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LETTERS FROM PORT ROYAL
Written at the Time of the Civil War
ELIZABETH WARE PEARSON
Copyright 1906 by Elizabeth Ware Pearson
1866, 1867, 1868 325
With Commodore Dupont's capture, on November 7, 1861, of two earth forts which the rebels had recently thrown up at Hilton Head and Bay Point, South Carolina, the Sea Island region became Union territory. The planters and their families having fled precipitately, the United States Government found itself in possession of almost everything that had been theirs, the two chief items being the largest cotton crop ever yet raised there, nearly ready for exporting, and several hundred demoralized, destitute slaves, the number of whom was daily being increased by refugees and returned fugitives. The negroes were plainly a burdensome problem, the cotton a valuable piece of property. The first thing to do was obvious, and fortunately the same "cotton-agents" who were despatched by the authorities at Washington to collect and ship the property were able, by employing negroes for the purpose, to make a beginning towards solving the problem.
In another month the next step was taken; the Secretary of the Treasury sent down Edward L. Pierce, of Milton, Massachusetts, as a special agent charged with the duty of getting under way some method of managing the negroes and starting a cotton crop for 1862. Mr. Pierce, who the summer before had had charge of the contrabands at Fortress Monroe, did his work quickly and well, and his suggestions for organization were promptly adopted and put into practice by the Government. Meanwhile he had written to "benevolent persons in Boston," setting forth the instant need of the negroes for clothing and for teachers, meaning by the term "teachers" quite as much superintendents of labor as instructors in the rudiments of learning. The response to this appeal was immediate. An "Educational Commission for Freedmen" was organized in Boston, New York and Philadelphia were quick to follow, and on March 3, 1862, there set sail from New York for Port Royal a party of men and women who were almost without exception inspired purely by the desire to help those who had been slaves. Government made them an allowance of transportation, subsistence, and quarters; and, since few could afford to give their services, the Commissions paid them salaries of from $25 to $50 a month.
There was a good deal of courage in what these people did. The climate of the Sea Islands is unwholesome; the rebels were more than likely, from across the narrow Coosaw River, to invade the territory held by Northern troops; it was not improbable that the negroes might refuse utterly to work; it was not impossible that they might wreak vengeance for their wrongs on every white man who should try to control them. Furthermore, as a rule these men and women knew little of any kind of agriculture, and still less of the local conditions under which they were to do their work, or of the people with whom they were to deal. They had, in fact, no other guides to action than enthusiasm and good sense, and of the latter, in particular, they carried widely differing amounts. Some, who went supplied with too little of either, were back in their Northern homes before summer was under way; the majority, making what they could of the means, or lack of means, at their disposal, had within the same period of time got about thirty-eight hundred laborers at steady work on fifteen thousand acres of corn, potatoes, and cotton. For the first time in our history educated Northern men had taken charge of the Southern negro, had learned to know his nature, his status, his history, first-hand, in the cabin and the field. And though subsequently other Southern territory was put into the hands of Northern men and women to manage in much the same fashion, it was not in the nature of things that these conditions should ever be exactly reproduced. The question whether or not the freedman would work without the incentive of the lash was settled once for all by the "Port Royal Experiment."
Of the many thousand letters that must have been written by these people to their Northern homes, those of one small group only are represented by the extracts here printed. The writers were New Englanders and ardent anti-slavery people; W. C. G. and C. P. W. were Harvard men just out of college, H. W. was a sister of the latter. A few of the later letters were written by two other Massachusetts men, T. E. R., a Yale graduate of 1859, and F. H., who remained on the islands longer than the three just mentioned. All five are still living. Richard Soule, Jr., now dead for many years was an older man, a teacher, a person of great loveliness of character and justice of mind. The principal figure in the letters, Edward S. Philbrick of Brookline, who died in 1889, was in one sense the principal figure in the Sea Island situation. He began by contributing a thousand dollars to the work and volunteering his services on the ground, where he was given charge by Mr. Pierce of three plantations, including the largest on the islands; being a person of some means, with an established reputation as an engineer and a very considerable business experience, he was from the first prominent among the volunteers. When, in the following year, he became personally and financially responsible for a dozen plantations, this prominence was increased a hundredfold. Thus he found himself the victim of the vituperation hurled by many Northern friends of the blacks at the "professed philanthropists" who went to Port Royal to "make their fortunes" out of the labor of the "poor negro." The integrity of Mr. Philbrick's motives stands out in his letters beyond the possibility of misinterpretation. This record is a witness of what sort of thing he and his kind were ready to do to redress the wrongs of slavery.
The extracts have been arranged in chronological order, except in a few cases where chronology has seemed less important than subject-matter. They tell a complete story, the greater part of which falls within the period of the Civil War. They give a vivid notion of the life from the midst of which they were written; of the flat, marsh-riddled country, in which few Northerners saw any lasting charm; of the untidy, down-at-the-heels plantations; of the "people," wards of the nation, childish, irritating, endlessly amusing; of the daily toil of Northern men in managing farms and of Northern women in managing households under Southern and war-time conditions; of the universal preoccupation with negro needs; of the friendly interchange of primitive hospitality; of the underlying sense in the writers' minds of romantic contrast between their own to-day and the yesterday of the planters,—or a possible to-morrow of the planters. It is not with matters military or political that these letters deal. They record the day to day experiences of the housekeeper, the teacher, the superintendent of labor, and the landowner. For this reason they form a new contribution to the history of the Port Royal Experiment.
