The Freedmen at Port Royal by Edward L. Pierce September 1863
Editor's Note: Except for the title all bold marks and outline bolded statements are mine. These were added to help the reader easily find information.
THE FREEDMEN AT PORT ROYAL
Two Questions Two questions are concerned in the social problem of our time. One is, ‘Will the people of African descent work for a living? and the other is, Will they fight for their freedom? An affirmative answer to these must be put beyond any fair dispute before they will receive permanent security in law or opinion. Whatever may be the theses of philosophers or the instincts of the justest men, the general sense of mankind is not likely to accord the rights of complete citizenship to a race of paupers, or to hesitate in imposing compulsory labor on those who have not industry sufficient to support themselves. Nor, in the present development of human nature, is the conscience of great communities likely to be so pervasive and controlling as to restrain them from disregarding the rights of those whom it is perfectly safe to injure, because they have not the pluck to defend themselves. Sentiment may be lavished upon them in poetry and tears, but it will all be wasted. Like all unprivileged classes before them, they will have their full recognition as citizens and men when they have vindicated their title to be an estate of the realm, and not before. Let us, then, take the world as we find it, and try this people accordingly. But it is not pertinent to any practical inquiry of our time to predict what triumphs in art, literature, or government they are to accomplish, or what romance is to glow upon their history. No Iliad may be written of them and their woes. No Plutarch may gather the lives of their heroes. No Yandyck may delight to warm his canvas with their forms. How many or how few astronomers like Banneker, chieftains like Toussaint, orators like Douglass they may have, it is not worth while to conjecture. It is better to dismiss these fanciful discussions. To vindicate their title to a fair chance in the world as a free people, it is sufficient, and alone sufficient, that it appear to reasonable minds that they are in good and evil very much like the rest of mankind, and that they are endowed in about the same degree with the conservative and progressive elements of character common to ordinary humanity.
It is given to the people of this country and time, could they realize it, to make a new chapter of human experience. The past may suggest, but it can do little either in directing or deterring. There is nothing in the gloomy vaccinations of Tocqueville, wise and benevolent as he is, which should be permitted to darken our future. The medieval antagonisms of races, when Christianity threw but a partial light over mankind, and before commerce had unfolded the harmony of interests among people of diverse origin or condition, determine no laws which will fetter the richer and more various development of modern life. Nor do the results of emancipation in the West Indies, more or less satisfactory as they may be, afford any measure of the progress which opens before our enfranchised masses. The insular and contracted life of the colonies, cramped also as they were by debt and absenteeism, has no parallel in the grand currents of thought and activity ever sweeping through the continent on which our problem is to be solved.
Contraband verses Freedmen In the light of these views, the attempt shall be made to report truthfully upon the freedmen at Port Royal. A word, however, as to the name. Civilization, in its career, may often be traced in the nomenclatures of successive periods. These people were first called contrabands at Fortress Monroe; but at Port Royal, where they were next introduced to us in any considerable number, they were generally referred to as freedmen. These terms are milestones in our progress; and they are yet to be lost in the better and more comprehensive designation of citizens, or, when discrimination is convenient, citizens of African descent.
How the Experiment Saved Europe for the Union The enterprise for the protection and development of the freedmen at Port Royal has won its way to the regard of mankind. The best minds of Europe, as well as the best friends of the United States, like Cairnes and Gasparin, have testified much interest in its progress. An English periodical of considerable merit noticed at some length “Mr. Pierce’s Ten Thousand Clients.” In Parliament, Earl Russell noted it in its incipient stage, as a reason why England should not intervene in American affairs. The “Revue des Deux Mondes,” in a recent number, characterizes the colony as “that small pacific army, far more important in the history of civilization than all the military expeditions dispatched from time to time since the commencement of the civil war.”
History of Port Royal No little historical interest covers the region to which this account belongs. Explorations of the coast now known as that of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, involving the rival pretensions of Spain and France, were made in the first half of the sixteenth century. They were conducted by Pence de Leon, Vasquez, Verrazani, and Soto, in search of the fountain of perpetual youth, or to extend empire by right of discovery. But no permanent settlement by way of colony or garrison was attempted until 1562.
In that year, — the same in which he drew his sword for his faith, and ten years before the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, in which he fell the most illustrious victim,— Admiral Cohigny, the great Protestant chief, anxious to found beyond the seas a refuge for persecuted Huguenots, fitted out the expedition of Jean Ribault, which, after a voyage of over three months across the ocean and northward along the coast, cast anchor on May 27th in the harbor of Port Royal, and gave it the name which it retains to this day. That year was also to be ever memorable for another and far different enterprise, which was destined to be written in dark and perpetual lines on human history. Then it was that John Hawkins sailed for Africa in quest of the first cargo of negroes ever brought to the New World. The expedition of Ribault was the first visit of Europeans to Port Royal or to any part of South Carolina, and the garrison left by him was the first settlement under their auspices ever made on this continent north of Mexico. There is not space or need to detail here the mutiny and suffering of this military colony, their abandonment of the post, the terrible voyage homeward, or the perseverance of Coligny in his original purpose. Nor is it within the compass of this narrative to recount the fortunes of the second garrison, which was founded on the St. John’s, the visit of John Hawkins in 1565 with timely relief, the return of Rihault from France and his sad fate, the ferocity of Menendez against all heretic Frenchmen, and the avenging chivalry of Dominic de Gourgues. The student is baffled in attempts to fix localities for the deeds and explorations of this period, even with the help of the several accounts and the drawings of Le Moyne; and, besides, these later vicissitudes did not involve any permanent occupation as far north as Port Royal, that region having been abandoned by the French, and being then visited by the Spanish only for trade or adventure.
Some merchants of Barbados, in 1663, sent William Hilton and other commissioners to Florida, then including Port Royal, to explore the country with reference to an emigration thither. Hilton’s Narration, published in London the year after, mentions St. Ellens as one of the points visited, meaning St. Helena, but probably including the Sea Islands under that name. The natives were found to speak many Spanish words, and to be familiar enough with the report of guns not to be alarmed by it. The commissioners, whose explorations were evidently prompted by motives of gain, close a somewhat glowing description of the country by saying, “And we could wish that all they that want a happy settlement of our English nation were well transported thither.”
Hitherto England had borne no part in exploring this region. But, relieved of her civil wars by the Restoration, she began to seek colonial empire on the southern coast of North America. In 1663, Charles II. granted a charter to Clarendon, Monk, Shaftsbury, — each famous in the conflicts of those times, — and to their associates, as proprietors of Carolina. The genius of John Locke, more fitted for philosophy than affairs, devised a constitution for the colony, — an idle work, as it proved. In 1670, the first emigrants, under Governor William Sayle, arrived at Port Royal, with the purpose to remain there, disturbed probably with apprehensions of Spanish incursions from Florida, they removed to the banks of the Ashley, and, after another change of site, founded Charleston. In 1682, a colony from Scotland under Lord Cardross was founded at Port Royal, but was driven away four years later by the Spanish. No permanent settlement of the Beaufort district appears to have succeeded until 1700. This district is divided into four parishes, St. Peter’s, St. Luke’s, St. Helena, and Prince William, being fifty-eight miles long and thirty-two broad, and containing 1,224,960 acres. St. Helena parish includes the islands of St. Helena, Ladies, Port Royal, Paris, and a few smaller islands, which, together with Hilton Head, make the district occupied by our forces. The largest and most populous of these islands is St. Helena, being fifteen miles long and six or seven broad, containing fifty plantations and three thousand negroes, and perhaps more since the evacuation of Edisto. Port Royal is two-thirds or three-quarters the size of St. Helena, Ladies half as large, and Hilton Head one-third as large. Paris, or Parry, has five plantations, and Coosaw, Morgan, Cat, Cane, and Barnwell have each one or two.
Beaufort is the largest town in the district of that name, and the only one at Port Royal in our possession. Its population, black and white, in time of peace may have been between two and three thousand. The first lots were granted in 1717. Its Episcopal church was built in 1720. Its library was instituted in 1802, had increased in 1825 to six or eight hundred volumes, and when our military occupation began contained about thirty five hundred. The origin of the name Port Royal, given to a harbor at first and since to an island, has already been noted. The name of St. Helena, applied to a sound, a parish, and an island, originated probably with the Spaniards, and was given by them in tribute to Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, whose day in the calendar is August 18th. Broad River is the equivalent of La Grande, which was given by Ribault. Hilton Head may have been derived from Captain Hilton, who came from Barbados. Coosaw is the name of a tribe of Indians. Beaufort is likely to have been so called for Henry, Duke of Beauford, one of the lord proprietors, while Carolina was a province of Great Britain.
