Lucy and Sarah Chase as Freedmen's Teachers



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Although each individual who served as a freedmen's teacher has a story worth telling, Lucy and Sarah Chase, of Worcester, Massachusetts, serve as a useful focal point for a study of the freedmen's aid movement because they left such a rich legacy of letters and other kinds of records documenting their work. The Chase Papers, which are preserved at the American Antiquarian Society, were the inspiration for this website and provided many of the materials that can be found here.

Because the site includes so many of the letters of Lucy and Sarah Chase, it seems unnecessary to use this page to offer an exhaustive profile of their activities as freedmen's teachers. Instead, this page is intended to identify a few of the key events, issues, and themes that appear in the writing of the Chase sisters during the period in which they were serving in the South.


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The Decision to Serve: "I Must Go!"

Only eight days after the Civil War began with the firing of the Confederates on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, twenty-five year old Sarah Chase wrote to her father requesting permission to go South and serve as a nurse.

 

Philadelphia, 4th mo. 20th ‘61

My dear good Father, I write in some haste to make a request of thee. Will thee please send me by return of mail, thy consent to my going South with the nurses?

I feel fully prepared in every way: Thy consent only is wanted, and I depend upon it.

Do not be anxious—if I go—for I shall be no more away from thee than I am here: and Death may be as near when I sit quietly at home, as any where else.

I have enjoyed this life and have no fears for the next. Danger is always near though we may not always see it.

All last night I dreamed most pleasantly of Home.

No one out of the family need know of my going. I shall write again when I receive an answer. I must go---and I trust (you) will give the desired reply.

Farewell dear Father Farewell! -- My love to all

--Letter from Sarah Chase to her father, Anthony Chase, Philadelphia, April 20, 1861

 

As Quakers, the Chase family members were committed to pacifism. So much so, in fact, that Yet, the Chase family's support for abolition enlisted their sympathies on behalf of the Union. Her father responded,

I feel, sometimes, in reference to the present unnatural war, almost willing to step forth in defence of the stars and stripes of our, hitherto, happy and blessed country—the most favored land the sun ever shone upon; but . . . if true quakerism had prevailed, slavery would have been abolished long ago, and now, instead of brother raising the hand against brother, we should be realizing the fruition of perfect love and harmony.

Given what we know of the limitations of the "women's sphere" in the 19th century, we might have expected Anthony Chase to have objected to this proposal on the grounds that it would be improper for his unmarried daughter to travel and work independently, far from home. As far as Sarah’s parents were concerned, the question of greatest import was how one could best be of service in this life. Rather than thinking of her safety or propriety, Anthony Chase counseled his daughter:Instead, he said simply:

"Leave thy father out of the question, why should he interfere with a daughters wishes, 'who is of age and can answer for herself' and is responsible for neglect of duty? . . .

We are all here for a purpose—we have missions, and if we are true to ourselves we shall seek to know what that mission is, and knowing, endeavour to fulfill it. Whatever our suffering, whatever our privation may be, if we come out of it with the consciousness of having been instrumental in saving a brother, a husband, a father, or soothing their pain in the last struggle of human existence, we feel abundantly compensated. We feel that in as much as we have done something, as it were, for the least of Gods creatures, we have done it to Christ. . . I disapprove of all wars and fightings, but not of the office of good samaratan [sic].

--Letter from Anthony Chase to Sarah Chase, Salem, April, 1861

And Sarah’s sister Elizabeth responded:

Mother is perhaps now repeating that Bible verse of thine, ‘Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.’ ‘Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.’

--Letter from Elizabeth Chase, Salem, April, 1861

 

The Decision to Serve as Freedmen's Teachers


Although Sarah Chase's first impulse had been to become a nurse, she and her older sister Lucy soon decided to join the effort to go south and aid former slaves during the war.

Family friend William Channing sent the following letter of advice:

Washington, Nov. 4, 1862

Dear Miss Chase,

There are [in Alexandria] now some 700 or 800, receiving govt aid, in the way of shelter, rations, clothing &c; and the field of usefulness is large among the women & children. Capt Wyman has applied for leave to build a large barrack, like the one we saw in Washington, & I trust it may soon be done. That is the only way of securing health, order, decency & improvement. Miss Wilbur received from Capt W. authority to act as visitor & superintendent and she will this week begin her ministry. She would be very glad to have your assistance & sympathy—if you see your way clear to maintenance here. But the Government, for various reasons, will give no other aid than a daily ration,—as they are anxious to report to Congress & the country that the Freedmen are self-supporting & cost the Nation nothing. And I regret that our Society has no means to do more, than they are already doing. It seems right & fair to you & to all, that you should know exactly the present state of affairs. You must make a bold venture, independently, if you come. But Miss Wilbur will heartily welcome your cooperation.

