The Greatest Personal Privation

The Greatest Personal Privation

Tracy K. Smith
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The greatest personal privation I have had to endure has been the want of either Patience or Phoebe—tell them I am never, if life is spared us, to be without both of them again.

—letter from Mary Jones to Elizabeth Jones Maxwell
regarding two of her slaves, 30 August 1849





It is a painful and harassing business
Belonging to her. We have had trouble enough,
Have no comfort or confidence in them,

And they appear unhappy themselves, no doubt
From the trouble they have occasioned.
They could dispose of the whole family

Without consulting us—Father, Mother,
Every good cook, washer, and seamstress
Subject to sale. I believe Good shall be

Glad if we may have hope of the loss of trouble.
I remain in glad conscience, at peace with God
And the world! I have prayed for those people

Many, many, very many times.


Much as I should miss Mother,
I have had trouble enough
And wish no more to be
Only waiting to be sent
Home in peace with God.


In every probability
We may yet discover

The whole country
Will not come back

From the sale of parent
And child. So far

As I can see, the loss
Is great and increasing.

I know they have desired
We should not know

What was for our own good,
But we cannot be all the cause

Of all that has been done.


We wish to act. We may yet.
But we have to learn what their

Character and moral conduct
Will present. We have it in

Contemplation to wait and see.
If good, we shall be glad; if

Evil, then we must meet evil
As best we can.


Father, mother, son, daughter, man.
And if that family is sold:

We cannot—
We have got to—

The children

Mother and Father and husband and—

All of you—
I have no more—

How soon and unexpectedly cut off
Many, many, very many times.

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