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S. J. McCray
Life of Mary F. McCray: Born and Raised a Slave in the State of Kentucky
Lima , Ohio: [s.n.], 1898.


Little is known about the life of Mary Frances "Fannie" McCray other than what is related in an 1898 biography written by Fannie's husband S.J. "Mack" McCray and one of her sons. (It is not clear which of the McCrays' two sons, Edward and Prince, assisted Mack with the biography.) According to the McCrays' narrative, Fannie was born Mary Frances Taylor on May 26, 1837, in Goshen, Kentucky. Her mother, Mary, was enslaved to an unmarried woman named Polly Adams. At an unknown date, Mary married Jonathan Taylor, who was reportedly "born free" because his "master was his father," although it is not clear why that connection would have spared him from enslavement (p. 7). Fannie was the fifth of Mary and Jonathan's sixteen children, and after her mother died during Fannie's teen years, she assumed many of Mary's responsibilities. Polly Adams died in 1859, and according to the terms of her will, her slaves were to be freed and given money to travel to Ohio and buy eighty acres of land per family. After a delay of three years while Adams' relatives contested the will, the Taylor family obtained a farm in Mercer County, Ohio. Farm life was difficult, and three of Fannie's sisters died of respiratory illness. Fannie occasionally worked outside the home. She married S. J. (Mack) McCray in 1868, and the couple moved to nearby Lima, Ohio. Both Fannie and Mack were devoted Christians, and they became the leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Lima. While in Ohio, they had two sons, Edward and Prince. In 1883 the McCrays purchased land in the Dakota Territory, where Fannie founded a Free Methodist Church and received a license to preach in 1886. The McCrays returned to Lima in 1891 following a severe drought. There they helped to found the First Holiness Church of Lima. Fannie died in November 1894. The Life of Mary McCray was published in Lima, Ohio, in 1898.

Mack McCray explains in a preface that he is writing a biography of his wife because she believed her story would be "a great blessing to many readers" and would "let them know what it is to live a holy, self-denial life" (p. 6). A slave until her mid-twenties and then responsible for the well-being of her father and sisters on a poorly producing small farm, Fannie lives a difficult life. Her husband stresses that she has persevered only by means of a strong Christian faith.

Fannie's early childhood is relatively stable. She lives with her mother and has fifteen siblings, thirteen of whom are girls. The two boys and several of the girls die while still children. Fannie's father is not a slave, according to Mack, because his "master is his father" (p. 7). Mack says that he "only [comes] home once a week, so that not much of the family cares [can] rest upon him" (p. 16). After harvesting corn during the day, Fannie and her mother spend their nights cleaning and making clothing. Both she and her parents frequently attend dances. At age fourteen, Fannie is persuaded by her aunt Margaret (also enslaved to Polly Adams) that attending dances and parties is wicked. Fannie repents of having taken part in dancing and begins to attend Christian prayer meetings. Her new faith becomes important to her and helps her through her mother's sickness and death.

Although it was common for wills freeing slaves to be overturned (see the stories of the mothers of Andrew Jackson and Lewis Garrard Clarke, also of Kentucky), Polly Adams' relatives are unable to overturn her will after a three-year struggle. Lawyers tell her relatives "that it was useless for them to complain, as the will could never be broken" (pp. 17-18). In 1862, three years after Adams' death, the newly freed Taylor family takes a steamer to Cincinnati, where they are cared for by Levi Coffin (a leader in the abolitionist movement and a key figure in the Underground Railroad) until they purchase an 80-acre farm in New Bremen, Ohio. Most of the farmland still has to be cleared, and in addition to caring for the house, Fannie assists her father with chopping timber. Some of Fannie's sisters travel to Cincinnati to work. Three other sisters die of lung ailments during the first years on the farm.

Mack McCray, a black Union Army veteran from Cincinnati and friend of several of Fannie's sisters, asks in 1867 to correspond with Fannie in friendship. He becomes a Christian while boarding with a Christian woman in Chicago and in 1868 writes a letter of courtship to Fannie. He proposes marriage the first time he meets her in person, at the Taylor farm in New Bremen, and the couple marries the next evening. Because Fannie's father returns to Kentucky around this time, leaving a farm that the McCrays consider unworthy of further investment, the couple moves to nearby Lima, Ohio. They become leaders of the local African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church. In 1875 the McCrays become involved in the holiness movement and commit themselves to a doctrine called "entire sanctification," which Mack describes as receiving a "pure heart" and being "filled with the Holy Ghost" (p. 50, 54). A belief that originated with John Wesley, the doctrine of entire sanctification holds that after conversion and a period of increasing in love and holiness, a believer may experience one moment in which "the heart is cleansed from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man" (Wesley, qtd. in Brasher 27). Many of the attendees of the holiness meetings and revivals in Lima's A.M.E. church are white.

In 1883, the McCrays move to the Dakota Territory, having secured 160 acres there because of Mack's veteran status. Their farm is near a town Mack refers to as Desmet, also known as De Smet, (now De Smet, South Dakota). The McCrays' two sons move with them. Edward works as a barber and lives in Desmet, but their younger son Prince, who is only ten years old when they arrive in Dakota, lives with his parents on their farm. The McCrays become friends with their neighbors and succeed at farming, but they are disappointed at the lack of Christians, prayer meetings, and schools in the sparsely populated area. At Fannie's urging, the community establishes a school and then a Sunday school. However, some families are uncomfortable meeting for Sunday school in the Taylor home because the family is black, and so the Sunday school is held in the home of a white family. In 1886, Fannie perceives a call to become a preacher, and she begins to preach in local meetings, astonishing people who do not believe that an uneducated woman is capable of preaching.

After three years of drought and hail, the McCrays leave their farm in 1888 and join their son Edward, who has married and moved to Huron, about 30 miles away. In 1891, they return to Lima. Disapproving of the state of the Christian community there, they set about founding a new church dedicated to the cause of the holiness movement. The First Holiness Church of Lima is organized on April 11, 1892. In June 1894, Fannie becomes ill, and after growing weaker for several months, she dies that November of unknown causes. At the end of the biography, Mack includes two addenda: "The Training of Children" and "A Few Thoughts on Marriage." Although he does not directly connect them to his wife's life, the two short sections echo Fannie and Mack's beliefs about their own marriage: while spouses should attempt to bring each other happiness, Mack says, their primary duty is "to help each other live the life of the righteous" (p. 46).

Works Consulted: Brasher, John Lawrence, The Sanctified South: John Lakin Brasher and the Holiness Movement, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994; Clarke, Lewis Garrard, Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clarke, During a Captivity of More than Twenty-Five Years, Among the Algerines of Kentucky, One of the So Called Christian States of North America, available from Documenting the American South, online database, accessed July 30, 2010; "Dakota Territory and Statehood," available from American Memory, online database, accessed July 29, 2010; "The Holiness Movement, 1824-1923," Christian History and Biography 82 (Spring 2004): 26-27; Jackson, Andrew, Narrative and Writings of Andrew Jackson, of Kentucky; Containing an Account of His Birth, and Twenty-Six Years of His Life While a Slave; His Escape; Five Years of Freedom, Together with Anecdotes Relating to Slavery; Journal of One Year's Travels; Sketches, etc., available from Documenting the American South, online database, accessed July 30, 2010 ; Potter, Constance, "Genealogy Notes: De Smet, Dakota Territory, Little Town in the National Archives," Prologue 35.4 (Winter 2003), available from the National Archives, online database, accessed July 29, 2010; Terhune, Carol Parker, "McCray, Mary F.," African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., vol. 2, New York: Oxford UP, 2008.

Erin Bartels Buller

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