Catherine (Katy) Ferguson (?-1854)
Catherine (Katy) Ferguson (?-1854)

Katy Ferguson was born a slave in New York and separated from her mother at the age of eight. This experience along with other tragedies in her life gave her a compassionate heart for orphans and children in need. She would give her life to serving the children of New York City out of her own home before any social programs were ever available.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Comfort in Troubles

Katy did not live any easy life. At the age of eight, her mother was sold to another family and she was left behind. She never had the opportunity to see her again. She gave her life to the Lord at the age of 16 and along with her spiritual freedom, she also was able to work for a loan to buy her physical freedom.

She was married at the age of 18 and had to children which both died as infants. Although no mention is made of his exact date of death, it is also believed that her husband died soon after. Though acquainted with grief, her strong faith in the Lord was her comfort. She had the friendship of a kind family who took her to church, encouraged her spiritual development and shared her same desire to help children.

We are not promised a life free of troubles. Jesus actually told us in John 16:33 that “in this world you will have trouble.” But, he states immediately after, “Take heart. I have overcome the world.” Katy had troubles but she did not let it cause her bitterness or defeat. Instead, she took heart and put that heart into serving God and others.

Comforting Others

In 1793, Katy started a Sunday School and prayer meetings in her home for both black and white children in her neighborhood in NYC. While it remains a questionable fact to some, many sources state that this was the first Sunday School ever established in the city. Katy never learned to read or write but had memorized many old hymns and much of God’s word. She taught the children to memorize the word as well as told them stories from the Bible. She sang songs with them and loved on them.

She was not only known for holding these Sunday School classes but also took in orphaned, abandoned, or poverty stricken children. She washed, fed, clothed them, and of course taught them from the Bible. When her Sunday children’s ministry began to outgrown her home, the pastor of her church offered the use of the church basement and she was able to institute the Murray Street Sabbath School.

However, Katy never gave up the work she did at home for the underprivileged children or those in need of prayer. She also became an advocate for these children by finding good homes for the orphans and encouraging others to help them.

An obituary was written for her in the New York Daily Tribune by an anti-slavery activist reporter named Lewis Tappan who had interviewed her a few years before. In this obituary, he states, “Where Katy lived, the whole aspect of the neighborhood was changed.” He goes on to share: To my inquiry, “Have you laid up any property?” she quickly replied, “How could I, when I gave away all I earned?” And, in the journal he carried, was found the following account, after Katy had passed, “[July] 21st. Went to the late residence of Katy Ferguson to look over a barrel of pamphlets she left. By permission took away a few. A little girl in the neighborhood came in & said, ‘Please give me a book to remember Aunt Katy by.’ I gave her a small book.”

A Lasting Legacy

She was a pioneer in the work of getting children off of the streets. New York’s Children’s Aid was not established until a year before Katy’s death. I think that she is so often overlooked in history books because she was illiterate and so there were no writings to preserve. Also, because she was a black, Christian woman who quietly worked for the Lord and not the recognition of man.

However, in 1920 the city founded a home for unwed mothers in her honor and named it after her, “The Katy Ferguson Home.” And, let’s not discount the fruit of her labors that would long outlive her through the lives of the children she changed through her love, care, and bible teaching.

Take Aways

Two scriptures come to mind when I think about the life of Katy Ferguson.

  • James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

Katy Ferguson gave her life to help orphans and children in need. Not one negative thing was said about her during her life or after her passing. She spoke out against slavery, the ill treatment of children, and gambling. She seems to have been “unspotted from the world.” Let’s take a page in her book and give ourselves over to help those in need. and stay unspotted from the world. (Romans 12:2 for Your Family)

  • Matthew 6: 19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and. where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

She was not rich by earthly standards and never hoped to be. The little money she made was from baking and selling cakes. She used this money to feed and clothe the poor. In the last of her obituary, Tappan writes: Her mind was calm and clear. Oh!” said she to a friend who stood near, “what a good thing it is to have a hope in Jesus!” 

Her last words were: “All is well.” (From the day of her death.) This is most certainly a faithful servant who’s treasure and heart were in heaven with her Savior. Let’s store up treasures in heaven so that at the end of our days, we can say with Katy, “All is well.”

Resources:

  1. Catherine Katy Ferguson Obituary : https://b-womeninamericanhistory19.blogspot.com/2019/06/former-slave-catherine-ferguson-1774.html
  2. “More Than a Slave” by Margaret Pagan
  3. https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-83667139/catherine-ferguson-black-founder-of-a-sunday-school

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