Alice, The Negro

This text is an excerpt from Biographical Sketches and Interesting Anecdotes of Persons of Color.
Abigail Mott
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 6.

About the year 1802, died, in Pennsylvania, a female slave, named Alice, aged one hundred and sixteen years. She was born in Philadelphia, of parents who came from Barbados, and she lived there till she was ten years old, when she was removed to Dunk’s Ferry, about seventeen miles up the Delaware river, near which she lived till the end of her days. 

A short time before her death, she paid a visit to her native city. Many respectable persons called to see her, who were pleased with her innocent cheerfulness, and that dignified deportment, for which, though a slave and uninstructed, she was remarkable. 

She was a worthy member of the Episcopal society, and she attended their public worship as long as she lived: indeed, she was so zealous to perform this duty in proper time, that she has often been met on horseback, galloping to the church, when she was ninety-five years old. 

The veneration she had for the Bible, made her lament that she was not able to read it: but this deficiency was in part supplied by the kindness of many of her friends, who, at her request, would read it to her, when she would listen with great attention, and often make suitable remarks. 

She was temperate in her living, and so careful not to tell an untruth, that her veracity was never questioned; and her master had such confidence in her honesty, that she was at all times trusted to receive the ferriage money, for upward of forty years. 

When she was one hundred years old, the last of her teeth dropped out. She also about that time became blind, so that she could not see the sun at noonday: but being used to constant employment, though her last master excused her from her usual labor, she did not like to be idle; for she afterward devoted her time to fishing, at which she was very expert; and even when blind, she would frequently row herself in a boat to the middle of the stream, from which she seldom returned without a handsome supply of fish for her master’s table. 

About the hundred and second year of her age, her sight was gradually restored a little, so that she could see objects moving before her. She retained her hearing to the end of her life: but before she died, her hair became perfectly white. 

The honesty, love of truth, veneration for the Holy Scriptures, attention to religious worship, temperance, and industry of this poor slave, should be a lesson to us; and if we admire her character, if we ourselves wish to become good, let us attend the good spirit, the spirit of Christ in our hearts, which reproves us, and makes us feel unhappy when we do wrong; but when we mind its reproofs, and humbly endeavor to do what we know is right, it gives us that peace of mind which the world cannot give, neither can it take away. 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p249901coll37/id/10611/rec/61.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Underline the sentence fragment that indicates Alice was illiterate.
    The veneration she had for the Bible, made her lament that she was not able to read it.
  2. Question
    Roughly, in what year was Alice born?
    She was born around 1686.
  3. Question
    What effect does emphasizing Alice’s religiosity have on the reader?
    Answers will vary and may include a desire to “do good.”
  4. Question
    Consider Alice’s (temporary) blindness. How did or didn’t this impairment impact her ability to work?
    Answers will vary and may include her ability to fish on her own each day by rowing a boat to the middle of a lake as she did not like to sit idle.
  5. Question
    Imagine what Alice must have experienced over the course of a century. Write a brief obituary for her, considering fictionalized and real events.
    Answers will vary.
Reveal Answers
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