KEY TO MAP OF THE SEA ISLANDS OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Cherry Hill (T. A. Coffin) 16 Coffin's Point (T. A. Coffin) 12 Corner (J. B. Fripp) 5 Eustis 2 Alvirah Fripp (Hope Place) 18 Edgar Fripp 20 Hamilton Fripp 10 J. B. Fripp (Corner) 5 Capt. John Fripp (Homestead) 8 Capt. Oliver Fripp 22 Thomas B. Fripp 9 Fripp Point 11 Frogmore (T. A. Coffin) 19 Rev. Robert Fuller ("R.'s") 4 Hope Place (Alvirah Fripp) 18 Dr. Jenkins 21 Mary Jenkins 28 Martha E. McTureous 14 James McTureous 15 Mulberry Hill (John Fripp) 17 The Oaks (Pope) 3 Oakland 6 Pine Grove (Fripp) 13 Pope (The Oaks) 3 "R.'s" (Fuller) 4 Smith 1 Dr. White 27 BRICK CHURCH (Baptist) 24 WHITE CHURCH (Episcopal) 23 ST. HELENA VILLAGE 7 FORT WALKER 26 FORT BEAUREGARD 25 CAMP OF THE FIRST SOUTH CAROLINA VOLUNTEERS (COLONEL HIGGINSON) 1
LETTERS FROM PORT ROYAL
Arrival of the "missionaries" at Port Royal.—The household at Pine Grove.—First impressions of the blacks.—General Hunter's attempt to recruit a negro regiment.—The Planter episode.—The labor situation.—Establishment at Coffin's Point.—Hunter's proclamation of freedom.—Details of plantation work.—Lincoln's preliminary proclamation of emancipation.—Unwillingness of the negroes even to drill.—General Saxton's efforts to raise a negro regiment.—The cotton crop of 1862.—Mr. Philbrick's plans for buying plantations.
FROM E. S. PHILBRICK
Boston, February 19, 1862. Dear ——: I think you will not be greatly astonished when I tell you that I am off for Port Royal next week. I go under the auspices of the Educational Commission to make myself generally useful in whatever way I can, in reducing some amount of order and industry from the mass of eight or ten thousand contrabands now within our lines there. Boston is wide awake on the subject, and I am determined to see if something can't be done to prove that the blacks will work for other motives than the lash.
The Treasury Department offer subsistence, protection, transportation, and the War Department offer their hearty cooperation to the work undertaken here by private citizens, but can't take any more active part at present for reasons obvious. They ridicule the idea that these blacks can ever again be claimed by their runaway masters, which is a satisfactory foundation for our exertions in overseeing their labor and general deportment.
You don't know what a satisfaction it is to feel at last that there is a chance for me to do something in this great work that is going on.
The next letter describes the sailing of the first party of superintendents and teachers.
E. S. P. TO MRS. PHILBRICK
New York City, Sunday, March 2. We have a rather motley-looking set. A good many look like broken-down schoolmasters or ministers who have excellent dispositions but not much talent. As the kind of talent required where we are going is rather peculiar, the men may be useful, but I don't believe there will be a great deal of cotton raised under their superintendence.
Str. Atlantic, March 5. We all repaired to the Collector's house Sunday evening, and were sworn in squads of half a dozen with our hands on the Bible, after which our passports were made out and signed by Mr. Barney in his library with the whole thirty-three of us standing about.
[The next morning] I found Collector Barney on the pier with his Bible and papers, swearing in the rest of the New York delegation. The last of the cargo was slung aboard about eleven, and we started off at quarter past, in a drizzling rain, freezing fast to everything it touched. Our Boston party consisted of twenty-nine men and four women; the New York one of twenty-three men and eight women, including those from Washington, making sixty-four in all. At dinner (2 P. M.) we found some one hundred and twenty cabin passengers, besides a lot of recruits, perhaps one hundred in all, who live forward. The larger part of the Atlantic's staterooms have been taken out to make room for stowing troops or cargo, leaving enough for only about half our number. These rooms were assigned by the Steward and Mr. Pierce to the ladies and the oldest of us gentlemen; so I got one with Uncle Richard, for most of our party are quite youthful. Half a dozen ladies sat on the bare deck (no other seats provided), during most of the evening, singing Methodist hymns and glory hallelujah till after nine o'clock. I have talked with several of our party, and got slightly acquainted, chiefly with Messrs. Hooper, G——, and Mack; also with Mr. Forbes. There is a general medley of cabin passengers, recruits, sutlers' and quartermasters' agents, and crew, the latter not being dressed in uniform, but in nondescript old garments such as can be found at any old Isaac's shop. Those passengers who are outside our party are coarse-looking and disagreeable,—Mr. Forbes and Mr. Augustus Hurd of Boston being almost the only exceptions. I had some talk with Mr. Pierce yesterday about your coming on, and he said as soon as I found it advisable he would send you a pass, but I am very glad you are not here now, for I don't believe these ladies will find anything but bare boards to sleep on.
Thursday evening, March 6. We had a sort of lecture from Mr. Pierce before dinner, consisting of some very appropriate and sensible advice and suggestions, expressed simply and with a good deal of feeling. Mr. French followed in his vein of honest, earnest Methodism. He is the head of the New York delegation, and a worthy man, though not so practical as Mr. Pierce.
Our Boston party improves upon acquaintance, and the longer I think of the matter the more wonderful does it seem that such a number of disinterested, earnest men should be got together at so short a notice to exile themselves from all social ties and devote themselves, as they certainly do, with a will, to this holy work. It must and with God's help it shall succeed! The more I see of our fellow-passengers and co-workers, the more do the party from Boston stand eminent in talent and earnestness, as compared with those from New York, and I can't help thinking that the former were more carefully selected. The Boston Commission acted with more deliberation than that of New York, and I think the result will be shown in the end. But it's early to form any such opinions, and out of place to draw any comparisons in disparagement of any of our colleagues. We are all yoked together and must pull together. The work is no trifle. It is Herculean in all its aspects—in its reactive effects upon our country and its future destiny, as well as in its difficulties. Yet never did men stand in a position to do more lasting good than we, if we act with a single eye to the object in view and pray God to guide us aright.
