Norfolk, Va, January 23d, '65
On my return from the country I received your kind letter, Mr. May; --for which I thank you cordially-- Much as I enjoy letters, I do not want anyone to feel obliged to write to me -- though an occasional word, from one or another of the good people, will do me more good than I can tell; and I shall be only too glad to answer any questions or explain anything, when desired.
I will send in some scraps every month in lieu of the vocal discussions I would so much prefer; --when face to face I could get the advice and encouragement I might need. I shall never trust my memory in relating conversations--but copy verbatim, from notes taken at the time--
We are feeling badly at losing Butler-& confident that he will be reinstated;--if not here, loving my whole country as I do, I will be resigned and congratulate the State, which, at our expense, gains the best protector Uncle Sam could offer; trusting
that his wisdom is more needed there than here. His genius has so admirably arranged affairs in this Department that I cannot imagine a retrograde motion in any part of it; and so do not share in the general apprehension that his successor will put stumbling blocks in our way: for if one is not interested in the elevation of the colored race through their humanity, they must be through policy; it is so evident that everything done to help the Blacks is a benefit to the Whites -- And then--how can we fear for our Navis Niger while the same Captain is at the helm, who built her (you might almost say;) and has piloted her through worse seas than she will be likely again to encounter.
No one can see Capt. Brown without feeling that he has a remarkably comprehensive intellect and wonderful executive ability. I will not let the possible Future impede the action of the Present; but patiently will work; --trusting for the west.
A noble looking woman, telling me her sad history this morning, said --" xx Dats five children Ise got, gone to Heaven, tank de Lord! I knows what dey are; deys free, deys awful free: but deres four I knows nothin tall about dats worse dan dead. One--my little Nellie--de only one dey lef me--(cause she peared so delicate dey tought she couldn't be raised) I brought her wid me--and tought I'd take a heap of comfort by her--in my old age--for she was right smart peert and allers pleasant. On de boat, comin she peered well an sprightly and was amusin a sick child was dare, and she said to her "I ain't goin to lie like dat--Rose--when Ise sick--I'll die right away;--an de next mornin--at de first hen chicken crow I woke up hearin her prayin good and mighty--(She was only six yars old honey) and she prayed constant till last cock crow at broke of day. When she stretched out her arms little wid "Don't ye hear me--Good Lord?! Kiss me--mother" and she was gone--I couldn't think she was dead missus--no--I couldn't lieve it--she looked so noticeable and pretty--I kep goin to her whar she lay and listenin; and once or twice I tought I saw her stir and was goin to call her--but somethin said--'hush! she's dead', den I looked to de Lord and went bout my business--x--But it hurt me worse when dey carried her off to her little grave and I want lowed to foller her dan it did to see her die -- But I went soon as I could and put a stick at her head and at her feet and tied a piece of one of her little frocks on it -- den I could tank de Lord for takin care of her -- x I lived on Clairmont Farm--Lady-in Charles City: my owners made a heap out of us --poor cattle: peered like de worser de overseer to us, de better massa like him. We got to be in de hor shed in de cold dark ob de mornin huddled togedder like sheep to keep warm -- so to be ready to start work at sunrise. Come sunrise, come overseer; and de hoes chop, chop, choppin. He meets anybody on de road comin, --neber speaks--neber looks at em--but when dey gets to dere row--out comes de broad strop wid de awful buckle onto de end ob it--and off goes de close stark naked--and--Oh Lord! de pore creeter! I'se had many of dese pore backs to tend to and many of my feeler servants could show you dis day de marks of dese owful stroppins. De minister (Peter Level) use to preach de white folks all smooth and nice--as if dey couldn't offend de Lord--and at de end he preach to servants and tell dem "Mind your massa & missus! as de Bible tells you to--Do jus as dey tells you for de Lord commands it--Don't break open de barns nor de hen houses; don't take anything longin to your owners but always do jus as you tinks your massa and missus wants you to do--den praps you'll get to Heaben's kitchen." We didn't like dat--We believed de good Lord had a better place for us if we lived as well as we knew how--
A sweet voiced blind woman--caressing her bright little girl--sat in the chimney corner--a sympathetic listener; --and the tears flowed down her cheeks as she heard of little Nellie's death--'Dey tought I'd no feelins when my children died'--said she; 'cause I didnt cry: but dey wouldn't give me time to tend em but kep me hard at work, so I couldn't get a chance to give em a drop of cool water in dere burnin lips: --so when dey died I couldn't shed a tear--bad as I felt--cause I tought--now deys whar dey'll get taken keer of. x I'se served em (the Southrons) all my life--honey! for nuffin--and now I'm got old and blind and crippled doin for dem--cause I'se no account now to dem dey turns me off onto government--rich as dey is--cause dey grudges de little cornmeal I'd eat in de few days dats lef me --But I tanks de good Lord de Governor (=ment) cares for me, and lets me have my child.
Why, missus--dey said youd come wid horns to hook us, --and would harness us to carts and cannons and drive us like horses--and cut off our right arms--and drown our children;--get all de work you could out of us widout feedin us, and den sell some of us to Cuba to pay for de war--and put de rest on a boat and blow it up in de ribber--I couldn't lieve all dat--Dey couldn't do me worse day Ise already suffered--I told me--Whars all my childern--all you sold away? De Norf people can't hurt me worse dan dat." And her voice was most touching as she spoke; and her face was eloquent.
Here is a quaint 'Hyme' or 'Praise' which I once heard sung in a log cabin, crowded with earnest devout people--a feeble fire flickering on the hearth--a tall slender woman holding gracefully above her head a torch of light wood, which shone on the faces and the curious objects about the room--making a most striking picture--The swaying motion of the body and the music are necessary to a clear idea of the effect of these 'Himes'
You must watch the Sun
And see how she run.
Cho. For I hope for to get up inter heaven--
For Ise afraid hell catch you
Wid your work undone.
Cho. For I hope ect
Says my guide-oh;
I hope Ect
Says Judas oh--
Says old warrior oh--
I hope for to get up inter heaven.
If I had died when I wa young
Cho. I hope ect.
I shouldn't have had this race to run Cho.
If I had died when I was young
I shouldn't have sinned as many has done Cho.
De prettiest ting dat ebber I done
Was to seek de Lord when I was young.
Hopefully, happily and earnestly
Care Capt. O. Borwn A. 2. M.
[Note: Although their meaning is unclear, the x's which appear in the transcription above are part of the original letter.]