Amanda Jane Berry Smith died, on February 24, 1915. She was born into slavery on a farm in Long Green in Maryland, USA on January 23, 1837. She was the oldest daughter in a family of thirteen children. Her father was able to buy his freedom, with funds raised by selling products he made in his spare time. He then continued raising funds until he had purchased his wife and his five children born in slavery.
Amanda was an enterprising young lady. She taught herself to read by cutting out large letters from her father’s newspapers then asking her mother to make words for her to read. “I shall never forget how delighted I was when I first read: ‘The house, the tree, the dog, the cow.’ I thought I knew it all.”
Amanda’s parents were devout and the father read the Bible to his family each day. Amanda was converted at the age of 13, during a revival at a Methodist Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania.
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Her own words were that she was “a poor coloured servant girl sitting away back by the door” when a young white women entreated her with tears to accept Christ. “I was the only coloured girl there, but I went. She knelt beside me with her arms around me and prayed for me…”
She felt the Lord’s touch at her conversion. “I went to get up, but found I could not stand. They took hold of me and stood me on my feet. My strength seemed to come to me, but I was frightened. I was afraid to step. I seemed to be so light. In my heart was peace, but I did not know how to exercise faith as I should. I went home and resolved I would be the Lord’s and live for him. All the days were happy and bright.”
She married at the age of 17, but her husband, although ‘religious’, turned out to be a drunkard. He joined the Union Army during the Civil War and never returned. She later married James Smith, a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who also became indifferent to things spiritual. But Amanda’s faith kept growing.
A sermon on holiness by a Presbyterian evangelist, John S Inskip, was indeed a “second blessing” to her. Gone were her fears of ‘white people’. “I would rather be black and fully saved than white and not saved”, she said.
She began to preach. Invitations came from across the United States – and even England. “In 1876 she was invited to speak at a Keswick Conference”, then to Scotland, India and Burma. She was not, emphasises one biographer, a feminist or an agitator for women’s ordination. “The thought of ordination never once entered my mind, for I had received my ordination from Him who said, ‘Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you …”
Smith became a legendary personality in her own time. This was achieved by her published works, mostly as letters to such periodicals as Wesleyan/Holiness, Methodist Episcopal, and African-American Methodist, from the 1870s until her death. Her book “An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist: Containing an Account of Her Life Work of Faith, and Her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa as an Independent Missionary” was published in 1893 and sold widely.
Amanda Smith died in 1915 in a suburb of Chicago, where she had spent her last years heading up an orphanage for black children. She was 78 years of age.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com