Friday, March 7. We waked this morning still adrift off Port Royal Bar, where we had been tossing all night, near the lightship. The wind was blowing cold and clear from the northwest just as it does at home in March, almost cold enough for a frost. We continued to drift till the tide was near the flood, about noon, when a pilot came out and took us in to Hilton Head. Here in this magnificent harbour, larger than any other on our coast, lay some fifty transports and steamers at anchor, and here we dropped our anchor, almost directly between the two forts taken by Dupont last November. These forts, by the way, are so inconspicuous as to be hardly perceptible to a passer-by, and would certainly fail to attract the attention of a person not on the lookout for them. The shore is as flat as flat can be, sand-banks and beaches being the only variety, backed by long dark green masses of foliage of the pitch-pine, reminding me forcibly of the coast of Egypt, with its sand and palm forests. Yet even Egypt was sufficiently enterprising to line its coast with windmills, while this state has not yet arrived at a stage of civilization sufficiently advanced to provide them. So, there being no water-power and no steam, every negro grinds his peck of corn in a handmill as in the year one. We came to anchor about one P. M. and have been waiting for the necessary passes from the quartermaster to enable us to proceed up to Beaufort, the only town in possession of our forces. Here we lie in the still harbour under the splendid moon, surrounded by the regiments encamped on the neighboring islands, with the prospect of another day afloat, before we can begin to be distributed over our field of labor.
8 P. M. The acting Provost Marshal has just come aboard with our passports viseed, enabling us to land here, but I don't care to do that to-night, there being nothing but sand-banks to sleep on, while we have tolerable berths aboard. To-morrow I may go, if there is time before going upstream to Beaufort, though I imagine there is little to see but sand and tents, which look quite as well at a distance.
March 8. We spent the greater part of the day transferring freight and baggage to the Cosmopolitan, a white river-steamer. We got started at last about three P. M. The distance to Beaufort can't be more than fifteen miles, and we had already made half of it at a tolerable rate of speed when we ran aground in the mud, about two hours before ebb tide. We were in the middle of a creek called Beaufort River, between Cat Island and Port Royal Island, whose flat shores did not look very inviting. I fell to reading about cotton-culture in my book, but some of our companions got a boat and went ashore on St. Helena Island, bringing back their hands full of beautiful flowers from some private garden, peach-blossoms, orange-blossoms, hyacinths, fleur-de-lis, etc. We succeeded in getting afloat about 9.30 P. M. and arrived at Beaufort about midnight, after poking slowly along the crooked channel under the glorious moonlight. On getting up in the morning, which we did betimes, we found the deck slippery with hoarfrost, and are told that it is the coldest night of this winter. Somebody has told me that Beaufort was on a bluff, and that its environments were not so flat as the rest of the islands.
Beaufort, Sunday, March 9. But I can't find any place over ten feet above tide-water, and no hill over six feet high. So things are judged of by comparison. We all went ashore soon after sunrise and walked about the town, which is laid out in rectangular streets, lined with pleasant but weedy orange-gardens and often shaded by live-oak and sycamore trees, i. e., when the latter leave out, as they will soon. The soil is a fine sand, very like ashes, and the streets are ankle-deep with it already, wherever the grass doesn't grow. Dilapidated fences, tumble-down outbuildings, untrimmed trees with lots of dead branches, weedy walks and gardens and a general appearance of unthrift attendant upon the best of slaveholding towns, was aggravated here by the desolated houses, surrounded by heaps of broken furniture and broken wine and beer bottles which the army had left about after their pillage. Quantities of negro children lay basking in the morning sun, grinning at us as we passed. We saw a chain-pump in a yard and walked in to wash our faces, there having been no chance on the steamer, and were waited upon by an old negro, who brought us bowls, soap, and towels. Mr. Pierce succeeded in getting us some bread and coffee from one of the regiments, having no time to go to headquarters. They were carried to an old negro cabin in the remotest corner of the town, where the coffee was made and served up in the poultry-yard in our tin mugs.
Our quarters are in a very fine house in the east end of the town, bordering on the river, against which is a garden wall, built of oyster-shells and mortar, there being no stone to be had here.
We are to wait here till our positions are assigned to us by Mr. Pierce, which will be done in a few days. He told me he wanted me to take the most important one, which I suppose means Coffin's. I am to have W—— G—— for my clerk and assistant. He is a very agreeable, quiet fellow, and works like a beaver, but like several others, is too young to take charge of the organization of the labor to good advantage.
There is something very sad about these fine deserted houses. Ours has Egyptian marble mantels, gilt cornice and centre-piece in parlor, and bath-room, with several wash-bowls set in different rooms. The force-pump is broken and all the bowls and their marble slabs smashed to get out the plated cocks, which the negroes thought pure silver. Bureaus, commodes, and wardrobes are smashed in, as well as door-panels, to get out the contents of the drawers and lockers, which I suppose contained some wine and ale, judging by the broken bottles lying about. The officers saved a good many pianos and other furniture and stored it in the jail, for safe-keeping. But we kindle our fires with chips of polished mahogany, and I am writing on my knees with a piece of a flower-stand across them for a table, sitting on my camp bedstead.
I am anxious to get to work, as I hope to in a few days. Mr. Eustis has gone to his plantation, a few miles distant on Ladies Island, and Mr. Hooper is spending a few days with him. The latter is to be Mr. Pierce's private secretary at present.
Beaufort, March 10. I can't tell until I get settled at my post what to say about your coming on here. If my post should be exposed to any of the rebels' scouting-parties you had better stay at home. I must say it seems rather near to live within rifle-shot of their outposts, as some of the plantations are.
March 11. We had a visit from the Provost Marshal last evening. He has had a good deal to do with the contrabands and came to give us some advice about them. He thinks that rebel spies may come among us, but don't apprehend any trouble, says we can govern the negroes easily enough by firm and judicious treatment, and says the officers in charge are very glad to have them taken off their hands.
Hilton Head, March 13. This is a most desolate-looking place, flat and sandy, and covered with camps and storehouses for a mile along the river. A line of intrenchments encloses the whole, some seven miles long, resting on the river at each end. There is a long wharf just built out to deep water, at the end of which the Atlantic is discharging. This is the general depot for stores for the whole army on the Atlantic coast and the blockading fleet.
March 14. A fortnight has passed since I left Brookline, without my being able to get at my work. This loafing about and waiting upon the movements of Government officials is the hardest work I ever tried to do.
