Peake, Mary S. (1823–1862)

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Peake, Mary S. (1823–1862)

African-American educator who was the first teacher in the American Missionary Association schools. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1823; died in Hampton, Virginia, on February 22, 1862; from age six, attended private school in Alexandria, Virginia, for several years; married Thomas D. Peake, in 1851; children: one daughter, Hattie ("Daisy") Peake.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1823, Mary Peake was the daughter of a free mulatto woman and a prominent Englishman. At age six, she was sent to live with relatives in Alexandria, Virginia, so she could attend a private school for free blacks. When a law was passed closing all "colored" schools in the area, Peake returned to Norfolk, where she made a living as a seamstress. At this time, she also became a devout Christian, joining the First Baptist Church in Norfolk. Following her mother's marriage in 1847, the family moved to Hampton, Virginia, where Peake began teaching both children and adults in her home. In 1851, she married Thomas D. Peake, with whom she had a daughter, Hattie Peake .

During the Civil War, the Confederate forces burned many of the homes in Hampton, hoping to discourage the black villagers from siding with the Union cause. The Peakes lost their home to the fires and took refuge at Fort Monroe. Peake was soon enlisted by the American Missionary Association to begin a school for the children at the facility. Using the first floor of her cottage as a classroom, she opened the doors to the school in September 1861 and had 50 students within a few days. In addition to teaching her students to read and write, she also taught them to pray and sing hymns. Peake, whose health was on the decline from the time of her marriage, was dedicated to the cause of education and soon began teaching adults in the evenings. Even as her health steadily worsened, she continued to conduct classes from her bed. Mary Peake died of tuberculosis on February 22, 1862.


Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts