Founding Mother

Thu, 03/07/2019 - 7:30pm

Even in 1877, long before women could vote or anyone thought of Women’s History Month, Sarah Sands was included in the Rev. Livermore's sketches on important players in the early European settlement of Block Island, and as more than the footnoted “wife of. . .”

He wrote of Sarah:

This lady had virtues and culture which entitle her to more than a passing notice. Although at this distant day we can give but a few outlines of her character. . . there is also incidental, collateral information obtained from the biographical fragments of her now presented. In speaking of Captain James Sands, one of the first settlers, his grandson, Rev. Samuel Niles, says:

“His wife was a gentlewoman of remarkable sobriety and piety, given also to hospitality. She was the only midwife and doctress on the Island, or rather a doctor, all her days, with very little and with some and mostly, no reward at all. Her skill in surgery was doubtless very great, from some instances I remember she told me of. One was the cure of an Indian, that under disgust, as was said, he had. . . shot himself, putting the muzzle of his gun to the pit of his stomach, and pushing the trigger. . . He was perfectly healed, and lived a hearty, strong man even to old age; whom I afterward knew, and often saw the scar at the pit of his stomach, as large or larger in circumference than our ordinary dollars passing among us.

“Another signal cure she told me God made her an instrument of making, was on a young woman that was struck with lightning through her shoulder. . . [leaving] a free and open passage both ways, yet was cured, and had several children, and lived to an old age. I also knew her before her death.”

Her husband, in his will, made her the sole executrix of his extensive estate.

Mr. Sands died in March, 1695, and in March, 1699, Mrs. Sarah Sands, his widow, had a lawful record made of the following emancipation of her slaves: [a bit contradictory, the emancipation only following a term of servitude, but an eventual emancipation, nonetheless]

“Know all men by these presents that I, Sarah Sands, of Block Island, alias New Shoreham, in the County of Rhode Island, Providence Plantations, in New England, Wife to Sarah Sands, of Block Island, and made sole executrix by my said husband, James Sand, at his death, and having three Negro children born under my roof and in my custody, being left to my disposing by my above said husband:

“Know ye therefore that I, the above Sarah Sands, do hereby and voluntarily give and bestow of them as followeth, that is to say:

“First, I give to my grandfather, Sarah Sands, daughter to my son, Edward Sands, one of the Negro girls named Hannah: The other Negro girl I give and bequeath unto my granddaughter, Catherine Niles, daughter to my son-in-law, Nathaniel Niles. . . the two Negro girls I freely and voluntarily give to my two grandchildren above named until the said Negroes come to the age of thirty years, and then I do by these presents declare that they shall be free from any service, and be at their own disposal — the Negro girl given to my granddaughter Catherine Niles, is named Sarah. The other negro above said being a boy named Mingo, I freely give and bequeath to my grandson, Sands Raymond, son to my son-in-law, Joshua Raymond. . . which I give freely until that he the said Negro boy comes to the age of thirty-three years, and then to be free and his own man and at his own disposal forever after that... for I Sarah Sands do by these presents freely declare that I have made a promise that no child whatsoever born under my service and care shall be made a slave of any longer that is above specified, and for the confirmation and ratification of this my free and voluntary act, I have under set my hand and affixed my seal this ninth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine.”

Two years and a half passed away and Mrs. Sands, conscious of her approaching end, in her last will, left a preamble that speaks well for her character, revealing a faith which was her brightest ornament through her long and eventful life mostly spent among her fellow-Islanders, many of whom she had seen in their barbarous state, and all of whom, with her devoted companion, she had labored to improve both socially and religiously.

It is almost a prayer, a glimpse of a part of her life meriting more than a sketch.

In the name of God, Amen. I, Sarah Sands of Block Island. . . being aged and weak in body, but of sound and perfect memory — Praise be given to Almighty God for the same — and knowing the uncertainty of life on earth, and being desirous to see that things in order be done before my death, Do make this my last will and Testament in manner and form following:

“I being the wife to Mr. James Sands deceased, and made sole executrix by my said husband as by will bearing date June the 18th, 1694, may plainly appear, That is to say, First and Principally, I commend my soul to Almighty God my Creator, assuredly believing that I shall receive full pardon and free remission of all my sins, and be saved by the precious death and merits of my blessed Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ; and my body to the earth from whence it was first taken, to be buried in such decent and Christian manner as to my executor here after named shall be thought most meet and convenient: And as touching such worldly estate as the Lord in mercy hath lent me, my will and meaning in the same shall be implied...”