|James P. Blake
From Hilton Head
Dec. 19, 1864
The Freedmen's Record, February 1865
HILTON HEAD, S. C., Dec. 19.
DEAR MADAM, — I have improved every opportunity of visiting the schools for Freedmen on St. Helena and Port-
Royal Islands; and am happy to be able to say, that, without exception, they seem to be judiciously conducted, and,
considering the circumstances, eminently successful.
The teachers labor under very great disadvantages in the large number of untrained and ignorant children, which,
owing to the fewness of teachers, each is obliged to take charge of; in the want of bells, charts, desks, separate
recitation-rooms, and nearly all the convenient apparatus of Northern schools; and in the absence of co-operating and
refining home-influence. Yet, notwithstanding these and other difficulties, the progress of the pupils is so rapid, their
docility so pleasing, and their gratitude so marked and sincere, that I have yet to see a single teacher that regretted
coming here, or was discouraged in his labors.
Certain indications, not in themselves, perhaps, very noticeable, show that the two years of freedom and education
this people has received, is already bearing fruit in increased intelligence and self-respect on subjects not immediately
connected with schools. Thus there is said to be very much more regard than formerly for the Sacredness of marriage,
and the rights of property; the children are becoming more neat and cleanly in their persons; and I have seen them,
when requested to sing some of their grotesque hymns, which were great favorites in slave-times, bide their heads
while singing, and seem heartily ashamed of them.
Perhaps the most marked characteristic of the blacks, in distinction from the poor and ignorant of other races I have
chanced to observe, is their religious susceptibility. All their songs are religious, or, at least, are filled with expressions
borrowed from the Bible or the camp-meeting. Coming over from St. Helena yesterday, in a row-boat with about twenty
of them, they were singing all the way strange responsive chants or melodies, of which the women would sing the
burden, and the stout oarsmen every once in a while burst out with the refrain, "An I heard from Heaben to-day."
These songs, much to my surprise, were all cheerful in their tendency, and all in the major key. I had read much of the
plaintive airs of the slaves; but have not heard one since I came among them. There seems to be no room for sorrow
in their hearts, now that they are free; nothing but gratitude to God for their great deliverance. Not but that they have
their vices, and these the very ones with which the white man has the least patience. Lying and cheating seem the
incorrigible sins of the negro. The most earnestly religious are frequently guilty of them. Yet no candid observer calls
them hypocrites. They are rather babes and sucklings, whose character has not been ripened into consistency and
self-reliance by the light of a free and Christian civilization. They have been taught to imitate and extenuate all the
crimes of the master, because he was their superior, and to excuse all their own, because they were his inferior, —
"nuffin but a nigger noways,"— what wonder that their degraded and brutal habits cling tightly to them still, and what
true-hearted man would not regard them with charity?
Ever since their emancipation, the good influences of schools and a pure gospel have been, in a measure,
counteracted by the evil influences and example of some of the whiten from the North. I grieve to say, that even New
England has representatives here, in the army, and among the citizens, whose presence is the occasion of impurity
Were it not for the counter-agency of schools and churches, which the liberality of the North has sent hither, the
advent of the "Yankee" army among them might have proved a curse, rather than a blessing.
With great respect, I remain,
Yours very truly,
JAMES P. BLAKE.