If you can't come early in April you had better not come at all, for it will be too hot for even me to live on the plantations later than June 1. They say the planters never lived on the plantations in summer months, though they were acclimated, for fear of fevers. Beaufort is the healthiest place on these islands and their resort when leaving their plantations. Yet, if H—— W—— will come with you, and not without, and you think it will pay, come as soon as you can. I shall probably be on Coffin's plantation then, about fifteen miles east of Beaufort, on St. Helena Island, coast of St. Helena Sound. This plantation is one of the most secure from any interference from the rebels, so I don't feel the slightest uneasiness on that score, for the whole circumference of the island is picketed, and our forces also occupy the opposite or northeasterly coast of the sound.
Now as to outfit. Not over $5 each in money, silver, for you are supplied with transportation and food by Government and there's nothing here to buy. Bed-sacks and pillow ditto. Three umbrellas with light covers, fly-paper, tin cups, bowls, and tea-pot, set of wooden boxes for rice, sugar, and other stores furnished by army rations. Spring-balance that will weigh about twenty pounds, knife, fork, and spoons for each of you, plated, thermometer, three pounds of tea in one of the boxes. We now have plenty of rice, sugar, molasses, vinegar, hominy, potatoes, coffee, and beans, from army stores, and on plantations can get fresh lamb, mutton, chickens, eggs, milk; so we shall fare better than I thought.
Beaufort, March 17. I don't think they would let you take a servant; it's difficult enough to get you here alone, and there are plenty of servants here which you are supposed to teach not only to read but—what is more immediately important—to be clean and industrious. If you feel any hesitation about coming in contact with them you shouldn't come, for they are sharp enough to detect apathy or lurking repugnance, which would render any amount of theoretical sympathy about worthless. Tell your father their nature and disposition is nothing new to me. I was with them in Egypt long enough to get pretty well acquainted, and though these sons of Western Africa are not exactly of the same stock as the Nubians, they are certainly no more degraded or lazy. In fact, from what I have already seen here I am agreeably disappointed. Think of their having reorganized and gone deliberately to work here some weeks ago, without a white man near them, preparing hundreds of acres for the new crop! The Irish wouldn't have done as much in the same position.
This comparison of the negroes with the Irish is made by the letter-writers, as will be seen, more than once,—almost always to the disadvantage of the Irish. Forty years ago the Irish were still merely immigrants, and, further, they were practically the only people in this country who suggested comparison with negroes.
The next letter is the first from W. C. G., whom Mr. Philbrick has already mentioned as destined to be his assistant.
March 24. Coffin's Point. It is the largest plantation on the Islands, numbering in its full days over 250 hands, or head, as the negroes call themselves.
A large amount of cotton is still in store here, for which the boat I hope will call this week; meanwhile the cotton-agent and a guard occupy the house with us. The former has been on the place three or four months in charge of a large district with several plantations; he is a smart young fellow, very dashing and jockey-like. We were received by the guard with shouldered arms and by this agent, who did their best to induce or rather bluff us into leaving the premises and taking possession of another house; for we have two plantations besides this,—estates belonging to William Fripp's sons. We stayed, however, and are now occupying two rooms, with plenty of furniture of different kinds stored by the agent, probably for removal. The whole business of our Commission and all its agents are much disliked by the cotton-agents, partly because they don't sympathize with our purposes,—partly because we seem about to usurp their authority, to which of course we do succeed.
The cotton-agents have started the corn-planting on most of the estates,—and almost everywhere the whole condition of people and land is much better than I expected to find it. The present state of a plantation depends on the previous character and age of the people, the influence of the drivers, and the circumstances to which they have been exposed since the soldiers came. If the people are on the whole old and steady, if the drivers are intelligent and strong-minded, if their masters have been humane and fatherly, and if they have seen few soldiers,—then the work has usually been kept up pretty well and the negroes are still at home and willing to go a-field,—and their condition varies as those items vary. On the larger number, as I have said, things are much better than I expected to see them. As is proper, more attention has as yet been paid to the corn lands, and very little to the cotton. Two precious months have been lost for that crop. On most of the plantations corn enough remains to last through the next crop,—so there is little danger of much suffering for want of food. But everything except corn, and their own eggs and poultry, is wanting,—no molasses, no sugar, no salt, no tobacco,—and no clothing.
On two of our three plantations things are doing well, but this big Coffin place is in a very miserable, demoralized condition. It used to be very successful in cotton—and of late, especially, the hands have been worked very hard. There are many young people—so all the more likely to leave. They are within a few miles of Bay Point opposite Hilton Head, so the temptation to leave is very pressing, for smart fellows can get money there,—one York with whom I was talking yesterday got over $30 a month by cooking for two or three messes; he is sick now and thinks he had better come home for the good of his soul. And perhaps as evil an influence as any was the early presence of the guards from the 19th N. Y. V., a regiment rather notorious for wild ways, I believe,—certainly one which greatly injured these people by their talk about freedom and no need of work, etc., and their rampant deeds. We are therefore in a hard place here,—and shall take pretty energetic measures and do the best we can. Mr. Philbrick has charge of the farming, etc.,—I of the teaching. We were not all sent out two by two; small plantations had single men. Some men are expected to overlook several estates lying near each other.
March 29. The women work much better than the men, but very few are faithful. Nor can we hope for any regularity and real improvement till we are delivered from our cotton-agent and the influences which emanate from him and his interests.
The people are very discontented here, and as they have logic and need on their side, it is hard to meet their complaints. In fact, they can't be met,—very few do full work, many half or none. They need clothing very badly. They need salt and tobacco,—this summer they need a little molasses and some bacon. These things they have been accustomed to receive in stated quantities at stated times,—at Christmas, and in April or May. If we could supply them simply as they have been supplied by their masters, the majority I think would be contented and would work well. The promises to pay to which they have been treated by the agents of the Government for the last three months haven't kept them warm. The agent here will probably soon give them some cloth in part payment. Money they don't know the value of—and especially now can't spend it to advantage; besides, as I said, I think few desire it.
The following fragment of a letter, from which the date and the beginning are missing, was written from Pine Grove at about this time; its subject is, of course, the negroes.
FROM E. S. P.
They have not yet got any diseased appetite for alcoholic stimulants, and are happy in their comparative ignorance of such things.
