Return to Port Royal Experiment
Edward L. Pierce,
The Negroes at Port Royal,
S. C. Report of the Government Agent,
Second Report,
June, 1862  
Editor Note: The bolded lines have been added by me to help the reader.

PORT ROYAL, June 2, 1862.

To the
Hon. S. P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury:

SIR: Upon the transfer of the supervision of affairs at Port Royal from the Treasury to the War Department, a summary
of the results of this agency may be expected by you; and therefore, this report is transmitted.

Your instructions of February nineteenth entrusted to me the general superintendence and direction of such persons
as might be employed upon the abandoned plantations, with a view to prevent the deterioration of the estates, to
secure their best possible cultivation, and the greatest practicable benefit to the laborers upon them. The Department
not being provided with proper power to employ upon salaries superintendents and teachers, under the plan
submitted in my report of February third, enjoined cooperation with associations of judicious and humane citizens in
Boston, New York, and other cities, who proposed to commission and employ persons for the religious instruction,
ordinary education, and general and employment of the laboring population. Authority was given to the Special Agent
at the same time to select and appoint applicants for such purposes, and assign each to his respective duty -- such
persons when compensated, to draw their compensation from private sources, receiving transportation, subsistence,
and quarters only from the Government. The
Commission of Boston had already been organized and the organization
of the
National Freedmen's Relief Association of New York followed a few days later. Still later the Port Royal
Committee of Philadelphia was appointed.

Arrival of the Gideonites (note the additional arrivals)
On the morning of March ninth, forty-one men and twelve women, accepted for the above purposes and approved by
the first two of the Associations, disembarked at Beaufort, having left New York on the third of third of that month on
board the United States transport, the steamship
Atlantic, accompanied by the Special Agent. The Educational
Commission of Boston had commissioned twenty-five of the men and four of the women. The National Freedmen's
Relief Association of New York had commissioned sixteen of the men and five of the women, and three women from
Washington City has received your own personal commendation. The men were of various occupations, farmers, men,
teachers, physicians, ranging in age from twenty-one to sixty years. Not being provided with full topographical
knowledge of the islands, it was necessary for the Special Agent to explore them for locations. At the close of the first
fortnight after their arrival, the entire original delegation had been assigned to the districts which they had reached.
Since then others have arrived, namely, fourteen on March twenty-third, fourteen on April fourteenth, and a few at a
later date, making in all seventy-four men and nineteen women, who having been commissioned by the Associations,
and receiving the permit of the Collector of New York, have arrived here, and been assigned to posts. Of the
seventy-four men, forty-six were commissioned and employed by the Boston Society, and twenty-eight by that of New
York. Of the nineteen women, nine were commissioned by the New York Society, six by that of Boston, one by that of
Philadelphia, and three others not so commissioned, but approved by yourself, were accepted. Except in the case of
the three women approved by yourself, no persons have been received into this service not previously approved by
the associations with whom you enjoined cooperation. Of the seventy-four men, twenty-four were stationed on Port
Royal Island, a few of these doing duty at Beaufort, fifteen on St. Helena, thirteen on Ladies, nine on Edisto, seven on
Hilton Head, three on Pinckney, one on Cat and Cane, one on Paris, and one on Daufuskie. A few of the above
returned North soon after their arrival, so that the permanent number here at any one time, duly commissioned and in
actual service has not exceeded seventy men and sixteen women. The number at present is sixty-two men and
thirteen women. A larger corps of superintendents and teachers might have been employed to advantage, but as
injurious results might attend the overdoing of the work of supervision, it was thought best not to receive more, until
experience had indicated the permanent need. . . .

