Anyone who has studied the history of American slaves in 1800's is familiar with the
incident in the early part of the century, known as "The Night the Stars Fell."
Many of the interviews with ex-slaves taken in the 1930's often spoke about
"Night the Starts Fell" and this story is also part of my own family's Oral History.
Fortunately, for me, while on a trip to Chicago, I met and visited with an elderly cousin,
Frances Swader. As a girl, cousin Frances heard the family matriarch, my gr. great grandmother,
Amanda Young, speak about this same event--when the stars fell. Cousin Frances,
told this story to me and I place it here for further generations to read about and
to know of as a pivotal event in the lives of many 19th century slaves.
Since Gr. Gr. Grandmother Amanda continally told this story, I have, as a result, been able
to make a more accurate guess of her birth year. Born a slave in Maury County, Tennessee,
Amanda said she was a small girl, when one night while sleeping in the quarters,
someone started screaming outside. Her story continues in the manner in which she told it:
"Somebody in the quarters started yellin' in the middle of the night to come
out and to look up at the sky. We went outside and there they was a fallin' everywhere!
Big stars coming down real close to the groun' and just before they hit the
ground they would burn up! We was all scared. Some o' the folks was screamin', and some was
prayin'. We all made so much noise, the white folks came out to see what was happenin'.
They looked up and then they got scared, too.
"But then the white folks started callin' all the slaves together, and for
no reason, they started tellin' some of the slaves who their mothers and fathers
was, and who they'd been sold to and where. The old folks was so glad to hear where their
people went. They made sure we all knew what happened.........you see,
they thought it was Judgement Day."
Unfortunately, it would be many years before Amanda would be free from
enslavement, and she and her parents remained slaves until the Civil War ended.
She was fortunate to have been with her family, and her children had not been sold from her.
But this incident stayed with her.
Only a few years ago, while reading a book of African American quilt
makers, I learned about a slave woman called Harriet Powers who made some of
the most unusual quilts. This lady's quilts now hang in the Smithsonian.
One of the panels of her quilts described in the book, told the story of the
Night the Stars Fell. I was immediately excited to see this referenced.
I quickly took note of the footnotes that gave a detailed description of the Leonid
Meteor shower of 1833, and thus the real date of this event was learned. Between
November 10th & 12th in 1833, for 3 consecutive nights, North America was witness
to this dramatic shower of stars from the heavens. Amanda was only a child in the
fall of that year. Her exact birthdate has never surfaced in any records,
but this historic reference to a spectacular astonomical event, in addition to our oral history
of the Night the Stars Fell, somehow made an estimate of the time of her birth more realistic.
Since she was a young girl when this event occurred, I have approximated her age to have been
between 7 & 8 years. This would put her year of birth to be approximately
1826. The Leonid Meteor event of the 19th century has been recorded in many astonomy journals as
the most spectacular meteor shower to have been recorded over North America
to this date. It was also the most vivid memory of Amanda's childhood, which she
spoke of, over and over till her death, in 1920.
Every year on the evening of November 12, in honor of my ancestors I drink a
special toast to Amanda and to her family, and to her spirit that continues
in our family today, and then I go outside, and watch the stars.