Mary Slessor [1848-1915]

📅 March 19, 2020

Mary Slessor was born December 2, 1848 in Scotland. She was the second of seven children. Her mother was a Christian, who was deeply interested in missions. Her father was an alcoholic.

When her father eventually lost his job, Mary, as a 14-year-old, had to take part-time work at a factory. She worked twelve hour days. However, she did not put her education “on hold” as a result of this circumstance. She developed the habit of taking a book to work and propping it on her machine so she could read while she worked.

Later, when her church started a mission, she began to work there. All this was “training ground” for her life’s work in Africa. When she was 28, she applied to a mission board and after a brief period of training, left for Nigeria.

Besides using an umbrella and a cooking pot to fend off marauding animals, Mary found that her greatest challenge was in confronting witchcraft. Some of the customs involved sacrificing people after the death of a chief. Sometimes the wife of a dead chief would be thrown into his grave with him. Mary tried to rescue these wives from death. Sometimes she would stay up all night to protect women and children from the tribal chiefs.

Also, the Nigerians believed it was evil or a sign of bad luck when twins were born and would murder or abandon the twins. Mary began rescuing these children. At one time she had so many that she rigged up a system of hammocks in her home. She connected all these beds with rope and then looped them to her own bed, so with one pull, she could “rock” the entire system and thus soothe all the babies at once.

Mary also learned to speak the Efik language and could use it fluently. She lived like the natives, dressed like them and practiced their customs. Mary was so effective in her work that the local government asked her to become a member of the Itu Court.

Mary constantly pushed inward to the center of her country and helped find ways to build new roads.

Like other missionaries in Africa, Mary contracted malaria and was often extremely ill.

In 1914, she became so sick that a canoe took her to the government hospital. Finally, on January 13, 1915, she prayed “O, God, release me.”


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.


Semi-Finalist - 2021 Royal Palm Literary Award Competition - Florida Writer's Association