The contributions of clothing from the benevolent associations have been liberal; but liberal as they have been, they
have failed to meet the distressing want which pervaded the territory. The, masters had left the negroes destitute, not
having supplied their winter clothing when our forces had arrived, so that both the winter and spring clothing had not
been furnished. From all accounts it would also seem that since the war began the usual amount of clothing given had
been much diminished. That contributed by the associations cannot fall below ten thousand dollars. It has produced a
most marked change in the general appearance, particularly on Sundays and at the schools, and tended to inspire
confidence in the superintendents. It would have been almost useless to attempt labors for moral or religious
instruction without the supplies thus sent to clothe the naked. A small amount where there were an ability and desire
to pay, has, with the special authority of the societies, been sold, and the proceeds returned to them to be reinvested
for the same purpose. The rest has been delivered, without any money being received. In the case of the sick and
disabled it is donated, and in case of those healthy and able to work it has been charged without expectation of
money to be paid, that being thought to be the best course to prevent the laborers from regarding themselves as
paupers, and as a possible aid to the Government in case prompt payments for labor should not be made.

Payment for Labor
It is most pleasing to state that with the small payments for labor already made, those also for the collection of cotton
being nearly completed, with the partial rations on some islands and the supplies from benevolent sources on others,
with the assistance which the mules have furnished for the cultivation of the crop -- the general kindness and
protecting care of the superintendents -- the contributions of clothing forwarded by the associations -- the schools for
the instruction of the children and others desirous to learn -- with these and other favorable influences, confidence in
the Government has been inspired, the laborers are working cheerfully, and they now present to the world the
example of a well-behaved and self-supporting peasantry of which their country has no reason to be ashamed.

The educational labors deserve a special statement. It is to be regretted that more teachers had not been provided.
The labor of superintendence at the beginning proved so onerous that several originally intended to be put in charge
of schools, were necessarily assigned for the other purpose. Some fifteen persons on an average have been specially
occupied with teaching, and of these four were women. Others, having less superintendence to attend to, were able to
devote considerable time to teaching at regular hours. Nearly all give some attention to it, more or less according to
their opportunity, and their aptitude for the work.

The educational statistics are incomplete, only a part of the schools having been open for two months, and the others
having been opened at intervals upon the arrival of persons designated for the purpose. At present according to the
reports, two thousand five hundred persons are being taught on week-days, of whom not far from one-third are adults
taught when their work is done. But this does not complete the number occasionally taught on week-days and at the
Sunday-schools. Humane soldiers have aided in the case of their servants and others. Three thousand persons are in
all probability receiving more or less instruction in reading on these islands. With an adequate force of teachers this
number might be doubled, as it is to be hoped it will be on the coming of autumn. The reports state that very many are
now advanced enough so that even if the work should stop here they would still learn to read by themselves. Thus the
ability to read the English language has been already so communicated to these people that no matter what military or
social vicissitudes may come, this knowledge can never perish from among them.

There have been forwarded to the Special Agent the reports of the teachers, and they result in a remarkable
concurrence of testimony. All unite universal eagerness to learn, which they have not found equalled in white persons,
arising both from the desire for knowledge common to all, and the desire to raise their condition, now very strong
among these people. The reports on this point are cheering, even enthusiastic, and sometimes relate an incident of
aspiration and affection united in beautiful combination. One teacher on his first day's school, leaves in the rooms a
large alphabet card, and the next day returns to find a mother there teaching her little child of three years to
pronounce the first letters of the alphabet she herself learned the day before. The children learn without urging by
their parents, and as rapidly as white persons of the same age, often more so, the progress being quickened by the
eager desire.

One teacher reports that on the first day of her school only three or four knew a part of their letters, and none knew
all. In one week seven boys and six girls could read readily words of one syllable, and the following week there were
twenty in the same class. The cases of dullness have not exceeded those among the whites. The mulattoes, of whom
there are probably not more than five per cent of the entire population on the plantations, are no brighter than the
children of pure African blood. In the schools which have been opened for some weeks, the pupils who have regularly
attended have passed from the alphabet, and are reading words of one syllable in large and small letters. The
lessons have been confined to reading and spelling, except in a few cases where writing has been taught.

