Intelligence was not enough to earn an individual a place as
a freedmen's teacher. Instead, the Association particular sought
out individuals driven by "motives of religion and patriotism"
who had the necessary "vitality" to live up to the
many demands of the job.
Most of those who taught for the New England Freedmen's Aid
Society and similar organizations seem to have been single
women. An annual report published in the April,
1865 edition of the Freedmen's Record stated:
"During our three years' existence, we have employed
two hundred and twenty teachers, and have now in our employment
fifty-four: nine men and forty-five women."
W.E.B. DuBois later described the freedmen's teachers in
The annals of this Ninth Crusade are yet to be written,--the
tale of a mission that seemed to our age far more quixotic
than the quest of St. Louis seemed to his. Behind the mists
of ruin and rapine waved the calico dresses of women who
dared, and after the hoarse mouthings of the field guns
rang the rhythm of the alphabet. Rich and poor they were,
serious and curious. Bereaved now of a father, now of a
brother, now of more than these, they came seeking a life
work in planting New England schoolhouses among the white
and black of the South. They did their work well. In that
first year they taught one hundred thousand souls, and more.
--W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
"General Howard and the Freedmen's Bureau," The Freedmen's Record, July, 1865, 107.
of the First Freedmen's Teachers Sent from the North
On the morning of the 3d of March, 1862,
the first’ delegation of superintendents and teachers,
fifty-three in all, of whom twelve were women, left the harbor
of New York, on board the United States steam-transport Atlantic,
arriving at Beaufort on the 9th. It was a voyage never to be
forgotten. The enterprise was new and strange, and it was not
easy to predict its future. Success or defeat might be in store
for us and we could only trust in God that our strength would
be equal to our responsibilities. As the colonists approached
the shores of South Carolina, they were addressed by the agent
in charge, who told them the little he had learned of their
duties, enjoined patience and humanity, impressed on them the
greatness of their work, the results of which were to cheer
or dishearten good men, to settle, perhaps, one way or the other,
the social problem of the age, — assuring them that never
did a vessel bear a colony on a nobler mission, not even the
Mayflower, when she conveyed the Pilgrims to Plymouth, that
it would be a poorly written history which should omit their
individual names, and that, if faithful to their trust, there
would come to them the highest of all recognitions ever accorded
to angels or to men, in this life or the next, —“
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have
done it unto Me.”
This first delegation of superintendents and teachers were
distributed during the first fortnight after their arrival at
Beaufort, and at its close they had all reached their appointed
posts. They took their quarters in the deserted houses of the
planters. These had all left on the arrival of our army, only
four white men, citizens of South Carolina, remaining, and none
of those being slaveholders, except one, who had only two or
three slaves. Our operations were, therefore, not interfered
with by landed proprietors who were loyal or pretended to be
so. The negroes had, in the mean time, been without persons
to guide and care for them, and had been exposed to the careless
and conflicting talk of soldiers who chanced to meet them. They
were also brought in connection with some employees of the Government,
engaged in the collection of cotton found upon the plantations,
none of whom were doing anything for their education, and most
of whom were in favor of leasing the plantations and the negroes
upon them as adscripti glebœ, looking forward
to their restoration to their masters at the close of the war.
They were uncertain as to the intentions of the Yankees, and
were wondering at the confusion, as they called it. They were
beginning to plant corn in their patches, hut were disinclined
to plant cotton, regarding it as a badge of servitude. No schools
had been opened, except one at Beaufort, which had been kept
a few weeks by two freedmen, one bearing the name of John Milton,
under the auspices of the Rev. Dr. Peck. This is not the place
to detail the obstacles we met with, one after another overcome,
— the calumnies and even personal violence to which we
were subjected. These things occurred at an early period of
our struggle, when the nation was groping its way to light,
and are not likely to occur again. Let unworthy men sleep in
the oblivion they deserve, and let others of better natures,
who were then blind, but now see, not be taunted with their
inconsiderate acts. The nickname of Gibeonites, applied to the
colonists, may, however, be fitly remembered. It may justly
claim rank with the honored titles of Puritan and Methodist.
. . .
It is fitting here that I should bear my testimony to the superintendents
and teachers commissioned by the associations. There was as
high a purpose and devotion among them as in any colony that
ever went forth to bear the evangel of civilization. Among them
were some of the choicest young men of New England, fresh from
Harvard, Yale, and Brown, from the divinity-schools of Andover
and Cambridge, — men of practical talent and experience.
There were some of whom the world was scarce worthy, and to
whom, whether they are among the living or the dead, I delight
to pay the tribute of my respect and admiration.
The first school for contrabands was opened at Fortress
Monroe on September 17, 1861, the teacher was Mary Peake, an African-American.
The first African-American freedmen's teacher from the North was
probably Charlotte Forten, who taught on St. Helena for two years.
Forced by health problems to return home, Forten used her writing
to publicize the freedmen's education movement, publishing "Life
on the Sea Islands" in The Atlantic Monthly in 1864.
While both Peake and Forten had been born, raised, and educated as free citizens, some freedmen's teachers had themselves
slaves. Harriet Tubman escaped from bondage in
the South, only to risk her own safety by returning to lead others
to freedom. Harriet Jacobs escaped slavery and then published
the narrative of her ordeal as a way of promoting abolition. Both
Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs worked during the Civil War
as freedmen's teachers for the New England Freedmen's Aid Society.
who served as freedmen's teachers were building on an important
tradition. Throughout the long period of slavery in America, slaves
had been active in helping one another resist oppression. Despite
the strict prohibitions against teaching slaves how to read, African-Americans
like Frederick Douglass who managed to "steal" some
knowledge often set up informal classes to pass their skills on
to others. In fact, when the Freedmen's teachers arrived at their
posts, they sometimes found schools already being taught by those
who first begun their teaching in secrecy on the plantation while
still slaves themselves.
Some of the children of the vicinity, getting
perhaps some hint of my intention, or prompted by an impulse
from on high, called on Mrs. Peake, and requested her
to teach them, as she had taught the children in Hampton.
I soon found from observation, as well as information,
that we had in her a teacher of the choicest spirit, and
of peculiar qualifications. She was happy in having pupils
as ready to learn as to request instruction. Her school
numbered at first only about half a dozen, but in a few
days she had between fifty and sixty. These scholars were
found to have generally very fair intellectual capabilities,
and a few evinced quite rare talents. Among these was
her own little daughter, five years old, named Hattie,
but familiarly called by the pet name of Daisy. She learned
to read simple lessons fluently in a very short time.
Others also exhibited a precocity which from day to day
rewarded and stimulated that ardor of this devoted teacher.
Mrs. Peake was not satisfied with the ordinary routine
of the week-day school room, but felt that the teacher
of a mission school should aim to educate the children
for eternity as well as for time. She found great assistance
in the primer, catechism, and other elementary religious
books, with which she had been furnished. She felt that
the teachings of the week-day school ought to be largely
preparatory to the rehearsals of the Sabbath school. What
an impression for good would be made upon the rising generation,
were this course universally pursued! . . .
While Mrs. Peake attached prime importance to the training
of the rising generation, she felt that great improvement
might be made among the adults. This view inspired her
action from the first in Hampton, and with a blessed result,
that is now apparent to all. She was accordingly very
ready to gratify the desire of a number of adults for
an evening school, notwithstanding her increasing infirmities.
The result is, that several, who scarcely knew the alphabet
before, now begin to read with considerable readiness.
In these multiplied labors, she exhibited a martyr spirit,
of the true type. Often when she was confined to her bed,
her pupils would be found around her, drawing knowledge
as it were from her very life.
--from Lewis C. Lockwood's Mary S. Peake, the
Colored teacher at Fortress Monroe, (Boston: American
Tract Society, 186?) 31-35.
Teachers Who Had
"Stolen Knowledge" Before the War
In a school at St. Helena village, where were collected
the Edisto refugees, ninety two pupils were present as I went
in. Two ladies were engaged in teaching, assisted by Ned Lloyd
White, a colored man, who had picked up clandestinely a knowledge
of reading while still a slave. One class of boys and another
of girls read in the seventh chapter of St. John, having begun
this Gospel and gone thus far. They stumbled a little on words
like “unrighteousness” and “circumcision’;
otherwise they got along very well. When the Edisto refugees
were brought here, in July, 1862, Ned, who is about forty
or forty five years old, and Uncle Cyrus, a man of seventy,
who also could read, gathered one hundred and fifty children
into two schools, and taught them as best they could for five
months until teachers were provided by the societies. Ned
has since received a donation from one of the societies, and
is now regularly employed on a salary.
Among the most interesting of the new scholars who have
taken their places, is a woman about twenty-five years of
age, who was a slave not far from Newbern; and who made her
way here as soon as she could, after the place came into possession
of the Union forces. Not supposing she had any knowledge of
letters, never having entered a school before, I was surprised
to hear her read in " The Freedmen's Advocate "
and in the Testament, with as much fluency as an average of
educated people, and to hear her spell many-syllabled words
with facility. Being a house-servant, by dint of contrivance
she had managed to steal the key of knowledge from her master's
children, though they had been repeatedly reprimanded for
teaching her. She says she used to secrete every stray piece
of a leaf that she could find, and pore over it by the light
of the fire, while sitting on the hearth "in the potato-house."
