The Memoir Of Old Elizabeth Essay

1239 words - 5 pages

The memoir of Old Elizabeth presents a rare and important slave narrative in which the stories of African American women intersect with the experiences of African American people in roles of religious leadership. Elizabeth broke many of societies conventions at the time by preaching and holding religious meeting despite being woman. Her religious work was met with backlash from the church and from many other people who did not accept the idea of a woman leading religious services, yet she continued to practice until her health would no longer allow for it. This is unusual as it spends most of the narrative on the time after she was free rather than focusing on the time that she was enslaved the way that many slave narratives do.

Though Elizabeth was living under slavery, there is evidence in her memoir, which suggests that she did have at least some level of agency and was able to exercise this agency relatively freely, though not without consequences. Elizabeth was at one point during her youth able to leave the plantation she was living on without her master’s knowledge having been denied permission to see her mother. This shows that while she was definitely bound to the will of her master, and though she was harshly punished for disobeying the overseer, there was nothing to physically stop her from leaving the plantation should she really want to. She was able to remain with her mother for several days before returning to her mother’s plantation and then being sent back to her own plantation. Upon her arrival she was harshly punished by whipping, and she was able to spend at least some of her time doing as she pleased, as shown by her ability to go out to the haystacks and pray. The level of agency that she exercised during her formative years allowed her to form her own faith and to later express this faith and share it with others.

Elizabeth was born to two very religious slaves, who she was raised by until the age of eleven. Once she was sent to work on another plantation religion continued to have a large impact on her life. After returning from visiting with her mother she is told she has “nobody in the wide world to look to but God. ” The influences of the religious teaching that she received from her parents in her early childhood shaped the lifestyle, which she led up until her death. Elizabeth describes her father reading to her on the Sabbath day and remarks that she “Felt the overshadowing of the lords spirit .” At one point in her life, when she was around twelve she became so ill that she assumed she would die, and during this time vividly hallucinated that Jesus came to her. This sparked her to become even more religious than she had been in the past, and prompted her to continue a lifestyle of prayer and intense religious devotion despite living in a place where most people did not pray, and where she was often mocked for the amount of prayer that she preformed. This influence of religion in her early life proves that there...

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