They are a simple, childlike people, almost ignorant of malice, patient and easily influenced by an appeal to their feelings. There is far less family feeling and attachment to each other than among the ignorant Irish, apparently, though I don't know how much allowance to make for their being so much less demonstrative in their emotions, and more inured to suffering. They are most eminently a religious people, according to their light, and always refer their sufferings to Divine Providence, though without the stoical or fatalist ideas of their Mohammedan brethren, whom I got to know pretty well in Nubia and Egypt.
We find it very difficult to reach any motive that will promote cleanliness as a habit. It requires more authority than our position gives us as employers to make any police regulations very effectual in their quarters. This plantation is the neatest one I have seen anywhere in respect to their houses and yards, but there is room for great improvement here. They have the same dread of fresh air in sickness which is common to poor people at home, but there is very little sickness among them. Only one death has occurred since we came here, among a population of 420, and that was an infant. They place great trust in our doctors and keep them pretty busy jogging about.
The next letter, the first from H. W., records her arrival with Mrs. Philbrick.
Beaufort, April 15. The sail up was very beautiful, the green beyond description brilliant, and now and then the deeper shade of palmetto or live-oak. Some of the plantations were very picturesque. Roses and azaleas were plainly visible. An hour and a half, very quickly passed, brought us to the wharf, where Mr. Pierce and Mr. Hooper met us with the information that we were to go to Mr. Forbes's, whither we walked a long half-mile, a sentry at the street-corners, darkies bowing in every direction, birds and the scent of flowers filling the air, everything like a June day after a shower. Mr. Philbrick hopes to be ready for us on Saturday. A cotton-agent in his house prevents us from going just yet to the Coffin house, but we shall be established for the present on one of the smaller plantations adjoining.
The letter that follows, written at Pine Grove several days later, narrates the events of these days, beginning with April 16, in Beaufort.
FROM H. W.
Pine Grove, St. Helena, April 21. H. and Miss Towne carried the letters to the post-office, Caroline, Mr. Forbes's chamber-girl, following to show them the way there, take them to the schools and into some negro quarters. They were derided by the soldiers, they said, who called after them, "See the Southern Aristocracy with their nigger behind them!" which amused Caroline very much.
Mr. Forbes took me in his open wagon, a tumble-down affair he has from a negro to avoid the annoyance of always having to make a requisition upon Government, the only owner in these regions of anything, and drove me down the river to a plantation we had noticed as we came up on the boat, and where there was a cotton-gin Mr. Forbes wanted me to see. The greater part of the way our road was shaded by woods on the water-side, live-oaks with their ornamental moss, gum-trees and pines with quantities of cat-brier and trumpet honeysuckle in full bloom. The cotton-fields were unshaded, of course, and very large, containing from one to three hundred acres. We passed some freshly planted, but most of them were covered with the old bushes, dry and dead, at which I was much surprised until I found that it was the habit to leave the fields as they are after the cotton is picked, for a year, planting on the same land only every other year. It makes dreary, desolate-looking fields, for though a few weeds spring up, no grass grows in this region, and they are brown instead of green all summer. The Smith Plantation is about five miles from town, the house in the centre of a live-oak grove, beautiful and beyond description, open underneath, and so hanging with moss that you can scarcely see any leaves as you look up. A little chapel on the place I got out to look at, made very roughly of boards whitewashed, inside an earth floor covered with straw, rough wooden benches, the pulpit and altar made in the same way, but covered entirely with the grey moss, as we trim for Christmas. The house looked rough and ordinary to us, as they all do, except a few in the town; we did not go in. I believe there are cotton-agents there attending to the ginning, which process we saw in a little house by itself, where a steam gin worked four stands tended by one hand each. The funny thing was to see them pack the bales. There was a round hole in the second-story floor and a bag was fastened to the edges, into which a man gets and stamps the cotton down. I saw it swinging downstairs, but did not know what it was till, on going up, I found a black head just above the floor, which grinned from ear to ear with pleasure at the sight of a white lady, and ducked and bobbed in most convulsive fashion.
We drove through the negro quarters, or "nigger-house," as they themselves call the whole settlement, and they flocked to the doors to look at us, bowing and smiling as we went by. There were eight or ten separate houses just raised from the ground so that the air could pass underneath, and, as we looked in at the doors, apparently with very little furniture, though in some we saw chairs which were evidently Massa's. Dirty and ragged they all were, but certainly no more so than poor Irish, and it seemed to me not so dirty.
I saw palmetto-trees for the first time on this drive near enough to know what they really looked like. They stand alone in the cotton-fields like our elms in a meadow, though there are fewer of them, and they are stiff and straight. The Spanish dagger, looking like a miniature palmetto, was planted for hedges round the garden and fish-pond. Mistletoe I saw for the first time.
Mr. Hooper came over in the morning [of the next day] and told us he should come for us at 12.30, but it was five before we got into the boat. The negroes sang to us in their wild way as they rowed us across—I cannot give you the least idea of it. Indeed, I can't give you the least idea of anything, and you must not expect it. The town looked very pretty from the boat, some of the houses are large and quite imposing in appearance. We found Mr. Pierce and his carriage waiting for us, having been there without any dinner since one o'clock. (This is the land of waiting, we have discovered—patience is a virtue our Northern people will have to learn here.) We drove at once to Pope's plantation, passing Mr. Eustis on the way at his overseer's house, bedaubed from head to foot with molasses, which he had been selling all day to the negroes, a pint to a hand. Here Mr. Philbrick was waiting with his sulky (a two-wheeled jockey-cart), an ox-team for the baggage, and a dump-cart in which he and H. were to drive, while I drove the sulky alone in my glory. But it was too late for us to think of driving ten miles farther, so we laid our beds down and prepared for another halt. The next morning Mr. Pierce sent us home in his carriage.
