From: Michael, Mitsu and Heather Soria <mmsoria@ix.netcom.com>
THE STORY OF A SLAVE

Chaplain William Miles, of Sandusky Soldier’s Home. By Lenore Sherwood Marble.
 
 

It is the general idea that a man unable to read or write must necessarily be uneducated and ignorant, and in many cases this is true. But there are exceptions to this, and one of the most intelligent, highest minds I ever knew was an old slave to whom the world of letters was a sealed book. He must have been over fifty when he first came to our house with his cart and white-wash brushes and impressed us with his natural intelligence and quaint philosophy. He even afterwards came to live in our family, and as we came in closer contact with him, the beauties of his mind and fine nature expanded and grew.
His father and mother were slaves and he used to tell about their life and how their little family was separated and each sold to a different master. The anguish of the poor mother and the heartbroken father and grief-stricken children were depicted with an eloquence and vividness that
would have made him famous before any bar in the country.
He described his Southern home with such carefully selected words, that it all was pictured before you and you were impressed with his wonderful descriptive powers. Then his love of nature, music, poetry and art was strong, his powers of eloquence and oratory great, and his ideal and religious nature far above the average divine that preaches the gospel to us.
And yet he was called ignorant and uneducated by those who only knew him as an old slave who did little jobs about the house and barn and talked and sang a great deal.
If education is measured by the number of books we have read, then he surely was woe-
fully ignorant. But if an educated man is one who has a well-stored mind and who retains what he hears and absorbs and observes, than our dear old William was educated. His manners were polite and courteous, his thoughts lofty and elevated, his convictions strong, his insight clear, and his judgment sound.
He was fond of lectures and sermons, and could report about word for word what he heard, and turned it over and over in his mind until it was throughly assimilated. If he went to a concert he could retain the music and hum any tune he heard. He was fond of art and visited art stores and came home with all excitement over the lovely pictures that we must buy for our home.
His analysis of men and women was keen and scathing and he seldom made a mistake.
Soon after William came to us, we children began to teach him to read and to write his name. How proud he was when he could write “William Miles” without a copy and in imitation of the childish, cramped hand that set him the copy. After that he had many important business matters that demanded his signature, which he wrote with swelling pride and gratitude.
In a short time he could read chapters in the Bible, partly by picking out the letters, but mostly in imitation with the aid of his wonderful memory.
William had been a soldier, and belonged to a Grand Army Post and was loved and petted by his comrades. One day he came home in the greatest excitement. He had been elected Chaplain of the Post, and his heart was bursting with pride and gratitude. In a short time, by having us read the Ritual a few times, he was master of it, and could repeat the entire contents of the book, even to the special services of Memorial Day.
 Those who attended the Memorial services of Ford Post, Toledo, O., in 1889, will never forget it. One scene is so deeply impressed that as I write, the picture stands out in bold relief.
The comrades, in full uniform, stand around the flower-bedecked graves of their dead, the solemn dirge from the band has ceased and all eyes are turned toward the tall form of the Chaplain who stands a little apart from the rest, with his black face aglow with religious fervor and his eyes shining with a spiritual light. His rich, full, plaintive voice rises and falls with eloquent expression as he repeats without aide of book the long, beautiful prayer of Memorial Day.
You will all wonder what has become of William and if he lives, or has gone to join the majority of his comrades.
If you will visit the Soldier’s Home in Sandusky, O., and inquire for Chaplain William Miles, he will greet you with a hearty handshake, and will say: “Bless that child: did she write about me?”

National Tribune, Dec. 15, 1893

*He died Feb. 15, 1904



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