, intending to seek some place where I might pray. But to my horror and surprise, when I got out of the church, this reflection occurred to me, "God is in heaven, and you are on earth: I began to wonder how God could hear my prayer;. In my perplexity, I started for home. Just before I reached the shop, where I slept, this thought struck me, if possible with more force than the former reflection: I now said to myself, "It is of no use for me to pray.
So I ran to my lodging-place, and tried to Page 20 hide myself in a dark room. But this was useless; for it appeared that God could see me in the dark, as well as in the light. I now felt constrained to beg for mercy, and spent the time in trying to obtain pardon for my sins. But the morning came, and the hour drew near for the hands to go to work, and I was still unhappy.
I felt so very different to what I had always felt, that I tried to examine my impressions of the previous night, to learn if it was true that God did see me or not; for I thought my imagination might have deceived me. Up to this time, I was not fully convinced that God knew all about me. So I began to study about the matter. As I sat on the shoe-bench, I picked up a bunch of bristles, and selecting one of the smallest, I began to wonder, if God could see an object so small as that.
No sooner had this inquiry arose in my heart, than it appeared to me, that the Lord could not only see the bristle, but that He beheld me, as, plainly as I saw the little object in my hand; and not only so, but that God was then looking through me, just as I would hold up a tumbler of clear water to the sun and look through it. Page 21 I felt that I must pray, or perish; and now I began to pray. But it really seemed, that the more I prayed the less hope there was for me.
Still I could not stop praying; for I felt that God was angry with me. I had sinned against his holy laws; and now, if He should cut me off, and send me to hell, it was but right. These thoughts followed me day and night, for five weeks, before I felt relief.
At length, one day, while sitting on my shoe bench, I felt that my time had come when I must die. What troubled me most, was that I should have to appear before God, in all my sins;--O, what horror filled my soul at the thought! I began to wonder what I must do. I knew I was not prepared for death and the Judgment. It is true that two of my shopmates, at that time, were members of the church; but they did not seem to care for my soul.
All the rest of the hands were as wicked as myself. The reflection occurred to me, "Your mother is a christian; it may be she can save you. Then came another thought,--"As Page 22 my master was a rich man, could he not do something to help me? I felt such a love and peace flowing in my soul, that I could not sit longer; I sprang to my feet, and cried out, "Glory to God! I could not tell why this great change had taken place in me; and my shopmates were surprised at my conduct, saying, that I must be getting crazy.
But, just at this moment, the thought came into my mind, that I was converted; still, as I felt so very different from what I had expected to feel, I could not see how that could be. I concluded to run and see my mother, and ask her how people felt, when they got converted. So I went, right away, to my mother's house, some five or six squares from the shop. When I reached the door of her house, it appeared to me that everything was new and bright. I went in, and sat down.
Mother asked me how I was. I told her, I felt right smart. This was a new sound from me; for Page 23 my answers to this question had long been-- "poorly. I felt ashamed to ask the question; so I went into another room; and seeing a hymn book lying on the table, I took it up. The first hymn that struck my sight began with these words:. These lines expressed my feelings precisely, and being encouraged from them, I went to my mother, and asked her the question-- "How do people feel, when they get converted?
I returned to my shop, more determined to pray than ever before. I arrived, and took my seat, and tried to get under that same weight, that I had felt pressing me down, but a short while before.
But it seemed to me that I could not; and, instead of feeling sad, I felt joyful in my heart; and while trying to pray, I thought the Saviour appeared to me. My soul was filled with love to God and Jesus Christ.
It appeared to me, I saw a fullness in Jesus Christ, to save every sinner who would come to Him. And I felt, that if I was only converted, I would tell all sinners how precious the Saviour was. But I could not think myself converted yet, because I could not see what I had done, for God to pardon my sins. Still I felt a love to Him for what He had done for my soul. Then I began to think upon my shopmates --and, O what pity ran through my soul for them.
I wished to pray for them; but I felt so unworthy, that I could not do it. At last I promised the Lord that if He would convert my soul, I would talk to them. I shortly became a member of the Baptist church, and was baptized, in company with some twenty others, by Rev.
Adams, who was then pastor of the Baptist church in Fredericksburg--September 19, This then contained about three hundred colored members. I HAD not been a member of the church a great while, before I formed an attachment to a young woman, who ultimately became my wife.
I have ever regarded her as the special gift of God to me. She embraced religion about the same time that I did. We had been acquainted with each other for several years previous, and although we associated frequently in the same social circle together; yet nothing of a special liking had manifested itself until the day she was baptized.
But we were both slaves, and of course had to get the consent of our owners, before we went further. My wife belonged to the late Carter L. Andrew Stephenson, of Va. My wife's master was quite indulgent to the servants about the house. He never restrained visitors from coming on his premises to visit his domestics.
It was said he had the likeliest set of servant girls in the town; and though Page 27 I cannot say I got the prettiest, yet I think I got the best one among them.
We have lived happily together, as husband and wife, for the last twenty-eight years. We have had nine children--seven born in slavery, and two since my wife's freedom. Five out of the seven in slavery I have bought--two are still in bondage. Before long, the brethren chose me to fill the office of a deacon.