The Beaufort District is not invested with any considerable Revolutionary romance. In 1779, the British forces holding Savannah sent two hundred troops with a howitzer and two field-pieces to Beaufort. Four companies of militia from Charleston with two field pieces, reinforced by a few volunteers from Beaufort, repulsed and drove them off. The British made marauding incursions from Charleston in 1782, and are said to have levied a military contribution on St. Helena and Port Royal Islands. There are the remains of Indian mounds and ancient forts on the islands. One of these last, it is said, can be traced on Paris Island, and is claimed by some antiquaries to be the Charles Fort built by Ribault. There are the well-preserved walls of one upon the plantation of John J. Smith on Port Royal Island, a few miles south of Beaufort, now called Camp Saxton, and recently occupied by Colonel Higginson’s regiment. It is built of cemented oyster-shells. Common re mark refers to it as a Spanish fort, but it is likely to be of English construction. The site of Charles Fort is claimed for Beaufort, Lemon Island, Paris Island, and other points.
The Sea Islands are formed by the intersection of the creeks and arms of the sea. They have a uniform level, are without any stones, and present a rather monotonous and uninteresting scenery, spite of the raptures of French explorers. The creeks run up into the islands at numerous points, affording facilities for transportation by fiats and boats to the buildings which are usually near them. The soil is of a light, sandy mould, and yields in the best seasons a very moderate crop, say fifteen bushels of corn and one hundred or one hundred and thirty pounds of ginned cotton to the acre, — quite different from the plantations in Mississippi and Texas, where an acre produces five or six hundred pounds. The soil is not rich enough for the cultivated grasses, and one finds but little turf. The coarse saline grasses, gathered in stacks, furnish the chief material for manure. The long-fibred cotton peculiar to the region is the result of the climate, which is affected by the action of the salt water upon the atmosphere by means of the creeks which permeate the land in all directions. The seed of this cotton, planted on the upland, will produce in a few years the cotton of coarser texture; and the seed of the latter, planted on the islands, will in a like period produce the finer staple. The Treasury Department secured eleven hundred thousand pounds from the islands occupied by our forces, including Edisto, being the crop, mostly unginned, and gathered in storehouses, when our military occupation began.
The characteristic trees are the live oak, its wood almost as heavy as lignum-vitae, the trunk not high, but sometimes five or six feet in diameter, and extending its crooked branches far over the land, with the long, pendulous, funereal moss adhering to them, — and the palmetto, shooting up its long, spongy stem thirty or forty feet, unrelieved by vines or branches, with a disproportionately small cap of leaves at the summit, the most ungainly of trees, albeit it gives a name and coat of arms to the State. Besides these, are the pine, the red and white oak, the cedar, the bay, the gum, the maple, and the ash. The soil is luxuriant with an undergrowth of impenetrable vines. These interlacing the trees, supported also by shrubs, of which the cassena is the most distinguished variety, and faced with ditches, make the prevailing fences of the plantations. The hedges are adorned in March and April with the yellow jessamine, (Ielseminuoi,) — the cross-vine (b’iqoooia,) with its mass of rich red blossoms, — the Cherokee rose, (icevigata) spreading out in long waving wreaths of white, — and, two months later, the palmetto royal, (yucca gloriosa,) which protects the fence with its prickly leaves, and delights the eyes with its pyramid-like clusters of white flowers. Some of these trees and shrubs serve a utilitarian end in art and medicine. The live oak is famous in shipbuilding. The palmetto, or cabbage-palmetto, as it is called, resists destruction by worms, and is used for facing wharves. It was employed to protect Fort Monroe in 1776, when bombarded by the British fleet; and the cannon-halls were buried in its spongy substance. The moss (tillandsia nsneoides) served to caulk the rude vessel of the first French colonists, longing for home. It may be used for bedding after its life has been killed by boiling water, and for the subsistence of cattle when destitute of other food. The cassena is a powerful diuretic.
The game and fish, which are both abundant and of desirable kinds, and to the pursuit of which the planters were much addicted, are described in Eliot’s hook. Russell’s “Diary” may also he consulted in relation to fishing for devil and drum.
The best dwellings in Beaufort are capacious, with a piazza on the first and second stories, through each of which runs a large hall to admit a free circulation of air. Only one, however, appeared to have been built under the supervision of a professional architect. Those on the plantations, designed for the planters or overseers, were, with a few exceptions, of a very mean character, and a thriving mechanic in New England would turn his hack on them as unfit to live in. Their yards are without turf, having as their best feature a neighboring grove of orange trees. One or two dwellings only appear to be ancient. Indeed, they are not well enough built to last long. The estates upon Edisto Island are of a more patrician character, and are occasionally surrounded by spacious flower-gardens and ornamental trees fancifully trimmed. The names of the planters indicated mainly an English origin, although some may he traced to Huguenot families who sought a refuge here from the religious persecutions of France.
The deserted houses were generally found strewn with religious periodicals, mainly Baptist magazines. This characteristic of Southern life has been else where observed in the progress of our army. Occasionally some book denouncing slavery as criminal and ruinous was found among those left behind. One of these was Hewatt’s history of South Carolina, published in 1779, and reprinted in Carroll’s collection. Another was Grégoire’s vindication of the negro race and tribute to its distinguished examples, translated by Warden in 1810. These people seem, indeed, to have had light enough to see the infinite wrong of the system, and it is difficult to believe them entirely sincere in their passion ate defence of it. Their very violence, when the moral basis of slavery is as sailed, seems to be that of a man who distrusts the rightfulness of his daily conduct, has resolved to persist in it, and therefore hates most of all the prophet who comes to confront him for his misdeeds, and, if need be, to publish them to mankind.
Cruelty to Slaves Well-authenticated instances of cruelty to slaves were brought to notice without being sought for. The whipping-tree is now often pointed out, still showing the place where it was worn by the rope which bound the sufferer to it. On the plantation where my own quarters were was a woman who had been so beaten when approaching the trials of maternity as to crush out the life of the unborn child. But this planter had one daughter who looked with horror on the scenes of which she was the unwilling witness. She declared to her parents and sisters that it was hell to live in such a place. She was accustomed to advise the negroes how best to avoid being whipped. When the war began, she assured them that the story of the masters that the Yankees were going to send them to Cuba was all a lie. Surely a kind Providence will care for this noble girl! This war will, indeed, emancipate others than blacks from bonds which marriage and kindred have involved. But it is unpleasant to dwell on these painful scenes of the past, constant and authentic as they are; and they hardly concern the practical question which now presses for a solution. Nor in referring to them is there any need of injustice or exaggeration. Human nature has not the physical endurance or moral persistence to keep up a perpetual and universal cruelty; and there are fortunate slaves who never received a blow from their masters. Besides, there was less labor exacted and less discipline imposed on the loosely managed plantations of the Sea Islands than in other districts where slave-labor was better and more profitably organized and directed.
Capture by U. S. Navy and Meeting with Lincoln The capture of Hilton Head and Bay Point by the navy, November 7th, 1861, was followed by the immediate military occupation of the Sea Islands. In the latter part of December, the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Chase, whose fore sight as a statesman and humane disposition naturally turned his thoughts to the subject, deputed a special agent to visit this district for the purpose of reporting upon the condition of the negroes who had been abandoned by the white population, and of suggesting some plan for the organization of their labor and the promotion of their general well being. The agent, leaving New York January 13th, 1862, reached that city again on his way to Washington on the 13th of February, having in the mean time visited a large number of the plantations, and talked familiarly with the negroes in their cabins. The results of his observations, in relation to the condition of the people, their capacities and wishes, the culture of their crops, and the best mode of administration, on the whole favorable, were embodied in a report. The plan proposed by him recommended the appointment of superintendents to act as guides of the negroes and as local magistrates, with an adequate corps of teachers. It was accepted by the Secretary with a full indorsement, and its execution entrusted to the same agent. The agent presented the subject to several members of Congress, with whom he had a personal acquaintance, but, though they listened respectfully, they seemed either to dread the magnitude of the social question, or to feel that it was not one with which they as legislators were called upon immediately to deal. The Secretary himself, and Mr. Olmsted, then connected with the Sanitary Commission, alone seemed to grasp it, and to see the necessity of’ immediate action. It is doubtful if any member of the Cabinet, except Mr. Chase, took then any interest in the enterprise, though it has since been fostered by the Secretary of War. At the suggestion of the Secretary, the President appointed an interview with the agent. Mr. Lincoln, who was then chafing under a prospective bereavement, listened for a few moments, and then said, somewhat impatiently, that he did not think he ought to be troubled with such details,—that there seemed to be an itching to get negroes into our lines; to which the agent replied, that these negroes were within them by the invitation of no one, being domiciled there before we commenced occupation. The President then wrote and handed to the agent the following card: —
“I shall be obliged if the Sec. of the Treasury will in his discretion give Mr. Pierce such instructions in regard to Port Royal contrabands as may seem judicious. “A. LINCOLN. “Feb. 15, 1862.”
