|Letter from Mitchell, Hilton Head S. C.,
Dec. 25, 1864
E. P. Breck
The Freedmen's Record, February 1865
EXTRACTS FROM A LETTER FROM MITCHELL.
HILTON HEAD, S. C., Dec. 25,1864.
MY DEAR FRIEND,— I am happy to learn, through you, that the people of Northampton, who are always first and
foremost in every good word and work, do not become weary in well doing, but still continue to give of their
abundance to those who have naught of this world's goods. I was indeed agreeably surprised to hear, that,
notwithstanding the liberal contributions they had already made for this school in Mitchell, no sooner were they
informed that we were still destitute of some very necessary articles, than hundred dollars more was raised, which
was forwarded to us upon the next steamer. . . .
I told the scholars how much you had done for them, asking them if they had any word to send in return for it. One
bright boy, Moses by name, instantly replied, "Tell them we thank them very much." Every one responded at once,
not only in words, but also in their countenances, which are very expressive in this race, always indicating so plainly
every emotion of joy or sorrow. They also wished me to say they would try to be good children. When the parents
were assembled in church on Sunday, I stated the facts to them: all of them rose upon their feet, making very low
bows; and, with countenances beaming with delight, simultaneously exclaimed, "We tank um very kindly!" One
woman, with eyes lifted up to heaven, says, "May de Lord bless um; and, if we neber meet in dis world, may we meet
in heaven, where we shall neber part!" Another says, "I am more than tankful; and I pray God may be wid um from de
beginnin' to de end, and, at the last day, we may all meet in heaven to praise God for eber! De kindness that dey do,
I am not able to give dem tank for; but God will reward um in heaven." Beside, each one came to me separately, to
have me send their thanks... My last letter, no doubt, impressed you with the idea that my school was composed of
untutored savages; but I am now happy to state, that they are bidding adieu to their wild state, and are rapidly
approximating towards civilization. They are so easily governed that I have discarded the rod altogether, some simple
punishment being sufficient. They have such a reverence for sacred things, that, upon being told when they do
wrong they are disobeying a command of God, is often a sufficient rebuke. We have now a hundred and five
scholars on our list, with an average attendance of about fifty. While in the prison-house of slavery, they bad no
regular habits; consequently, they do not understand the importance of being punctual in their attendance at school.
We have a school for adults three evenings in a week, the church being used for prayer-meetings the rest of the
time. They seem to see the necessity of learning to read as rapidly as possible, studying diligently every moment,
which renders labors in the evening less fatiguing than during the day. One woman, who only knew the alphabet
when she began, now reads very well in the Second Reader." Many could repeat the alphabet, but could not
distinguish one letter from another. Little children teach their parents at home: one of our scholars, a boy of twelve
years, has taught his mother until she has read through her primer.
I have called upon many at their own homes, where they live with none of the comforts or conveniences of life, yet
perfectly happy in the thought they are free. Most of their houses have upon the outside a wooden chimney covered
with plaster; having a large fireplace in their one room where they cook in iron pots. Some do all their cooking over a
fire in the open air. At one house, on a cold day, in the absence of a chimney, the fire was in a large box filled with
dirt, in the centre of the room. Their dwellings generally have an air of cleanliness about them: they seem to be very
industrious; doing all in their power to maintain their families. Some of the women support themselves by washing
and ironing; others, by baking pies and cakes. One woman, by baking, has supported herself and three children,
and built a house which cost her six hundred dollars. Some of them cut and make their own clothing, after their
fashion, while others cannot sew; but I think all can do their own cooking. They wear no bonnets, simply a bandanna;
carrying all their burdens upon their heads, which gives them a very erect carriage. It is not uncommon to see a
woman pass along with quite a load of wood on her head; another, with a barrel of flour; &c. They are very poorly
and thinly clad, requiring all they can earn to feed their families. Some of the men are employed by Government;
others are soldiers in the army, whose families live here. They all have gardens, mostly cultivated by the women, —
in which they raise sweet potatoes, peanuts, and various vegetables; always finding & ready market for them.
We find we are to teach by example as well as precept, for they are a very imitative people. If they come into our
house, and see every thing in order, they will try to arrange their cabins in the same manner. I have been quite
forcibly impressed with this trait in their character, by their appearance upon the sabbath. At first, the children came
to Sunday school in the same dresses they wore during the week; but, when they saw their teachers dressed a little
better on Sunday, they all came with some change in their apparel, if it was only a clean apron. . . .
I will now state to you a few facts in reference to the freed people in this department. Since our forces have taken
possession of these islands, the Government has employed thirty-two hundred Freedmen, to whom they have paid
four hundred thousand dollars for their labor. At present, independent of the soldiers, they have in their employ five
hundred and seventy-one freed people. Four regiments of colored soldiers have been raised in this vicinity. There
are in this village, for the colored people, four hundred and fifty-six houses completed, and twenty-two now in
process of erection, with one-third of an acre in each lot. About one-half of the houses have been built at the
expense of the Government. The inhabitants are constantly increasing; as we learn, by a recent census, that we
have twenty-seven hundred and thirty colored people here, all of whom support themselves, with the exception of
about one hundred infirm ones, whom the Government furnish with rations.
E. P. Breck