But it never seemed to me to be the place that God designed for me; though I felt willing to do whatever lay in my power for God's glory and the good of His people. The impression made upon my at my conversion, to talk to sinners, increased on me, until I could wait no longer. I related my convictions of duty to my brethren, and particularly to one who was always held in high esteem for his piety and excellent character--a colored brother, Armistead Walker.
Page 28 I had ample opportunities at that time, for doing good, by preaching to my fellow men, both in town and country. Several other colored brethren, about this time, gave evidence of having been called of God, to the work of preaching the gospel. Among these was a dear brother, named Alexander Daniel.
He was a bright and shining light, among our people, and everything considered, I think he was the best preacher of color I ever heard. But alas, he is no more! He was esteemed as a christian minister, and his friends, both white and colored, united in erecting a monument over his grave. In my attempts to preach the gospel to my fellow sinners, I often felt embarrassed, not knowing how to read a chapter in the Bible correctly.
My desires now increased for such a knowledge of the sacred Scriptures, as would enable me to read a chapter publicly to my hearers. I thought that if I had all my time at my own command, I would devote it all to divine things. This desire I think, led me more than anything else, to ask permission of my master, Dr. Patten, to purchase my freedom. I made this a subject of prayer, Page 29 both night and day, that God would show me what he would have me do.
I felt encouraged to hope that I should find favor with my owner, as he had always treated me kindly. But how shall I get the purchase money, provided he grants my request?
I went to him and stated my wishes, informing him why I wanted to be free--that I had been led to believe the Lord had converted my soul, and had called me to talk to sinners. He granted my request, without a single objection, fixing my price at five hundred dollars. But now I had to tell him that I had no Money, and that I desired him to grant me another request; which was, to let me travel and find friends, who would give me the money.
After learning my wishes fully, he consented, and told me, when I got ready to start, he would give me a pass, to go where I pleased. After spending nearly four months in visiting the northern cities, I returned home, with about one hundred and fifty dollars, greatly disheartened.
Previous to going north, I had raised about a hundred and fifty dollars, which I had already paid on my debt. The cause of my failure to raise all the money, I believe, was that I was unaccustomed to addressing large congregations of strangers; and often, when I was favored with an opportunity of presenting my case to the people, I would feel such embarrassment that I could scarcely say anything. And I met another obstacle, which discouraged me very much; which was, that some persons would tell me they sympathized with me, in my efforts to get free; but they said it was against their principles to give money, to buy slaves.
I confess, this was new to me, and would cut me down much in my spirits--still I found generous and noble-hearted friends, who treated me with every mark of kindness. I began to wonder to myself, whether God was in this matter, or not; and if so, why I Page 31 had not succeeded. However, having returned home, I went to work at my trade, for the purpose of earning the remainder of the money.
Having paid what I was able, toward my debt, and reserving enough to open a shop, upon my own account, my old boss, Mr. Wright, my true and constant friend, became my protector, so that I might carry on my business lawfully. In this, however, I was not very successful; but I had not been long engaged at it, before I received a communication from my white Baptist friends in Baltimore, through my pastor, Rev. Sam'l Smith, informing me that if I would come to Baltimore, and accept an appointment as missionary to the colored people of that city, they would assist me in raising the balance of the money then due upon myself.
This was indeed an unexpected, and to me an undesired call. I began to think, how can I leave my wife and seven small children, to go to Baltimore to live, a distance of more than a hundred miles from them. This, I thought, could not be. I thought my children would need my watchful care, more now than at any other time.
It is true, they were all slaves, belonging to a rich widow lady. Page 32 But she had always given me the entire control of my family. Now, if I should leave them at their tender age, mischief might befall them.
Still, as the letter from Baltimore was from gentlemen of the best standing, it became me to give them an answer.
This I could not do, without first consulting my master. I did so, and after giving the matter a careful consideration, he thought I had better go and see those gentlemen--he was perfectly willing to leave the matter to me. The result was, that I accepted the offer of the brethren in Baltimore; and by them I was enabled to pay the debt I owed; and I have never had cause to repent it--though I had misgivings sometimes, when I would get into trouble.
But I have found those who were my friends at first, are my friends still. In a few weeks after I had arrived in Baltimore, , the white Baptists who were favorable to the mission in behalf of the colored people, secured for me an appointment as missionary of the Domestic Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, in connection with the Maryland Baptist Union Association.
I now felt a debt of gratitude to these dear friends, that I could Page 33 not show more acceptably to them, than by engaging heartily in the work to which I had been thus called.
I went to work, first, by hiring a room in a private house, where I would collect what few children I could get together, in a Sabbath school. I continued in this place for nearly a year, teaching the little children, and preaching to a few grown persons, who would come in at times to hear what this Baptist man had to say; and who, after satisfying their curiosity, would generally leave me.
During my stay in this locality I could not find half a dozen colored Baptists, who would take hold with me in this missionary enterprise. There were some few attached to the white churches; but only two of those showed any disposition to help me in this great and good work. I found that everybody loved to go with the multitude, and it was truly up-hill work with me. Now I felt lonely indeed, separated far from home, from family, from dear brethren and friends; thrown among strangers in a strange place.