The President, so history must write it, approached the great question slowly and reluctantly; and in February, 1862, he little dreamed of the proclamations he was to issue in the September and January following. Perhaps that slowness and reluctance were well, for thereby it was given to this people to work out their own salvation, rather than to be saved by any chief or prophet. Notwithstanding the plan of superintendents was accepted, there were no funds wherewith to pay them. At this stage the “Educational Commission,” organized in Boston on the 7th of February, and the “Freedmen’ s Relief Association,” organized in New York on the 20th of the same month, gallantly volunteered to pay both superintendents and teachers, and did so until July 1st, when the Government, having derived a fund from the sale of confiscated cotton left in the territory by the Rebels, undertook the payment of the superintendents, the two societies, together with another organized in Philadelphia on the 3d of March, and called the “Port Royal Relief Committee,” providing for the support of the teachers.
Legal Condition of Freedmen ‘When these voluntary associations sprang into being to save an enterprise which otherwise must have failed, no authoritative assurance had been given as to the legal condition of the negroes. The Secretary, in a letter to the agent, had said, that, after being received into our service, they could not, without great injustice, be restored to their masters, and should therefore be fit d to become self-supporting citizens. The President was reported to have said freely, in private, that negroes who were within our lines, and had been employed by the Government, should be protected in their freedom. No official assurance of this had, however, been given; and its absence disturbed the societies in their formation. At one meeting of the Boston society action was temporarily arrested by the expression of an opinion by a gentleman present, that there was no evidence showing that these people, when educated, would not be the victims of some unhappy compromise. A public meeting in Providence, for their relief, is said to have broken up without action, because of a speech from a furloughed officer of a regiment stationed at Port Royal, who considered such a result the probable one. But the societies, on reflection, wisely determined to do what they could to prepare them to become self- supporting citizens, in the belief, that, when they had become such, no Government could ever be found base enough to turn its back upon them. These associations, it should be stated, have been managed by persons of much consideration in their respective communities, of unostentatious philanthropy, but of energetic and practical benevolence, hardly one of whom has ever filled or been a candidate for a political office.
There was a pleasant interview at this time which may fitly be mentioned. The venerable Josiah Quincy, just entered on his ninety-first year, hearing of the enterprise, desired to see one who had charge of it. I went to his chamber, where he had been confined to his bed for many weeks with a fractured limb. He talked like a patriot who read the hour and its duty. He felt troubled lest adequate power had not been given to protect the enterprise, — said that but for his disability he should be glad to write something about it, but that he was living “the postscript of his life”; and as we parted, he gave his hearty benediction to the work and to myself. Restored in a measure to activity, he is still spared to the generation which fondly cherishes his old age; and recently, at the organization of the Union Club, he read to his fellow-citizens, gathering close about him and hanging on his speech, words of counsel and encouragement.
Arrival of the Gideonites 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 Gideonites, applied to the colonists, may, however, be fitly remembered. It may justly claim rank with the honored titles of Puritan and Methodist. The higher officers of the army were uniformly respectful and disposed to cooperation. One of these may properly be mentioned. Our most important operations were in the district under the command of Brigadier General Isaac I. Stevens, an officer whose convictions were not supposed to be favorable to the enterprise, and who, during the political contest of 1860, had been the chairman of the National Breckenridge Committee. But such was his honor as a gentleman, and his sense of the duty of subordination to the wishes of the Government, that his personal courtesies and official aid were never wanting. He received his mortal wound at Chantilly, Virginia, on the first of September following, and a braver and abler officer has not fallen in the service.
Notwithstanding our work was commenced six weeks too late, and other hindrances occurred, detailed in the second report of the agent, some eight thousand acres of esculents, — a fair supply of food, — and some four thousand five hundred acres of cotton (after a deduction for over estimates) were planted. This was done upon one hundred and eighty-nine plantations, on which were nine thousand and fifty people, of whom four thousand four hundred and twenty- nine were field hands, made up of men, women, and children, and equivalent, in the usual classification and estimate of the productive capacity of laborers, to three thousand eight hundred and five and one half full hands. The cotton crop produced will not exceed sixty-five thousand pounds of ginned cotton. Work enough was done to have produced five hundred thousand pounds in ordinary times; hut the immaturity of the pod, resulting from the lateness of the planting, exposed it to the ravages of the frost and the worm. Troops being ordered North, after the disasters of the Peninsular campaign, Edisto was evacuated in the middle of July, and thus one thousand acres of esculents, and nearly seven hundred acres of cotton, the cultivation of which had been finished, were abandoned. In the autumn, Major General Mitchell required forty tons of corn fodder and seventy eight thousand pounds of corn in the ear, for army-forage. These are but some of the adverse influences to which the agricultural operations were subjected.
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.
Deaths of Original Teachers 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. Tie 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 as 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!
Transfer from Treasury to War Department On the first of July, 1862, the administration of affairs at Port Royal having been transferred from the Treasury to the War Department, the charge of the freedmen passed into the hands of Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, a native of Massachusetts, who in childhood had breathed the free air of the valley of the Connecticut, a man of sincere and humane nature and under his wise arid benevolent care they still remain. The Sea Islands, and also Fernandina and St. Augustine in Florida, are within our lines in the Department of the South, and some sixteen or eighteen thousand negroes are supposed to be under his jurisdiction.
Conditional of Freed People The negroes of the Sea Islands, when found by us, had become an abject race, more docile and submissive than those of any other locality. The native African was of a fierce and mettlesome temper, sullen and untamable. The master was obliged to abate something of usual rigor in dealing with the imported slaves. A tax-commissioner, now at Port Royal, and formerly a resident of South Carolina, told me that a native African belonging to his fat her, though a faithful man, would perpetually insist on doing his work in his own way, and being asked the threatening question, “A’n’t you going to mind?” would answer, with spirit, “No, a’n’t gwine to!” and the master desisted: Severe discipline drove the natives to the wilderness, or involved a mutilation of person which destroyed their value for proprietary purposes. In 1816, eight hundred of these refugees were living free in the swamps and everglades of Florida. There the ancestors of some of them had lived ever since the early part of the eighteenth century, rearing families, carrying on farms, and raising cattle. They had two hundred and fifty men fit to hear arms, led by chiefs brave and skillful. The story of the Exiles of Florida is one of painful interest. The testimony of officers of the army who served against them is, that they were more dangerous enemies than the Indians, fighting the most skilfully and standing the longest. The tax- commissioner before referred to, who was a resident of Charleston during the trial and execution of the confederates of Denmark Vesey, relates that one of the native Africans, when called to answer to the charge against him, haughtily responded, —“ I was a prince in my country, and have as much right to be free as you!” The Carolinians were so awe struck by his defiance that they transported him. Another, at the execution, turned indignantly to a comrade about to speak, and said, “Die silent, as I do!” and the man hushed. The early newspapers of Georgia recount the disturbances on the plantations occasioned by these native Africans, and even by their children, being not until the third generation reduced to obedient slaves.