Yrs truly—W. H. CHANNING

--William Channing, Washington, Nov. 4, 1862

 

Channing referred to Miss Wilbur as beginning "her ministry" because most of the organizations that went to the aid of the freedmen were sponsored by religious sects and were evangelical in nature. While offering pracitcal aid in the form of food, clothing, shelter, and education to the former slaves, these services were considered by many simply as a means to a greater end. Their primary goal was to offer religious instruction and to harvest souls.

The Chase sisters got in touch with Hannah Stevenson, Secretary of the Teachers' Division of the New England Educational Association, an organization made up predominately of liberal congregationalists, unitarians, and quakers primarily committed to providing schools for freedmen.

Stevenson responded with a warning--and encouragement:

 

Caroline Andrews of Newburyport was driven off the ground in Washington by the Tract Assoc. which regarded the Educational Commission of Boston as poaching on their preserves when that Comm sent her, brave & lovely, to bless with her presence, counsel, & help the dusky fugitives who were sheltered by Government in Washington. I believe you could have no better success there . . . .

I have known but little of the condition of the Contrabands at Alex. but I must think that the care which could be given them by two energetic, intelligent & refined women would be a great blessing to them . . . On one side squalid wretchedness and ignorance—on the other the high civilization of heart & intellect reaching out a willing hand to comfort & to elevate! . . . Perhaps we shall send more ladies as teachers to Port Royal—how does that attract you? The success there has been beyond all calculation, even beyond what seemed possible.

--Letter from Hannah Stevenson, Boston, Nov. 9, 1862

 

 

 

As it turned out, the proposition attracted Lucy and Sarah Chase very much indeed.

After an interview in Boston the sisters were accepted by the society and agreed to travel South in order to organize and teach in schools for former slaves, provide material aid to the freedmen, and serve as an example of the "high civilization of heart & intellect reaching out a willing hand to comfort & to elevate!"

In return for their labors--and risking their lives by working in a war zone--they would receive a small stipend.

 

The Experience of Working as Freedmen's Teachers

 

In May, Dr. B. convinced us that it was necessary that some one should go from farm to farm to look after the laborers. (Upon two only of the twenty farms there were teachers.) So, in May, we went to Portsmouth, establishing our-selves upon a Government farm, where more than seventy Coney-Islanders gave us a hearty welcome. We had schools for them and for neighbors. When our always uncertain, tumble-down carriages could be put in order, when guerillas were not nigh, when the lines did not cast themselves into new places, and leave outside farm after farm, well-tilled and well-peopled, we went from farm to farm, taking clothing, books, and slates. We called all together, dressed the needy, taught the young and the very old, encouraged them to study while we were away, and would see absolute progress during our absence. Then and now we kept track of new-comers; helping them to their friends, and caring for their sick, and giving them always an immediate and very powerful dose of letters.

For three months, in addition to our other labors, we taught daily in Mr. Coati's school of four hundred. After his health gave way, my sister took charge of it for several weeks, Miss M. H. C.; and I assisted her. We left solely to open our own school ; which, in a few days, will be under the care of six teachers representing your Association.

One early arrival here made it necessary for us to work in a multitude of ways; and still our work is of all times and seasons, — never done. We don't know what leisure is.

We want some block-letters to carry in our pockets, and a ground-frame to build sentences in. L. C

 

Lucy Chase
Norfolk Va

My dear friend

When in New York a few days since I was informed that from letters received from thyself and thy sister, either during or after your visit at our Yorktown Mission, the impression was received that you were not altogether pleased with our arrangements there and though the inmates were not doing as much as they ought to do considering the opportunities + means afforded them.  – IF this is the case we would be very glad to have alol the particulars and endeavor to remedy any defects in the working of that estaboishment.  AWhen my Cousing Wm + I were with you we urged a visit as we thought your experience and practical knowledge of the Contraband +c would enable you to assist our teachers very much and also would be of great service to us in directing our labours in that direction.

I hope thou or Sarah Chase will write to me freely and give me an act. of what you saw and wherein it can be improved – We will use it so as not to get you into any trouble.  – I was in Worcester a short time since and dined with Timothy Earle, head of your family though I did not see them. – I was exceedingly pleased with Aworcester and came to the conclusion that it was as beautiful a town as I ever visited. – I was particularly interested in J. Earles card factory, the machinery in which is so wonderful. – In much haste. thy friend

J Wistar Evans

 

The Experience of Working in a War Zone with the Military


DANGERS

The first post filled by the Chase sisters took them within earshot of the Monitor, and later the two women would enter Richmond so soon after it had been taken by the Union that they found one of Grants' cigars still smoldering in the office they chose to occupy. In an early letter home, Lucy described their situation to family members back home.

You, of course, feel assured of our safety, we also feel assured that we dwell in the midst of alarms while we reign [reside?] in this horrible place. Again, in the Dr's office, I heard two sea-captains and one pilot report a renewed excitement and anxiety in Norfolk, on account of the Monitor having been tugged into port, and that, too, soon after a supposed conflict reported by the sound of guns). We heard the guns here, and one of the Captains declared he saw the flashes of the guns. But no harm came to us and I believe to no one from that direction.