In two weeks after the surrender of the city the Misses Chase
had 1,075 scholars in the First African Church. “Among
them,” she writes, “we found eighty good readers,
two hundred good spellers, and one hundred who had conquered
the alphabet. Of the remaining five or six hundred many had
picked up one or two letters in the secret corner where the
negro father kept his treasured book. In spite of the rigid
laws against teaching the negroes, nearly every colored family
in Richmond has one or more members who can read.”
--"Report of the Teachers Committee," The
American Freedman, May, 1866, 29
We found an old man living in a very tidy little cabin
(little, like all the cabins in the city of six hundred negroes)
a veritable slab-town, with the size and dignity of Yorktown's
Slab-town who keeps a "Pay School." He once had
twenty scholars, but "Since you all came and opened free
schools I've lost most of em. I taught myself," he said.
"Picket it up by slant." His little grandson read
with real elegance.
An old man in the slab-city keeps a "pay school" in a neat little picture-ornamented house.
taught myself,"--he said to me,--"Picked it up by slant." His wie, a chipper dame, called for her beautiful grandson to come to read to
She said she was very careful about his training. "I've been trying to keep him from these yere nigger children about town."
-- "A Visit to Newberne," The Freedmen's Record, September, 1865, 147
of the New England Educational Association
ONE of the teachers lately commissioned by the New-England
Freedmen's Aid Society is probably the most remarkable woman
of this age. That is to say, she has performed more wonderful
deeds by the native power of her own spirit against adverse
circumstances than any other. She is well known to many
by the various names which her eventful life has given her;
Harriet Garrison, Gen. Tubman, &c.; but among the slaves
she is universally known by her well-earned title of Moses,—
Moses the deliverer. She is a rare instance, in the midst
of high civilization and intellectual culture, of a being
of great native powers, working powerfully, and to beneficent
ends, entirely unaided by schools or books.
When the war broke out Harriet was very. anxious to go to South Carolina to assist the
The only condition she made was, that her old parents should be kept from want. It was wonderful to see with what
economy she had planned all their household arrangements. She concluded that thirty dollars would keep them comfortable
through the winter. She went to Port Royal, and was employed by Gen. Hunter, in scouting service, and accompanied Col.
Montgomery in his expedition up the Combahee river. She was afterwards engaged by Gen. Saxton, to take a number of freed
women under her charge, and teach them to do the soldiers' washing. She has also been making herb-medicine for the soldiers, which she
gives away gratuitously, feeling it to be impossible to receive money from sick soldiers; and she has made cakes and pies for
in the intervals of other work.
She has had no regular support from Government; and she feels that she must have some certain income, which she
wishes to apply to her parents' support. This society consider her labors too valuable to the freedmen to be turned
elsewhere, and have therefore taken her into their service, paying her the small salary of ten dollars per month that
asks for. She is not adopted by any branch as she could not fulfil the condition of correspondence with them. She says,
the war is over she will learn to read and write, and then will write her own life. The trouble in her head prevents
applying closely to a book. It is the strong desire of all her friends that she should tell her story in her own way at
future time. We think it affords a very cogent answer to the query, " Can the negro take care of himself? "
MANY of our readers are familiar with a book called "Linda;
or, the Autobiography of a Slave Girl." Perhaps few
of them know that this slave girl is now one of the most
zealous and efficient workers in the Freedmen's cause. Mrs.
Harriet Jacobs was sent to Alexandria more than two years
ago, by a society of Friends in New York, to look after
the Freedmen who were gathered there. Her first winter's
service was a very hard one. Small-pox and other diseases
made fearful havoc among the people ; and all her energies
were exhausted in caring for their physical needs.
She has been unwearied in her labors, in providing orphan
children with homes, in nursing the sick, in assisting the
able-bodied to find work, and in encouraging all in habits
of industry and self-reliance. They have established a school,
and sent to the New-England Society for assistance in maintaining
it. We offered them a teacher, and sent them Miss Virginia
Lawton, a young colored woman of good education and great
worth of character (the grand-daughter of one well known
to the fashionable circles in Boston, as the administrator
of good things at weddings, christenings, parties, and other
merry-makings), who has taught there for a year. They have
this autumn completed their school-house; and, as the school
was too large for Miss Lawton's care, we have sent them
also Mr. Banfield, a finely educated young man from New
Hampshire, who enters most heartily into the work. The most
remarkable feature of Linda's slave life was this: to escape
the persecution of a master not cruel, but cruelly kind,
she hid in a small loft, under the roof of her grandmother's
house, where light and air came only through the chinks
in the boards, and where she lay concealed for seven years,
within sound both of her children's voices and of her master's
threats, before she succeeded in escaping altogether from
No doubt, when she sank to sleep overwearied with the monotony
of suffering, visions of hope and joy came through the golden
gate of slumber, which snatched her away from her vile den,
and gave her strength and courage to endure still longer.
But was any dream of the night dearer and sweeter to her
than the present reality ? — her people freed, and
the school-house, built mainly by her own exertions, named
in her honor, and presided over by black and white teachers,
working harmoniously together.
And yet, this woman, this lady, — who for years has
been treated as a friend in the family of one of our celebrated
literary men, and who has won the respect and love of all
who have associated with her, — cannot ride in the
street-cars at Washington, and is insulted even in a concert-room
in Boston, on account of the slight tinge of color in her
We have made great progress; but much yet remains to be
Mrs. Jacobs (Linda) has sent us an admirable photograph of the school
Alexandria which she aided in establishing, and which is so ably conducted by Mr. Banfield, and his assistants, the Misses Lawton. It is delightful to
this group of neatly dressed children, of all ages, and with faces of every variety of the African and mixed type, all intelligent, eager, and happy.
Jacobs's honest, beaming countenance irradiates the whole picture; and the good teacher stands in the background looking over his scholars with great
complacency. It is a whole volume of answers to the sceptical and superficial questions often put as to the desire and capacity of the negro race for
The picture may be seen at our office by any friends wishing to know how a freedman's school looks.
--"School at Alexandria," The Freedmen's Record, September, 1865, 149
The Living Conditions of Freedmen's Teachers
An individual who volunteered
to serve as a freedmen's teacher had no way of knowing what kinds of
living conditions s/he would face in the South. Typically, teachers
were transported to their posts by the military; the journeys were often
difficult and sometimes dangerous.
of a Trip to Charleston
There is a peculiar style of managing these
boats indulged in down here which is rather mystifying to
us green Yankees. Every boat strenuously denies all idea of
starting for any particular point, and then when the officers
have succeeded in persuading you of their stationery intentions,
they start off without a moment's warning, and leave you to
bewail your fate. Sometimes they vary this by letting people
ship themselves for one place and then going to another.
For instance, two unhappy individuals got aboard a steamer
at the Head, the other night, and went to bed expecting to
wake up in Charleston, instead of which morning found them
in the pleasant city of Savannah. A beautiful place, I am
told, but I fear they were not particularly charmed with the
scenery. . . .
The Golden Gate, in which we took passage for
Charleston, is a very small and rickety arrangement, and we
had not been long on board before we discovered that they
were obliged to work the machinery very gingerly, as they
expected every minute to have it unscrew, or crack, or break,
or something else equally agreeable,--the only comfort being
that it could not by any possibility get vim enough to blow
up--and by night we ascertained that our captain didn't know
the way, as he had been on the trip but once before, and had
no charts, so eight o-clock found us somewhere between Hilton
Head and Charleston, looking for something to tell us whether
a light there was ahead was Stone or the Light ship, and part
of the time steering straight for the moon, so as to excite
considerable apprehension that the next moment would find
us in an atmosphere of green cheese, and I was rather inclined
to doubt its sanitary qualities, as I have never met with
any up north. For my own part, it was a matter of perfect
indifference whether we landed in Charleston or on the bottom
of the sea, provided only that uncle Wm. who had converted
himself into a temporary pillow on my behalf, would consent
to remain unmoved and let me go down comfortably, but the
rest did not take it so easily. Uncle did not tell me he was
uneasy till it was all over, but then he confessed to having
been so. One man got himself all ready, with his brandy bottle,
to go down and was evidently fully convinced that that was
to be our fate. But at last we got our pilot aboard, and got
in here about two o'clock.
Lodgings ranging from the luxurious to the spartan
were also assigned by the Union army. Teachers were often allotted houses that had been
deserted by or taken away from confederate owners, and sometimes slaves of the former owner stayed on to serve as cooks or
servants for the new occupants. When houses were not available, the only alternative was a room in a hotel or boarding with a
Since many of the white residents, however, were antagonistic to the presence of the "Yankee marms" and the work they were doing with the
teachers who lived with local citizens often complained of being objects of hostility.
Rough It Considerable Now"
Every day's tidal ebb, and flow sends solemnly into our presence now the negro stranded on our shores by the war,
forces our sympathies to meet his wants; then the slave-owner either in person or estate, now begging at our hands, now uttering a complaint; and now,
him! houselessand homeless with our faces reflected in his mirrors, our tables heavy with his books, and our wearied heads resting in his
A fine horse and a rockaway just came into our stable from a large farm taken possession of by the Dr a day or two ago. . . . We
to be flooded, in a few days, with the furniture from our new house. And tomorrow, another large farm, will fall into our hands. This too, is war!
and cruel! The Dr acts of course under orders. He would consent to the inmates of the houses remaining in their homes; but he says it would be
them to do so. They would provoke the negroes, and thenegroes would provoke them. Room in their houses must be found for our overseers, and their
would be unsafe. So it seems berst to remove them from their estates, if we take possession of their soil.
