Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Her mind appeared uncommonly spiritual"

Chloe Spear (c. 1767-1815) was an enslaved African woman living in Boston who became the subject of a posthumous biography, Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear: A Native of Africa, Who was Enslaved in Childhood, and Died in Boston, January 3, 1815, Aged 65 Years, by an unidentified “Lady of Boston” in 1832.

Chloe was twelve years old when she was “taken from country and kindred” and sold to the prominent Bradford family in Boston whom she served until she was freed in 1783. Chloe Spear spent her first few years of captivity in Andover, Massachusetts, and later moved to Boston where she was baptized at Second Baptist Church. Following her emancipation, Spear worked as a housekeeper and washerwoman before opening up a boarding house with her husband, Cesar. She and Cesar had seven children, all of whom she outlived.

The Memoir of Mrs. Chloe Spear is a spiritual biography—central to her story are the ways in which her spirituality and deep commitment to Christianity evolved. Following her baptism, Spear read the Bible with incredible fervor, opened her home to white and black Christians for prayer meetings, and engaged in mission work in Boston and Andover. As noted by her biographer: “She was kind and benevolent to the poor and distressed. Whenever objects of charity were presented, her hand was open for their relief.”

Spear died of “rheumatic complaints” in 1815. In her will, she left her home, money, and possessions to her church with hopes that it be applied to—in her words—the “relief of the sick and poor—particularly those of colour.” Following her death, one prominent white Boston minister posited of her: “Several of the last years of her life, her mind appeared uncommonly spiritual. As she advanced in life, she seemed to ripen for glory. Few Christians with whom we have been acquainted have appeared to maintain so near a walk with God, or to enjoy so much of heaven.”

Spear's Memoir is currently on display in Rauner Library in a student-curated exhibit, "Snatched from Africa's fancy'd happy seat": Gender and Slavery in New England. You can see it there until the end March.  After that, ask for 1926 Collection, L325 1832.

Posted for Jordan Terry '15

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