--Letter from Lucy Chase to Her Family, Craney Island Jany 29th [1863]

In addition to the hazards that were associated with living in a war zone, there were also the perils involved in the extensive travelling required by their work as freedmen's teachers. Like other teachers, Lucy and Sarah usually spent their summers in the North and then returned South--often to new posts--in the fall. Their journey to Charleston in October 1866 proved unusually eventful, as indicated in Lucy's and Sarah's descriptions (below) of their experiences onboard the sinking ship, Theo. D. Wagner.

Perhaps what is most striking about their descriptions is the way they emphasize the contributions and calm of the women passengers (as contrasted with the emotion displayed by the men). Both sisters were also pleased by the peace of mind they experienced during the turmoil. When Sarah writes "What pleasant thoughts and visions came to me as I took the last drop into--uncertainty," she displays a religious faith and independent spirit remiscent of Emily Dickinson.

 

"We Are All Afire"

The following is a private letter from a lady of Springfield, Mass., who was a passenger on board the steamer Theo. D. Wagner, lately burnt at sea.

My Dear ---------; We live to to thank God for His goodness and for His Excellent kindness, though the Theo. D. Wagner has gone in ashes to the bottom of the sea, and has taken with it our accumulated treasure of a life-time.

On Saturday, at 5 P.M. a dense smoke was seen to issue from around the smoke-pipe, and the alarm of fire created universal panic . Most of the ladies, in spite of the remonstrances of the officers, worked at one of the pumps and assisted in passing buckets of water. The fire gained rapid headway, and we were unable to get to the state rooms for life-preservers. We were absolutely calm, though we had no hope of preservation. Two sails, eight or ten miles ahead, seemed wings of primse, but the man at the wheel said: "They can see the fire, but this dead calm will keep them from us; we must try to hold together till we can get to them."

Soon after 6 o'clock they were within hailing distance, and we heard from both brig and schooner a hearty "Aye, aye, Sir," in response to the Captain's cry of "We are all afire; will you lay by and lend us a helping hand, and be ready to take our passengers, if we must leave the ship?"

At 6:30 o'clock we were ordered to take to the small boats, unburdened with the smallest parcels. We felt richer then in the sweet promise of life; but I can but wih that the nutshell, which can hold all my present material possessions, was lost, and my three colossal trunks, which I shall see no more, were in its place.

I walked the deck of the brigantine all the night long, not closing my eyes until 9 o'clock on Sunday morning--unwilling to take them from the majestic spectacle of our burning ship. I wanted BRADFORD to share the watch with me. Two days before, I looked with awe on the grand truth-telling picture of the "Sealers Crushed by Ice." This will be a picture in my memory foreer, I said to him, when I turned from it to go to our steamboat. Now my life has given me a pciture--all my own--solemn and grand enough to keep that company.

This is the close of our second day on the Brigantine, and hope to reach New-York at 10 to-night. We are weak and worn--exhausted first by incessant sea sickness during our two days on the Wagner, and feel now great pain and prostration from our heavy work.

As I stood with the two captains watching the fire when the morning was breaking, and lsitening to their mutual talk of life on teh sea, I was struck with their expressions of awe and horror. A timid woman's lips would have trembled no more than his (the captain's) did when he said, with his eyes on the flames, "Oh, a dreadful thing is a fire at sea!"

At 6 P.M. we spied a steamer southward bound. Our flag of distress was hoisted, and our hearts leaped with confident anticipations of being helped on our way; but the steamer passed us by, drawing near the burning wreck, but passing on without looking for floating lifeboats. We felt less regret when we saw them sail on than we should have done if we had been dependent on their mercy.

In peace and satisfaction we send you this greeting. Yours, truly,

LUCY CHASE

AT SEA. Oct. 22, 1866

--Lucy Chase, "Burning of Sea of the Steamer Wagner--Letter from a Lady Passenger," New York Times, October 28, 1866


Dear Mr. May

Through flame and flood and shipwreck I come to report. Our baggage (valued at a thousand dollars and uninsured) and the vessel which took us from Boston are a cloud in the horizon. I need not tell how this all happened, as the papers have probably told you that "Theo D. Wagner was destroyed by fire & no lives lost"--I have not reported for a long time; there has been nothing definite to say--and now I can only tell that we hope to work in Charleston this Winter Deo Volente. I came home, all worn out from last year's (untold) hardships;--and have had a season of agony in my chambers, from which I have made two or three attempts to be among people, but always regretted it. I kept waiting to see or hear from some of you, or to be well enough to go up to call though determined to get out if I got well enough--of course I had to wait until the way was plain.

