In 1772, freedom was little more than a pie-in-the-sky dream for first generation slave, Sowei, who’d been kidnapped from her Mende village and sold into slavery in the State of Virginia. For her daughter, Hannah, freedom was worth the risk of stowing away in the belly of a trading vessel…penniless, hungry, and ready to deliver her first child, Katherine.
But the struggle for freedom in Revolutionary War era wouldn’t come easily. Only after nearly two decades of domestic servitude in New York did Katherine (born during that clandestine voyage) earn the privilege of living free.
Katherine’s real freedom however, came years earlier in a one-on-one meeting with a Scottish Presbyterian Pastor, when Jesus Christ set her free from bondage to sin and hatred.
In Gloucester, England at the time, the need to help “poor, degraded children” who roamed the streets and knew nothing of God led to the founding of the first so-called Sunday school in 1780 by a man named Robert Raikes. The same such wayward children roamed the streets of New York City.
With her freedom, and skills as a baker, Katherine Ferguson opened a school in her home in 1793 which became the first Sunday school in New York City, and one of the first in the nation. This was during slavery, before the Civil War was fought. Because Mrs. Ferguson was held in such high esteem in her community, enough people had written bits of information about her to link their writings together in a book of historical fiction. W.E.B. DuBois later said in his book Darkwater: Kate Ferguson was born in New York. Freed, widowed, and bereaved of her children before she was twenty, she took the children of the streets of New York, white and black, to her empty arms, taught them, found them homes, and with Dr. Mason of Murray Street Church established the first modern Sunday school in Manhattan.
Margaret’s self-published edition, Given to God: The Life of Katherine Ferguson, was picked up by Moody Publishers of Chicago and retitled More Than A Slave: The Life of Katherine Ferguson. It has also been translated into the Dutch language and is available under the title: De vrije slavin: Het leven van Katherine Ferguson.
It is on the shelves at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, and at Enoch Pratt Free Libraries in Baltimore, Maryland.