--Lucy Chase, Craney Island, South Carolina, January 29, 1863
Even our house-walls tell us that we are
in the army. Black target-circles adorn our bed-room walls,
and parlor and dining-room vie with the homes of the dead—great
in wall names. Everybody is glaringly invited not to spit
upon my chamber-floor. And there is no lack of written indications
that the 10th N. Y. Regt was determined to "furnish ample
information" to all who came after that it was "The
first Regiment that landed on this island."
Turned, by the incoming shower, from our room into the dining
room, we thanked Nancy, Mrs. Brown, the rebel architects and
our good fortune for the promise of the night. Sarah, sick,
went early to bed. Her head was hardly on her pillow when
she sent for me to place an open umbrella at her head-board.
Nancy encircled the stove with tin-wash basins and, to the
music of resounding water-drops Sarah was lulled to sleep.
The basins speedily filled and [?] the night long, showering
the ground with "earth-rejoicing drops," but neither
my vigilance nor the capacity of the basins availed much and
waters covered the floor. In the mid-watches of the night,
I rose and set sail in my bed-room. Sarah suggested that I
must not perambulate barefooted, and urged me to put on slippers.
So I put my feet into a pair that were new at the moment.
I put them on, but turned old in less time than a single night,
and chillingly suggested rubber boots. I lifted all our heavy
trunks alone and put them high that they might remain dry;
took our books, photographs, and other water-soaking valuables
from the shelves, our dresses from the nails, and made desolation
general throughout our borders.
Sarah and I are domiciled with the man who wrote the following, to Dr Brown; "Dr Brown, Sir I wish you would be kind enough
me know if those ladys that were at my house to day are coming up here to teach school if they are I shall be obliged to move my family for we have
been used to Negro equality nor to White Ladys going in the kitchens and kissing the Negroes. Sir, I am a union man and ever shall be but I am not an
abolitionist nor never can be as fer you I believe you are a perfect Gentleman you have always treated me as such and I am willing to do all I can for
and the Government but if you allow those Ladys to live on the farm you will get very little work done by the Negroes and it will end my peace fer this
as fer Mr. Giny he need not give himself any trouble about their teaching my children I am able to school my children as yet without sending them to a
The position of the first teachers who entered the field
involved, under the best attainable conditions, great and
continued personal sacrifices. Most of the teachers were women,
intelligent and cultivated, who had been familiar in their
Northern homes with all the refinements and elegances of the
best forms of social life. Many had the assured means of independent
support, and those who had to win their daily bread made pecuniary
as well as social sacrifices in coming here. All came to a
moral, as well as a literal waste. The whole land was in military
occupation, and under the government of martial law. Their
daily life was in the midst of camps and hospitals, and all
the sights and sounds of war. They were dispersed among the
plantations, lying remote from each other, and separated by
deep creeks and impassable marshes, the difficult roads between
doubling miles of distance. Hence intercourse among them was
infrequent. Little sympathy was felt for their work or for
themselves outside of their own circle. Their work lay among,
and they were in constant contact with, scenes and persons
as little attractive in all outward aspects can be conceived.
The objects for whose sake they had left homes and social
refinements to encounter privation and toil, were repulsive
in most things, save in the divine humanity which lay smothered
beneath all their squalidness and misery, in their unmeasured
wrongs, and the unutterable cry for help from the abyss of
-- Second Annual Report of the New England Freedmen’s
Aid Society Presented to the Society, April 21, 1864, 1864, 21-22
You, of course, feel assured of our safety, we also
feel assured that we dwell in the midst of alarms while we
reign 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
During the week we moved to Oaklands, our future home.
The house was of one story, with a low-roofed piazza running
the whole length. The interior had been thoroughly scrubbed
and whitewashed; the exterior was guiltless of white-wash
or paint. There were five rooms, all quite small, and several
dark little entries, in one of which we found shelves lined
with old medicine-bottles. These were a part of the possessions
of the former owner, a Rebel physician, Dr. Sams by name.
Some of them were still filled with his nostrums. Our furniture
consisted of a bedstead, two bureaus, three small pine tables,
and two chairs, one of which had a broken back. These were
lent to us by the people. The masters, in their hasty flight
from the islands, left nearly all their furniture; but much
of it was destroyed or taken by the soldiers who came first,
and what they left was removed by the people to their own
houses. Certainly, they have the best right to it. We had
made up our minds to dispense with all luxuries and even many
conveniences; but it was rather distressing to have no fire,
and nothing to eat. Mr. H. had already appropriated a room
for the store which he was going to open for the benefit of
the freed people, and was superintending the removal of his
goods. So L. and I were left to our own resources. But Cupid
the elder came to the rescue, — Cupid, who, we were
told, was to be our right-hand man, and who very graciously
informed us that he would take care of us; which he at once
proceeded to do by bringing in some wood, and busying himself
in making a fire in the open fireplace. While he is thus engaged,
I will try to describe him. A small, wiry figure, stockingless,
shoeless, out at the knees and elbows, and wearing the remnant
of an old straw hat, which looked as if it might have done
good service in scaring the crows from a cornfield. The face
nearly black, very ugly, but with the shrewdest expression
I ever saw, and the brightest, most humorous twinkle in the
eyes.One glance at Cupid’s face showed that he was not
a person to be imposed upon, and that he was abundantly able
to take care of himself, as well as of us. The chimney obstinately
refused to draw, in spite of the original and very uncomplimentary
epithets which Cupid heaped upon it, while we stood by, listening
to him in amusement, although nearly suffocated by the smoke.
At last, perseverance conquered, and the fire began to burn
cheerily. Then Amaretta, our cook, — a neat-looking
black woman, adorned with the gayest of head-handkerchiefs,
made her appearance with some eggs and hominy, after partaking
of which we proceeded to arrange our scanty furniture, which
was soon done. In a few days we began to look civilized, having
made a table-cover of some red and yellow handkerchiefs which
we found among the store-goods, — a carpet of red and
black woollen plaid, originally intened for frocks and shirts,—a
cushion, stuffed with corn-husks and covered with calico,
for a lounge, which Ben, the carpenter, had made for us of
pine boards, —and lastly some corn-husk beds, which
were an unspeakable luxury, after having endured agonies for
several nights, sleeping on the slats of a bedstead. It is
true, the said slats were covered with blankets, but these
might as well have been sheets of paper for all the good they
did us. What a resting-place it was! Compared to it, the gridiron
of St. Lawrence—fire excepted--was as a bed of roses.
We rough it considerable now, & last night I slept
on two or three spreads on the floor. If there had been more
spread and less floor there might have been less danger of
my leaving a permanent impression on the floor, but it was
better than nothing. . . .
This house we are in is a fine old place and the garden is
full of flowers, especially roses. There is a fine magnolia
tree, just budding, japonicas, aloes, figtrees, and ripe strawberries,
so it really seems summerlike. After all it does not seem
very tropical. It is more like our northern June. I have a
room to myself, and so has uncle at night, but I spend the
larger part of my working hours in here. There are twelve
in the house, including ourselves, and it is really very pleasant.
. . . .
I guess you would have laughed at our household arrangements
here at first. Now we are fixed up quite finely, but at first
we slept on the floor, took our meals out of the house, and
literally "roughed it" for awhile. We don't take
care of our own cooking affairs, but just turn them over to
a darkey who gives us all sorts of compounds, but still provides
our table very well. I am more hardened than I ever thought
I should be, but I cant go the meat they give us. I may come
After two weeks sojourn here, we find ourselves quite comfortable. We have a fine large house, with verandahs to the
the doors and windows of each story opening out on to them; the whole overlooking a very beautiful garden in a high state of cultivation.
It was originally the property of Rebel Judge Dunkin, but has been confiscated by the Government. We could not draw
rations for more than a week after our arrival, and were obliged to board. Mr. Allen and his party came last week, and were duly installed in our
which is styled the Teachers' Home. Our household now numbers twelve; and some very good colored people, who occupy the basement, and who were formerly
property of the old Judge have undertaken to do our cooking, and relieve us of all the care of the table. So we get along very nicely.
--M.C.G. "Extracts from Teachers Letters," The Freedmen's Record, June, 1865, 95
We are getting along nicely down in these broiling regions,
with some slight drawbacks, which only enhance the general
happiness. For instance, when our table gets rather meagre
and our imagination refers regretfully to northern dainties
"tho' lost to sight to memory dear," we console
ourselves for present pork & turnips (rice is too great
a luxury to be mentioned in that company) with visions of
chicken salad, ices, &c. in which we are to expend fabulous
sums in the future. So in visions of bliss to come we forget
the miseries which are (?) and learn philosophy and resignation
together. I must confess I have another source of consolation
in the form of peanut candy and root beer, which I indulge
in occasionally much to uncle's dismay, for money is slightly
-- down in these regions. I suppose they think the consciousness
of well-doing ought to support us, but that won't buy bread
and butter, as they might see if they only tried it. But its
coming, they say, in fact part of it has already come, so
we feel considerable encouragement for the future.
We teachers at the home take turn, a week at a time,
housekeeping. This is my week, and I find it housekeeping
under difficulties. Our stove will not be persuaded into baking
well, our cook needs constant supervision, dishes are very
scarce, and milk not to be had. We are liable to have strangers
come here at any time, and they must also be provided for.