I accepted a call to Charleston hoping to be ready when the time came--and most well, I started on Saturday for my field of labor--with a happy heart grateful that the good Lord was permitting me to go to my people again--forgetting my summer of pain & confinement in my joy at the prospect of being again at my work. I spent the morning before we sailed enjoying Bradford's Iceberg--and it seemed indeed a reality as I gazed. How soon we realized the near wreck, and the far-blazing ship! I was never more calm--happy and useful--and I am as thankful for this sublime experience as of any in my lifetime. It is such a satisfaction to find that one can do just as one would wish and to feel that your calmness and control may have been instrumental in saving lives. What pleasant thoughts and visions came to me as I took the last drop into--uncertainty--The women behaved perfectly well & worked with the buckets till taken off except four ignorant women & the children who were frantic--together with one of the mates who kept up a volley of panic exciting cries, "we're all lost!!! Bilers will burst in a minute, and not a sail in sight" ect! At the first cry, I rushed to the buckets, and cast water to the last. The women formed a line and passed buckets constantly. Not till after we knew we could not save the ship did the welcome sails appear; but they had not a breeze, & our only hope was in the possibility of our boiler holding out till we could reach them. We put on full steam & rushed our flaming bark upon them--When we had been put off in the small boats, and reached the bark, the sailors said, "you've come to a poor place; we're a wreck ourselves; and out of provisions." (She had lost her galley, cabin, provisions & some rigging in coming from Cuba, in the recent gale.) On deck, songs of thanksgiving welled from our hearts--and only our good fortunes presented themselves to my mind. Then I thought--how little the loved ones at home were thinking of our surroundings, or how cold, wet, hungry & tired the absent ones are! The only moment of anxiety was when I was helping a little child down the side of the boat to a young mother--with a babe in her arms.

Now the cold morning reminds me--I have nothing to make myself warmer--That this time we had all our wardrobe with us, except one good dress apiece & some common small articles, all contained in one drawer at home--Any other time we have been out we should not miss what we had with us. "We never had our wardrobe so complete & in such order, and how nice it is to have so many garments that will serve us our lifetime!" we said, as we were packing. This tough climax recalls the many pecuniary losses that have attended our whole Southern campaign--which we had till this ignored (together with the loss of health, risk of life & atmosphere of hate & contempt) in the entire satisfaction of our work. The last time we went South I had a carpet bag containing our united valuables & money stolen on the journey; this time there in the trunk (what we have left) for safe keeping.

Thank God--all right! Deo Volente we take the next chance for Charleston, & when we get there though we can borrow linen and shoulder covering until our familys help reaches us--If I live, I must work among my people again--this Winter, for I fear the Southern people will soon have some effectual way of keeping us out of their country.

With heart's best wishes to the Leicester friends--Hoping all is well with them.

Adieu

--Sarah Chase to Samuel May [October, 1866?]

 

MILITARY PROTOCOLS

Like other freedmen's teachers, Lucy and Sarah Chase often worked within earshot of battles and frequently operated under the direct supervision of officers. Yet, while the two women worked closely with the military, Lucy and Sarah sometimes forgot (or refused) to observe protocols involving matters such as military passes as is evident from the letter excerpt below. And yet, the passes that can be seen below were saved by Lucy and Sarah with their letters and other papers. Included is an informal pass probably written by Lucy (as it displays her characeristic humor and self-possession) to ensure that a freedman sent to do an errand was not stopped by soldiers.

 

The Problem of Passes

We frequently think, after leaving home for town only, that we will visit some farm, and we remember our passes only when they are called for. Sometimes our story serves for a pass, and, sometimes we cannot pass. The picket-stations annoy us greatly. In going to some of the farms we pass through a rebel intrenched camp, and through the "Alabama Camp'' village of log-huts. A Negro family by putting a fence around some of the houses have made a cozy homestead in the wilderness. Our draw-bridge annoys us, and as it wont stay shut we shall be glad when we are shut of it. We can always arrange to have it closed for us, if we know, before leaving home, that we shall not return until after eight; but, as unforeseen events sometimes detain us, we sometimes are turned off upon the hospitality of our few town friends. The night we took tea with Lizzie at Dr Brown's I sent to the Genl requesting a pass at whatever time we might choose to cross. When we handed the pass, the guard said, "This is very peculiar. When did you get this?" "This evening," I said. Then I added, "What difference does it make?" "A great deal of difference to me," said the guard. I suppose he fancied I should be awed into silence by his oracularly am­biguous speeches, but I startled him by saying, "Is not the pass dated the 27th?" "Yes," he replied. "Is not that to­day?" I said. "Yes." "Well," I said "Why should the Gen choose to change the date?" (He had said, "It makes a great deal of difference to me, whether it was written yesterday.") "I understand," said the man, "they wont even pass bearers of despatches!" "Is not that an order from Gen. Barnes?" I inquired. "Yes, it is." "Well, he is Military Governor, and I should imagine you would reverence his authority." The ignoramus let us pass.