Nowhere has the deterioration of the negroes from their native manhood been carried so far as on these Sea Islands — a deterioration due to their isolation from the excitements of more populous district, the constant surveillance of the overseers, and their intermarriage with each other, involving a physical degeneracy with which inexorable Nature punishes disobedience to her laws. The population with its natural increase was sufficient for the cultivation of the soil under existing modes, and therefore no fresh blood was admitted, such as is found pouring from the Border States into the sugar and cotton regions of the Southwest. This unmanning and deprivation of the native character had been carried so far, that the special agent, on his first exploration, in January, 1862, was obliged to confess the existence of a general disinclination to military service on the part of the negroes; though it is true that even then instances of courage and adventure appeared, which indicated that the more manly feeling was only latent, to be developed under the inspiration of events. And so, let us rejoice, it has been. You may think yourself wise, as you note the docility of a subject race; but in vain will you attempt to study it until the burden is lifted. The slave is unknown to all, even to himself, while the bondage lasts. Nature is ever a kind mother. She soothes us with her deceits, not in surgery alone, when the sufferer, else writhing in pain, is transported with the sweet delirium, but she withholds from the spirit the sight of her divinity until her opportunity has come. Not even Tocqueville or Olmsted, much less the master, can measure the capacities and possibilities of the slave, until the slave himself is transmuted to a man.
My recent visit to Port Royal extended from March 25th to May 10th. It was pleasant to meet the first colonists, who still toiled at their posts, and specially grateful to receive the welcome of the freedmen, and to note the progress they had made. There were interesting scenes to fill the days. I saw an aged negro, Caesar by name, not less than one hundred years old, who had left children in Africa, when stolen away. The vicissitudes of such a life were striking, — a free savage in the wilds of his native land, a prisoner on a slave-ship, then for long years a toiling slave, now again a freeman under the benign edict of the President, — his life covering an historic century. A faithful and industrious negro, Old Simon, as we called him, hearing of my arrival, rode over to see me, and brought me a present of two or three quarts of peanuts and some seventeen eggs. I had an interview with Don Carlos, whom I had seen in May, 1862, at Edisto, the faithful attendant upon Barnard, and who had been both with him and Phillips during their last hours, — now not less than seventy years of age, and early in life a slave in the Alston family, where he had known Theodosia Burr, the daughter of Aaron Burr, and wife of Governor Alston. He talked intelligently upon her personal history and her mysterious fate. He had known John Pierpont, when a teacher in the family of Colonel Alston, and accompanying the sons on their way North to college after the completion of their preparatory studies. Pierpont was a classmate of John C. Calhoun at Yale College, and, upon graduating, went South as a private tutor.
Aunt Phillis was not likely to he overlooked,—an old woman, with much power of expression, living on the plantation where my quarters had formerly been. The attack on Charleston was going on, and she said, “If you ‘re as long beating Secesh everywhere as you have seen in taking the town, guess it'll take you some time!” Indeed, the negroes had somewhat less confidence in our power than at first, on account of our not having followed up the capture of Bay Point and Hilton Head. The same quaint old creature, speaking of the disregard of the masters for the feelings of the slaves, said, with much emphasis, “They thought God was dead!”
I visited Barnwell Island, the only plantation upon which is that of Trescot, formerly Secretary of Legation at London, a visit to whom Russell describes in his “Diary.” But the mansion is not now as when Russell saw it. Its large library is deposited in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington. Its spacious rooms in the first and second stories together with the attics, are all filled with the families of negro refugees. From this point, looking across the water, we could see a cavalry picket of the Rebels. The superintendent who had charge of the plantation, and accompanied me, was Charles Pollen, an inherited name, linked with the struggles for freedom in both hemispheres.
The negro graveyards occasionally attracted me from the road. They are usually in an open field, under a clump of some dozen or twenty trees, perhaps live-oaks, and not fenced. There may be fifty or a hundred graves, marked only by sticks eighteen inches or two feet high and about as large as the wrist. Mr. Olmsted saw some stones in a negro graveyard at Savannah, erected by the slaves, and bearing rather illiterate inscriptions; but I never succeeded in finding any but wooden memorials, not even at Beaufort. Only in one case could I find an inscription, and that was in a burial-place on Ladies Island. There was a board at the head of the grave, shaped something like an ordinary gravestone, about three feet high and six inches wide. The inscription was as follows —
Old Jiw de Part his Life on the 2 of WAY Re st frow LAUER
On the foot-board were these words: —
We ll d own
The rude artist was Kit, the son of the old man. He can read, and also write a little, and, like his deceased father, is a negro preacher. He said that he used to carry his father in his arms in his old age, — that the old man had no pain, and, as the son expressed it, “ sunk in years.” I inquired of Kit concerning several of the graves; and I found, by his intelligent answers, that their tenants were disposed in families and were known. These lowly burial-places, for which art has done nothing, are not without a fascination, and in some hours of life they take a faster hold on the sentiments than more imposing cemeteries, adorned with shafts of marble and granite, and rich in illustrious dead. There were some superstitions among the people, perhaps of African origin, which the teachers had detected, such as, a belief in hats as evil spirits, and in a kind of witchcraft which only certain persons can cure. They have a superstition, that, when you take up and remove a sleeping child, you must call its spirit, else it will cry, on awaking, until you have taken it back to the same place and invoked its spirit. They believe that turning an alligator on his back will bring rain; and they will not talk about one when in a boat, lest a storm should thereby be brought on.
But the features in the present condition of the freedmen bearing directly on the solution of the social problem deserve most consideration.
Education And, first, as to education. There are more than thirty schools in the territory, conducted by as many as forty or forty five teachers, who are commissioned by the three associations in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and by the American Missionary Association. They have an average attendance of two thousand pupils, and are more or less frequented by an additional thousand. The ages of the scholars range in the main from eight to twelve years. They did not know even their letters prior to a year ago last March, except those who were being taught in the single school at Beaufort already referred to, which had been going on for a few weeks. Very many did not have the opportunity for instruction till weeks and even months after. During the spring and summer of 1862 there were not more than a dozen schools, and these were much interrupted by the heat, and by the necessity of assigning at times some of the teachers to act as superintendents. Teachers came for a brief time, and upon its expiration, or for other cause, returned home, leaving the schools to be broken up. It was not until October or November that the educational arrangements were put into much shape; and they are still but imperfectly organized. In some localities there is as yet no teacher, and this because the associations have not had the funds wherewith to provide one.
I visited ten of the schools, and conversed with the teachers of others. There were, it may be noted, some mixed bloods in the schools of the town of Beaufort, — ten in a school of ninety, thirteen in another of sixty-four, and twenty in another of severity. In the schools on the plantations there were never more than half a dozen in one school, in some cases but two or three, and in others none. The advanced classes were reading simple stories and didactic passages in the ordinary school-books, as Hillard’s Second Primary Reader, Willson’s Second Reader, and others of similar grade. Those who had enjoyed a briefer period of instruction were reading short sentences or learning the alphabet. In several of the schools a class was engaged on an elementary lesson in arithmetic, geography, or writing. The eagerness for knowledge and the facility of acquisition displayed in the beginning had not abated.
On the 25th of March 1 visited a school at the Central Baptist Church on St. Helena Island, built in 1855, shaded by lofty live-oak trees, with the long, pendulous moss everywhere hanging from their wide-spreading branches, and surrounded by the gravestones of the former proprietors, which bear the ever-recurring names of Fripp and Chaplin. This school was opened in September last, but man v of the pupils had received some instruction before. One hundred and thirty one children were present on my first visit, and one hundred and forty-five on my second, which was a few days later. Like most of the schools on the plantations, it opened at noon and chased at three o’clock, leaving the forenoon for the children to work in the field or perform other service in which they could be useful. One class, of twelve pupils, read page 70th in Willson’s Reader, on “Going Away.” They had not read the passage before, and they went through it with little spelling or hesitation. They had recited the first thirty pages of Fowle’s Speller, and the multiplication table as high as fives, and were commencing the sixes. A few of the scholars, the youngest, or those who had come latest to the school, were learning the alphabet. At the close of the school, they recited in concert the Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” requiring prompting at the beginning of some of the verses. They sang with much spirit hymns which had been taught them by the teachers, as, —
“My country, ‘t is of thee, Sweet land of liberty”;
“Sound the loud timbrel “;
also, Whittier’s new song, written expressly for this school, the closing stanzas of which are,—
“The very oaks are greener clad, The waters brighter smile; Oh, never shone a day so glad On sweet St. Helen’s Isle!
