This 1860 painting entitled “The Freedom Ring” by Eastman Johnson belongs to the Hallmark Art Collection. It depicts light-skinned, 9-year-old Sally Maria Diggs, known as “Pink” or “Pinky” gazing at an opal ring she received along with her freedom in a famous incident on February 5, 1860. Thomas D. Koepsell, MD, MPH summarized the story behind this painting in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, January 2003.
After his Sunday sermon on February 5, 1860, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher introduced a girl named Pink to his congregation at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, NY. Pink was a 9-year-old slave from Washington, DC, who was about to be sold by her owner. Beecher, an outspoken abolitionist, proposed that the church buy her freedom. Following his emotional plea, collection plates were passed. Mixed in with the money was a valuable ring that had been contributed by church member Rose Terry. The money alone proved more than enough, so the ring was presented to Pink as a gift. She was christened Rose Ward. Beecher later took her to visit artist Eastman Johnson, who painted her sitting in a patch of light on the floor of his darkened studio gazing at the “freedom ring” on her index finger.
Thus Sally Diggs became Rose Ward. The New York Times reported the incident the very next day, describing her as “A good-looking and intelligent little girl named PINK, about nine years of age, having in her veins only one-sixteenth part African blood, (although that was more than enough to make her a slave,) … Her father is at present one of the leading physicians in Washington.”
The “Freedom Ring” - Mr. Beecher Pleading for Money to Set a Slave Child Free.
from Life and work of Henry Ward Beecher by Thomas Wallace Knox, 1887.
It is often repeated that Beecher took the ring from the collection plate and placing it on Pinky's finger said: “With this ring I do wed thee to freedom.” But Beecher himself reports that he said: “Now remember that this is your freedom-ring.” (Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, by William Constantine Beecher 1888, p. 296.)
At this point in history, Pinky more or less disappears. Beecher went on to a life of fame tempered with a bit of scandal. (See Henry Ward Beecher in the Portrait Gallery.)
Rose Ward grew up to attend Howard University in Washington DC. She married fellow Howard Alumni James Hunt and lived with him at 411 Florida Avenue, in Washington, all the while staying out of the light of history. James was a lawyer, Rose was a school teacher first in Annapolis and later in Washington. Even her neighbors on Florida Avenue who knew the story of Pinky and the Freedom Ring, did not know that Rose Ward Hunt was Pinky. Their house still stands at 411 Florida Avenue, NW.
In 1927, Dr. James J. Durkee, was called to be pastor at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Having just found out about Pinky's continued existence and identity, He convinced Rose to go pubic with her story and help him celebrate the 80th anniversary of Plymouth Church, which she agreed to do. (The Washington Evening Star, May 11, 1927.)
This photo of Rose Ward Hunt appeared in a variety of newspapers in 1927, in articles exclaiming on her re-appearance. The New York Times attributes the photo to Scurlock Studio. (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Mar 21, 1934 · Page 19)
Mrs. Rose Ward Hunt
The Brooklyn Eagle had this side-by-side photo of Pinky (in the 1860s) and Rose (in the 1920s).
Pinky and Rose
This 1932 painting by Harry Roseland of Beecher selling Pinky seems to be based on the same youthful photo of Pinky.
Here Mrs. Hunt visit's Gutzon Borglum's Beecher Statue in the yard of Plymouth Church. The figure of the young girl accompanying Beecher's statue is said to represent "Pinky".
|"Pinky" Posed by Slave Statue|
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 16, 1927
|Statue at Plymouth Church|
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sunday May 15 1927
This statue and tablet, in Plymouth Church grounds, was erected in memory of Henry Ward Beecher's world-famous acution of the little negro slave girl Pinky.
In 1927, Rose was 76 and although she was described as well-preserved, she died in 1928, and was buried in Harmony Cemetery in Washington. (The Washington Evening Star, October 27, 1928, Page 3.)
Harmony was dug up and moved to Prince Georges County in 1959. The headstones did not make the move. So this photo in Find-a-Grave shows the burial site of Sally Maria Diggs - Pinky - Rose Ward Hunt:
For more on Sally Maria Diggs - Pinky - Rose Ward Hunt see my bibliography of Pinky.