Amanda Smith Washerwoman to Evangelist

Amanda Smith Washerwoman to Evangelist


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes




“There were thirteen children in all, of whom only three girls are now living. Five were born

in slavery. I was the oldest girl, and my brother, William Talbart, the oldest boy.




Amanda Berry Smith

Methodist Evangelist, Missionary, Temperance Reformer


Born a slave on a farm in Long Green, Maryland, about twenty miles north of Baltimore, Amanda Berry Smith (1837–1915), rose from slavery and poverty to become a world famous Methodist evangelist. A black washerwoman, she witnessed the Spirit like Christian women throughout the centuries who have been used by God. 

She became a legend in her own time, as a result partially by her correspondence published in Wesleyan/Holiness, Methodist Episcopal, and African-American Methodist periodicals from the 1870s until her death and  the publication of her book An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist: Containing an Account of Her Life Work of Faith, and Her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa as an Independent Missionary. Chicago: Meyer & Brother Publishers, 1893 — which sold widely and has been republished several times.

Sources: Adrienne M. Israel, “Amanda Jane Berry Smith,” in Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), pp. 808-10. 

The Academic Affairs Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill  published Smith’s Autobiography online as part of its Documenting the American South Project

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Amanda Smith Washerwoman to Evangelist

“I was born at Long Green, Md., Jan. 23rd, 1837. My father’s name was Samuel Berry. My mother’s name, Mariam. Matthews was her maiden name. My father’s master’s name was Darby Insor. My mother’s master’s name, Shadrach Green.”

“As the distance to Baltimore was only about twenty miles, more or less, my father went there with the farm produce once or twice a week, and would sell or buy, and bring the money home to his mistress. She was very kind, and was proud of him for his faithfulness, so she gave him a chance to buy himself. She allowed him so much for his work and a chance to what extra he could for himself. So he used to make brooms and husk mats and take them to market with the produce. This work he would do nights after his day’s work was done for his mistress. 

Left: Amanda’s mother

“He was a great lime burner. Then in harvest time, after working for his mistress all day, he would walk three and four miles, and work in the harvest field till one and two o’clock in the morning, then go home and lie down and sleep for an hour or two, then up and at it again. He had an important and definite object before him, and was willing to sacrifice sleep and rest in order to accomplish it. It was not his own liberty alone, but the freedom of his wife and five children. For this he toiled day and night. He was a strong man, with an excellent constitution, and God wonderfully helped him in his struggle. After he had finished paying for himself, the next was to buy my mother and us children.

“There were thirteen children in all, of whom only three girls are now living. Five were born in slavery. I was the oldest girl, and my brother, William Talbart, the oldest boy. He was named after a gentleman named Talbart Gossage, who was well known all through that part of the country. I think he was some relation of Mr. Ned Gossage, who lost his life at Carlisle, Pa., some time before the war, in trying to capture two of his black boys who had run away for their freedom.”

*   *   *   *   *

“My father and mother both could read. But I never remember hearing them tell how they were taught. Father was the better reader of the two. Always on Sunday morning after breakfast he would call us children around and read the Bible to us. never knew him to sit down to a meal, no matter how scant, but what he would ask God’s blessing before eating. Mother was very thoughtful and scrupulously economical. She could get up the best dinner out of almost nothing of anybody I ever saw in my life.”

*   *   *   *   *

“I first taught myself to read by cutting out large letters from the newspapers my father would bring home. Then I would lay them on the window and ask mother to put them together for me to make words, so that I could read. I shall never forget how delighted I was when I first read: “The house, the tree, the dog, the cow.” I thought I knew it all. I would call the other children about me and show them how I could read. I did not get to go to school any more till I was about thirteen years old.”

*   *   *   *   *

“One night as she was speaking to persons in the congregation, she came to me, a poor colored girl sitting away back by the door, and with entreaties and tears, which I really felt, she asked me to go forward. I was the only colored girl there, but I went. She knelt beside me with her arm around me and prayed for me. O, how she prayed! I was ignorant, but prayed as best I could. The meeting closed. I went to get up, but found I could not stand. They took hold of me and stood me on my feet. My strength seemed to come to me, but I was frightened. I was afraid to step. I seemed to be so light.

In my heart was peace, but I did not know how to exercise faith as I should. I went home and resolved I would be the Lord’s and live for him. All the days were happy and bright. I sang and worked and thought that was all I needed to do. Then I joined the Church.”

*   *   *   *   *

“My aunt was very religiously inclined, naturally. She was much like my mother in spirit. So as we walked along, crossing the long bridge, at that time a mile and a quarter long, we stopped, and were looking off in the water. Aunt said, “How wonderfully God has created everything, the sky, and the great waters, etc.”

*   *   *   *   *

Then I let out with my biggest gun; I said, “How do you know there is a God?” and went on with just such an air as a poor, blind, ignorant infidel is capable of putting on. My aunt turned and looked at me with a look that went through me like an arrow; then stamping her foot, she said:

“Don’t you ever speak to me again. Anybody that had as good a Christian mother as you had, and was raised as you have been, to speak so to me. I don’t want to talk to you.” And God broke the snare. I felt it. I felt deliverance from that hour. How many times I have thanked God for my aunt’s help. If she had argued with me I don’t believe I should ever have got out of that snare of the devil. And I would say to my readers, “Beware how you read books tainted with error.” There are enough of the orthodox kind that will help you if you will be content with them, and the Book of books. Amen.”

*   *   *   *   *

“My father took the “Baltimore Weekly Sun” newspaper; that always had advertisements of runaway slaves. After giving the cut of the poor fugitive, with a little bundle on his back, going with his face northward, the advertisement would read something like this: Three thousand dollars reward! Ran away from Anerandell County, Maryland, such a date, so many feet high, scar on the right side of the forehead or some other part of the body,–belonging to Mr. A. or B. So sometimes the excitement was so high we had to be very discreet in order not to attract suspicion. My father was watched closely.

“I have known him to lead in the harvest field from fifteen to twenty men–he was a great cradler and mower in those days –and after working all day in the harvest field, he would come home at night, sleep about two hours, then start at midnight and walk fifteen or twenty miles and carry a poor slave to a place of security; sometimes a mother and child, sometimes a man and wife, other times a man or more, then get home just before day. 

“Perhaps he could sleep an hour then go to work, and so many times baffled suspicion. Never but once was there a poor slave taken that my father ever got his hand on, and if that man had told the truth he would have been saved, but he was afraid.”

Right: Amanda’s father


*   *   *   *   *

“How well I remember Dr. and Mrs. Turner. They were very fond of Maryland biscuit, and though I was young, I had the reputation of making the best Maryland biscuit and frying the nicest chicken of anyone around there, and the doctor used to say “Amanda can beat them all making Maryland biscuit and frying chicken.” My! how it did please me! Somehow it is very encouraging to servants to tell them once in a while that they do things nicely; it did me good. 

“I would almost kill myself to please them, and Doctor Turner’s mother, dear Mrs. Flynn, what a good woman she was! She gave me the first Testament I ever had and used to come into the kitchen and read to me sometimes. She came several times on a visit to see Dr. and Mrs. Turner. After a time Dr. Turner moved back to Baltimore again, I went with them. It was my first time in Baltimore. 

“We got in at night and I remember how I had never seen fine lights glittering in drug stores before, and as we drove along I thought I never saw such pretty houses in my life. O, I was thoroughly captivated. We had a long way to drive from the station then. Col. Berry lived at Poplar Grove, just a little out of Baltimore. Dear old Mrs. Berry, Mrs. Turner and the Doctor, and the old Colonel met us at the station. How well I remember the old home in the grove; it was the fall of the year; it was not late, but the fires were lighted and all was so cheery. I remember Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, the three children, Miss Petty and Missie, and little Berry and Mr. Somerfield, Miss Emily and Miss Eliza. Dr. Turner took a house in town on the corner of Franklin and Pearl streets, Baltimore. I remained till Christmas, then my mother came to see me and I went home with her.”

*   *   *   *   *

“In September, 1854, I was married to my first husband, C. Devine, by the Rev. Nicholas Pleasant, a Baptist minister in Columbia. My father did not object to my marrying, only on the ground that I was rather young, and I thought so, too, but still, like so many young people, I said, “But well, I know I can get on.” Then there was the fellow saying all the nice things he would do for me, and I believed it all, of course. 

“But it was not long before I wished I had not believed half he said, though in many things he was good. He believed in religion for his mother’s sake. She was a good woman, he said, though I never saw her. He had two sisters who lived in Columbia. He could talk on the subject of religion very sensibly at times; but when strong drink would get the better of him, which I am very sorry to say was quite often, then be was very profane and unreasonable. We had two children. The first died; the other, my daughter Maze, is now married and living in Baltimore.

“In 1855 I was very ill. Everything was done for me that could be done. My father lived in Wrightsville, Pa., and was very anxious about my soul. But I did not feel a bit concerned.

“I wanted to be let alone. How I wished that no one would speak to me. One day my father said to me, ‘Amanda, my child, you know the doctors say you must die; they can do no more for you, and now my child you must pray’.”

*   *   *   *   *

“It was in September, 1862. The Union soldiers were stationed all along the line, from Havre de Gras and Monkton, Md. My aunt, my mother’s sister, lived about a mile and a half from Hereford, on the old homestead, where my grandmother lived and died. After the death of my mother there were six of us children at home with father. My aunt, who had been married about two years, wanted my father to let one of my sisters go with her to Maryland. She had but one child of her own at that time, and she wanted my sister to be company for her little child, and to look after him, as she worked out by the day very often.

