Amanda Berry Smith (1837–1915)

  • Priscilla Pope-Levison


Amanda Berry was the oldest girl in a family of thirteen children, five of whom were born into slavery Her parents, Samuel and Mariam Berry, were slaves on adjacent farms. Samuel worked overtime, “in the fields until two o’clock at night, or making brooms” in order to buy himself and his family out of slavery1 Eventually the Berry family relocated from Maryland to York. County, Pennsylvania, where they settled on a farm owned by a prosperous, white family The underground railroad was active in the county and Amanda’s parents frequently harbored runaway slaves. In her autobiography, Amanda recounted how her father labored by day in the fields and then led slaves by night to the next underground railroad station. Her formal education was severely limited due to her race, so she was mostly educated at home by her parents. When she was eight, an abolitionist opened a school nearby for African American children, but it only operated for six weeks. Five years later, when she was thirteen, she and her brother walked five miles each way to school. This second attempt at a formal education lasted a scant two weeks because the teacher taught them only after she had finished with the white children. Amanda left home shortly after to work as a live-in domestic.


African American Child White Family Sunday Morning Holy Ghost White Folk 
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  1. 3.
    Amanda Smith, An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, The Colored Evangelist (Chicago: Christian Witness Co., 1921), 42.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    The words, “slain,” “slain in the Spirit,” or “falling,” describe the phenomenon of falling to the ground while under religious conviction and lying still for a while before awakening. For more on “slain” in the Methodist tradition, see Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1999), 72–75Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    In her autobiography, she included several conversations with the Devil, which occurred at significant points in her religious life. There is another particularly lengthy conversation with the Devil immediately preceding her sanctification. See Smith, Autobiography, 73–80. For more on her personification of the devil, see Elizabeth Elkins Grammer, Some Wild Visions: Autobiographies by Female Itinerant Evangelists in 19th–Century America (New York: Oxford University, 2003), 94–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 22.
    The love feast was a basic ritual of early Methodism, which commonly followed this pattern: “hymn, prayer, eating of bread and water, testimonies, monetary collection, hymn, prayer, benediction.” [Lester Ruth, A Little Heaven Below: Worship At Early Methodist Quarterly Meetings (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2000), 106Google Scholar
  5. Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, American Methodist Worship (New York: Oxford University, 2001), 60–64.]CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 26.
    Nancy A. Hardesty and Adrienne Israel, “Amanda Berry Smith: A ‘Downright, Outright Christian’” in Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Vocational Vision of Women in The United Methodist Tradition, ed. Rosemary Skinner Keller (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993), 70.Google Scholar

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© Priscilla Pope-Levison 2004

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  • Priscilla Pope-Levison

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