Brown, Hallie Q.
|MARY ELLA MOSSELL -- 1853-1886|
" Hail, Sister of the Skies, and Farewell "
It should be a pleasant task to write of one's mother, but when the most vivid impression is that of her martyrdom, the emotions are not unmixed with sadness.
I should like best to tell of the impressions Mother made upon me as a child. I thought her the most beautiful little lady in the whole wide world. I loved to watch her comb her glorious wealth of hair, to hear her voice, and, best of all, to have her clasp me in her arms and tell me my daily story. I should like to tell of my hour, "The children's hour," the best of the day that Mother gave to me.
Of the facts I shall state here, a few I know from actual contact and experience but most of them I learned as I grew older, from the lips of Father, the writings, of Hon. John M. Langston and President Solomon of Hayti, from chats with Grandmother and a few notes of Mother's own.
May Ella Forrester was born in Baltimore, Maryland, May 22, 1853. Her parents were free people and versed in the three "R's." Miss Forrester graduated from the Baltimore Normal School, receiving three scholarship prizes. She commenced the study of music when in the lower grades and continued the subject until her marriage. Miss Forrester was married, in 1874, to Rev. C. W. Mossell and two years after her marriage accompanied her husband, who was appointed a missionary of the A. M. E. Church to Hayti.
It was on this mission field that Mrs. Mossell was to find her hardest trials, her richest blessings and her martyrdom.
Mrs. Mossell had studied the Latin, Greek and German languages but the speech of the Haytians is French and a native patois both of which it was necessary for a successful missionary to master together with Spanish which one frequently needed in daily travels. The climate had discouraged many, and caused the failure of more than one attempt to establish missions on this West Indian Isle. The customs too were to be reckoned with by one who must reach the people. Hayti, had its cultured groups but the masses were primitive. Superstition and ignorance were the heritage and the sanitary conditions were such, at that time, that pestilence and climate seemed leagued in an effort to discourage the foreigner who attempted to establish himself upon this otherwise beautiful Island.
President Solomon, in his writings marvels at the fact that our little missionary mastered the languages complex to the country in so short a time. She soon became so proficient in French that she was an recognized authority. She mastered Spanish also. The native patois quickly ceased to puzzle her and when she could use it helped greatly in her unceasing efforts to reach the masses.
The customs, though strange, were met with tact and a keen insight into human nature. The suspicious native women were won over through the medium of some brightly colored yarns which Mrs. Mossell collected, and sitting on her veranda, in plain sight of the street she proceeded to work the brilliantly colored yarn into patterns. One by one and then in small groups the native woman overcame their suspicion and superstitions dread of the foreign woman and came cautiously at first and then freely to watch the miracle of blending colors and design. Soon a large group of these women were on friendly terms at the mission house and many were brought into the school and into the church. Through the town of Port au Prince went
In Hayti the more enlightened people were Roman Catholics, "politicians"--and therefore careful to avoid any religious entanglements, or they were men whose business relations with the interior natives made it seem necessary to subscribe to the superstitious cults of the island. It was difficult indeed to reach this group but Mrs. Mossell found her musical talent and her linguistic ability to be the devices here and she was soon accepted in the homes of the cultured upon whom she drew for converts and for pupils. Her musical talent was not limited to the piano; she was a composer of no mean ability. Her compositions that counted most on the mission field were "La Grande Marche," dedicated to President Solomon, and "Le Bouquet," to General Ligitime, another was "La Grande Marche Patriotic," some songs in patois that are lost should be added to the list. The songs and music, the brilliant mastery of the language were accounted by this little woman as merely gifts meant to help in God's work.
Mrs. Mossell and her husband succeeded in creating enough interest in Hayti and at the home base to send five young Haytian gentlemen to the States for higher education at Wilberforce. The wisdom of their selection of these men is evident from the fact that each one of them became a staunch workman in the A. M. E. Church. One returned to his country as secretary of the legation after he had served the church in Hayti and he is now counted with the staunchest and strongest on the episcopal bench.
The inhospitable climate of Hayti was the most trying obstacle our missionaries had to meet. With the exception of the Revolution horrors, it was their deadliest enemy. Both claimed their toll. Both were equally deadly. The climatic severity was enhanced by the miserable sanitary conditions in the town of Port au Prince. Before the onslaught of plague and pestilence our Missionaries faltered but buried their dead, succored their wounded and marched
The plague of smallpox came next and skillful nursing was all that saved an only daughter, scarred but otherwise unharmed.
Pestilence, dangerous native superstitions, revolutions, and death were always near but this little woman faced them, kept the faith and performed her work to such an end that one Haytian gentleman writing of her said: "Her death was the glorious counter-part of her magnificent life." President Solomon, in his memorial address said: "But how shall we estimate our loss when we recall that, perhaps, no one among us has accomplished larger labors in this field of dignified, useful and indispensible service, and who has been more successful?"
Having survived the climate, mastered the languages, and, with delicate tact penetrated the native prejudices, destroyed, in some cases, the superstitious dreads and worships of the people Mrs. Mossell and her devoted husband brought many to Christ and to the mysteries of letters. They risked their all, giving it freely and they had won--but the zero hour was to come in the revolution of 1883. "Contemplate a frail American woman, of Protestant Methodist faith, educated in the language of her own country with some knowledge of Latin, Greek and German, in hand-to-hand struggle against such ignorance, superstition and mental inactivity as existed in Hayti," remarks one writer when recounting Mrs. Mossell's trials in the revolution.
On the twenty-second and twenty-third of September, 1883, the notorious Bazelias Revolution was brought to a
"Ah! A sad day! Black as night in the life of a great nation,' writes Mr. Langston, "But what proves to be the Black Day of the nation," he continues, "is the glorious, effulgent one of a humble, delicate woman, who shrank in natural diffidence and Christian modesty from public gaze or display. It is a day fraught with duties and consequences which a trying, cruel emergency would bring upon her. Whence comes now the physical strength, the moral fortitude, the conscious sagacity equal to the responsibility of this hour?"
Mrs. Mossell had seen every house, neighbor to her own go down in flames; the small American Flag on the gallery was of no avail for, "the moment made haste when her own house must go...and the family was left to make their way as best they might against the fast devouring flames and the furious mob now forcing their way into the house with bloody intent. Revolvers, guns and swords were freely used; many of those who had taken refuge in the mission house being shot down, wounded or killed upon the spot. Threatened with death, Mr. Mossell was rudely forced into the streets and forced to march at point of revolvers to what he was told was to be his death. Now came the supreme hour of Mrs. Mossell. She alone could, and, she alone did, by her courageous and heroic conduct, prevent the assassins' foul purpose upon her husband's life. Her imploring words, her womanly, earnest efforts; her whole appearance and manner, so impressive and subduing, as, clinging to her husband, she was borne on as he, by the mob through the streets, pulled, hauled and pushed under the direst threats of personal violence, could but draw to her and her husband, in such sore condition, at least a friend or two who would seek their relief. So it happened and they were saved."
"The emergency came and it was met in an heroic manner. All the beauty, and excellence, and nobility, and dignity which it revealed in the character of Mrs. Mossell will ever remain our glad heritage. The amplest justification of our deep admiration for her as a true Christian heroine."
The effects of those terrible days and nights took heavy costs from our missionaries. It brought about the untimely birth of a daughter who survived but a short while and left their only remaining child lost for four days, in fact to be given up by all but her mother, as having perished. It left the mother to linger through a little more than two years of much suffering thence to go, amidst eulogies and grief, to her own reward.