African American Experiences at Pleasant Hill: Patsy Roberts (Williamson)

Holly Wood, Music Program Specialist

“Mother’s Good Drink” note the attribution in the corner which says, “Patsy Williamson coloured Sister.”

Born January 7, 1791, in Rockingham County, North Carolina, Patsy Roberts or Patsy Roberts Williamson belonged to a household originally from Rockingham County. The Roberts family moved to Madison County, Kentucky and by August of 1808 21-year-old Eunice (Betsy) Roberts, the oldest of the Roberts siblings, arrived at Pleasant Hill.

She was followed by Susannah in January of 1809. Susannah was listed in the Pleasant Hill records as a twin, born January 7, 1791 –the same birth date as Patsy. What is most interesting is that Patsy is listed as black and enslaved while Susannah is not. Patsy is the only Roberts recorded to have been of African descent. 

According to Shaker records, Patsy Roberts joined the society of Shakers at Pleasant Hill in 1809, three years before moving to the Village. In the fall of 1812, Namon Roberts and his wife Jinny Roberts moved to Pleasant Hill with the rest of their household. Eunice (Betsy), Susannah and Patsy were the only Roberts to sign the covenant making them full members of the Church.

In January of 1815, Namon and wife Jinny made the decision to “return to the world” with their five younger children. Before Namon Roberts departed he offered Patsy for sale and the Shakers purchased her legal freedom so that she could remain with them.  

Patsy lived 51 years as a Believer experiencing the strong bonds of sisterhood as she worked and worshiped at Pleasant Hill. Her faith was reflected in her songs that she composed with references to Mother Ann Lee, the joy she experienced in the dance and childlike simplicity and freedom she felt in worship. 

Music Program Specialist Holly Wood and Music Interpreter Sarah Porter sing “Pretty Mother’s Home.” The song was composed by Patsy Roberts Williamson.

On August 28, 1860, Patsy passed away in the East Family Dwelling after an undisclosed illness of four or five years. The writer of the journal described Patsy as being “zealous in the cause.”    

Shaker Village