Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs


Lieutenant General
- ★★★ -
Managing Member & Webmaster
Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV




Meet Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (1818-1907), was born into the cruel world of slavery. Elizabeth survived a horrific early life to become a most successful seamstress, civil activist, and author in Washington D.C. Her father Armistead Burwell was a farm owner near Dinwiddie, Va. and her mother Agnes his house slave. She received the worst kinds of treatment at the hands of the Burwell family and a friend she was sold to. Later she was returned to her half sister Anna Burwell Garland and her husband Hugh.

In her childhood Elizabeth had taught sewing skills and she would become a well regarded seamstress while working for the Garlands and their 15 children, with her earning being what supported the family. Elizabeth met a James Keckley in Saint Louis, and he desired her to be his wife, but she refused as long as she was enslaved.

Her mother had been "married" off by Burwell, to a slave owned by another farmer, and when that farmer moved he took his slave as well and they were separated for the rest of their lives. Elizabeth went to Hugh Garland and offered to buy her freedom, and it took her two years to convince him. The price in 1852 of $1200.00 is about 33K today. One of her dress patrons took up a collection to collect the money and Elizabeth was freed, and stayed in Saint Louis until she paid the debt. Elizabeth made her way to Washington D.C. where she began to made a name and career for herself.

One of her early creations was a silk dress made for the wife of Robert E. Lee's wife on the occasion of a dinner party held for the Prince of Wales. Elizabeth's reputation grew and she became the favorite seamstress of Varina Davis( wife of the future Confederate President) and made clothes for her and her children. She also was a favorite for the wife of Stephen A. Douglas.

On March 4th, 1861 Elizabeth was introduced to Mary Lincoln, and was soon not only Mary's dressmake, but close friend and confident and sometimes assisted the President himself with his appearance.

In 1868 she wrote a book about her relationship with Mrs. Lincoln's declining reputation. I have added a link to the book below and it can be read or downloaded for free.

I have only briefly touched on the life of this truly amazing woman. I hope you might want to learn more about her....Photos....3 of Elizabeth and one of her grave at National Harmony Memorial Park in Hyattsville, Maryland.
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