Mary Elizabeth Bowser Essay

1687 words - 7 pages

"Slave power crushes freedom of speech and of opinion. Slave power degrades labor. Slave power is arrogant, is jealous and intrusive, is cruel, is despotic, not only over the slave but over the community, the state." This quote comes from Elizabeth Van Lew, whose father owned slaves before the civil war. Elizabeth was an abolitionist and didn’t believe in her fathers ways. One of the slaves on the Van Lew plantation, Mary Elizabeth Bowser went on to be much more than just a slave.
Mary Elizabeth Bowser was born in 1839 on the Van Lew plantation, in Richmond, Virginia. Mary Elizabeth was born into slavery, and was forced to work as soon as she could. When Mary was very young, there was a big slave selling from the Van Lew plantation, her family members were traded away to other masters so no one knows for sure who her mom and dad really were. From around the age of three Mary was forced to work on the plantation, in the fields or even doing laundry.(Mary Elizabeth Bowser) John Van Lew believed that if the slaves wanted to get to have a place to sleep and food to eat then they should be required to work at the earliest age possible. Most of the slaves couldn’t start really working till around age three, so the plantation had a slave or two that would watch the “under age” kids that couldn’t work yet. Therefore the “under age” slaves moms could work and not be held back by their children.
John Van Lew, a wealthy merchant and the owner of the slave plantation that Mary Elizabeth Bowser was born and raised on, believed strongly on having slaves work the plantation so he didn’t have too. John’s wife, Elizabeth Baker Van Lew was not a complete abolitionist but she did not strongly believe in being cruel to the slaves on the plantation because they were humans too. Elizabeth Van Lew, John and Elizabeth’s daughter was a strong abolitionist and believed that there should be no such things as slaves. So, in 1851 when John Van Lew died, Elizabeth tried to just that. After her father died, Elizabeth and her mother freed all of the slaves on the Van Lew plantation. They Van Lew women would even buy some of the slaves on other plantations and set them free. Most of the other slaves that the Van Lew’s bought from other plantations were family members of the the slaves they had on their plantation.(Mary Elizabeth Bowser)
When Mary Elizabeth was set free, Elizabeth Van Lew sent her to a Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia. Mary went to school here and got a great education. She could read and she was a great writer. Mary enjoyed, writing in her journal every day so that she could look back and see what she had done that day. When Mary finished school she had no where to go, or live, so she returned to the Van Lew plantation where Elizabeth still lived. Mary lived on the Van Lew plantation for a few years before meeting the love of her life, Wilson Bowser. Wilson was a free black man, and him and Mary married on April 16, 1861 which was just days...

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