Our closets are overrun with mice, though there is a very
hungry cat on the premises. Fortunately, I am a pretty good
cook, and know how to contrive. You would laugh to see how
our food is stowed away. Old bottles are great treasures.
Our butter firkin is an old pitcher. We have an immense black
bottle for a vinegar cruet and a little individual salt-cellar.
Our salt-spoon is wooden, and the bowl of it is nearly as
large as the salt-cellar. The cellar was frequently lost behind
the vinegar bottle and other large dishes, till we had the
spoon; but we know where it is by that now. Before we had
the spoon, we though of setting it on the vinegar cruet to
keep it in sight. We have a piece of a sheet marked "Sanitary
Commission," for a table-cloth. We have it washed and
ironed between meals.
At times, we found it very difficult to get any thing to eat,
living upon hominy, with neither butter, sugar, nor even molasses,
and drinking tea without milk. Sometimes we could get chickens,
but so poor that they consisted mostly of small bones. I have
been so hungry, that I have eaten hard, dry biscuits with
worms in them, and relished them too.
We teach in a building formerly used as a billiard-room,
and average, in daily attendance, more than one hundred scholars.
A small house (15 feet by 20) has been built for us,
in which we are now living. It is of rough, unseasoned
lumber, with the frame covered only on the outside. A
partition divides it into rooms. In the front-room there are
two windows, and one in the sleeping-room. All are,
as yet, without sashes. We have wooden shutters, which protect
us from the cold, but exclude the daylight. When too
cold to sit with them open, we must light our lamp to read
or write by. Our furniture is very simple and scanty.
I wrote to Major Crandon when I should come, and, on
my arrival, reported at once to him. He had not been able
to secure a boarding-place fore me, so went with me to the
hotel, and here I have remained. I have not seen him since.
. . The house and all its inmates, myself excepted,
are very strong secesh. They look upon me with a
very bitter eye. Where it not for their love of Yankee greenbacks,
I should expect to be ejected forthwith.
--Sarah E. Foster, Gordonsville, Virginia, "Extracts
from Teachers' Letters," The Freedmen's Record,
In addition to the dangers posed by the war, freedmen's teachers also faced threats to their health from illness. The
living and working conditions rendered teachers particularly vulnerable to the epidemics that periodically beset the South, and even though most
returned North during the months when heat and illness were at their peak, the reports of freedmen's aid associations contain memorials to teachers who
while in service. The same reports also contain references to large numbers of deaths among the freedmen from the same causes.
Sixteen year old Gertrude Allen, who served as the youngest teacher in Richmond after accompanying her uncle when he was
appointed assistant-superintendent of freedmen's teachers in that city, died of fever only two weeks after her arrival in the South. Her bereaved
carefully copied Gertrude's lively letters into a notebook, and also pasted onto its pages the memorial notices published in the Freedmen's Record.
notebook is in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.
Excerpts from the Letters of Gertrude Allen, Freedmen's Teacher
I shan't be much astonished to hear of
a few assassinations down here some of these fine days. If they
should take place you may know that uncle and I are on our way
home, for I haven't the least idea of making a martyr of myself
for any cause, as I flatter myself that I myself am much more
important to myself than any educational project. They have been
trying to persuade me that it will be a great thing for the N.E.
Freedmen's Aid Society to have half a dozen of its missionaries
murdered in the midst of their work, cut off in the prime of life
&c&c, but I beg leave to delegate that high office to
some one else who will appreciate it more fully than I can pretend
to do, and I, whenever there's any danger, just take the first
steamer for N. Y. and as I cant go alone, uncle will come too,
so don't be surprised to see us at any time. (Uncle William has
just been reading my letter and seems to think that I am a little
imprudent, but as he says it's no harm as long as it is going
home, and it's all true any way, which can't be said of everything.
He demurs a little at my marching him home so unceremoniously,
but he'll come!)
--Gertrude Allen to her parents, Charleston, May 16, 1865
Uncle William and I have been discussing the question
of your coming down here in vacation, so I thought I would write
you a little on the subject. I wish you would come, and bring
mother too if possible. In that case you might get board in the
next house, or if you came alone you might turn in somewhere here.
. . . I suppose--no I dont--I know
that it will be unendurably warm by that time, but you would not
have to go out in the heat, and this house is always comfortable
in the warmest weather--thermometer never rose above 95° in
it. It promises to be very unhealthy here so that by
that time, July 8, yellow fever and cholera will very likely be
having full sway, but the first never comes as far up and the other
never as far down as this house; besides if it is very bad we
shall all go home--at least I know two who will.
--Gertrude Allen to her parents, Charleston, May 21, 1865
Since you have heard from any of us here, our home has been saddened by the death of one of our little band of sisters. Miss Allen
taken sick Saturday, June 3. We did not consider her very sick, but supposed she was going to have a slight run of fever. We had the best care
taken of her, and her uncle had the best medical advice the city afforded. On Wednes¬day she seemed rather worse; on Thursday her symptoms became
alarming; an assistant nurse was engaged: but she failed so rapidly we could see the change as we visited her room from time to time; and Saturday, at
A.M., she passed away. Decomposition took place so rapidly, and the weather being so warm, it was impossible to keep the body long; and, at 6, P.M., of
same day, we laid her quietly to rest in the Unitarian Churchyard, just one week from the time she was taken sick. It seemed very Bad to lay her there,
stranger in a strange land, so far away from her kindred and friends who loved her so dearly; and our heartfelt sympathy went forth to that bereaved
household, who were expecting in a few short weeks to welcome the absent one home again. May God sanctify this affliction to them!
--M. C. O., "Extracts from Teachers' Letters," The Freedmen's Record, July, 1865 (Clipping from the notebook
assembled by Gertrude Allen's mother.)
CHARLESTON, JUNE 15, 1865
Since you have heard from any of us here, our home has been saddened by the death of one of our little band of
Miss Allen was taken sick Saturday, June 3. We did not consider her very sick, but supposed she was going to have a slight fun of fever. We had the
possible taken of her, and her uncle had the best medical advice the city afforded. On Wednesday she seemed rather wore; on Thursday her symptoms
quite alarming; an asssistant nurse was engaged: but she failed so rapidly we could see the change as we visited her room from time to time; and
5, a.m. she passed away. Decomposition took place so rapidly, and the weather being so warm, it was impossible to keep the body long; and, at 6, p.m.,
same ay, we laid her quietly to rest in the Unitarian Churchyard, just one week from the time she was taken sick. It seemed very sad to lay her there,
stranger in a strange land, so far away from her kindred and friends who loved her so dearly; and our heartfelt sympathy went forth to that bereaved
household, who were expecting in a few short weeks to welcome the absent one home again. May God sanctify this affliction to them!
A page from the notebook assembled by the mother of freedmen's teacher Gertrude Allen describing her funeral. A
transcription of this article appears immediately below.
"A FUNERAL SCENE"
I must content myself, also, with a single illustration of their tender-heartedness.
Among our teachers from New England was a modest and accomplished young lady from West Newton. She was a member of a family
famous, in Massachusetts, for the eminent teachers it has produced. She accompanied her uncle, who was my associate-superintendent. She
youngest of the teachers who came down to Charleston, and none of them looked so healthy as she. But she was the first to fall a victim to the
malarious fever of the city.
Every day the children brought flowers to their teachers; and when Gertrude fell sick the choicest bouquets were left at her home
her pupils each morning. One of them—a pure black girl, lately in from the plantations—pleaded again and again to be permitted to
her. But the physician had forbidden her to be disturbed, and—especially as her friends did not dream that she would die—her
were gently refused. Suddenly the fever grew, and our teacher died. It was necessary that she should be buried at once. It was on a
morning, but the sad news went quickly through the city, and, when the hour of burial came, nearly all of her class were at the door.
The gentry of Charleston ignored our existence, excepting by repeated and defeated efforts to prevent us, or to dispossess us of
buildings in which our schools were held. In some other cities this class found allies among the federal officers. But, to the enduring honor of
General Hatch, and the officers in command at Charleston, they refused to become parties to this unholy alliance.
The procession moved. There was a long train of carriages. Immediately behind the relatives and the mourners rode the
major-general in command; then the colonels of the Thirty-fifty (a brother of Henry Ward Beecher) and of the glorious Massachusetts Fifty-fourth,
number of other officers of inferior grade; and lastly came the carriages of northern citizens who hastened to do honor to the young martyr and her
and themselves alike.
Lastly—no, not that; for another class of mourners closed up the cortege. They were the girls of Gertrude’s
Ragged, bareheaded, shoeless, silently and with sad faces—they followed their beloved teacher to her early grave.
We reached the churchyard. It is on the edge of the burnt district. The church which it surrounds is almost the only
edifice in the neighborhood which the shells from Morris Island had not shattered or defaced. Standing near it one can see, from river to
hundreds and hundreds of blackened ruins—scores of chimneys standing to mark where a house once sheltered traitors, or of stores where
grew rich on the profits of unrequited toil. I could never look on them without recalling the solemn words of inspiration—“Though
join in hand the wicked shall not go unpunished,” and that fitting declaration of prophecy fulfilled—“Babylon the Great is fallen,
The fcoffin was brought from the hearse and carried slowly to the grave. Silently the white mrurners, the people in the carriages
the horsemen, followed it—no one objecting, no one dreaming of preventing them. I staid behind to see that the true guard of honor should come
in—for I knew that unless a white man remained they would be refused admittance. And they did come in. They ran and gathered
flowers. On the further side of the grave—it was dug in an unoccupied corner of the yard—Indian corn, already six or seven feet
growing. The children stood among it. I never saw a sight more beautiful than their dusky faces and sad eager eyes as they stooped or
down on the red mount of earth, under the deep green borad-leaved corn.