There has been great apparent eagerness to learn among the adults and some have progressed well. They will cover
their books with care, each one being anxious to be thus provided, carry them to the fields, studying them at intervals
of rest, and asking explanations of the superintendents who happen to come along. But as the novelty wore away,
many of the adults finding perseverance disagreeable, dropped off. Except in rare cases it is doubtful whether adults
over thirty years, although appreciating the privilege for their children, will persevere in continuous study so as to
acquire the knowledge for themselves. Still, when books and newspapers are read in negro houses, many, inspired by
the example of their children, will be likely to undertake the labor again.

It is proper to state that while the memory in colored children is found to be, if any thing, livelier than in the white, it is
quite probable that further along, when the higher faculties of comparison and combination are more to be relied on,
their progress may be less. While their quickness is apparent, one is struck with their want of discipline. The children
have been regarded as belonging to the plantation rather than to a family, and the parents, who in their condition can
never have but a feeble hold on their offspring, have not been instructed to training their children into thoughtful and
orderly habits. It has, therefore, been found not an easy task to make them quiet and attentive at the schools.

Through the schools habits of neatness have been encouraged. Children with soiled faces or soiled clothing, when
known to have better, have been sent home from the schools, and have returned in better condition.

In a few cases the teachers have been assisted by negroes who knew how to read before we came. Of these there
are very few. Perhaps one may be found on an average on one of two or three plantations. These, so far as can be
ascertained, were in most cases taught clandestinely, often by the daughters of their masters who were of about the
same age. A colored person among these people who has learned to read does not usually succeed so well as a
white teacher. He is apt to teach the alphabet in the usual order, and needs special training for the purpose.

The Sabbath-schools have assisted in the work of teaching. Some three hundred persons are present at the church
on St. Helena in the morning to be taught. There are other churches where one or two hundred attend. A part of
these, perhaps the larger, attend some of the day school, but they comprehend others, as adults, and still others
coming from localities where schools have not been opened. One who regards spectacles in the light of their moral
aspects, can with difficulty find sublimer scenes than those witnessed on Sabbath morning on these islands, now
ransomed to a nobler civilization.

The educational labors have had incidental results almost as useful as those which have been direct. At a time when
the people were chafing [under] the most deprivation and the assurances made on behalf of the Government were
distrusted, it was fortunate that we could point to the teaching of their children as a proof of our interest in their
welfare, and of the new and better life which we were opening before them.

An effort has been made to promote clean and healthful habits. To that end, weekly cleanings of quarters were
enjoined. This effort, where it could be properly made, met with reasonable success. The negroes, finding that we
took an interest in their welfare, acceded cordially, and in many cases their diligence in this was most commendable.
As a race, it is a mistake to suppose that they indisposed to cleanliness. They appear to practice it as much as white
people under the same circumstances. There are difficulties to obstruct improvements in this respect. There has been
a scarcity of lime and (except at too high prices) of soap. Their houses are too small, not affording proper apartments
for storing their food. They are unprovided with glass windows. Besides some of them are tenements unfit for beasts,
without floor or chimneys. One could not put on face to ask the occupants to clean such a place. But where the
building was decent or reasonably commodious, there was no difficulty in securing the practice of this virtue. Many of
these people are examples of tidiness, and on entering their houses one is sometimes witness of rather amusing
scenes where a mother is trying the effect of beneficent ablutions on the heads of her children.

The religious welfare of these people has not been neglected. The churches, which were closed when this became a
seat of war, have been opened. Among the superintendents there were several persons of clerical education, who
have led in public ministrations. The larger part of them are persons of religious experience and profession, who, on
the Sabbath, in weekly praise meetings and at funerals, have labored for the consolation of these humble believers.

Status of Freedmen
These people have been assured by the Special Agent that if they proved themselves worthy by their industry, good
order, and sobriety, they should be protected against their rebel masters. It would be wasted toil to attempt their
development without such assurances. An honorable nature would shrink from this work without the right to make
them. Nor is it possible to imagine any rulers now or in the future who will ever turn their backs on the laborers who
have been received, as these have been, into the service of the United States.

