A minister for children, Catherine Ferguson

Catherine Ferguson
Fri, 1779-05-07

*The birth of Catherine Ferguson in 1779 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black minister and advocate of childcare.

Born a slave, her mother delivered her on while traveling from Virginia to New York City. Katy Williams was her name at birth and when she eight years old, her mother was sold (and she never saw her mother again). Ferguson was “owned” by a man named R. B., who was an elder in one of the Presbyterian Churches of New-York City. When she was sixteen years old, a woman purchased her freedom for $200. Ferguson was married at eighteen and had two children that died in infancy.

Although she herself never learned to read, Ferguson gathered the poor and neglected children of the neighborhood, white and black, for religious instruction every Sunday at her home on Warren Street in New York. A minister who heard of her work convinced her to move her school to the basement of his new church on Murray Street where Ferguson's Sunday school was the first to be established in the city of New York. Twice a week she also held prayer meetings for the children and adults; an endeavor she continued for over 40 years in every community in which she lived.

During her life she raised around 48 children; twenty of them white, some from the alms-house and others from their parents or from the streets. She raised them or kept them until she found suitable homes for them. Of Catherine Ferguson a biographer wrote: "The example of such a life ought not to be lost…to perpetuate the memory of Katy Ferguson and her deeds for the benefit of posterity. She was a philanthropist of truest stamp." Catherine Ferguson died on July 11, 1854.

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