“For none in all the world before Were ever glad as we, — We ‘re free on Carolina’s shore, We ‘re all at home and free
Never has that pure Muse, which has sung only of truth and right, as the highest beauty and noblest art, been consecrated to a better service than to write the songs of praise for these little children, chattels no longer, whom the Saviour, were he now to walk on earth, would bless as his own.
The prevalent song, however, heard in every school, in church, and by the way-side, is that of” John Brown,” which very much amuses our white soldiers, particularly when the singers roll out, —
“We’ll hang Jeff Davis on the sour apple tree!”
The children also sang their own songs, as, —
“In do mornin’ when I rise, Tell my Jesus, Huddy oh? In do mornin’ when I rise, Tell my Jesus, Huddy oh?
“I wash my hands in de mornin’ glory Tell my Jesus, Huddy oh? I wash my hands in do mornin’ glory, Tell my Jesus, Huddy oh?
Pray, Rosy, pray, gal,’’ etc.
“I would not let you go, my Lord, I would not let you go, I would not let you go, my Lord, I would not let you go.
Dere ‘s room enough, dere ‘s room enough, Dere ‘s room enough in do heabenly groun’, Dere ‘s room enough, dere’s room enough, I can’t stay behin’.
“I can’t stay behin’, my Lord, I can’t stay behin’, I can’t stay behin’, my Lord, I can’t stay behin’.
“Do angels march all roun’ do trone, De angels march all roun’ do trone, De angels march all roun’ do trone, I can’t stay behin’.
‘I can’t stay behin’, my Lord, I cant stay hehin’, I can’t stay behin’, I can’t stay behin’, my Lord, I cant stay behin’.
“Dere ‘s room enough,” etc.
Other songs of the negroes are common, as, “The Wrestling Jacob,” “Down in the lonesome valley,” “Roll, Jordan, roll,” “Heab’n shall-a be my home.” Russell’s “Diary” gives an account of these songs, as he heard them in his evening row over Broad River, on his way to Trescot’s estate.
One of the teachers of this school is an accomplished woman from Philadelphia. Another is from Newport, Rhode Island, where she had prepared herself for this work by benevolent labors in teaching poor children. The third is a young woman of African descent, of olive complexion, finely cultured, and attuned to all beautiful sympathies, of gentle address, and, what was specially noticeable, not possessed with an overwrought consciousness of her race. She had read the best books, and naturally and gracefully enriched her conversation with them. She had enjoyed the friendship of Whittier; had been a pupil in the Grammar-School of Salem, then in the State Normal School in that city, then a teacher in one of the schools for white children, where she had received only the kindest treatment both from the pupils and their parents, — and let this be spoken to the honor of that ancient town. She had refused a residence in Europe, where a better social life and less unpleasant discrimination awaited her, for she would not dissever herself from the fortunes of her people; and now, not with a superficial sentiment, but with a profound purpose, she devotes herself to their elevation.
At Coffin Point, on St. Helena Island, I visited a school kept by a young woman from the town of Milton, Massachusetts, “the child of parents passed into the skies,” whose lives have both been written for the edification of the Christian world. She teaches two schools, at different hours in the afternoon, and with different scholars in each. One class had read through Hillard’s Second Primary Reader, and were on a review, reading Lessons 19, 20, and 21, while I was present. Being questioned as to the subjects of the lessons, they answered intelligently. They recited the twos of the multiplication-table, explained numeral letters and figures on the blackboard, and wrote letters and figures on slates. Another teacher in the adjoining district, a graduate of Harvard, and the son of a well-known Unitarian clergyman of Providence, Rhode Island, has two schools, in one of which a class of three pupils was about finishing Ellsworth’s First Progressive Reader, and another, of seven pupils, had just finished Hillard’s Second Primary Reader. Another teacher, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the same island, numbers one hundred pupils in his two schools. He exercises a class in elocution, requiring the same sentence to be repeated with different tones and inflections, and one could not but remark the excellent imitations.
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 Loyd 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. A woman comes to one of the teachers of this school for instruction in the evening, after she has put her children to bed. She had become interested in learning by hearing her younger sister read when she came home from school; and when she asked to be taught, she had learned from this sister the alphabet and some words of one syllable. Only a small proportion of the adults are, however, learning.
On the 8th of April, I visited a school on Ladies Island, kept in a small church on the Eustis estate, and taught by a young woman from Kingston, Massachusetts. She had manifested much persistence in going to this field, went with the first delegation, and still keeps the school which she opened in March, 1862. She taught the pupils their letters. Sixty six were present on the day of my visit. A class of ten pupils read the story which commences on page 86th of Hillard’s Second Primary Reader. One girl, Elsie, a full black, and rather ungainly withal, read so rapidly that she had to be checked, — the only case of such fast reading that I found. She assisted the teacher by taking the beginners to a corner of the room and exercising them upon an alphabet card, requiring them to give the names of letters taken out of their regular order, and with the letters making words, which they were expected to repeat after her. One class recited in Eaton’s First Lessons in Arithmetic and two or three scholars with a rod pointed out the states, lakes, and large rivers on the map of the United States, and also the different continents on the map of the world, as they were called. I saw the teacher of this school at her residence, late in the afternoon, giving familiar instruction to some ten boys and girls, all but two being under twelve years, who read the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Revelation, and the story of Lazarus in the eleventh chapter of St. John. Elsie was one of these. Seeing me taking notes, she looked archly at the teacher, and whispered, —“He ‘s putting me in the book “ and as Elsie guessed, so I do. The teacher was instructing her pupils in some dates and facts which have had much to do with our history. The questions and answers, in which all the pupils joined, were these : —
“Where were slaves first brought to this country?“ “Virginia.” “When ?“ “1620.” “Who brought them?” “Dutchmen.” “Who came the same year to Plymouth, Massachusetts?” “Pilgrims.” “Did they bring slaves?” “No.”
A teacher in Beaufort put these questions, to which answers were given in a loud tone by the whole school: —
“What country do you live in?” “United States.” “What State?” “South Carolina.” “What island?” “Port Royal.” “What town?” “Beaufort.” “Who is your Governor?” “General Saxton.” “Who is your President?” “Abraham Lincoln.” “What has he done for you?” “He ‘s freed us.”
There were four schools in the town of Beaufort, all of which I visited, each having an average attendance of from sixty to ninety pupils, and each provided with two teachers. In some of them writing was taught. But it is unnecessary to describe them, as they were very much like the others. There is, besides, at Beaufort an industrial school, which meets two afternoons in a week, and is conducted by a lady from New York, with some dozen ladies to assist her. There were present, the afternoon I visited it, one hundred and thirteen girls from six to twenty years of age, all plying the needle, some with pieces of patchwork, and others with aprons, pillow cases, or handkerchiefs. Though I have never been on the school-committee, I accepted invitations to address the schools on these visits, and particularly plied the pupils with questions, so as to catch the tone of their minds and I have rarely heard children answer with more readiness and spirit. We had a dialogue substantially as follows : —
“Children, what are you going to do when you grow up?” “Going to work, Sir.” “On what?” “Cotton and corn, Sir.” “What are you going to do with corn?” “Eat it.” “What are you going to do with the cotton?” “ Sell it.” “What are you going to do with the money you get for it?” One boy answered in advance of the rest, — “Put it in my pocket, Sir.” “That won’t do. What ‘s better than that?” “Buy clothes, Sir.” “What else will you buy?” “Shoes, Sir.” “What else are you going to do with your money?” There was some hesitation at this point. Then the question was put, — “What are you going to do Sundays?” “Going to meeting.” “What are you going to do there?” “Going to sing.” “ What else?” ‘‘ Hear the parson.” “Who ‘s going to pay him?” One boy said, —“ Government pays him”; but the rest answered,— “We ‘s pays him.” “Well, when you grow up, you'll probably get married, as other people do, and you'll have your little children now, what will you do with them?” There was a titter at this question; but the general response came, — “Send ‘em to school, Sir.” “Well, who ‘ll pay the teacher?” We ‘s pays him.”
One who listens to such answers can hardly think that there is any natural incapacity in these children to acquire with maturity of years the ideas and habits of good citizens.
The children are cheerful, and, in most of the schools, well-behaved, except that it is not easy to keep them from whispering and talking. They are joyous, and you can see the boys after school playing the soldier, with corn stalks for guns. The memory is very susceptible in them, — too much so, perhaps, as it is ahead of the reasoning faculty. The labor of the season has interrupted attendance on the schools, the parents being desirous of having the children aid them in planting and cultivating their crops, and it not being thought best to allow the teaching to interfere in any way with industrious habits.