So many streams that we wish to cross here, are left unbridged, that delays, deception, and unsuccess are in accordance with good order. Two or three days ago, having left our pass at home, I obtained one from the Adjt Genl but a stupid picket, not knowing who was Adjt. Genl refused it, and so we took our horse out of the carriage, and trotted Albert to town to the Genl giving him an outdated pass drawn up for me by Genl Barnes. I wrote, in pencil, upon the pass, Genl B. Sir: I find at the picket-station that this pass wont pass. May I ask you to make the pass passable?

Today, the Genl asked me why I did not go to him whenever I wished any favor. ("Come in person," he said, gallantly—) "Because you are a General," I said. "And you are a lady," he said—bowing low. "Ladies come constantly to me with much more trifling requests that your's." "That is why I stay away," I said. "Cela ne faut rien," said the Genl. "Do your work through me," said Dr Brown. "No, do it through me," said Genl. Barnes, and so on we talked for several minutes.

These occasional social chances are very refreshing to us. And now, after months of lonely living, we hope for a semi-civilized season.

--Lucy Chase, June 5, 1864

 

 

RELATIONSHIPS WITH MILITARY OFFICERS

 

Lucy and Sarah Chase seem to have enjoyed a warm relationship with their first supervisor, Orestes Brown. An army surgeon, Brown served at one point as Superintendent of Negro Affairs in Virginia and later as Assistant Commmissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau for Virginia.

The informal note from Lucy (punctuated with three question marks) requesting an immediate meeting and the letter from Brown scolding the sisters for working when they should have been resting both suggest a relationship that was good-humored, caring, and respectful.

 

Office Asst Quartermaster & Sup't Negro Affairs
2nd District, Norfolk VA.
Aug. 27, 1864.

My Dear Sisters,

Yours is received. I am vexed at you both. A fine business you have made of "resting," truly! Go away from your friends. Let "Contrabands" and "big Organs" aone--find some quiet out-of-the-way place where no one can find ou--stroll about some green wood--you and Sarah alone--don't think. You have done enough of that the past year and a half--in short become an oyster--forget that you have brains--don't laught at this now--it is as sound professional advice as if backed by a five dollar fee.

The schools will without doubt be arranged or organized under a regular system-but you understand that you two are on my staff, and cannot go into any such organization. Your services are too valuable outside. I mean it when I assert that hundreds in the North can do as well in the school room as either of you, but without flattery you can do the negro more good "outside" than the hundred teachers can in their school rooms.

Sarah must be a "good girl" and keep still until she is better, and Lucy must right me just how Sarah is--

But my door is darkened by my "constiutents" and I will say God bless you and end.

Truly yours

O Brown

To Miss L & S Chase

 

Using Networking and Writing to Promote Reform


The activities of the Chase family in New England brought them into contact with a wide network of social reformers. During the war, that network took on new life as many Northern activists became involved in writing, speaking, or working directly on behalf of soldiers, freedmen, or similar causes.

The letter below from Rebecca Harding Davis illustrates the types of request for information or assistance that the Chase sisters received from people they knew personally or from friends of friends. As Davis explains in the letter, she was referred to Lucy by their mutual friend Lucretia Mott.

At the same time, it seems as though Lucy was never hesitatnt to make use of her own contacts in the hopes of promoting her cause. Responding to a letter from Lucy, Mrs. Lewis Tappan wrote on February 13, 1864:

I mentioned to Mr. Beecher what you said about his lecturing in Norfolk. He smiled and said it would be some time before he should get there, but he hoped, before he died, to speak in every one of the slave states.

 

Phila. Feb. 23, ‘67

My dear Miss Chase,

I write to you by the advice of Mrs Lucretia Mott, who named you to me as a person who would be able to give me some needed information, and willing – she was sure, judging from the deep interest you hae always shown in the freedmen

I will tell you as briefly as I can what I wish – I have been writing short articles for The Atlantic for some time {Life in the Iron Mills tc tc) and am now engaged on a long work intended to show as forcibly as I can the present needs of the colored race in both North and South.

I use the word in its broadest sense. I would not have attempted such an undertaking without going myself to the South, but two baby children make me perforce a “keeper at home,” and I must rely on others for information.

Will you help me? I understand that you have been in the Carolinas and Georgia for two or three years and observing, no doubt with a quick and anxious eye, must have a clear insight into the chances of success in elevating these people. If you have time and will be so good as to assist me I would like to know what are the present obstacles legally interposed to their education or the proper ennumeration? of their labour, and also what is the usual temper and relation existing between the freedmen and their old masters – so far as they have fallen under your observation.  I limit my questions to these knowing how much your time is filled.  But whatever information you can give me on these two points, will be of the very greatest aid to me – Of course the more you can tell me – the better.  But I feel as if I was taxing a stranger heavily  asking you even so much.  I would not do it were a personal matter.  But you will understand how I, here at hoe wish anxiously to add my mite to the good with you and your co-laborers have so nobly begun  As the book is already begun  Very seriously in serial.  I would be gglad if you would write as soon as would suit your convenience.