The coffin was lowered. “Dust to dust.” The shovelful of earth rattled up a dull echo. Instantly a black boy
three girls threw handfuls of flowers into the open grave. This, this was the fitting covering of their bright young martyr—not dust to
but beautiful to beautiful.
On Monday we could not keep the school in which Miss Allen had taught. It was in Ashley street, near the Arsenal, which
rebels seized in the first days of the rebellion. I went up to make a few remarks to the pupils, but the first sentence that I uttered prevented
others. For as soon as I said, “Miss Allen is dead,” the long pent-up grief burst out, and all the children whom she taught sobbed
bitterly. One of them—the same girl who had asked so often to see her teacher—wept and sobbed until she swooned; and would not be
when she was restored, until the principal promised that she might at least clean out her dad teacher’s class room.
ANOTHER TRAIT OF NEGRO CHARACTER
If I were content to show how tender-hearted and how grateful they are, I might stop here; but the sequel to this girl’s
tended to illustrate another trait of the negro character. She went for brushes and a pail of water, and shut herself up in the room. She was
sobbing as she worked for some time after she entered it. But when she came out, she was perfectly calm. The change was so complete that she was
“I saw her,” she answered.
“Saw who?” they asked.
“I saw Miss Allen; she sat down near me.”
And once or twice afterwards she went up, in school hours, and told the principal that she could see her old teacher sitting at
desk, which had been hung with black cloth.
No one could have converted her to a different belief; and her full faith in it ended her lamentations.
"The Mortality . . . Has Been Fearful"
Four of the original delegation have died.
William S. Clark died at Boston, April 25th, 1863, a consumptive
when he entered on the work, which he was obliged to leave
six months before his death. He was a faithful and conscientious
teacher. Though so many months had passed since he left these
labors, their fascination was such that he dwelt fondly upon
them in his last days.
The colony was first broken by the death of Francis E. Barnard,
at St. Helena Island, October 18th, 1862. He was devoted,
enthusiastic, — and though not fitted, as it at first
appeared, for the practical duties of a superintendent, yet
even in this respect disappointing me entirely. He was an
evangelist, also, and he preached with more unction than any
other the gospel of freedom, — always, however, enforcing
the duties of industry and self-restraint. He was never sad,
hut always buoyant and trustful. He and a comrade were the
first to be separated from the company, while at Hilton head,
and before the rest went to Beaufort, — being assigned
to Edisto, which had been occupied less than a month, and
was a remote and exposed point; hut he went fearlessly and
without question. The evacuation of Edisto in July, the heat,
and the labor involved in bringing away and settling his people
in the village on St. Helena Island, a summer resort of the
former residents, where were some fifty vacant houses, were
too much for him. His excessive exertions brought on malarious
fever. This produced an unnatural excitement, and at mid-day,
under a hot sun, he rode about to attend to his people. He
died, — men, women, and children, for whom he had toiled,
filling the house with their sobs during his departing hours.
His funeral was thronged by them, his coffin strewn with flowers
which they and his comrades had plucked, and then his remains
were borne to his native town, where burial-rites were again
performed in the old church of Dorchester. Read his published
journal, and find how a noble youth can live fourscore years
in a little more than one score. One high privilege was accorded
to him. He lived to hear of the immortal edict of the twenty-second
of September, by which the freedom of his people was to be
secured for all time to come.
Samuel D. Phillips was a young man of much religious feeling,
though he never advertised himself as having it, and a devout
communicant of the Episcopal Church. He was a gentleman born
and bred, inheriting the quality a. well as adding to it by
self-discipline. He had good business-capacity, never complained
of inconveniences, was humane, yet not misled by sentiment,
and he gave more of his time, otherwise unoccupied, to teaching
than almost any other superintendent. I was recently asking
the most advanced pupils of a school on St. Helena who first
taught them their letters, and the frequent answer was, “Mr.
Phillips.” He was at home in the autumn for a vacation,
was at the funeral of Barnard in Dorchester, and though at
the time in imperfect health, he hastened back to his charge,
feeling that the death of Barnard, whose district was the
same as his own, rendered his immediate return necessary to
the comfort of his people. He went, —but his health
never came back to him. his quarters were in the same house
where Barnard had died, and in a few days, on the 5th of December,
he followed him. He was tended in his sickness by the negroes,
and one day, having asked that his pillow might be turned,
he uttered the words, “Thank God,” and died. There
was the same grief as at Barnard’s death, the same funeral-rites
at the St. Helena Church, and his remains were borne North
to bereaved relatives.
Daniel Bowe was an alumnus of Yale College, and a student
of the Andover Theological Seminary, not yet graduated when
he turned from his professional studies at the summons of
Christian duty. He labored faithfully as a superintendent,
looking after the physical, moral, and educational interests
of his people. He had a difficult post, was overburdened with
labor, and perhaps had not the faculty of taking as good care
of himself as was even consistent with his duties. He came
home in the summer, commended the enterprise and his people
to the citizens and students of Andover, and returned. He
afterwards fell ill, and, again coming North, died October
30th, a few days after reaching New York. The young woman
who was betrothed to him, but whom he did not live to wed,
has since his death sought this field of labor and on my recent
visit I found her upon the plantation where he had resided,
teaching the children whom he had first taught, and whose
parents he had guided to freedom. Truly, the age of Christian
romance has not passed away!
Have I mentioned that several of our fellow passengers from Norfolk were on their way to Newbern to obtain the bodies
frds who died of the Yellow fever? All along in our journey we meet with sad traces of it, and everywhere we find refugees from Plymouth.
***Miss Pearson, a beautiful girl from Boston, was engaged to one of the gentlemen who died with the Fever. She told
that of eighteen gentlemen who used to visit the teachers last winter, ten died of the fever.
On the southern face of the island, with the salt surf rolling up within sixty feet of our door, and the cool
coming inland much of the time, we are settled down for a short rspite from active work. It is a very hot and unhealthy island: the people die weekly
every plantation. We seem, and no doubt are, less liable to sickness than those born on the soil. It seems hard that so many (they may be counted by
hundred) should lie sick, with no medicine or help for them, except to use some root or herb; or just, day after day, lie under a tree, and wait until
releases them, or a strong constitution proves itself able to resist the sickness. It is considered very dangerous by the colored people to travel
heat of the day. Scarcely do I ever go out, away from my house, but some colored man or woman hoeing in the field will straighten up, and hail me with,
"Massa de heat gib you fever, you no got a horse?" or else, "Massa you no got a umbrella for to protect your head? you get fever sure,
trabelingin de heat of de day!" The colored people cannot be coaxed to travel, except in the ost urgent cases, when the day is hottest. They
aside their work at ten o'clock, and do not resume it until three. Last evening, I was preparing to go insland, and had some of the ladies' things in a
which was to come over early this morning (when the tide would permit); but the people here strongly protested against my going inland to
would be sure to give me a fever and the very worst of them they said; so I was constrained to wait, and start with the first dawning of light this
Every planter on the island had his summer house here on the bay, and came with his wife and children to live in it four months of the year. During
time, they were very cautious about going inland, going up in the cool morning and returning after keeping quiet as possible during the heat of the
about nightfall. We shall attempt to teach, nonetheless.
--A.E., "Extracts from Teachers Letters," September, 1865
The mortality upon the Island has been fearful, the
prevailing fever attacking all the unacclimated; and we did
not dare trust ourselves upon it after sunset. On the Bay,
the air is perfectly healthy, and we felt no fear. It is considered
unsafe to leave there before the first frost appears. We had
a little stock of simple medicines, which we brought for our
own use; but one after another would come to beg them, and
we could not refuse. Happily we did not need them for ourselves.
Small Pox continues to rage. L & I went to the hospital
to see if the patients were properly attended to but surgeon would
not admit us. We have ordered a colored person to report any thing
out of the way & what is needed—sure that in some way
we can meet any demand. We banded the colored people to take care
of their hospital—but they are so fearful of small pox the
committee will not work "until the scare is ober." I
shall have a meeting this week to talk with them on Health Economy
ect and will make them [?] take hold.
My Dear Miss Lowell--Miss Stevenson has already told
you that we gathered the children in different churches on the 15th
of April and opened schools informally at that time. Yesterday, the
19th of April, my sister and I formally opened school in the 1st African
Church (the largest Church in the city. . . ) We had more than one
thousand (1000) children, and seventy-five adults; and found time,
after disciplining them, to hear the readers, to instruct the writers,
and to teach the multitude from the black-board. (Whole letter here.)
"St. Philip's Church, Richmond, Va. School for Colored Children," Harper's Weekly, May 2, 1867, 321
Better Than a Barn:" Schoolrooms
I shall be happy to try to give Mrs. Fisk some account of
my school & I wish I possessed the pen of some of those
envied writers, who have the talent of making things seem almost
present to the bodily eye. My schoolroom is built in the modest
style. It has sashed windows which make it something better
than a barn. It is also used for a church. A tall box serves
for a desk, & behind this behold me seated.