A few freedmen, who had picked up an imperfect knowledge of reading, have assisted our teachers, though a want of proper training materially detracts from their usefulness in this respect. Ned and Uncle Cyrus have already been mentioned. The latter, a man of earnest piety, has died since my visit. Anthony kept four schools on Hilton Head Island last summer and autumn, being paid at first by the superintendents, and afterwards by the negroes themselves; but in November he enlisted in the negro regiment. Hettie was another of these. She assisted Barnard at Edisto last spring, continued to teach after the Edisto people were brought to St. Helena village, and one day brought some of her pupils to the school at the Baptist Church, saying to the teachers there that she could carry them no farther. They could read their letters and words of one syllable. Hettie had belonged to a planter on Wadmelaw Island, a kind old gentleman, a native of Rhode Island, and about the only citizen of Charleston who, when Samuel Hoar went on his mission to South Carolina, stood up boldly for his official and personal protection. Hettie had been taught to read by his daughter and let this be remembered to the honor of the young woman. Such are the general features of the schools as they met my eye. The most advanced classes, and these are but little ahead of the rest, can read simple stories and the plainer passages of Scripture and they could even pursue self-instruction, if the schools were to be suspended. The knowledge they have thus gained can never be extirpated. They could read with much profit a newspaper specially prepared for them and adapted to their condition. They are learning that the world is not bounded by Charleston, south by Savannah, west by Columbia, and east by the sea, with urn visions of New York on this planet or some other, — about their conception of geography when we found them. They are acquiring the knowledge of figures with which to do the business of life. They are singing the songs of freemen. Visit their schools; remember that a little more than a twelvemonth ago they knew not a letter, and that for generations it has been a crime to teach their race; then contemplate what is now transpiring, and you have a scene which prophets and ages would have delighted to witness. It will be difficult to find equal progress in an equal period since the morning rays of Christian truth first lighted the hill- sides of Judea. I have never looked on St. Peter’s, or beheld the glories of art which Michel Angelo has wrought or traced; but to my mind the spectacle of these poor souls struggling in darkness and bewilderment to catch the gleams of the upper and better light transcends in moral grandeur anything that has ever come from mortal hands.
Industry Next as to industry. The laborers, during their first year under the new system, have acquired the idea of ownership, and of the security of wages, and have come to see that labor and slavery are not the same thing. The notion that they were to raise no more cotton has passed away, since work upon it is found to be remunerative, and connected with the proprietorship of land. House-servants, who were at first particularly set against it, now generally prefer it. The laborers have collected the pieces of the gins which they destroyed on the flight of their masters, the ginning being obnoxious work, repaired them, and ginned the cotton on the promise of wages. Except upon plantations in the vicinity of camps, where other labor is more immediately remunerative, and an unhealthy excitement prevails, there is a general disposition to cultivate it. The culture of the cotton is voluntary, the only penalty for not engaging in it being the imposition of a rent for the tenement and land adjacent thereto occupied by the negro, not exceeded two dollars per month. Both the Government and private individuals, who have become owners of one-fourth of the land by the recent tax-sales, pay twenty five cents for a standard day’s-work, which may, by beginning early, be performed by a healthy and active hand by noon; and the same was the ease with the tasks under the slave-system on very many of the plantations. As I was riding through one of Mr. Philbrick’s fields one morning, I counted fifty persons at work who belonged to one plantation. This gentleman, who went out with the first delegation, and at the same time gave largely to the benevolent contributions for the enterprise, was the leading purchaser at the tax-sales, and combining a fine humanity with honest sagacity and close calculation, no man is so well fitted to try the experiment. He bought thirteen plantations, and on these has had planted and cultivated eight hundred and sixteen acres of cotton where four hundred and ninety-nine and one twelve-hundredth acres were cultivated last year, — a larger increase, however, than will generally be found in other districts, due mainly to prompter payments. The general superintendent of Port Royal Island said to me,—” We have to restrain rather than to encourage the negroes to take land for cotton.” The general superintendent of Hilton Head Island said, that on that island the negroes had, besides adequate corn, taken two, three, and in a few cases four acres of cotton to a hand, and there was a general disposition to cultivate it, except near the camps. A superintendent on St. Helena Island said, that, if he were going to carry on any work, he should not want better laborers. He had charge of the refugees from Edisto, who had been brought to St. Helena village, and who had cleared and fenced patches for gardens, felling the trees for that purpose.
The laborers do less work, perhaps, than a Yankee would think they do; but they do about as much as he himself would do, after a residence of a few years in the same climate, and when be had ceased to work under the influence of Northern habits. Northern men have sometimes been unjust to the South, when comparing the results of labor in the different sections. God never intended that a man should toil under a tropical sun with the same energy and constancy as in our bracing latitude. There has been less complaint this year than last of “a pain in the small of the back,” or of “a fever in the head,” — in other words, less shamming. The work has been greatly deranged by the draft, some features of which have not been very skilfully arranged, and by the fitfulness with which the laborers have been treated by the military authorities. The work both upon the cotton and the corn is done only by the women, children, and disabled men. It has been suggested that field-work does not become women in the new condition; and so it may seem to some persons of just sympathies who have not yet learned that no honest work is dishonorable in man or woman. But this matter may be left to regulate itself. Field-work, as an occupation, may not be consistent with the finest feminine culture or the most complete womanliness; but it in no way conflicts with virtue, self-respect, and social development. Women work in the field in Switzerland, the freest country of Europe; and we may look with pride on the triumphs of this generation, when the American negroes become the peers of the Swiss peasantry. Better a woman with the hoe than without it, when she is not yet fitted for the needle or the book.
The negroes were also showing their capacity to organize labor and apply capital to it. Harry, to whom I referred in my second report, as “my faithful guide and attendant, who had done for me more service than any white man could render,” with funds of his own, and some borrowed money, bought at the recent tax-sales a small farm of three hundred and thirteen acres for three hundred and five dollars. He wants to plant sixteen and a half acres of cotton, twelve and a half of corn, and one and a half of potatoes. I rode through his farm on the 10th of April, my last day in the territory, and one-third of his crop was then in. Besides some servant’s duty to an officer, for which he is well paid, he does the work of a full hand on his place. He hires one woman and two men, one of the latter being old and only a three-quarters hand. He has two daughters, sixteen and seventeen years of age, one of whom is likewise only a three- quarters hand. His wife works also, of whom he said, “She ‘s the best hand I got”; and if Celia is only as smart with her hoe as I know her to be with her tongue, Harry’s estimate must be right, lie has a horse twenty-five years old and blind in both eyes, whom he guides with a rope, — carrying on farming, I thought, somewhat under difficulties. Harry lives in the house of the former overseer, and delights, though not boastingly, in his position as a landed proprietor. He has promised to write me, or rather dictate a letter, giving an account of the progress of his crop. He has had much charge of Government property, and when Captain Hooper, of General Saxton’s staff, was coming North last autumn, Harry proposed to accompany him; but at last, of his own accord, gave up the project, saying, “It'll not do for all two to leave together.”
Another case of capacity for organization should be noted. The Government is building twenty one houses for the Edisto people, eighteen feet by fourteen, with two rooms, each provided with a swinging board-window, and the roof projecting a little as a protection from rain. The journeymen carpenters are seventeen colored men, who have fifty cents per day without rations, working ten hours. They are under the direction of Frank Barnwell, a freedman, who receives twenty dollars a month. Hardy have I talked with a more intelligent contractor. It was my great regret that I had not time to visit the village of improved houses near the Hilton Head camp, which General Mitchell had extemporized, and to which he gave so much of the noble enthusiasm of his last days. (See Mitchelville)
Land Next as to the development of manhood. This has been shown, in the first place, in the prevalent disposition to acquire land. It did not appear upon our first introduction to these people, and they did not seem to understand us when we used to tell them that we wanted them to own land. But it is now an active desire. At the recent tax-sales, six out of forty- seven plantations sold were bought by them, comprising two thousand five hundred and ninety-five acres, sold for twenty-one hundred and forty-five dollars. In other cases the negroes had authorized the superintendent to bid for them, but the land was reserved by the United States. One of the purchases was that made by Harry, noted above. The other five were made by the negroes on the plantations combining the funds they had saved from the sale of their pigs, chickens, and eggs, and from the payments made to them for work, — they then dividing off the tract peaceably among themselves. On one of these, where Kit, before mentioned, is the leading spirit, there are twenty-three field- hands, who are equivalent to eighteen full hands. They have planted and are cultivating sixty-three acres of cotton, fifty of corn, six of potatoes, with as many more to be planted, four and a half of cow-peas, three of pea-nuts, and one and a half of rice. These facts are most significant. The instinct for land — to have one spot on earth where a man may stand, and whence no human being can of right drive him — is one of the most conservative elements of our nature; and a people who have it in any fair degree will never be nomads or vagabonds.