R. H. Davis

 (Please address to
The care of L. Clarke Davis
Legal Intelligencer Offic. Phila.)

 

Work and Life During Reconstruction

 

The Call of Many Duties

 

Norfolk, Va. Nov. 18th 1864

Dear Mr. May;

This is the first moment I have felt it right to take hold of a pen, since my return. Now, while waiting a conveyance to a farm, I must tell you that I have not to wait till next week for my Thanksgiving; for that began a fortnight ago - the moment I set my foot on old Virginnia shore—and that it has not ended yet. I cannot tell you how happy I am to be back at my post. Until within a very short time of my return, it really seemed doubtful if I should be able to resume my labors in this harvest field; for each day found me more weary, in. stead of refreshed, but once again I have the happiness of proving my favorite “All earnest hearts shall have their dreams fulfilled.”

 

Would I could run in and tell you all I have seen and heard since my return; and answer all questions, but to report in ink would be impossible, from the nature of the case. We returned to find a general confusion and folding of hands; and we took hold at once, apportioning work to new hands, reconstructing, newly organizing, and making a general review of work done in our absence so that every moment has been painfully crowded, and not one day has been half long enough for what I desired to put in it—where so much is to be done -- I feel I must stop for nothing until every hand is at work; consequently I have not obeyed the dictate of my heart, and reported at once to the sacredly dear and good people of Leicester Hill. Though diligently working, and to some purpose, the details of wrongs righted, change of officers, of school policy, ect, would not interest outsiders, I think, enough to make it worth while to report. There are now in town tell teachers each from the Educational Commission, Am. Miss. Society, and National Freedmen’s Ass. Each society having its mission house and (excepting us) a housekeeper; the schools are graded & each teacher has about fifty pupils – a Normal School has just been created from the most advanced in the other schools; and Miss Kennedy, lately of New Berne, a fine woman, has charge of it. Each teacher is to have a thorough knowledge of the familys of her pupils, and report cases of sickness and suffering to us for investigation—no giving orders on our stores for things needful. All things to whatever person in the Dept. are put in the common stock of our two stores in Norfolk and Portsmouth. Two ladies in each keeping thorough business accts and allowing nothing to go out without an order signed by L. or S. E. Chase. All who come to us personally are visited, and their cases carefully considered before anything is done for them. It is a cause of rejoycing [sic] that we have got the clothing so well organized

—now we have only to contend with the unwillingness of the teachers to properly investigate—Another good thing for the people is the Industrial School which will soon be in operation, under Miss Smiley, and lovely Quakeress of much executive ability from Philadelphia -- I am inexpressively thankful to the good Lord for sending her — for heretofore I have been unable to get cooperation in the plans I have had from the first - of teaching the people to help themselves. I have always given much attention to mending and making and urged others to do the same.

***

One very important need of these people we have just met by establishing a Saving’s Bank for them. Heretofore they have almost been forced to spend their money—having no where to keep it. Many a time have they brought money to me,— saying, “Buy me something wid dis, please ma’am.” “What do you wish?” “Oh anyting you likes ma’am” or “Whatever it will get,” or “something pretty” they say. One nice auntie said - ”I wants you to buy something for yourself honey—it does me so much good to see you I’d like to give you a stocking full,” and when I explain the importance of providing for the rainy day ect.they would say “but sugar I’s no whar to keep my money—and if I ties it in de corner of my apron, I might lose it, or get it stolen from me, and I can’t go myself to spend it’ ‘— or some equally good reason they give for wishing to get rid of money, if they chance to be encumbered by it :—but I have easily persuaded them to be prudent in the face of the new responsibility of their condition—and have been begging for a bank from the first. Col. Kinsman did not go fast enough to suit the workers in this Dept. so Lucy was invited to petition Butler to put Maj. Carney in his place, which good thing was this day effected so God and man favor the cause in this Department and it must prosper

- - Full of Hope—full of happiness—only asking for strength to labor I am with high consideration for your Committee and ever best wishes for you & them—your co-worker.

SARAH B. CHASE

--Excerpt from Sarah May to Sarah Chase to Samuel May, Norfolk, Va., Nov. 18 and 28, 1864


 

THE JOY OF WITNESSING CHANGE FOR THE BETTER


 

The invitation above was sent to Lucy Chase, inviting her and the other freedmen's teachers in Norfolk to join with the African-American freemasons to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their organization. Because African-Americans were not readily accepted as freemasons at that time, they established their own tradition of Prince Hall Freemasonry.

It is interesting to note that the festivities were to be held on January 1, 1864, suggesting that the Rising Sun Lodge No. 8 had been initiated on January 1, 1863, the day when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.

