Excerpts from

A Brief Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Adele M. Jewel

By Adele M. Jewel (George)

[From A Mighty Change:  An anthology of Deaf American Writing 1816-1864, pgs. 188 & 120-128.  Edited by Christopher Krentz.  Washington, DC:  Gallaudet University Press.  Used by Permission from Gallaudet University Press © 2000]

[Note:  "Adele M. Jewel's work provides a rare glimpse into the life of a lower-class (African American) deaf woman before the Civil War."]


"The history of my life is made up more of thought and feeling than of incidents and events. It is brief and simple, and yet may be interesting to those who are curious enough to know how the world and its experiences are regarded by one who can neither hear nor speak... I was born deaf, on the 15th of November 1834, in the city of Cincinnati, though I do not remember much before our removal to Detroit, in the year 1838. Among my early acquaintances was a little girl nearly my own age, Charlotte Monroe. We became warm friends from the first, and were seldom separated from morning till night. Our plays, our toys, everything we had, was shared in common; and by the use of our own signs-a language taught by nature-we understood each other very well. They tell me that she ran in to her mother, saying, in a voice of gladness, 'Ma, I can talk deaf and dumb as good as Dellie.'

While dwelling in Grass Lake an event took place that I shall never forget, the remembrance of it even now fills me with horror. My father used sometimes to pour powder upon the hearth to make it flash for my amusement. I think he did not know what a mad-cap I was, or he would hardly have thought it prudent to set me such an example.

One day I was left at home alone, and I got the powder, and sprinkling it about the floor set it on fire. It flashed in earnest, setting fire to everything. I had on a flannel dress, fortunately, or I might have flashed with the rest. But I caught my little dog in my arms, and drew my father's trunk to the door. It was very heavy, and I could not lift it over the sill. So I was obliged to leave it and run more than a quarter of a mile to the house of the nearest neighbor to give the alarm.

When they reached the house the roof had fallen in, and the house with all its contents was consumed. When my mother and father came home, there was no home to receive them. My dear father had taught his foolish little dumb girl a trick that had robbed him of it; though they did not know it then. I could not explain the cause of the fire, and they were so happy to find that I had not also perished in the flames, they thought little of their great loss in the house, though many valuable papers and other articles were destroyed which were never replaced. After I learned to write, however, I gave my mother a faithful account of my part in the affair."

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(after her father's death, Adele and her mother)"....moved to Jackson, where we endeavored to obtain sewing or any kind of work that would enable us to get an honest living. We lived in that city three years and during that time found several good, true friends who did all they could to aid us. Here I formed the acquaintance of a young lady also deaf and dumb, who had been educated at an Asylum in Ohio. She was the first mute I ever saw and the mysterious ties of sympathy immediately established a friendly feeling between us. I was surprised and delighted at her superior attainments.

She could write a beautiful hand on her slate to those who knew not the use of signs, and in a little while taught me the sign language by which we conversed very easily together. We enjoyed many pleasant seasons together, and I shall always count among my dearest friends, Miss Almena Knight, the name of this young lady...."

"...After I saw Miss Knight I grew very anxious to become a pupil at Flint. Some friends who felt interested in my welfare, obtained my mother's consent and assisted me to go. Thanks for the instructions received of Miss Knight, I succeeded in making myself understood, and from being an entire stranger, soon became as a member of one large family. My instructors found me an "apt scholar," and when I had been there ten weeks, I sent home a written article of my own composition. My friends were surprised and pleased at the rapid progress I had made.

Elsie Fairbairn was my especial friend among the pupils; we became warmly attached and seldom separated. The parents of friend "Eppy," as I called her, were also true friends to me, and did many things to show their kindness to myself and mother... "

"...During my stay at Flint I was taken with inflammation in my eyes, causing me great suffering and destroying the sight of one. My health became poor, and I was obliged to withdraw from the school. I resigned my place with much regret, as I still felt greatly deficient in useful knowledge. The loss of my sight is a great loss to me, still I am thankful for the blessings I do enjoy..."