A Description of a Slave Funeral
Digital History ID 493
During the early nineteenth century, some slaves continued to draw upon West African religious customs in burying the dead. In this selection, Charles Ball, a slave in western Maryland, describes a slave funeral.
I assisted her and her husband to inter the infant...and its father buried with it, a small bow and several arrows; a little bag of parched meal; a miniature canoe, about a foot long, and a little paddle, (with which he said it would cross the ocean to his own country) a small stick, with an iron nail, sharpened and fastened into one end of it; and a piece of white muslim, with several curious and strange figures painted on it in blue and red, by which, he said, his relations and countrymen would know the infant to be his son, and would receive it accordingly, on its arrival amongst them...He cut a lock of hair from his head, threw it upon the dead infant, and closed the grave with his own hands. Hen then told us the God of his country was looking at him, and was pleased with what he had done.
Source: Charles Ball, Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball, A Black Man (New York, 1837).
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