This developing manhood is further seen in their growing consciousness of rights, and their readiness to defend themselves, even when assailed by white men. The former slaves of a planter, now at Beaufort, who was a resident of New York when the war broke out, have generally left the plantation, suspicious of his presence, saying that they will not be his bondmen, and fearing that in some way he may hold them, if they remain on it. A remarkable case of the assertion of rights occurred one day during my visit. Two white soldiers, with a corporal, went on Sunday to Coosaw Island, where one of the soldiers, having a gun, shot a chicken belonging to a negro. The negroes rushed out and wrested the gun from the corporal, to whom the soldier had handed it, thinking that the negroes would not take it from an officer. They then carried it to the superintendent, who took it to bead-quarters, where an order was given for the arrest of the trespasser. Other instances might be added, but these are sufficient.
Households Another evidence of developing manhood appears in their desire for the comforts and conveniences of household life. The Philadelphia society, for the purpose of maintaining reasonable prices, has a store on St. Helena Island, which is under the charge of Friend Hunn, of the good fellowship of William Penn. He was once fined in Delaware three thousand dollars for harboring and assisting fugitive slaves; but he now harbors and assists them at a much cheaper rate. Though belonging to a society which is the advocate of peace, his tone is quite as warlike as that of the world’s people. In this store alone — and there are others on the island, carried on by private enterprise — two thousand dollars’ worth of goods are sold monthly. To be sure, a rather large proportion of these consists of molasses and sugar, “sweetening,” as the negroes call it, being in great demand, and four barrels of molasses having been sold the day of my visit. But there is also a great demand for plates, knives, forks, tin ware, and better clothing, including even hoop-skirts. Negro-cloth, as it is called, osnaburgs, russet-colored shoes, — in short, the distinctive apparel formerly dealt out to them, as a uniform allowance, — are very generally rejected. But there is no article of household-furniture or wearing apparel, used by persons of moderate means among us, which they will not purchase, when they are allowed the opportunity of labor and earning wages. What a market the South would open under the new system! It would set all the mills and workshops astir. Four millions of people would become purchasers of all the various articles of manufacture and commerce, in place of the few coarse, simple necessaries, laid in for them in gross by the planters. Here is the solution of the vexed industrial question. The indisposition to labor is overcome in a healthy nature by instincts and motives of superior force, such as the love of life, the desire to be well clothed and fed, the sense of security derived from provision for the future, the feeling of self-respect, the love of family and children, and the convictions of duty. These all exist in the negro, in a state of greater or less development. To give one or two examples. One man brought Captain Hooper seventy dollars in silver, to keep for him, which. he had obtained from selling pigs and chickens, — thus providing for the future. Soldiers of Colonel Higginson’s regiment, having confidence in the same officer, entrusted him, when they were paid off, with seven hundred dollars, to be transmitted by him to their wives, and this besides what they had sent home in other ways,—showing the family-feeling to be active and strong in them. They have also the social and religious inspirations to labor. Thus, early in our occupation of Hilton Head, they took up, of their own accord, a collection to pay for the candles for their evening meetings, feeling that it was not right for the Government longer to provide them. The result was a contribution of two dollars and forty-eight cents. They had just fled from their masters, and had received only a small pittance of wages, and this little sum was not unlike the two mites which the widow cast into the treasury. Another collection was taken, last June, in the church on St. Helena Island, upon the suggestion of the pastor that they should share in the expenses of worship. Fifty-two dollars was the result, — not a bad collection for some of our Northern churches. I have seen these people where they are said to be lowest, and sad indeed are some features of their lot, yet with all earnestness and confidence I enter my protest against the wicked satire of Carlyle.
Prejudice Is there not here some solution of the question of prejudice or caste which has troubled so many good minds? When these people can no longer be used as slaves, men will try to see how they can make the most out of them as freemen. Your Irishman, who now works as a daylaborer, honestly thinks that he hates the negro; but when the war is over, he will have no objection to going South and selling him groceries and household-implements at fifty per cent. advance on New York prices, or to hiring him to raise cotton for twenty-five or fifty cents a day. Our prejudices, under any reasonable adjustment of the social system, readily accommodate themselves to our interests; even without much aid from the moral sentiments.
Let those who would study well this social question, or who in public trusts are charged with its solution, be most careful here. Every motive in the minds of these people, whether of instinct, desire, or duty, must be addressed. All the elements of human nature must be appealed to, physical, moral, intellectual, social, and religions. Imperfect indeed is any system which, like that at New Orleans, offers wages, but does not welcome the teacher. It is of little moment either three dollars or thirty per month be paid the laborer, so long as there is no school to bind both parent and child to civil society with new hopes and duties.
There are some vices charged upon these people, or a portion of them, and truth requires that nothing be withheld. There is said to be a good deal of petty pilfering among them, although they are faithful to trusts. This is the natural growth of the old system, and is likely to accompany the transition state. Besides, the present disturbed and unorganized condition of things is not favorable to the rigid virtues. But inferences from this must not be pressed too far. When I was a private soldier in Virginia, as one of a three-months’ regiment, we used to hide from each other our little comforts and delicacies, even our dishes and clothing, or they were sure to disappear. But we should have ridiculed an adventurous thinker upon the characteristics of races and classes, who should have leaped therefrom to the conclusion that all white men or all soldiers are thieves. And what inferences might not one draw, discreditable to all traders and manufacturers, from the universal adulteration of articles of food! These people, it is said, are disposed to falsehood in order to get rations and small benefits, — a natural vice which comes with slavery, and too often attends on poverty without slavery. Those of most demonstrative piety are rarely better than the rest, not, indeed, hypocritical, hut satisfying their consciences by self depreciation and indulgence in emotion, —psychological manifestations which one may find in more advanced communities. They show no special gratitude to us for liberating them from bonds. Nor do they ordinarily display much exhilaration over their new condition, — being quite unlike the Italian revolutionist who used to put on his toga, walk in the forum, and impersonate Brutus and Cassius. Their appreciation of their better lot is chiefly seen in their dread of a return of their masters, in their excitement when an attack is feared, in their anxious questionings while tile assault on Charleston was going on, and in their desire to get their friends and relatives away from the Rebels, — a. appreciation of freedom, if not ostentatious, at least sensible.
But away with such frivolous modes of dealing with the rights of races to self-development! Because Englishmen may be classified as hard and conceited, Frenchmen as capricious, Austrians as dull, and the people of one other nation are sometimes thought to be vainglorious, shall these therefore be slaves? And where is that model race which shall sway them all? A people may have grave defects, but it may not therefore he rightfully disabled.
