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Essay about The Memoir of Old Elizabeth

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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 ...


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...f her gender, while paying less attention to the way that her race effected the way that she lived her life.

The memoir of Old Elizabeth is an important historical document as it presents both the story of slave women as well as giving large amounts of insight into the way that religion influenced the lives of slaves and how it played a part of their daily lives. This intersection of religion and gender shows the added hardships that women had to face in comparison to their male counterparts. Elizabeth’s narrative is A typical as it put’s most of the focus on her gender rather than her race, which directly conflicts with the typical slave narrative which focuses mainly on the ways that race influences the life of the author or subject of the narrative.



Works Cited

Old Elizabeth, Memoir of Old Elizabeth: A colored Woman. (Philadelphia: Collins Printer, 1863) 4.


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