Prince Hall is recognized as the father of African-American freemasonry. Born sometime around 1735, Hall worked as the slave of a Boston leather-dresser until 1770. Afterwards he opened a successful leather shop..In 1775 Hall petitioned to become a member of Boston's St. John's Lodge and was rejected. Despite the fact that he would soon fight against the British at Bunker Hill, Prince Hall applied along with fourteen other free black men to become members of a lodge operated by the 38th Foot Regiment of the British army.

They were accepted, and when the regiment withdrew from the Boston area, they were granted limited authority to establish their own lodge. On July 3, 1775, this group founded the first lodge of black Free and Accepted Masons anywhere in the world: the African Lodge No. 1. Prince Hall was named master. Hall is also remembered today for the leadership he provided in his community, for example, petitioning the Massachusetts legislature in 1777 to call for the abolition of slavery and in 1878 to call for education for black children.

In an article below published in The Commonwealth, Lucy Chase describes the celebration of the free masons.

 

"de bushel off de light!"

TO THE EDITOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH:

Norfolk, Jan. 7, 1864.


The New Year came into Norfolk in a high gale.

"Did you hear the wind turning over the 'new leaf,' at one o'clock this morning? said the daughter of John Brown, of Ossawatomie, as she sat at my elbow. And as we looked on, whole the day wrote on the new leaf its strange history.

With music, and banners, and triumphal marching, the colored citizens with their wives, proclaimed anew through the streets of Norfolk the triumph of the President's Proclamation of Emancipation. And Gen. Butler marched with them, with his staff. Gen. Wild joined them, with his brigade of negro soldiers. Gen. Getty and his staff were there; and Gen. Ludlow and Gen. Hickman marched forth with their staffs. Gen. Barnes, too, our noble military Governor, did himself and his staff the honor to swell the high acclaim.

The banners thanked God for Freedom; called Abraham Lincoln "Our Moses;" made a pictured red coffin bear the "Remains of Slavery;" boasted bravely of "the Flag," which truly now

"Waves o'er the land of the free,
Once the home of the slave."

In the dark day when Nehemiah Adams, taking notes for his book, came down to peep through the lens of slavery, he said he expected when he crossed Mason's and Dixon's line to see sable-skins on bended knees, uplifting their clasped hands and manacled wrists, and rending the air with the cry, "Am I not a man and a brother?"

If he had taken a peep at the new order of things on New Year's day, he would have seen sable skins,--a mighty host,--standing erect as God commanded them to do, and thanking him for having made them men and brothers.--Thanking Abraham Lincoln, too, for letting them be, what God made them to be, and for letting them alone.

If silence speaks respect, Norfolk is now the humble servant of the vitalized principle of liberty and fraternity. But, until the oath was made the grand property restorer, the self-esteem and support in pursuing the shadowy promises of the shadowy government in Richmond.--Proud to be martyrs, till cold and hunger pinched them sore, they sat idle at their cold firesides, though loyalty stood with the key in its hand, ready to open again their closed shops. Their wives gave the side-walk to the soldiers, and frowned upon Northerners as only ladies with Southern manners can frown; while their children, of larger as well as of smaller growth, thrust their vain little obstacles between the eager, knowledge-craving negro and every one who sought to meet his wants.

But seeing the heavens stand, though their heel is lifted from the neck of the negro; and seeing prosperity and promise in "The Union," frowning, hissing and martyrdom are of the past.
This evening, at a celebration by colored free-masons of the birthday of St. John, one of the speakers said, "Dis is our first public celebration. We have been grubbin' under groun' for ten years. But now, de bushel off de light! De sun shine jus de same when de cloud hide it; so we shine jus de same under groun'; but now we shine toder sided, for de bushel off de light, now."
And "de bushel is off de light, now," and when the long-benighted slavery-worshippers are used to the glare of truth let out upon them, they will see the pleasant-illumined pathways, and will walk therein.

CONTRABAND.

 

FEARS OF CHANGES FOR THE WORSE YET TO COME

"I Am Confident that the Negro Will Suffer More
the Coming Year of Peace than He has During the War"

Letter from Lucy Chase to Mrs. Mary, Norfolk, May 25, 186

 

Final Days as Teachers: "No Disease But Entirely Worn Out"


In late spring of 1867, Lucy and Sarah Chase were looking forward to yet another year of service to the freedmen. However, Sarah's health was clearly in decline.

Theodore Weld, noted abolitionist and husband of Angelina Grimke Weld, wrote to Sarah on July 28:

 

Fairmount
July 28, '67

My Dear Miss Chase--

Your very welcome letter of May 28, found me whelmed under the pressures of our anniversary week at Lexington, and tho ever since busily at work clearing up old scores, and in equipping for the next campaign, till, divers unanswered letters, and much unfinished work, look reproachfully at me from stuffed pigeon-holes.

We rejoice that your five year experience of the myriad trials and perils of your [?] have only served to quicken your earnestness, strengthen your faith, and gird you anew for your great good work.