We reached here not long before two, and went to work to try and muster up some dinner. I had a cup and saucer, tumbler and three knives and forks, and the rennet, which soon supplied one dish; the negroes brought china in limited quantities; we opened a box of sardines, and coffee, and, with the army bread we brought from Beaufort, fried eggs, and hominy, made a most excellent meal; a tablecloth, napkins, and silver spoons forming some of the appointments. Joe, the carpenter, young and handy, made a very good waiter, but when he went out and cut a bough of sycamore and began to brush the flies as we ate, it was almost more than I could stand. Then we went to work to put what things we had to rights, H. got her servant, and moreover we had to receive and shake hands with any number of negroes, who came flocking round us at once, following the carriage as we drove up in true Southern style, and coming into the house to satisfy their curiosity.
W. G—— was here and aided us with a will, and about five o'clock I went with him to the praise-house, where he has his school. The children were all assembled by Cuffy, and he was teaching them when we went in. Mr. G—— read in the Bible, substituting words that they could understand, made a very simple prayer, all kneeling, and then heard them their letters and words for an hour, with a great deal of tact and ability—strange words, you may think, to use in such a connection, but you have little idea how much it needs of both. We are not used to these people—it is even very difficult to understand what they say. They have been born and brought up just here, in the most isolated way, for generations, with no chance of improvement, and there is not a single mulatto on the place—they are black as the blackest, and perfect children—docile, and with "faith enough to live by," W—— G—— says. I find I have no shrinking from them, and hope I shall be able to do my part. I take this school off his hands—he has two other plantations to teach on and has been working like a beaver. I made my first attempt this afternoon and got along comfortably. Flora, the house-servant (that is, ours,—she is a field hand), took me on my way to see the old mammas, and I went into several of the cabins and came home with a present of nine eggs!
These houses are all built of hard pine, which is handsome on the floors, but the rest of the woodwork is painted, in this house an ugly green, which is not pretty or cheerful. The walls are always left white. Clapboards are unknown, but hard-pine boards, a foot or more broad, are put on in the same way, and everything outside is whitewashed. The place is very attractive-looking, grapevines and honeysuckles and pine woods near.
April 25. The house is raised high from the ground, as all are here, and boarded in loosely underneath. There is a circle of orange-trees round the house, and roses in abundance, but no grass, which is dreary. The quarters are a quarter of a mile off, and the praise-house is near them, where I have school twice a day. It is very interesting, and I enjoy it much, though of course there is nothing to teach but the alphabet and little words. They sing their letters very nicely now. They are much better-mannered than the Irish, and I have had no trouble as yet.
Perhaps when I get to understanding things better I shall be able to tell you some things they say. They were uneasy till they discovered our first names, and were pleased that mine was that of the "old Missus." They have brought me presents of eggs two or three times.
FROM W. C. G.
Pine Grove Plantation, April 22. You see that we have changed our home. The ladies have arrived. The house is in better condition than that at Coffin's, the people better disposed, and the locality is more retired and does not boast of a cotton-agent. In a month or two we shall probably move to our old quarters, if it doesn't take longer to clean it. Miss W—— will be a grand helper. It will be a pretty rough life for them, and New England comforts and neatness and intelligence will be sadly missed, but we certainly have been well,—our table is the most refined thing on the Island, I fancy.
FROM H. W.
Pine Grove, April 29. Our days pass pretty much after this fashion. Mr. Philbrick gets up about six, calls me, and I obey, having stipulated for a full hour in which to dress. After we get downstairs it takes the united efforts of most of the family to get the breakfast on the table, and we are fortunate if we get up from that meal by half-past eight. It generally consists of hominy, very delicious eaten with either milk, butter, or molasses, corn-cake, or waffles of corn-flour—the best of their kind—concentrated coffee, chocolate, or tea, army bread—when we can get it—crackers, when we can't, and boiled eggs or fried fish, as the case may be. The important operations of dish-washing and arranging the rooms upstairs take longer than you can imagine, and things are not always done when I go to school at ten, which with our simple style of living is rather a nuisance. H. begins to pity the Southern housekeepers. This morning, after making the starch in our little kitchen in the house, she waited about for two hours, before she could get hold of one of the three servants. They were all off at the kitchen, smoking and talking and taking things easy. Joe was nominally cleaning knives, Flora had gone to empty a pail of water, and Sukey had no thought about her starched clothes!
Well, I walk off to school, under the white umbrella if the sun shines, dressed as warmly as I can if it does not. My way lies between a row of large "Heshaberry" trees, as the negroes call them; a corruption, I suppose, of Asia Berry, as it is the "Pride of Asia," in full blossom now, with scent something like our lilac, but more delicate. On each side of these trees are the corn-houses, stables, cotton-houses, and near the house a few cabins for house-servants, and the well. They stretch an eighth of a mile, when a gate (left open) shuts off the nigger-house and field. Another eighth brings me to the cabins, which have trees scattered among them, figs and others. The children begin to gather round me before I get there, with their bow and curtsey and "goo' mornin, Marm," and as I go through the quarters I send them in to wash their hands and faces. The praise-house reached, one of the children rings the bell out of the door to summon all, and they gather quickly, some to be sent off to wash their faces—alas, they cannot change their clothes, which are of the raggedest. But now enough clothes have come to begin to sell, I hope to have a better dressed set before long. I keep them in for about two hours—there are about thirty of the little ones who come in the morning, ten and under; all older are in the field, and come in the afternoon, as they finish work by noon always.
I go back to lunch at half-past twelve, a cold one generally, sometimes a few waffles or some hominy for variety, but crackers, sardines, and blackberries which we have in abundance now, make a refreshing meal, with tea or coffee when we please. Shop has to be tended in the afternoon principally, and I sometimes take a turn at it till I go off at half-past three to school again. We use for shop the little room between Mr. G.'s and the entry, selling out of the window over a box for a counter, to the groups on the porch. It is a funny sight and funny work for us, albeit interesting, for they have had no clothes for a year, and buy eagerly. Mr. Philbrick has not been able to let them have any clothing before, as there has only been enough to give a garment to one in ten, and they have been so used to being treated alike that their jealousy is very easily roused, and it is a difficult matter to deal with them. For the same reason the clothes have to be sold, the money going back to the Commission, to be used again for their benefit. It would be very much better if only the goods were sent, for they prefer to make their own clothes and all know how to sew.