The church in which we taught school was particularly
damp and cold. There was no chimney, and we could have no fire
at all. Near the close of the winter a stove came for us, but
it could not be made to draw; we were nearly suffocated with
smoke, and gave it up in despair. We got so thoroughly chilled
and benumbed within, that for several days we had school out-of-doors,
where it was much warmer. Our school-room was a pleasant one,—
for ceiling the blue sky above, for walls the grand old oaks
with their beautiful moss-drapery, —but the dampness of
the ground made it unsafe for us to continue the experiment.
A schoolhouse has been built by direction
of the commander of the post, who is also an officer of the
Bureau. It will accommodate one hundred and fifty. The
average daily attendance is one hundred and forty; ages from
six to eighteen, —a few older. As yet there are no window-sashes
in the schoolhouse, and neither blinds nor shutters. Two days
last week it was impossible to teach for any length of time,
and our pupils were sent home. We regretted being compelled
to do it; but only a regard for the health of ourselves and
them, prompted us to do it. For a few days we had
a fire in a small stove in the room; but it was of little use,
— with the openings for windows. They have promised to
have our room made comfortable this week
The present school-house is a rude structure of logs thrown
up by the freedmen, on an acre of ground belonging to a citizen
here. But it is not suitable for winter, and they are not able
at present to purchase the ground and fit it up; and unless
they can obtain a suitable building, school will have to be
suspended during the winter months. But I hope these difficulties
may be surmounted.
Freedmen's teachers were often faced with the need
to educate large numbers of children and adults at various stages
of literacy in inadequate "classrooms" with few resources.
One way they dealt with this challenge was through the use of
the monitorial system, sorting students into groups and then setting
the more advanced students to help the beginners.
Despite the difficult conditions and the consequent
need to rely to on drills to at least some extent, the reports
submitted by the teachers emphasize their commitment to teaching
students to observe and think for themselves.
By teaching children to observe and think about
the common things that surround them, their perceptive faculties,
so early developed, are rightly educated, and their little minds
brought to inquire why and how so naturally, that they will
train themselves to be good observers and thinkers.
Comments from various teachers about their approaches
can be found below. For a more thorough discussion of the methods
used by freedmen's teachers, you may wish to read the "Report
of the Teachers' Meeting," published in the Freedmen's
Record, April, 1869.
Teachers Speak Out on Teaching
January 20, 1863
We consider it feasible to unite study and sewing, so we hang our A.B.C. card upon the walls, and keep heads and fingers
--Lucy Chase, Craney Island, South Carolina, January 20, 1863
Want of house-room makes it impracticable to form classes
at present, but we can assist those we employ directly about
us, and may be able in that way, to form a corps of A. B.C.
teachers. Five thousand or more bags are to be sent here from
the Quarter-Master’s Dept for repairs. The carpenters
are now preparing a work-room for the needle-women, and, when
they gather there I propose reading the Bible to them, and
if, practicable, teaching them their letters. “When
our ship comes in” it will come in the form of a meeting-and-school-house
in one, and, until that auspicious day, we can be helpful
to but few.
My temporary school-room was in a barrack whose space
was monopolized by bunks, and as no admittance was not on
our sign-board, the eager children crowded pestilentially
around us. Until our schools can be organized, we are forced
to give divided attention to good readers, indifferent readers,
and A. B. C. Darians; but we find no difficulty in keeping
the fixed attention of all, and in making the lessons equally
profitable to all. By enlivening easy-reading with oral instruction
each mind is kept interested, the beginner dwelling on the
little word and the little thought, and the more mature grasping
what we put within his reach.
There are now at the rope-walk seven hundred, mostly
old people and children. I must describe our first day's teaching.
In a rough room at one end of the building, minus floor, doors,
and windows, we gathered this happy band of freedmen, ranging
from five years to seventy-five. We pinned our cards to the
rough wall, and, with our sun-umbrellas for pointers, were
ready for our work. But very few knew many of their letters.
One smart young girl I asked if she knew how to read. She
said, "I knows some few ob de letters, missus: missus
told me, if I learn any more, she pick my eyes out. Ise like
to see her do dat are now! Lor me, missus! who eber tink white
folks teach us poor folks? Bress de Lord! dis am de year ob
jubilee!" While I was teaching, a black face was thrust
in at the door: the body soon followed, but so enveloped in
rags that one could hardly tell whether it was a human being
or not, till the voice was heard,—"Ise come!"
Upon that, such a screaming and clapping of hands I never
heard. They all rushed for him; and I thought they would devour
him, clothes and all. One of the more thoughtful ones said,
"Do scuse them, missus; for that boy libed on de next
plantation to Massa Taylor : we never spec to see him. Lor
bress me, how we do come togedder!" I, of course, could
rejoice with them. He had escaped with four others: his master
was to send them to Richmond. S. E. F.
After the lessons, we used to talk freely to the children,
often giving them slight sketches of some of the great and
good men. Before teaching them the “John Brown”
song, which they learned to sing with great spirit, Miss T.
told them the story of the brave old man who had died for
them. I told them about Toussaint, thinking it well they should
know what one of their own color had done for his race. They
listened attentively, and seemed to understand. We found it
rather hard to keep their attention in school. It is not strange,
as they have been so entirely unused to intellectual concentration.
It is necessary to interest them every moment, in order to
keep their thoughts from wandering. Teaching here is consequently
far more fatiguing than at the North. In the church, we had
of course but one room in which to hear all the children;
and to make one’s self heard, when there were often
as many as a hundred and forty reciting at once, it was necessary
to tax the lungs very severely.
We had more than one thousand (1000) children, and seventy-five
adults; and found time, after disciplining them, to hear the
readers, to instruct the writers, and to teach the multitude
from the blackboard. Again, today, we had a huge school of
nine hundred. We divided the school into classes, and made
assistant teachers of the advanced children.
As I am alone, of course, the school is ungraded, and
my classes are many; but I keep school until half past three;
and, very often until four o'clock, and so I am able to add
what I will call intellectual exercises to the ordinary exercises.
I oblige every class to learn the meaning of all the important
words in every-days reading-lessons; and I am daily gratified
by their promptness and accuracy in defining the words, when
they stand in class. I appoint, every morning, one from each
class as interlocutor, and I oblige the whole school to listen
to all the definitions; while all who can write, put upon
their slates the words in their own lessons, with the definitions
thereof. Time is demanded for that exercise, but it is indeed
well spent. The children, all of them, enjoy it. Most of them
comprehend it, and their wits are perceptibly quickened by
it. I have one class in the Fr'dm'ns Book which offers an
amazing store of valuable words. I frequently call the attention
of the whole school to illustrations of the meaning of familiar
words. I spend a good deal of time in teaching Arithmetic
both Mental and Written. Many of the children add, almost
without halting, long columns of figures which I place upon
the black-board, and many of them can mentally add, subtract,
multiply and divide, units tens, and even hundreds, with readiness.
I spend so much time upon these exercises that I can mark
the improvement, which is rapid. I have three classes in Geography,
and I give, daily, lessons to the whole school on Maps. All
the children can navigate the Gulfs and Bays of the Globe,
and they are now journeying with pleasure through the U.S.,
halting at the capital cities and sailing on the pleasant
rivers. In addition to the defining exercise, of which I have
told you, I hear the spelling and defining of the words above
the reading lessons, and I also hear the whole school spell
daily from a speller. Pleasant though my task is, I have all
the trials that every teacher must have, who—empty
handed, takes charge of a school that, for three previous
winters, has had a rod suspended over it.
Many thanks for your beautiful present to my school--I
mean the large singing-card. The children are delighted with
it. They learn an air very quickly if they only have something
to read the words from, and a want of hymn-books has been
my chief want in singing. I have heard of these cards before
and wished I had some.
Like all those who find themselves in charge of classrooms, freedmen's teachers needed to find ways of creating order. Most found
students lively and unaccustomed to the discipline of a schoolroom but agreed that whipping a child was unacceptable. Teachers were surprised that
seemed to look on the use of force as advisable. Yet, the experience of slavery had probably taught many African-Americans to expect authority figure
physical punishment to enforce discipline.
Letter to a Freedmen's Teacher Lucy Chase from the Parent of Two Students
Discipline and the Question of Punishment
I point to sleep--s-l-e-e-p. "Sheep." "No, sheep is s-h-e-e-p." "Oh, yes, that's a
lamb," screams a little voice, for all my children scream, and I am forced, as Sarah says, "to outscream the screamiest."
--Lucy Chase, April 1, 1863
We have our sympathies called out, almost every
day, for the innocent children who are harshly beaten by their
will-enemies, their harsh mama’s. Close by us lives a
black woman who lashes her little boy with a raw-hide. We have
remonstrated repeatedly, but she “Reckons I shall beat
my boy just as much as I please, for all Miss Chase,”
and she does beat him till his cries wring the anguish from
our hearts. We complained of her to the Provost Marshall and,
for a few days, she has been more quiet, so we think he must
have visited her. “A few licks now and then, does em good,”
a sweet woman said to us once in extenuation of her practice
of beating. Many a father and mother have begged me to beat
their children at school. “Spare the rod and spoil the
child,” is on every mothers tongue. “Now you whip
her and make a good girl out of her,” the kindest mother
says when she trusts her sweetest child to us.
They are easily governed after the first--when they find
what must be done & that it must be done. They are
affectionate& polite. Indeed I think this a very polite
race. I never saw more polished manners among any people than
among the common laborers here.