U. S. C. T. During my recent visit, I had an opportunity, on three different occasions, to note carefully Colonel T. W. Higginson’s colored regiment, known as the First Regiment of South-Carolina Volunteers. Major-General Hunter’s first regiment was mainly made up of conscripts, drafted May 12th, 1862, and disbanded August11, three months afterwards, there being no funds wherewith to pay them, and the discharged men going home to find the cotton and corn they had planted overgrown with weeds. 0mm the 10th of October, General Saxton, being provided with competent authority to raise five thousand colored troops, began to recruit a regiment. His authority from the War Department bore date August 25th, and the order conferring it states the object to be “to guard the plantations, and protect the inhabitants from captivity and murder.” This was the first clear authority ever given by the Government to raise a negro regiment in this war. There were, indeed, some ambiguous words in the instructions of Secretary Cameron to General Sherman, when the original expedition went to Port Royal, authorizing him to organize the negroes into companies and squads for such services as they might be fitted for, but this not to mean a general arming for military service. Secretary Stanton, though furnishing muskets and red trousers to General Hunter’s regiment, did not think the authority sufficient to justify the payment of the regiment. The first regiment, as raised by General Saxton, numbered four hundred and ninety-nine men when Colonel Higginson took command of it on the 1st of December and on the 19th of January, 1863, it had increased to eight hundred and forty-nine. It has made three expeditions to Florida and Georgia, — one before Colonel Higginson assumed the command, described in Mrs. Stowe’s letter to the women of England, and two under Colonel Higginson, one of which was made in January up the St. Mary’s, and the other in March to Jacksonville, which it occupied for a few days until an evacuation was ordered from head quarters. The men are volunteers, having been led to enlist by duty to their race, to their kindred still in bonds, and to us, their allies. Their drill is good, and their time excellent. They have borne themselves well in their expeditions, quite equalling the white regiments in skirmishing. In morale they seemed very much like white men, and with about the same proportion of good and indifferent soldiers. Some I saw of the finest metal, like Robert Sutton, whom Higginson describes in his report as “the real conductor of the whole expedition at the St. Mary’s,” and Sergeant Hodges, a master carpenter, capable of directing the labors of numerous journeymen. Another said, addressing a meeting at Beaufort, that he had been restless, nights, thinking of the war and of his people, — that, when he heard of the regiment being formed, he felt that his time to act had come, and that it was his duty to enlist, — that he did not fight for his rations and pay, but for wife, children, and people.
These men, as already intimated, are very much like other men, easily depressed, and as easily reanimated by words of encouragement. Many have been reluctant to engage in military service, — their imagination investing it with the terrors of instant and certain death. But this reluctance has passed away with participation in active service, with the adventure and inspiration of a soldier’s life, and the latent manhood has recovered its rightful sway. Said a superintendent who was of the first delegation to Port Royal in March, 1862,— a truthful man, and not given to rose- colored views, — “I did not have faith. in arming negroes, when I visited the North last autumn, but I have now. They will be not mere machines, but real tigers, aroused; and I should not wish to face them.” One amusing incident may be mentioned. A man deserted from the regiment, was discovered hidden in a chimney in the district where he had lived, was taken back to camp, went to Florida in Higginson’s first expedition, bore his part well in the skirmishes, became excited with the service, was made a sergeant, and, receiving a furlough on his return, went to the plantation where he had hid, and said he would not take five thousand dollars for his place.
But more significant, as showing the success of the experiment, is the change of feeling among the white soldiers towards the negro regiment, a change due in part to the just policy of General Saxton, in part to the President’s Proclamation of January 1st, which has done much to clear the atmosphere everywhere within the army-lines, but more than all to the soldierly conduct of the negroes themselves during their expeditions. I had one excellent opportunity to note this change. On the 6th of April, Colonel Higginson’s regiment was assigned to picket-duty on Port Royal Island, — the first active duty it had performed on the Sea Islands, — and was to relieve the Pennsylvania Fifty-Fifth. When, after a march of ten miles, it reached the advanced picket station, there were about two hundred soldiers of the Pennsylvania Fifty-Fifth awaiting orders to proceed to Beaufort. I said, in a careless tone, to one of the Pennsylvania soldiers, who was looking at Higginson’s regiment as it stood in line, —
“Is n’t this rather new, to be relieved by a negro regiment?”
“All right,” said he. “ They ‘ye as much right to fight for themselves as I have to fight for them.”
A squad of half a dozen men stood by, making no dissent, and accepting him as their spokesman. Moving in another direction, I said to a soldier, — “What do you think of that regiment?”
The answer was, — “All right. I ‘d rather they ‘d shoot the Rebels than have the Rebels shoot me”; and none of the by- standers dissented.
As one of the negro companies marched off the field to picket a station at the Ferry, they passed within a few feet of some twenty of the Pennsylvania soldiers, just formed into line preparatory to marching to Beaufort. The countenances of the latter, which I watched, exhibited no expression of disgust, dislike, or disapprobation, only of curiosity. Other white soldiers gave to the weary negroes the hominy left from the morning meal. The Major of the Fifty-Fifth, highest in command of the relieved regiment, explained very courteously to Colonel Higginson the stations and duties of the pickets, and proffered any further aid desired. This was, it is true, an official duty, but there are more ways than one in which to perform even an official duty. I rode back to Beaufort, part of the way, in company with a captain of the First Massachusetts Cavalry, who was the officer of the day. He said “he was n’t much of a negro-man, but he had no objection to their doing our fighting.” He pronounced the word as spelled with two gs; but I prefer to retain the good English. Colonel Montgomery, who had a partly filled regiment, most of whom were conscripts, said that on his return from Jacksonville he sent a squad of his men ashore in charge of some prisoners he had taken. Some white soldiers seeing them approach from the wharf, one said, —
“What are those coming?”
“Negro soldiers,” (word pronounced as in the former case,) was the answer.
“Damn ‘em!” was the ejaculation.
But as they approached nearer, “What have they got with ‘em?” was inquired.
“Why, some Secesh prisoners.”
“Bully for the negroes!” (the same pronunciation as before,) was then the response from all.
So quick was the transition, when it was found that the negroes had demonstrated their usefulness! It is, perhaps, humiliating to remember that such an unreasonable and unpatriotic prejudice has at any time existed; but it is’ never worth while to suppress the truth of history. This prejudice has been effectually broken in the Free States; and one of the pageants of this epoch was the triumphal march through Boston, on the 28th of May, on its way to embark for Port Royal, of the Fifty Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, the first regiment of negro soldiers which the Free States have sent to the war. On the day previous, May 27th, a far different scene transpired on the banks of the Mississippi. Two black regiments, enlisted some months before in Louisiana under the order of Major-General Butler, both with line and one with field officers of their own lineage, made charge after charge on the batteries of Port Hudson, and were mown down like summer’s grass, the survivors, many with mutilated limbs, closing up the thinned ranks and pressing on again, careless of life, and mindful only of honor and duty, with a sublimity of courage unsurpassed in the annals of war, and leaving there to all mankind an immortal record for themselves and their race.
I cannot here forbear a momentary tribute to Wentworth Higginson. Devoting himself heroically to his great work, absorbed in its duties, and bearing his oppressive responsibility as the leader of a regiment in which to a great extent are now involved the fortunes of a race, he adds another honorable name to the true chivalry of our time.
Homeward-bound, I stopped for two days at Fortress Monroe, and was again among the familiar scenes of my soldier- life. It was there that Major-General Butler, first of all the generals in the army of the Republic, and anticipating even Republican statesmen, had clearly pointed to the cause of the war. At Craney Island I met two accomplished women of the Society of Friends, who, on a most cheerless spot, and with every inconvenience, were teaching the children of the freedmen. Two good men, one at the fort and the other at Norfolk, were distributing the laborers on farms in the vicinity, and providing them with implements and seeds which the benevolent societies had furnished. Visiting Hampton, I recognized, in the shanties built upon the charred ruins, the familiar faces of those who, in the early days of the war, had been for a brief period under my charge. Their hearty greetings to one whom they remembered as the first to point them to freedom and cheer them with its prospect could hardly be received without emotion. But there is no time to linger over these scenes.
Such are some of the leading features in the condition of the freedmen, particularly at Port Royal. The enterprise for their aid, begun in doubt, is no longer a bare hope or possibility. It is a fruition and a consummation. The negroes will work for a living. They will fight for their freedom. They are adapted to civil society. As a people, they are not exempt from the frailties of our common humanity, nor from the vices which hereditary bondage always superadds to these. As it is said to take three generations to subdue a freeman completely to a slave, so it may not be possible in a single generation to restore the pristine manhood. One who expects to find in emancipated slaves perfect men and women, or to realize in them some fair dream of an ideal race, will meet disappointment; but there is nothing in their nature or condition to daunt the Christian patriot; rather, there is everything to cheer and fortify his faith. They have shown capacity for knowledge, for free industry, for subordination to law and discipline, for soldierly fortitude, for social and family relations, for religious culture and aspirations; and these qualities, when stirred and sustained by the incitements and rewards of a just society, and combining, with the currents of our continental civilization, will, under the guidance of a benevolent Providence which forgets neither them nor us, make them a constantly progressive race, and secure them ever after from the calamity of another enslavement, and ourselves from the worse calamity of being again their oppressors.