Brown, Hallie Q.
|SARAH GOULD LEE -- 1821--1905|
In Cumberland County, New Jersey, there is a unique settlement known as Gouldtown. Unique because it represents two hundred years of Negro rural development. The original Goulds held over five thousand acres of rich, Jersey land. A thrifty, sturdy race, they left their impression upon generations of the community. Of the fifth generation was born to Benjamin F. and Phoebe Gould, Sarah, the subject of this sketch.
There were nine children in this family, all noted for their physical comeliness, but Sarah was considered the handsomest of the daughters. With the other children she daily walked three miles to the district school where instruction was given in the three R's. There she gained also some knowledge of history and geography.
But the "readers" of those days were filled with cultural material, veritable anthologies of prose and verse. Sarah early developed a love for books and formed a devotion to literature that remained a characteristic of her life.
There was no need for manual instruction in those schools of yesterday. The home was the vocational school for the little Goulds. Sarah proved as conscientious about the home duties as she was diligent in school, and with her sister, Prudence, had quite a reputation as a needlewoman.
At sixteen, Sarah was teaching in the Gouldtown school, an eager, earnest young "school marm." She held this position for two years, then Abel Lee, a young farmer from near-by Salem, persuaded her to leave the school room and become his wife. An old daguerreotype still preserved
Abel Lee and his wife set up their home in a little four-roomed house built on his ten acres of land. Six children were born to them. Sarah's was the busy life of the pioneer during the summer. In the winter her cares were additional, for that was the time that the husband joined others of the community for the annual wood-cutting. Early in the fall the men set out for the pine forests, taking provisions to last for weeks. This was the time they chose to lay in fire woods and logs for lumber. During these weeks, crowded with cares as they were, Sarah still found opportunity to read to herself and children. Her reading material was limited to few books; the Bible, a few poems, Pilgrim's Progress, two or three novels, and such current papers and periodicals as she could find.
The wood cutters often found the life of exposure hard on them. But the winter of '52 was marked by a record snowfall preventing them from leaving their shanties and also closing them in from outside relief. Finally a succoring party cut their way through the drifts to the wood-cutters. All of the men showed the effects of the extreme cold, but Abel Lee had suffered most. Double pneumonia had gripped him so strongly that there was no hope of recovery. He reached his home and lingered with the beloved wife and little ones for a few days. The eldest son, Bishop Benjamin F. Lee, who passed March 12, 1926, at the age of eighty-four, recalled the last moments when the father summoned the stricken family to him and gave them his parting message to try to be good and strong.
What a change in the life of Sarah Lee, a widow, with six little children! Elizabeth, the eldest, twelve on the day her father died!
Her indomitable spirit gave her such self-reliance that
This brave woman then decided to rent out her home and take a room in town in her brother's home. Here she kept the three youngest children putting the two older boys with relatives to work for their board, clothes and schooling privileges. The eldest daughter was placed with an aunt.
There was almost no opportunity for women to earn money in this rural district, other than to work "at service," for meagre wages. This was no light ordeal for one who, though always poor, had never before labored "for hire." Then, worst of all was the separation from her fatherless children, her beloved circle so broken! Many a bitter tear she shed through the long, weary years of widowhood. Nevertheless she struggled on, trusting in the Lord. Her great solace was the weekly visit to her three absent children. What lessons of probity, endurance and perseverance they received at her knee! Even now, she clung to her reading, inculcating in her boys and girls a love for education and some idea of what was going on in the outside world.
After her debts were all settled and her boys were old enough to work for wages, she moved back to her little home, with her children around her again.
When the eldest son was about twenty years old, he became eager for a better education and decided to go away to school. In this day of opportunity it is hard to picture just what such a decision meant to the entire family. It took a strong woman to be willing to give up the help of her son after waiting so many years for the time to come when he could help bear the burden. Again her Spartan-like qualities asserted themselves. Not only did she consent to his going, but urged him to follow this leading out that he
In spite of her many anxieties she kept cheery and helpful. Her widowhood left but little leisure from its burdens and responsibilities for her to take part in the social life about her. In this way she formed the habit of retirement. But everyone knew that Sarah Lee was a "friend in need," and that what she said was worthy of consideration. She held her place in the community by her solidity, integrity and her endurance through years of hardship.
Her eighty-third birthday found her less rugged in body, but satisfied in the blessed assurance she had redemption through Jesus Christ. Still clear in mind and spirit, she passed on before her eighty-fourth year was completed, leaving the memory of her sterling qualities to her descendants.