Thus far, school dutys have taken all my time: -- my scholars
are of the lowest class – and very hard to controll. Accustomed,
as they are to rough treatment, they do not appear to consider
any command obligatory unless accompanied by a blow; and as
my conscience will not allow the looked for blow – it
is exceedingly exhausting to keep the order I will and do have.
1. Means used to secure good discipline, and create a
high moral tone in a school.
Miss Canedy believes that much is gained by cultivating an
“esprit de corps” In a school; by having good surroundings
in the school-room, and by self-discipline in the teacher. “It
is important to tell scholars what to do, but undesirable to
remind them what they must not do, and best to have as few rules
as possible. Teachers must try to be what they teach their scholars
to be.” She disapproves of corporal punishment. “In
taking a rough school, a teacher may not obtain good order,
at first, without it, but time and patience will bring it.”
She has seen many times when she wished she felt It right to
whip; “but, once principled against whipping, other means
can be found, better for the Individual and for the scholar.”
As a last resource, she would claim the right of expulsion from
Miss Botume suggested that, by whipping, a teacher was countenancing
the ordinary mode of punishment in the families of the freedmen.
She once “stood a child up in a corner,” and the
mother objected,— was willing she should give the child
“a licking,” but couldn’t have her feelings
Miss Gardner added that affection for the teacher should be
a large element in discipline; she would give scholars plenty
to do, and pleasant, attractive schoolrooms as aids in this
Miss Gibbons writes, “I have found positiveness the key
to discipline.” Mr. Lewis “would practise a kind,
firm, judicious discipline, avoiding all indiscreet haste and
corporal punishment.” Mr. Whitehouse writes thus: “Firmness
coupled with kindness will usually secure good discipline; and
great carefulness on the part of the teacher to correct little
misdemeanors at the outset, and to make what we call little
faults appear fully as serious as they really are, will generally
secure a high moral tone. Many rules are only obstacles to a
school’s progress. A few good regulations, well carried
out, are what we need. A punishment should be given, it seems
to me, only when a scholar has been guilty of a wilful violation
of these rules.” Punishment should, whenever possible,
have a relation to offences committed. Children will thus begin
early to perceive that natural penalties follow broken laws,
and later to recognize the importance of self-discipline.
Because the former slaves often had critical needs for food,
clothing, and shelter, most of the agents of the freedmen's benevolent
organization found themselves struggling to distribute supplies
fairly or to teach how to make or repair clothing.
Below is a page of a letter in which Sarah Chase itemized the
way she had spent ten dollars sent by one of the groups that supported
her work The laudanum salts, extract of ginger, turpentine, and perhaps
the oil, would have been used as medicines. Laudanum, used
to treat a wide range of medical complaints in the 19th century,
was a solution of opium and would have been available without
a prescription. Perhaps not surprisingly, laudanum addiction was
a problem in 19th century society. And while turpentine
is treated today primarily as a dangerous toxin, it was often
given in a solution to children during the Civil War period.
In the text that appears below the list, Sarah's explains each
entry. (Notice that some of the entries above have numbers
next to them indicating the stories with which they correspond.)
Undoubtedly, such an accounting would have satisfied her donors
that their money was used for good purposes while also giving
them an intimate look at the lives--and needs--of the freedmen.
$1. made a nourishing soup for the party for one day &
a good meat dinner for the next. 2. Carried a woman with
her children & "pack" to the hospital. 3.
enabled an old rheumatic man, to "get about a little
to pick up jobs to earn a little to keep his old body alive—"
he could not step on the ground without shoes, & was
wholly dependent on others—while with them he takes
care of himself. 4 & 5 purifications after Small Pox,
for a very old woman & a blind man. 6 sent an old man,
who could do nothing for himself, to his friends who will
take care of him as long as he lives. 7 furnished three
loaves to a sick woman with young children—whose husband
finds him-self free to run away from home and its duties.
8 sent a Dr. to an intense sufferer and to an old man who
thought he could "knock about and get his food for
the chores he could do when he got about." Both should
have had attention long before, but could not afford it.
9 Poor Ben is released from his suffering, which has confined
him for three yrs. to his bed. Always gentle and patient,
never blaming his hard master for over straining him as
a dray man: after having been told by the Dr., "You'd
better not let your smart little dray man lift so much alone—or
you'll lose him." 10th has relieved many violent attacks
among the old and poor people—curing some cases where
"Missus allers use to give me whisky when I was so"—(I
can give no spirits)
I did not tell you, in its place, that, at the Jail Yard, where we gradually gathered bunks,
are absolute necessaries for the refugees. We have been in the habit of patching, and teaching patching, causing boys,
some instances, to patch their clothing on their backs. The Friends (Orthodox in N.Y. and Orthodox and Hicksite in Phila) have sent
to us far the larger part of our clothing. Surprisingly excellent it has been, all new, stout as heart (or body) could wish. . .
I think I must have distributed at least sixty or seventy boxes and barrels of clothing, and must have clothed two
Thousand people or more. When I came here, a year ago, the Orthodox fr'ds of Phil had spent six thousand dollars for
clothing, and had made seven thousand garments. A few weeks ago, the Hicksites in Phil, had then just bought three
dollars worth of material, and money was constantly flowing in. I ought to state N Y frds Phil frds & Boston Ed.
sent me two thousand books, some slates & c.
Oh I have almost lost my breath in writing.
Some of my pupils are orphans, and have no homes, only
as they stay for a few days here and there. One of my boys
said to me when I asked him where he was going to stay that
night, he answered that he could stay where he did the night
before—in the street.
I had a Sunday school at 9 o’clock, and the attendance
is good. I keep them about an hour and a half. A little girl,
on hearing me say I came a long way to teach them, asked if
I came from heaven.
With all the destitution and suffering I have met with,
I have never once heard them deny that they preferred poverty
with freedom to comfort with slavery. The uncles and aunts
all hope better things for the children, and believe they
will get them.
I visited a camp some two miles from here, and outside the
lines, which number some 400 persons, I did not see one who
had a change of clothing, and some had on but one garment,
and that made of tent cloth.
—“From Miss Barnes., The National Freedman,
New York, April 1, 1865, 75
Questions and answers ran thus: "Have you a blanket?"—"No my dear missus; no blanket!
Yankee soldiers take ebry ting; blanket, dress, pot, ebry ting; not ting leff, missus; jess what got on."-"Yes," I said, "you need
clothes to change, so as to wash these and be clean." —" Yes, missus, we loves to be clean, but I wear dis close eber since come from
robs; five week, missus." —" Well," I said, "your underclothes are cut out; if I give you thread, needles and thimbles, can
and make a shirt, &c.?"—"Yes, missus, I sew; I know; ebry one sew; do, missus; beg you give we sometings." Mary, a middle-aged
with a bad cough, and other diseases, which had become almost chronic, arose from her ragged covering and straw on the floor, with a face beautiful
suffering and resignation, simply standing, without asking for any thing. . . .
I passed into the larger room; no one North would believe that our land held such scenes within her borders. Three young men,
on the floor with nothing but a filthy blanket. No straw, no pillow! One emaciated form had neither coat or blanket,—had been struggling with
6 or 7 weeks, till now his voice had no strength to make replies. A half loaf of dry bread, and a little boiled rice in a tin can was waiting on the
each head. . . .
Went to church to look after the sick; saw a tall black man, newly arrived, with fine Roman features; he was shivering in rags;
name was "Oliver." "What is your other name?" I said. " Why, ma'am, I never had any other name." Yet he was seventy
splendid figure using excellent language, and would command respect from any human observer. Told Oliver if he would wash the "yellow boy" in
water, and dress him in a clean suit, I would give him (Oliver) a new suit. He did so, came to our house, and dressed himself below. He could not
sufficiently express his thankfulness. "Why, my dear missus, thank God, I never expected to see such white ladies on this earth! I pray we shall
heaven. God bless you! This is the first time, my missus, I ever put on stockings in my life! If the master (Mr. Pillsbury) comes home, I will fall on
knees and beg him to stay here, for I like to have good owners." Has a hard cough,—kept him three days with me. I was not surprised that he
expected to find humane "white ladies," when he related, in the course of his history, how his mistress had bound his arms around the
"whipping tree" with her own womanly chivalric hands, and then stood by to superintend the bloody lash!
We tell our scholars to report all cases of sickness ect & then we investigate. Last week I got a woman out of the wood who
living there with her child--her feet frost bitten & she having nowhere to go. Today we find shelter for an infirm old man who had scooped a hole
hill side to crawl in at night--when well he tried hard to get "some kind of work Missus--but everybody says no! you're too old to do
won't let me show em what I can do."
--Sarah Chase to Fred May, Columbus, Georgia, March 9, 1866
Other Roles of Freedmen's Teachers
As the "Second Annual Report of the New England Freedmen's
Aid Society" (The
April, 1865) explained, freedmen's teachers were not just
teachers in the ordinary sense of the word. In addition to
providing instruction in "the ordinary branches of school
education" they were expected to teach "lessons
of industry, of domestic management and thrift, lessons of
truth and honesty," all of which were considered prerequisites
for civilized life.
Yet, the comments of the teachers suggest that even this
seemingly expansive definition of their role did not adequately
describe the extraordinary range of responsibilities they
actually took on in their work.
