In honor of Women’s History Month, Lisa Alzo at the Accidental Genealogist blog has been providing prompts all month to honor our female ancestors. Today’s prompt is to write a mini profile on one of our fearless female family members. So, on the last day of Women’s History month, I’m honoring my great-grandmother, Josephine Burton Ford.
According to census reports and marriage and death certificates, Josephine Burton was born in 1875 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi to a former slave, Tempy Burton and her master, Col. W.R. Stuart. She was the youngest of Tempy’s seven children, probably all fathered by the Colonel, and was 14 years younger than her oldest sibling, Alfred Burton Stuart. Like Josephine, I’m the youngest in my family and I am also 14 years younger than my oldest sibling.
At the age of 16, Josephine started writing to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a Methodist Episcopal newspaper based in New Orleans. Over the years, her writing went from short letters about her attendance at camp revivals to Uncle Cephas, probably the newspaper’s editor, to long impassioned editorials about prayer and every day life as a Christian. With her passion for Methodism, it’s no surprise that she married a Methodist reverend, James Ford when she was 19. They made their home in Ocean Springs along with the rest of her family and had six children, including my grandfather, Martin Luther Ford. Most of her time probably went into caring for her home and children single-handed, since, from newspaper accounts, James was often preaching throughout the Delta and attending church conferences out of town.
She also had an interesting way of disciplining according to my cousin, Shawnique who heard a few stories about her from our grandpa, Martin. Grandpa loved baseball and when he misbehaved, Josephine would make him wear a girl’s dress in an attempt to keep him inside away from his beloved baseball. The shame of being dressed like a girl was no deterrent to Grandpa. He just went outside in his dress and hit the ball and ran the bases all the same.
But Josephine did not live to meet any of her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. She died in 1922 of tuberculosis when she was about 47 years-old. But her passion for writing and religion survived in her newspaper articles. Here’s a transcription of one of her first letters to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, February 5, 1891:
Dear Uncle Cephas: I must write and tell you that the dear old Southwestern is a welcome visitor every week to my house. I love it more and more every time it comes. Our Presiding Elder, Rev. B.L. Crump, was with us recently and preached a soul-stirring sermon. Our pastor is Rev. J.K. Comfort. He has gone to conference.
Josephine Burton, Ocean Sprins, Miss.
A few years later on November 30, 1893 in an editorial entitled “Hindrances to Prayer” she wrote:
The church is being sorely afflicted by the materiality of the times; earth is shutting out heaven; time is eclipsing eternity; a bold and specious humanitarianism is destroying worship; the essential idea of God is being depraved;
Strong words, from a strong woman.