Charity Bowery – Edenton, NC, 1839 (excerpts)

 

Charity Bowery was probably in her late fifties when the revolt in Southampton County took place. This piece appeared in 1839 in the annual antislavery publication The Liberty Bell. It was based on an interview white author and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child had conducted with Bowery the previous year in Boston. Bowery reported that she had spent most of her life in slavery near Edenton, North Carolina, a town that was about sixty-five miles south of Southampton County.

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CHARITY BOWERY.

 

by Lydia Maria Child.

 

[p. 26]    . . . “I am about sixty-five years old. I was born on an estate called Pembroke, about three miles from Edenton, North Carolina. . . .”

 

[p. 41]    In the course of my conversations with this interesting woman, she told me much about the patrols, who, armed with arbitrary power, and frequently intoxicated, break into the houses of the colored people, and subject them to all manner of outrages. But nothing seemed to have excited her imagination so much as the insurrection of Nat Turner. The panic that prevailed throughout the Slave States on that occasion of course reached her ear in repeated echoes, and the reasons are obvious why it should have awakened intense interest. It was in fact a sort of Hegira to her mind, from which she was prone to date all important events in the history of her limited world.

 

                  “On Sundays,” said she, “I have seen the [p. 42] negroes up in the country going away under large oaks, and in secret places, sitting in the woods with spelling books. The brightest and best men were killed in Nat’s time. Such ones are always suspected. All the colored folks were afraid to pray in the time of the old Prophet Nat. There was no law about it; but the whites reported it round among themselves that, if a note was heard, we should have some dreadful punishment; and after that, the low whites would fall upon any slaves they heard praying, or singing a hymn, and often killed them before their masters or mistresses could get to them.”

 

                  I asked Charity to give me a specimen of their hymns. In a voice cracked with age, but still retaining considerable sweetness, she sang:

 

                  A few more beatings of the wind and rain,

                  Ere the winter will be over –

                                                             Glory, Hallelujah!

 

    [p. 43]    Some friends has gone before me,--

                  I must try to go and meet them—

                                                             Glory, Hallelujah!

 

                  A few more risings and settings of the sun,

                  Ere the winter will be over—

                                                             Glory, Hallelujah!

 

                  There’s a better day a coming –

                  There’s a better day a coming –

                                                       Oh, Glory, Hallelujah!”

 

                  With a very arch expression, she looked up, as she concluded, and said, “They would n’t let us sing that. They would n’t let us sing that. They thought we was going to rise, because we sung ‘better days are coming.’”

 

 

From Lydia Maria Child, “Charity Bowery” The Liberty Bell (Boston: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1839), pp. 26-43.