Friday, December 21, 2012

They Watched, They Prayed, and They Waited

Christmas is a joyous season, but for those enslaved there were few joys during those painful times. However, 150 years ago, the status of my ancestors changed. As this year winds down and we head towards a new year--my ancestors headed towards a new future. On January 1, 1863, the word had spread throughout the land---they would be legally free.

How did they react? Had they heard the word?

Some of my ancestors in Mississippi had already heard that freedom was coming. My ancestor Amanda Young of Ripley Mississippi had seen her husband, her son, and her father leave when the Yankees came into the small town of Ripley. Two of her daughters and her sister also left. Her sister, Mary Paralee Young told how they freed themselves, when the chance came:

Source: Statement made by Mary Paralee Young Civil War Widow, and wife of Pvt. Joseph Young, 59th US Colored Infantry. Mary Paralee gave this statement on behalf of her sister Amanda Young, seeking pension for her husband Berry Young who also left and joined the Union Army

But Amanda was taken away shortly after the slaves had left. She did not get the chance to leave and seize freedom when the others did. She never saw most of them after they left. Did they live? Did they make it? She would not know until 50 years later when she finally saw Paralee, living in Memphis. Only then did she learn what happened when they fled, and that some of them made it to freedom while others did not.

But what happened to Amanda? 

In her file found in the Southern Claims, she revealed that she was taken away to another county--and she, unlike many in her family, had to wait for freedom.

Source: Southern Claims Commission, Approved Claims, Tippah County Mississippi

Amanda was taken to another area, someplace in Lowndes County, and she was now among others not known to her but still in bondage, as the war progressed.  But like countless other slaves who had heard since 1862--freedom was truly coming!

When word had reached the communities in the south, the promise of a new day, now had a date--January 1, 1863! So near, and yet so far, but as the days passed, the time came closer. 

Many of the enslaved who were people of faith, turned to their only hope on that New Year's Eve--God! So they waited!! As the day emerged---as hushed as it might have been--they gathered in the slave quarters and they prayed!

Source: Library of Congress Image

The night before Freedom they watched as the years of bondage melted away.
On that quiet night in 1862, they fell on their needs with the need to pray.
On New Year's Eve they waited at last for relief and freedom of that sweet day.

I think of Amanda, who was now away from those who loved her and those whom she had loved--they were gone and she was also gone away from what was familiar. 

But was she among a group of others who watched and prayed?

I know she waited, but did she attend the watch meeting in the quarters where she was? Did she share their joy? Did she have the hope of seeing her children again, and feel her husband's embrace?

Time and research answered some of those questions--she would never see her daughters Nancy and Alsie, again, and her husband would not return, for he had died in battle. 

But her joys at freedom? 

Oh yes--she shared them! And her joys upon being able to return to Ripley, to the familiar places soothed her weary soul. 

She would eventually remarry and have one more child--a boy called Elijah. And she managed, to have another life, thanks to the good man Pleasant Barr who married her and helped her care for her remaining daughters, Harriet and Violet. Harriet would carry the name of Amanda forward to the next generation and often told stories of Amanda her mother, to my own mother Pauline. 

The memory of Amanda and her quest for freedom would prevail.

I rejoice that Amanda, found a good man who became her life's companion after the war, and they married, and were leaders in the tiny St. Paul's Church, in Ripley Mississippi. Her huband Pleas Barr was also a man of faith, and both would become active in the tiny St. Paul's church community. Her husband Pleas Barr was a founder of the church, and Amanda, for many years was the matriarch of the church, that still stands today.

I think of her strength and how she faced an uncertain future with her new freedom. Her new freedom had stolen her husband, her father and her son, and two of her daughters had left never to return, so she must have clutched her other two daughters, so much closer. But she moved ahead with strength and dignity nevertheless. I wonder if she attended Watch Night services at St. Paul's over the years.

Every year, in most black churches throughout the country, Watch Night is a tradition on New Year's Eve. And I know that on that first Watch Night, Amanda watched and waited and prayed.

On New Year's Eve, I shall honor my own ancestors by holding my own Watch Night in their honor.

I urge other writers and bloggers to share your own watch night stories, traditions, or create a new one on  your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, and other online platforms---the 150th Anniversary of our Freedom begins!

Button from the National Archives Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation


Edie H. said...

What a wonderful tribute to Amanda and thank you for the inspiration, Angela.

Mary's Gen Blog said...

What a wonderful, inspiration filled story! It makes me wonder about my own ancestors and how they spent that last night of enslavement. Thank you for sharing your story!