|Pennsylvania Freedmen's Bulletin
Pennsylvania Freedmen Relief Association
Letter of Laura Towne
Letter from St. Helena.
Port Royal, S. C, School No. 1. December 11, 1864. The school was never so well attended as
now we have nearly three hundred names on our books; but as many of these are little and do
not come on cold days, the average is small, about one hundred and seventy-five, I think. But the
punctuality and regular attendance of the older scholars is very encouraging. They are more
eager to learn than ever, and very much more easily managed. They are more alive to praise and
blame, more cleanly, more industrious and more self-controlled than at first. This improvement is
most strongly marked in the girls, but in learning the boys keep pace with them. We notice a good
many fine traits in our scholars For instance, position in class is the object of the liveliest
ambition. They study hard to attain the head, and feel keenly the pleasure of getting there, or the
mortification of losing rank. Yet a sister or a friend will now and then refuse to spell a word the
head one has missed, but let it pass, rather than take his or her place, they say.
The monitor system is very troublesome to us yet, but is a good discipline for the children. It
teaches them to keep order without their resorting at once to the "lash," and this knowledge of
how to govern judiciously, and justly, but mildly, is just what they most need to enable them to be
The want of system and of knowing how to command properly, stand yet in the way of their
communicating what they know to classes below them. So we are trying to teach them to teach. It
is the hardest work yet undertaken in our school, but it promises well.
We find it hard to teach them perfect truth and honesty, but I believe that is difficult in all
assemblages of children. We have, however, a hopeful number of i noils picked up and given to
us to find the owners.
There are less frequent cries of "Johnny is tiefing my bittlc!" or "Mary tiefed my taters ;" fewer
cases of "knocking" and "cussing" by the big boys, or of every species of oppression of the little
ones, and there is an air of civilization and humanity, that was wanting at the very first, when the
children were either wild and boisterous as young colts, or else completely broken in spirit,
ambitionless, and cowering.
The whole island has taken to letter-writing lately. On every plantation the lady-teachers are kept
busy editing epistles, generally to soldier-husbands, or lovers at Morris and Folly islands. I often
wish I could keep and send North these letters, written word for word from dictation by the negro
women. Now and then they are very funny. One woman who had got an inkling of the
requirements of civilized correspondence, told one of the ladies who had just written a letter for
her, to add that " he would please excuse the writing as her pen was so lad!"
Yours truly, L. T.