These people show their subserviency in the way they put Marm or Sir into their sentences every other word and emphasize it as the one important word, and in always agreeing to everything you say. In school it is rather annoying to have them say, "Yes Marm, 'zackly Marm," before it is possible for an idea to have reached their brains.
Flora, our housemaid, who is a character, has a great deal of dignity and influence among the other negroes, and takes the greatest care of us. She is most jealous for what she considers our interests, and moreover is quite an interpreter, though it is hard enough to understand her sometimes. "Learning" with these people I find means a knowledge of medicine, and a person is valued accordingly. Flora wanted to know how much "learning" Miss Helen had had, and it was a long time before I could make out what she meant.
H. says she never saw me look so well, so you see I thrive in spite of fleas, which have almost flayed me alive. I understand what it means by eels getting used to being skinned.
May 1. Took a ride through the quarters. We stopped to see Doll and her week-old baby. H. had quite a talk with Mily, the nurse, who told her it did them good to see white ladies about, and hoped we were going to stay. She seemed very much disappointed when H. told her we should be here [at Pine Grove] only a short time longer. I think it does them good just to have me walk through the quarters four times a day—they always curtsey and say a word.
In the afternoon, as I came out of school, Cuffy said, "You promise to jine praise with we some night dis week, Missus," so I told him I would go up in the evening if Mr. G. would go with me. When we went up after eight they were just lighting the two candles. I sat down on the women's side next a window, and one of the men soon struck up a hymn in which the others joined and which seemed to answer the purpose of a bell, for the congregation immediately began to assemble, and after one or two hymns, Old Peter offered a prayer, using very good language, ending every sentence with "For Jesus' sake." He prayed for us, Massa and Missus, that we might be "boun' up in de belly-band of faith." Then Mr. G. read to them and made a few remarks to which they listened very attentively; then some hymn-singing, Cuffy deaconing out the lines two at a time. Then some one suddenly started up and pronounced a sort of benediction, in which he used the expression "when we done chawing all de hard bones and swallow all de bitter pills." They then shook hands all round, when one of the young girls struck up one of their wild songs, and we waited listening to them for twenty minutes more. It was not a regular "shout," but some of them clapped their hands, and they stamped in time. It was very difficult to understand the words, though there was so much repetition that I generally managed to make out a good deal, but could not remember it much, still less the music, which is indescribable, and no one person could imitate it at all. As we walked home we asked Cuffy if they considered the "shout" as part of their religious worship; he said yes, that "it exercise the frame." Mr. G. told him that some of the old people had told him they did not like the shouts, or think them religious, but he said old Binah did not object to them in the praise-house, but she did not like the shout "out in de world," i. e. before they joined the Church or came to "strive behind the Elders." He makes his own hymns, "praying to de Lord Jesus to teach him as he in de woods—jine one word 'ginst toder." They were almost unintelligible as he deaconed them out, but I daresay they were his own, unconsciously caught, perhaps, in part from what he had heard in the white people's church. The only song I could remember ran somewhat after this fashion:
Oh, Jacob's ladder. Climb high, climb higher! Oh sodier of de jubilee, When you git dere 'member me, Oh! sodier of de cross!
In the introduction to "Slave Songs of the United States," a collection made chiefly at Port Royal and published in 1867, this particular song is set down as spurious, that is, as being sung to a well-known "white folks'" tune. But most of the negro music is described as "civilized in its character, partly composed under the influence of association with the whites, partly actually imitated from their music. In the main it appears to be original in the best sense of the word."
The same writer goes on:
"On the other hand there are very few which are of an intrinsically barbaric character, and where this character does appear, it is chiefly in short passages, intermingled with others of a different character.... It is very likely that if we had found it possible to get at more of their secular music, we should have come to another conclusion as to the proportion of the barbaric element.... Mr. E. S. Philbrick was struck with the resemblance of some of the rowing tunes at Port Royal to the boatmen's songs he had heard upon the Nile....
"The words are, of course, in a large measure taken from Scripture, and from the hymns heard at church; and for this reason these religious songs do not by any means illustrate the full extent of the debasement of the dialect." Of words funnily distorted through failure to understand their meaning there are, however, many examples. "Paul and Silas, bound in jail," was often sung "Bounden Cyrus born in jail;" "Ring Jerusalem" appeared as "Ring Rosy Land," etc., etc. "I never fairly heard a secular song among the Port Royal freedmen, and never saw a musical instrument among them. The last violin, owned by a 'worldly man,' disappeared from Coffin's Point 'de year gun shoot at Bay Pint.'"
The negroes' manner of singing is pretty well suggested by the following:
"The voices of the colored people have a peculiar quality that nothing can imitate; and the intonations and delicate variations of even one singer cannot be reproduced on paper. And I despair of conveying any notion of the effect of a number singing together, especially in a complicated shout.... There is no singing in parts, as we understand it, and yet no two appear to be singing the same thing—the leading singer starts the words of each verse, often improvising, and the others, who 'base' him, as it is called, strike in with the refrain, or even join in the solo, when the words are familiar. When the 'base' begins, the leader often stops, leaving the rest of his words to be guessed at, or it may be they are taken up by one of the other singers. And the 'basers' themselves seem to follow their own whims, beginning when they please and leaving off when they please, striking an octave above or below (in case they have pitched the tune too low or too high), or hitting some other note that chords, so as to produce the effect of a marvellous complication and variety, and yet with the most perfect time, and rarely with any discord. And what makes it all the harder to unravel a thread of melody out of this strange network is that, like birds, they seem not infrequently to strike sounds that cannot be precisely represented by the gamut, and abound in 'slides from one note to another, and turns and cadences not in articulated notes.'"
How the same songs could be sung equally well at all sorts of work is explained by another writer, as follows: "Of course the tempo is not always alike. On the water, the oars dip 'Poor Rosy' to an even andante, a stout boy and girl at the hominy-mill will make the same 'Poor Rosy' fly, to keep up with the whirling stone; and in the evening, after the day's work is done, 'Heab'n shall-a be my home' [a line from 'Poor Rosy'] peals up slowly and mournfully from the distant quarters. One woman—a respectable house-servant, who had lost all but one of her twenty-two children—said to me: 'Pshaw! don't har to dese yer chil'en, misse. Dey just rattles it off,—dey don't know how for sing it. I likes "Poor Rosy" better dan all de songs, but it can't be sung widout a full heart and a troubled sperrit!'"
