Return to Port Royal Experiment
M. A. Wight.
March 22, 1864

2nd Annual Report New England Freedmen Relief
Natick, Mass., March 22, 1864.
Mr. C. C. Leigh.
Dear Sir. — Having had a few days rest among home friends, I sit down to fulfil the promise made to you to give some
account of the Edgerly Plantation on Port Royal Island) upon which I have resided, as teacher, for the last
seventeen months. I could relate much that would be interesting connected with the place, during the spring and
summer of 1862, when I spent a few weeks there; but I wish more particularly to speak of the last year, during
which time the people have been working for themselves. Last March (1863) the plantation, containing about 800 acres,
was sold, and bought for them by the Rev. Dr. Peck, at the request of the people of Edgerly and those of the adjoining "
Red House " plantation. They raised what money they could, (about $500), and the Doctor generously advanced the
rest, which was repaid as soon as they received what was due them from Government. If I remember rightly, the cost of
the place was $710.

The people of the Red House plantation continued to work the crops they had planted for Government, cultivating what
they could of their own. Owing to the indefatigable labors of Mr. Hitchcock, their superintendent, their portion of the
purchased land was surveyed and divided among them. After gathering the crops last fall, they commenced building on
their own lands. When I came away, ten or twelve houses were finished, or nearly so, and the comfort and taste visible
in their construction speak unmistakably of their thrift and forethought, and also indicates that their superintendent has
labored among them with a view to their improvement and welfare, and not merely for his own interest. To one who has
seen the dark dirty huts most of them have burrowed in, these new cabins, raised from the ground, with sashes,
whitewashed inside and out, present a striking and pleasing contrast.

On Edgerly the purchasers comprised thirteen or fourteen families; the able bodied men being in the army or service of
the quartermaster, so that the labor has devolved largely upon the females. I believe I am correct in saying that
there were seven men, too old or feeble to become soldiers; ten women, including two house-servants, able to work but
little in the field; twelve boys and girls over eight years of age, (three of these being about fifteen) : besides these, there
were three men employed as wood-choppers for the Government, who worked some in their gardens at the close of
their day's labor.

As soon as the first streak pi daylight was visible, all were astir and on their way to the field. The children came to school
at the ringing of the bell, but returned to the field as soon as dismissed. About eleven o'clock they generally came back
to their houses for food and rest, returning by two, and working, when there was most to be done, until the approach of
darkness rendered it impossible to continue longer.

They had early vegetables of all kinds to eat and sell; large numbers of melons in their season; potatoes, corn, and rice
enough to furnish them with food during the ensuing year. Besides this, they raised upward of 1,200 pounds of
ginned cotton of the best quality. All this was done with the aid of a mule part of the time, the greater part being done
with the hoe. They had no superintendent or overseer, one of their own number being called a foreman, having
oversight only of what was owned in common. They worked their crops separately.

Now they have purchased two or three horses, carts, ploughs, &c, and will be able to plant much more cotton this year
than last. I think, too, they are getting rid of much of their prejudice against cotton planting. At first, many refused to
plant what they could not eat, but now begin to see the profit arising from the culture of cotton.

Francis, the foreman, is a man of more than usual intelligence and industry. As a mark of the latter, let me relate a little
anecdote that pleased me much. Francis was employed to furnish our wood. One morning, just as the sun was rising, I
saw him with a load by the door which he had brought from the woods that morning. " Good morning, Francis," I said. "
You are up before the sun this time." He looked up and courteously returned my salutation, resuming his work, merely
saying: "I got a heap more work than the sun, Miss Martha."

They live peaceably with each other.; are quiet and orderly, and I cannot understand why they should not be considered
as worthy of respect and esteem as if their complexions were fairer. I do respect them, and have a strong regard for
many of them, who have proved my kindest friends when I have been sick, and at all times showed themselves
extremely considerate of my comfort.

Our school comprises the children and youth of the two places of which I have spoken, and of three other plantations.
Their progress has surprised me, but I must defer a relation of it, till I have more time to do them justice.

Yours truly, M. A. Wight.