Those I came to benefit, stood aloof from me, and seemed to look upon all my movements with distrust and suspicion, and opposed to all I was trying to do for the moral and spiritual benefit of our degraded race. But, thanks be to God, all I found in Baltimore were not of this stamp. Those of the white Baptists who had been the means of calling me to this field, adhered to me like brethren, indeed.
Could I feel at liberty to mention names, I would bring to notice some dear friends who have ever stood by me, in all my efforts to do good, and whose acts of disinterested benevolence have been rarely equaled. But their labors of love are recorded on high, and I must forbear.
WHEN I came among the colored people of Baltimore, I found, to my surprise, that they were advanced in education, quite beyond what I had conceived of. Of course, as I never had such advantages, I was far behind the people; and as this did not appear well in a preacher, I felt very small, when comparing my abilities with others of a superior stamp. I found that the great mass of colored professors of religion were Methodists, whose piety and zeal seemed to carry all before them. There were, at that time, some ten or eleven colored Methodist churches, one Episcopalian, one Presbyterian; and one little Baptist church, located upon the outskirts of the city.
The most of the Methodist churches were large and influential; and the Presbyterian church had one of the best Sabbath schools for colored children in the city. But the Baptist colored membership was looked upon as the smallest; and under these Page 36 circumstances, I was surrounded with discouragements; although the ministers and brethren of other denominations have always treated me with marked christian kindness.
I had never had a day's schooling; and coming to one of the first cities in the Union, where the colored people had the advantages of schools, and where their pulpits were occupied, Sabbath after Sabbath, by comparatively intelligent colored ministers--what could I expect, but that the people would turn away from one who was trying to preach in the room of a private house, some fifteen by twenty feet?
Yet, there was no turning back: God had called me to the work, and it was His cause I was advocating. I found, that to preach, like other preachers, I must improve my mind, by reading the Bible and other good books, and by studying my own language.
I started afresh--I got a small stock of books, and the white brethren loaned and gave me other useful volumes, to which they added a word of instruction and encouragement, whenever an opportunity offered; and the ministers cordially invited me to attend their Monday ministerial conference meeting, which was very useful to me. My wife and seven children were still in Virginia.
I went to see them as often as my circumstances permitted--three or four times a year. About this time, my wife's mistress agreed to sell to me my wife and our two youngest children.
The price fixed, was eight hundred dollars cash, and she gave me twelve months to raise the money. The sun rose bright in my sky that day; but before the year was out, my prospects were again in darkness. Now I had two great burdens upon my mind: During this time we succeeded in getting a better place for the Sabbath school, and there was a larger attendance upon my preaching, which demanded reading and study, and also visiting, and increased my daily labors. On the other hand, the year was running away, in which I had to raise eight hundred dollars.
So that I found myself at times in a great strait. My plan to raise the money was, to secure the amount, first, by pledges, before I collected any. It was now considered that the children had increased in value one hundred dollars, and I was told that I could have them, by paying in cash six hundred dollars, and giving a bond, with good security, for three hundred more, payable in twelve months.
I had six weeks, in which to consummate this matter. I felt deeply, that this was a time to pray the Lord to help me, and for this my wife's prayers were fervently offered with my own. I had left my wife in Virginia, and come to Baltimore, a distance of over a hundred miles; I had been separated thus for nearly three years; I had been trying to make arrangements to have her with me, for over twelve months, and as yet had failed.
We were oppressed with the most gloomy forebodings, and could only kneel down together and pray for God's direction and help. I was in Fredericksburg, and had but one day longer to stay, and spend with my wife. What could be done, must be done quickly. I went to my old friend, Mr. Wright, and stated my case to him. After hearing of all I had done, and the conditions I had to comply with, he told me that if I would raise the Page 39 six hundred dollars cash, he would endorse my bond for the remaining three hundred.
The next thing was, how could the six hundred dollars be obtained in six weeks. I had upon my subscription list and in pledges nearly four hundred dollars. But this had to be collected from friends living in Fredericksburg, Washington city, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. I left Fredericksburg, and spent a few days in Washington, to collect what I could of the money promised to me there; and met much encouragement, several friends doubling their subscriptions.
When I arrived in Baltimore, and made known the peculiar strait I was in, to my joyful surprise, some of the friends who had pledged five dollars, gave me ten; and one dear friend who had promised me ten dollars, for this object, and who had previously contributed largely in the purchase of myself, now gave me fifty.
I began to count up, and in two weeks from the time I commenced collecting, I had in hand four hundred dollars. Presently, another very dear friend enquired of me how I was getting along; and when I told him, he said, "Bring your money to me. We need everyone involved in AI Agriculture and machine learning AI for photo editing Bias in AI Intelligent Machines Waymo tests for the weirdest possible situations Collection EmTech Digital coverage Everything you need to know from EmTech Digital , where the sharpest minds in the technology, management, startup, engineering, and academic communities converge.
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