230518ind history

This is the Bay Street home that Christina Chase, a former slave born in Richmond, Virginia in 1843 who moved north following the Civil War and raised her children in Wickford.

You know, Mothers Day was envisioned as an opportunity for all of us to pause a moment in our busy lives and reflect upon the dedication of, and sacrifices made by, the women who brought us into this world; our moms. And, although there are countless stories of moms here in South County that have overcome incredible odds while raising their children; this year, I’d like to stop a bit myself and contemplate the remarkable dedication of a mom; Christina (White) Chase a resident of 19th century Wickford.

Although Christina Chase may have spent the greater part of her life in sleepy little Wickford, it was not the place of her birth, and certainly not reflective of the circumstances of her early years. You see, she was born in 1843, in Richmond, Virginia as a slave on a plantation there. Like most southern slaves of the period, the passage of her life left barely a ripple on the historic record, and today we know little of her early life beyond the fact that after the “Great War Between the States”, she joined the migration of freed slaves north and ended up, like many of them did, in New York City, eager to start her new life of freedom, but uncertain how to proceed.

She was not alone though on this journey north, she brought with her a daughter fathered by her former master. That little girl, Cornelia, conceived under horrific circumstances and brought into a world of violence, hatred, and confusion, could not have been loved more than she was by her mom Christina.  

While in New York City, Christina met former tobacco plantation slave and Civil War Veteran Jim Chase. They fell in love, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, packed up their meager belongings and continued north until they reached Wickford. They decided to settle here and were soon married in the village.

They were a family now, a family made up of a former Maryland tobacco slave, one of the domestic slaves from the Parkill Plantation in Virginia, and a beautiful little child born of that slave and her master. Like they always had, Jim and Christina set to work, Jim working as a teamster hauling coal for the Baker family coal yard and Christina working as a domestic servant for affluent jewelry factory owner James Eldred.

They eventually had their own children together as well; son William and daughter Mary joined their elder sibling Cornelia in the Chase family household. They were free people working for their own futures. They weren’t slaves anymore, but life was still challenging and through it all Christina persevered. She worked full time during the day cleaning someone else’s home, doing someone else’s laundry, raising someone else’s children and then came home and did it all over again for her own family. Her three children went off to school were educated and grew up to be adults that she could be proud of. She saw her husband off to his final rest in Elm Grove Cemetery, buried with honors in the Veteran’s section right next to the other North Kingstown Civil War Veterans, white men every one; and then in 1925 she too began her rest eternal in that same cemetery. All work put aside, her children raised in love, a life well lived to be sure.

The bond between mother and child is one of the strongest forces of nature, of that I have no doubt. In this instance, in this case, with this particular mother and her eldest daughter Cornelia, I expect it was a force to be reckoned with, a force powerful enough to allow a person to be extraordinary; to allow a slave woman to rise above her circumstances and persevere against all odds, just to give her little girl a better tomorrow. Rest in Peace Christina Chase, Rest in Peace.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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