|Freedmen from Sherman's March
A. F. Pillsbury
March 7, 1865
The Freedmen's Record
Hilton Head, S. C., March 7, 1865.
Mr Dear Miss Stevenson,
It seems to me that a letter is now due the generous donors of those noble gifts which have been distributed during
the past week: a letter picturing some of the scenes to make these Northern hearts glad, who have so beneficently
striven to convince this people, that somebody cares for them yet, and that they are not entirely cast out.
On, Monday Feb. 27, the most of our share of the cases and bales were deposited in the government store-room,
beneath the chambers occupied by our family. If these cases had been filled with pearls from India, they would not
have been so precious; for I knew that the priceless love of God's poor, the holiest sympathies with crushed and
degraded humanity, and those most sacred of all things,—tears for others' woes, were folded among those garments
and stores. Mr. P. was absent in Charleston, but box after box was brought up stairs (for safety) and opened till a
perfect knowledge of their contents was obtained, Beds, chairs, piano, and floor, were piled in the most charming
confusion. As a Yankee house. keeper my identity was entirely lost. Order flew out of the doors and windows while
sweet " Charity" came in. On Tuesday (a rainy day), I drew on rubber boots and waded through the mire to the church
to take a list of names and articles wanted;-found John Heywood (master's name) all patches and rags, sitting out
doors by a little fire of green wood; entered the small end-room of the building,—floor covered with straw, on which
were lying and sitting women and children of all ages; scarcely one had a blanket or fragment of one; with two or three
exceptions had no clothes except what they wore, so that cleanliness was next to impossible; although some had
taken off under-garments, washed them and showed such a desire for wholesome clothing as commends them to still
stronger sympathies. Had a blank book in which I wrote names and articles most needed for each, so that these gifts
might do the most possible good, and that the bundles might be made up with justice to all.
Questions and answers ran thus: "Have you a blanket?"—"No my dear missus; no blanket!
De Yankee soldiers take ebry ting; blanket, dress, pot, ebry ting; not ting leff, missus; jess what got on."-"Yes," I said,
"you need some clothes to change, so as to wash these and be clean." —" Yes, missus, we loves to be clean, but I
wear dis close eber since come from de robs; five week, missus." —" Well," I said, "your underclothes are cut out; if I
give you thread, needles and thimbles, can you sew and make a shirt, &c.?"—"Yes, missus, I sew; I know; ebry one
sew; do, missus; beg you give we sometings." Mary, a middle-aged woman with a bad cough, and other diseases,
which had become almost chronic, arose from her ragged covering and straw on the floor, with a face beautiful from
suffering and resignation, simply standing, without asking for any thing.
If I could have led Mary before you in Boston, as she looked then, your hearts would have ached for many a day. I
promised her clothing and medicine, told she would get well, and I would not forget her. Turned about and there stood
another John Heywood, crippled in both knees, and his wife with one wooden leg and two children. One mother asked
me for an orange for her little sick boy, who has since died. Heaven forgive me! For I was so weary amidst it all, I could
not go on the street to buy it. My own Jennie was sick in bed, with measles, and every man of our household was
I passed into the larger room; no one North would believe that our land held such scenes within her borders. Three
young men, sick, lay on the floor with nothing but a filthy blanket. No straw, no pillow! One emaciated form had neither
coat or blanket,—had been struggling with life for 6 or 7 weeks, till now his voice had no strength to make replies. A
half loaf of dry bread, and a little boiled rice in a tin can was waiting on the floor by each head.
One begged me with beseeching eyes and voice to take him home with me. "Do take me with you, missus, where you
can take care of me." I replied, "I have no place for you, my poor boy; I wish I had." —" Any place will do for me; " said
he, and thus I left them, trying to settle the account with myself, how much of their "blood lay in my skirts." Two of them
have been carried away in their pine coffins since. (Will speak of the other in my next letter.)
Thursday. Had sent for Misses Breck and Lillie to come and cut out shirts, underclothes, and dresses, while Miss Hill,
who had previously been sent for, came from "Lawton plantation," ten miles away. She, with Mrs. Morse and my-self,
made up packages for that plantation and the church, besides answering various applicants at the doors.
These pilgrims have gone by fifties and hundreds to the plantations, to labor for the season, with the promise of being
remembered, and having clothing sent to them. At evening the large wagon was well filled with bundles, with separate
Friday. Attended to cutting again, and up to this time, we have all cut upwards of a hundred garments, including jean
dresses for the old and infirm, giving each thread and needles. I cut holes in men's shoes, and fitted numerous feet.
Some man said they wore No. 2, No. 8, or No. 4, but I found that 11's and 12'8 fitted best.
Gave out last pair of women's bootees to spare. None were sent, except a box to me from Dorchester. Most of them
say their masters have never furnished them a pair of shoes, since the war. Men and women both come in with shoes
made by themselves of cloth or skins. Speaking of skins, a mother brought in her infant of ten months, clad in a deer
skin sack (fur on) and the sleeves were sewed together of many pieces.
Went to church to look after the sick; saw a tall black man, newly arrived, with fine Roman features; he was shivering
in rags; said his name was "Oliver." "What is your other name?" I said. " Why, ma'am, I never had any other name."
Yet he was seventy years, of splendid figure using excellent language, and would command respect from any human
observer. Told Oliver if he would wash the "yellow boy" in warm water, and dress him in a clean suit, I would give him
(Oliver) a new suit. He did so, came to our house, and dressed himself below. He could not sufficiently express his
thankfulness. "Why, my dear missus, thank God, I never expected to see such white ladies on this earth! I pray we
shall meet in heaven. God bless you! This is the first time, my missus, I ever put on stockings in my life! If the master
(Mr. Pillsbury) comes home, I will fall on my knees and beg him to stay here, for I like to have good owners." Has a
hard cough,—kept him three days with me. I was not surprised that he never expected to find humane "white ladies,"
when he related, in the course of his history, how his mistress had bound his arms around the "whipping tree" with her
own womanly chivalric hands, and then stood by to superintend the bloody lash!
Saturday. Resolved to rest a little; but before breakfast our backyard was filled with twenty women and children; one
woman in stocking-feet, with one arm; all ragged and penniless. Distributed till afternoon; asked the question again,
why did you not bring your clothes? " Yankee knock we." " Why, no," I replied, "they did not knock you." "Yes," they all
said, "if we take one ting, dey tear up." " Well, I do not understand why they should do this." One young man explained
that this was done, because the rebs frequently concealed valuables with the negroes, and because their bundles
delayed them on the way.
One lone solitary old woman, very destitute, and leaning on a rough staff, had waited three hours for attention. " I got
nottin 'tall, missus; I shame go Iron de street. Can't wash do' es —got twain." Thinking what I should do if she were my
mother, gave her a jean dress and skirt, and changed her dress throughout; put on her a stuffed sack, made of a
gentleman's dressing-gown, shoes, . stockings, sun-bonnet; gave her some tobacco and a little money, talked
cheerfully, made her laugh heartily, lifted her bundle to her head, and bade her a loving " Good Night." Thus I have
given you a description of our days' works, that, although so far away, you may enjoy the pleasure of giving. I only ask
that these pages may not be perused with too severe a criticism. This labor in Christ's vineyard, requires despatch
and assiduity; that is my only apology.
Yours, most truly,
A. F. Pillsbury.