I see that the exhausting labor & experiences of these intense years, have left their deep traces on your health, and strength, as well as on those of the thousands of our officers and soldiers.

I can well appreciate your misfortune in being unable to use your eyes without pain. At seventeen, when fitting for college, I had to exchange my books for a dark room, and thus ended my "education" for three years thereafter, I could not use them except in snatches. From what you say of them and of your other ailments it seems plain that they are due to the incessant over-drafts upon your reservoir of nervous power, for which perfect relaxation, abundant sleep, & nutriment, (simple) cheerful society, and untaxed brain, much open air, and the sweet quiet that comes to the spirit, through that uniform trust that sayeth "My Father's at the helm" are the [?] prescription which, doubtless, your own experience has suggested and which I trust are now doing their good work with you.

You speak of the wife of Robert Mott. Angelina and Sarah keep up communication with her through their relatives in Charleston, who, tho rampant slave holders till emancipation and still more unrepentant rebels, yet faithfully transmit whatever we send. The dear old soul had laid up in bank twelve hundred dollars when the rebellion broke out. The whole was swept away! With what a storm of destruction has the whole South been swept, and what a cup of trembling has been pressed to our lips! God grant that these "terrible things in righteousness," may do upon us all their own work.

Angelina & Sarah write with me in earnest love and gratitude to you and your sister for your woks of faith and abundant labor of love for those who have had no helper and we heartily invite you to visit us before you return to C. With cordial regards to your home circle.

Faithfully--Theo. D. Weld.

 

There seemed to be almost a competition, in fact, among groups in need of the experience, energy, and expertise that the Chase sisters brought to their work. One person soliciting their services was Hannah E. Stevenson, who had long corresponded with the sisters in her capacity as supervisor of teachers for the New England Educational Association.

 

[1867?]

My Friends trust & good,

In Charleston we have a school very flourishing & very interesting. Arthur Sumner of Cambridge is its principal; he has eighteen assts. Of these 15 are natives, colored & white. We were to send to him in Oct. (about the 2d week) 3 skilful teachers from here, each to have charge of a floor; and had selected those who should fill that place. Two of them were in S C. last year; Ellen Patrick, a sweet girl from Milford, and an excellent Teacher, whom Mr. Sumner & Mr. Tomlinson both begged to have again; & Miss Buttrick from Concord, "a whole team." Instead of sending the third, the Com. has decided, since your last letter, to send both you dear souls there to this Morris St. School, whose welfare we have much at heart.

We could not of course, separate you, & we believe you can so share the work in the Dept. of the school which will be assigned by Mr. Sumner to you, that you will be as one. Teaching will pretty much demand & task all your energies; for it is very important in our programme that the Charleston School should be a superior one. . .

--Hannah E. Stevenson [1867]


Fort Howard
Sept. 4th [1867?]

My dear Miss Chase;

I was very glad to hear from you--for, somehow, I seemed many months ago when we met to have found in you a deep and rare sympathy, one so seldom met that I cannot forget the little time we saw each other in. But the fates have kept us apart. I have hard of your pioneer work in the South, and Mr Chase, a few days ago told me you were going to Pensacola next year. Why so far? Isn't Virginia difficult enough for you--you and your noble sister put to shame the timid manhood of the North.

The spirit expressed in Tennyson's "Ulysses" is the finest of earthly aspirations. This planting seeds of and patiently watching the slow growth of ideas among our curly headed brothers is in the long run wearisome, isn't it? But you haven't fainted yet & may you never grow weary.

Sinc yours

S. C. Armstrong

--Samuel Chapman Armstrong to Lucy Chase, Sept 4, [1867?]

 

 

However, in August of 1867, Sarah was finally forced by her physical infirmity to resign as a freedmen's teacher.

Below is the letter she wrote to the corresponding secretary of the society that had sponsored her: In it, one can hear the same passion for service that characterized the letter she had written to her father years earlier requesting permission to go South.

 

My frail bark is stranded--if not wrecked--and the Master Builder only knows if it can sail the seas again.

I am very anxious to see you when you come to town. As I am ill you will have to tell the girl I said I could see you.

One day I tried to walk to Charlies' office, and just as I felt my last drop of strength going I met your good minister--but so faint and weary I hardly said a word or to.

I shall send no messages this summer to be misunderstood hoping instead to see you myself. When able shall be most anxious to see my good friends of the Hill.

My Physician says I must go to the Sea Shore as soon as I can. "No disease but entirely worn out" he says. Lack of strength alone has delayed my writing, and I have hoped to see you, thinking you might have hard of our being home and sometimes came to town.

You will perhaps think it best not to repeat 'till after an interview, but we have resigned our connection with the Society.

Lucy continued to serve in the South as a freedmen's teacher and supervisor until 1869 in both Virginia and Florida. While her letters continued to manifest her usual commitment and enthusiasm, she spoke several times of the difficulty of working alone..

 

 


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