“So my father gave her my sister Frances, who was then about ten years old. It was not very safe for colored people to pass up and down, but sometimes they could do it without being molested at all.”

*   *   *   *   *

“After my conversion I continued to live in Columbia, Pa., a year or two; then went to live at Colonel McGraw’s in Lancaster, about ten miles from Columbia, where I remained some four or five years. In the meantime the civil war had broken out, and my husband, in common with so many others, enlisted and went South with the army, from which he never returned. From Lancaster I went to Philadelphia, where I remained at service with different families for several years. There I became acquainted with James Smith, a local preacher, to whom I was subsequently married.”

*   *   *   *   *

“When the first few months after my marriage to James Smith had passed, things began to get very unsatisfactory. My husband had one grown daughter, eighteen years of age, by a former marriage, and I had one daughter, about nine years old, by my first marriage. At times, things in the house were very unpleasant. I was greatly disappointed, perhaps I had expected too much of my husband. He was a local preacher and an ordained deacon in the A. M. E. Church. 

“My first husband was not a professing Christian at all, neither was I when I married him. During the years of my widowhood I boarded my little girl, here a while and then there. Sometimes she was well taken care of and at other times was not; for I found that often people do things just for the little money they get out of it; and when I would go and see the condition of my poor child, and then had to turn away and leave her and go to my work I often cried and prayed; but what could I do more? I had not yet learned to trust God fully for all things.

“One reason for my marrying a second time was that I might have a Christian home and serve God more perfectly. I thought to marry a preacher would be the very thing, though notwithstanding, I prayed earnestly for light and guidance from the Lord, and I believe, now, he gave it me, but I did not walk in it. How sorry I have been many times since. I told my husband how, since my conversion, I felt it my duty to be an Evangelist. He quite agreed to it all, and told me he was preparing himself to join the Conference and so go into the itinerant work. 

“He explained and reasoned it all so well, and, of course, I had learned to love him, and that went a good ways towards making everything look very plausible, notwithstanding the light the Lord had given me. I said the Lord knows the deep desire of my heart is to work for Him, and I could help my husband so much in his work. I had seen and known the influence of a minister’s wife, and how much she could help her husband or hinder him to a great extent in his work. Mr. Smith said that was just the kind of a wife he wanted.”

*   *   *   *   *

“After a year Mrs. Colonel McGraw, with whom I had lived in Lancaster for some four years, came for me to go a few months to Wheatland, Md., where they had moved. They found it difficult to get a cook, and they thought I might go for a few months to get the house settled.

“After getting the consent of my husband, I took my baby, little Nell, six months old, and my daughter Mazie, and we went for the summer. O, what I went through during those three months! I had to do all the cooking for the house, and eight farm hands, beside helping with the washing and doing up all the shirts and fine clothes and looking after my children. How I did it I don’t know. There were but two other servants in the house, chambermaid and waiter, so I had no help only as they were kind enough, at times, to lend a hand.

 My baby seemed to get along nicely for the first three weeks, then she was taken sick with summer complaint, and in six weeks I had to lay her away in the grave to a wait the morning of the Resurrection.”

*   *   *   *   *

“In the fall I returned home to Philadelphia, and went out to days’ work and took washing, in every way to help my husband. In the course of time the Lord gave me another dear little boy, and I named him after Thomas Henry, whom I loved for his Christian, manly bravery in the dark days of slavery. He was a member of the M. E. Church, and was a licensed preacher for a number of years at Hagerstown, Md., and left that church and joined the A. M. E. Church in 1834.

“The stewards and sometimes the preachers, in those days owned slaves, and as one of the stewards of the church he belonged to, sold a poor colored girl away from her child, he was sad about it, knowing them all as he did; so he went to the Presiding Elder and asked him about the clause in the discipline about buying and selling slaves. He told him that he had nothing to do with the Steward’s property; and after still further inquiry the same answer was given. Then with Tom Henry forbearance ceased to be a virtue and he said no man whose hand is red with innocent blood shall ever put, the Sacrament in my mouth.

“He remained a worthy member of the A. M. E. Church, which he served nobly till he fell asleep in Jesus, about ten years ago. I speak of him because he was a father to me, and so often comforted my heart when I would be almost overwhelmed. The story of his life ought to be read by every Methodist preacher of to-day, for many of them have forgotten what the fathers had to go through in preparing a church for them to carry forward.”

Source: An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealing with Mrs. Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist (1893) 

*   *   *   *   *

Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

By Bart D. Ehrman

The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman’s introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book’s main point, is especially valuable.—Publishers Weekly  / Forged Bart Ehrman’s New Salvo (


*   *   *   *   *

Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals 

of a Growing Religion in America

By Miguel A. De La Torre

This book by Miguel De la Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeria — a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone. Santeria is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro’s revolution in 1959, Santeria came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 18 October 2007




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