Such rich mines of purest love as are here I never dreamt of--"Bless de Lord da goes Miss Sarah, de good Lord
foller her every step" and "dah's my lady. I prays for her every day and de children "will as long as dey live"--how many times a
hear expressions of this kind which make me happy and stimulate me to higher endeavor--The over estimation in which I am held humbles me with the
of my shortcomings but makes me constantly endeavor to do my best in all things.
--Sarah Chase to her father, 
My dear Miss Stevenson,
I despair of time in which to write as fully as I wish to
do; so I will satisfy myself by giving a few items only. Upon
Craney Island, we "cared for," (very indifferently
and superficially, of course) two thousand negroes. Eighteen
hundred we found there; and from three to five hundred came,
at different times, later. "We clothed them; helped them
patch their rags; caused them to make bed-ticks for themselves;
tried to teach them cleanliness; made both slates and pencils
for them from slate tiles (not knowing that you would give
us slates for the asking). Taught some—yes, many, to
read and write, working ourselves twelve hours a day. Lived
upon the Isd four months, counting the weeks we spent there
in July, (at which time, in the absence of the Surgeon, we
acted as Superintendents in every department of labor). The
people then upon the Isd were refugees from Suffolk, driven
into Norfolk by the withdrawal of our troops from S. We staid
with them until the Island was depopulated, by command of
Gen. Naglee, on account of its having been declared by him
outside the lines. Negro troops were, later, stationed upon
When we left the Isd in May, we followed the fifteen hundred
who had gone from it upon the main-land. Six or eight hundred
went upon farms. Upon two only of twenty farms were there
teachers, and Dr. Brown convinced us of the importance of
going from farm to farm to look after the general welfare
of the laborers. With cart and driver following us in Gov
Wise's carriage we went with clothing books and slates, gathered
all together, gave garments to the needy, and taught all,
forming classes, and encouraging all to help themselves between
our visits. Many of them really learned to read after learning
on our first visit the Alphabet. So far as possible—
with the constant breaking down of our confiscated carriages,
and rumored nearness of guerillas, their actual presence,
also, on the farms, and change of lines putting some farms
beyond reach—we made this work of prime importance.
Then, as on the Isd and as now, keeping track of newcomers,
and giving them needful aid, helping them to their friends,
if they could be found, caring for their sick, always giving
them an immediate and powerful dose of Letters.
For three months, in addition to our other labors, we taught
daily in Mr. Coan's large school of four hundred. After his
health gave way, my sister took charge of the school, for
two or three weeks, and left it, only to assist us in opening
our own, which, in a few days, will be under the care of six
teachers, really representing your Ass—. About one hundred
scholars we now have. The number is constantly increasing.
Five hours daily our school is in session. Each scholar constantly
at work under some Teacher. I forgot to mention that for three
months (while working on the farms) my sister and I lived
on a Farm in Portsmouth, where we had seventy negroes under
our care, teaching all who could come to school, and giving
instruction to the farm negroes in the neighborhood.
Several hundred have been taught directly by us. I suppose
more than two thousand clothed. Our work is never done. We
dont know what leisure is. Papers come, and we don't open
them. Books are something we used to enjoy. All this, not
because we are really industrious, but because it chances
that our early arrival here made it necessary for us to work
in a multitude of ways; and our work is of all times and seasons.
. . .
Some, who, three months ago, knew absolutely nothing, are now reading quite well, almost at the
" Sanders's First Reader," and have learned to write quite decently, by copying their lessons on their slates,
the aid of the writing lessons in "The Freedman," picking out each letter as they wanted it. I have been astonished to see
how well this plan has succeeded, without taking one moment of my time. The whole school can repeat all the multiplication table
concert, and nearly all the tables of time, money, &c.
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
ourselves 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.
Our 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
We want some block-letters to carry in our pockets,
and a ground-frame to build sentences in. L. C
There are now in town ten 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 that we
have got the clothing so well organized.
-- Sarah Chase, Office Ass’t Quartermaster
& Sup’t of Contrabands, Norfolk, Va. Nov. 18, 1864
My school hours are from nine to one; after that I have
letters to read & write . . . .The rest of my duty consists
in calling among the people, hearing their stories, &
learning their wants; &in my evening school for adults.
Teaching school is only part of my business (of course,
the chief part); but I am called upon to act as physician,
nurse, notary public, church-warden, justice of the peace
(don't laugh, please, at my high-sounding letters, for they
are very serious things), undertaker, and corresponding secretary,
for all the colored population between Newbern and Beaufort.
Were it not that my son has learned to meet the demands of
the people almost as well as myself, I could not find time
to do all that is required. Have been very busy the last week
vaccinating the people, as the small pox is very "brief"
in Newbern (as the colored folks say).
--Caroline E. Croome, "From North Carolina," The
Freedmen's Record, June, 1866, 118.
Freedmen's Teachers' Responses to Their Work
Sarah Chase, December 29, 1866
"What Could Make Us Happier?"
We are, today, practicing homeopathically in
the distribution of needles pins and thread. A quarter of a
spool of cotton, one needle; and two pins! to a full grown woman!
rolling no one in riches, but enabling the community to be shareholders
in our limited stock of necessaries for neatness. Such work,
may seem to you more insignificant than measuring long lines
of tape behind a counter, but based on such a course of action
the closest calculation how to best meet the needs of the many,
vital needs, too, it is surely, in my eyes, a noble work.
Sarah and I are very hapy here, happy enough to say many times that we are very happy.
. . . To be in at the birth! is it not something to rejoice
in? Great plans that are not yet afoot but are creeping into
strength and promise spring daily, from the Dr's brain, shining
with the prestige of success of their antecedents. It is certainly
very good for us to be here.
This is a most absorbing life: there is so much to be
done, one never feels like stopping anywhere through the hours
of the day. It is death to ennui. I, for one, was never so truly
happy as in this work; for I have worked with more earnest purpose
than ever before.
I am now comfortably ensconced in my new home, and when
I get about my work think I shall be very happy. The clouds,
which have been so densely gathering, and darkening down the
horizon of my inner world, are fast breaking away, though one
dark sheet still overspreads the outer sky, — preventing
me from enjoying the scenery, which I know must be so charming.
The colored people have been exceedingly kind and attentive
to me; ready to do anything for me that is in their power. They
were very shy at first, but as soon as convinced that I was
really a friend to them, and had come to help them, they flocked
from every quarter to render assistance in furnishing my room,
bringing chairs, tables, curtain, &c, making their interests
one with mine immediately. One mulatto woman said, " I
wanted to come to you at once, but did not dare, we have been
so afraid of white people. " It is evident they felt their
way very cautiously before giving me their confidence.
I have just come in from our evening school. It is the
pleasantest part of our labors. The men are such noble fellows,
and they work so hard to learn. O Slavery! "Earth-born
Cyclops! fellest of the giant brood!"
You will forgive the writing in sconsideration of my tired, shaken hand, and also inasmuch as I am using the pen and holder that
used just before he left his headquarters at City Point for Richmond. One Monday I was in our Capital, the next Monday ws in Jeff Davis's--in Castle
the slave pens and Libby. I have thanked God for this day. Oh I am so hapy I know not what to do--God help me to work as I wish--faithfully &
--Sarah Chase, Richmond, Virginia, April 18, 1865
We are up every morning at the call of our new bell, which
hangs high; then to our work, where we are greeted by many bright
faces and cheerful "how d'ye's," which inspire us
for our day's work. What could make us happier?
We have never seen any discourtesy in any of the citizens,
but we know that we are generally discussed in circles; and
many plans are proposed for “getting rid” of us.—We
have glorious schools in full blast - And I am so satisfied
with the work here that nothing in the world could make me wish
to be in another place, or doing anything else.. .
No mortal is happier than I am in my work; and my success is
fairly intoxicating. -- I give no thought to the hatred of the
whites, knowing how useful it is my good fortune to be, to the
blacks--and how truly they love me. . .
With ever best wishes—singing at the plough. S.E.C.
"I shan't go to school no more after you leave us'--said
my fond children. You say you love me?" Yes! Yes!! You
must wish to please me?" "Yes indeed!" Then you'll
go to school--be as good as you can & learn all you can--I
told them to come to me freely--let me know of any trouble they
or other folks have--and though no more a teacher--they feel
I'm ever their friend. Every group of men on the street--white
or black--are full of discussion--if white, I wish I could be
in broadcloth, long enough to take part; & if black I drop
a passing word to their surprise--or stop and have a good talk--Oh--these
are glorious days--! And I thank God that I live in them--How
grand it is to see a great Nation struggling for principles--rather
than power or wealth! As I read the earnest faces, listen to
the glowing words or answer the eager questionings of these
men--I feel that I am witnessing the birth of a great Nation.
I too have spells when a longing for the work--as well
as the unique life there at the south, seizes me like a strong
spell, and if so much did not constantly present itself to be
done, closer at hand--I should have long ago folded my tent
and stolen away . . .
"Extracts from Teachers Letters," The Freedmen's Record, June, 1865
"I would not exchange my place
for any situation."
The letter to the left was published in the June,
1865 edition of The Freedmen's Record, the official
publication of the New England Freedmen's Aid Society. While
the teacher comments on the many challenges she faces each day,
she assures her readers: "I would not exchange my place
for any situation, however eligible, in the old Bay State."
An American Antiquarian
Society Online Resource
Curated by Lucia Z. Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College