Protection of Property
Special care has been taken to protect the property of the Government on the plantations. The cattle had been taken
away in such large numbers by the former owners, and later by the army, the latter sometimes slaughtering fifty or
head on a plantation, that the necessity of a strict rule for the preservation of those remaining was felt. For that
purpose the Special Agent procured orders from the military and naval authorities, dated respectively April
seventeenth and twenty-sixth, forbidding the removal of "subsistence,  forage, mules, horses, oxen, cows, sheep,
cattle of any kind, or other property, from the plantations, without the consent of the Special Agent of the Treasury
Department or orders from the nearest General Commanding." No such consent has been given by the Special Agent
except in one case, as an act of mercy to the animal, and in another where he ordered a lamb killed on a special
occasion, and has charged himself with the same in his account with the department Your instructions which
expressed your desire to prevent the deterioration of the estates, have in this respect been sedulously attended to.
The superintendents have not been permitted to kill cattle, even for fresh meat, and they have subsisted on their
rations, and fish and poultry purchased of the negroes.

The success of the movement, now upon its third month, has exceeded my most sanguine expectations. It has had its
peculiar difficulties, and some phases at times, arising from accidental causes, might on a partial view invite doubt,
banished however at once by a general survey of what had been done. Already, the high treason of South Carolina
has had a sublime compensation, and the end is not yet. The churches which were closed have been opened. No
master now stands between these people and the words which the Savior spoke for the consolation of all peoples and
all generations. The Gospel is preached in fullness and purity, as it has never before been preached in this territory,
even in colonial times. The reading of the English language, with more or less system, is being taught to thousands,
so that whatever military or political calamities may be in store, this precious knowledge can never more be
eradicated. Ideas and habits have been planted, under the growth of which these people are to be fitted for the
responsibilities of citizenship, and in equal degree unfitted for any restoration to what they have been. Modes of
administration have been commenced, not indeed adapted to an advanced community, but just, paternal, and
developing in their character. Industrial results have been reached, which put at rest the often reiterated assumption
that this territory and its products can only be cultivated by slaves. A social problem which has vexed the wisest
approaches a solution. The capacity of a race, and the possibility of lifting it to civilization without danger or disorder,
even without throwing away the present generation as refuse, are being determined. And thus the way is preparing by
which the peace, to follow this war shall be made perpetual.

Finally, it would seem that upon this narrow theatre, and in these troublous times, God is demonstrating against those
who would mystify his plans and thwart his purposes, that in the councils of his infinite wisdom he has predestined no
race, not even the African, to the doom of eternal bondage.

There are words of personal gratitude which it is not easy to suppress. To the superintendents, who have treated me
with uniform kindness and subordination; to the Rev. Dr. Peck, to whom was assigned the charge of the general
interests of Port Royal Island; to the Rev. Mr. French, who was charged with special duties; to the benevolent
associations in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, without whose support and contributions, amounting, in salaries
and donations of specific articles, to not less than twenty thousand dollars, this enterprise could not have been carried
on or commenced; to the Flag Officer of the Squadron and the Generals commanding, for facilities cheerfully
afforded, particularly to Brigadier-General Stevens, to whom, as Port Royal Ladies', and St. Helena Islands, were all
within his district, it was necessary often to apply; to the Collector of New York, without whom the business operations
have been conducted; to yourself, for confidence entrusted and continued, I am under special obligations.

But, more than all, in parting with the interesting people who have been under my charge, I must bear testimony to
their uniform kindness to myself. One of them has been my faithful guide and attendant, doing for me more service
than any white man could render. They have come, even after words of reproof or authority, to express confidence
and good resolves. They have given me their benedictions and prayers, and I should be ungrateful indeed ever to
forget of deny them. I am your friend and servant,

EDWARD L. PIERCE Special Agent of the Treasury Department
Edward Pierce
Like us on
Secretary of the Treasury - Salmon P. Chase
Custom Search