FROM H. W.
Saturday, May 3. Directly after breakfast I mounted the pony, followed by Tom to open the gates. In this way we proceeded to Fripp Point, the plantation which belongs to this one. Just before we reached the Point, Tom started my horse, and before I knew it I was on the ground from the saddle's having turned under me. The horse behaved perfectly well, and I mounted and rode on towards the quarters (there is no white people's house here), where I could see St. Helena Village across the creek—a Deserted Village of a dozen or more mansions with their house-servants' cabins behind them, and two churches in a large pine wood, free from underbrush, where there are only one mulatto woman and her two children, belonging to this place, the sole occupants. The village is directly on the creek on a bluff like that on which Beaufort is situated, about eight feet high, and is the place where the white people used to spend the summers for health and society—those who did not go North to travel, or to Beaufort. This Fripp family had a house in each place, besides this one at Pine Grove. As he [Tom] walked alongside the horse, I questioned him about the old family, and found that it consisted of William Fripp and his wife Harriet, their four sons and a daughter. The old man they all speak of with respect as a "good marn." Mass' Washington they represent as not liking the war, and papers have been found which prove this true. Mass' Clan's was a doctor and very kind, and lived at the village—"bes' young massa we hab." Mass' Eden lived alone on this place, and was from all accounts a very bad man. With only one meal a day, he lived on whiskey, and, beyond his own control most of the time, he used to "lick wus 'an fire." The tree in the yard to which they were tied, their feet a foot or more from the ground, while he used the raw cowhide himself, has the nails in it now which prevented the rope from slipping—Flora showed it to me from my window. They do not talk much unless we question them, when they tell freely. As I opened shop this afternoon, old Alick, head-carpenter and a most respectable man, opened the cupboard door in the entry, but when he saw our dishes shut it with an apology, saving that it was an old acquaintance and he wanted to see what it was used for now. "I get sixty lash for makin' dat two year Christmas, and hab to work all Christmas day beside." Well, Alick, those days are over for you now. "Tank de Lord, missus, tank de Lord."
By afternoon my hip was swollen and painful. I did not go downstairs again that night; but hearing them laugh at the dinner-table over some experience of Mr. G.'s, found it was this. He had been telling them [his pupils] that it was necessary that they should be punctual, study hard, and behave well in order to have a good school, and talking to them Saturday night about the fresh week that was coming, in which they must try hard, asked what three things were necessary for a good school. A question which was received in profound silence, for it is almost impossible to make them put that and that together, till one boy about nineteen rose and said very solemnly, "Father, Son and Holy Ghost!"
FROM W. C. G.
Pine Grove, May 3. Sunday, besides its other virtues, in this place brings us bread, and an opportunity to send and receive letters. Mr. Eustis takes a large bag of loaves in his carriage, which are shared out to hungry superintendents after service. Eustis's house and his plantation serve as general caravanserai to our whole establishment. His overseer house—a mile from his own—is the depot for supplies for these outside islands.
Our cotton-agent has at last paid off our plantations and will probably say farewell this coming week. We also have made a small payment to the hands of $1.00 per acre for all the cotton they had planted up to a certain date. The slight sum has had a very good effect. Other things have aided it. The cotton-agent paid them partly in goods. As soon as they had received the money from him and ourselves, we opened store, putting our goods at cheap prices. The stock consisted of the clothes I brought with me, those which K. sent me, and some pieces Mrs. Philbrick brought with her, with some furnished by the Commission; also a barrel of molasses, some tobacco, and shoes. The "sweetening" and the clothing were at cheaper prices than anything they have been accustomed to, so they were greatly pleased and we have sold out rapidly. The good effect is already quite noticeable,—but they are by no means all clothed. The men and boys, especially, stick to their rags. [The money] obtained from our private boxes will be expended in buying other articles for the negroes, to be sold again, or distributed to them, as may seem best. A vast deal of dissatisfaction among the people has been saved by this method of distributing the clothing. The faithful workers have all had money. All understand and like the arrangement.
I have made a rather elaborate explanation of all this, because to some perhaps it will seem to be a strange and suspicious operation.
The natural impulse to treat the negroes as objects of charity was thus early found to be a mistaken one; by the end of November the Government, too, had ceased to give them anything, the system of rations having done, as is remarked in one of the letters, "too much harm already." The time never came, however, when there was not heard from the North abundant criticism of the kind which H. W., in her letter of April 29, and W. C. G. here are trying to disarm, and the superintendents had to outgrow their fear of being blamed for "strange and suspicious operations."
FROM H. W.
Sunday, May 4. They had had a "Shout," which I had heard distinctly at three o'clock in the morning when I happened to wake up. They come from all the plantations about, when these meetings take place for the examination of new members, "prodigals and raw souls," as 'Siah said, he being an elder and one of the deacons. They do not begin till about ten o'clock Saturday night, when the examinations commence and the other services, after which they keep up the shout till near daylight, when they can see to go home. They admitted two this time, and, as Uncle Sam remarked, "they say there is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth, so we rejoice over these souls that have come in."
A good many of the girls came up. They lay round the floor or squatted about as I read and sung hymns to them; they were very much surprised that I was not afraid to sleep alone in such a big room—said Miss Juliana and Miss Lynch, Mass' Sam and Mass' Willie and their Mamma used to sleep there. These people do not use any feminine adjective, and their "hims" are very confusing sometimes. Harriet walked down to the house behind me from school the other day for some sugar for a sick baby, and I asked her the name of a bird that flew across our path. "Him de Red bird." I thought the Red bird was all red, I said. "Him de 'oman bird, marm, de marn bird all red, him de 'oman bird, marm." The girls hung round till the faithful Flora appeared to "wash me down" with the tide. Everything here depends on the tide; Susan will not make butter when the tide is going out—it would take it all day to come; and Flora would bathe the swelling when the tide was going out, that it might carry it with it.
No letters when they came from church—four weeks from home, and never a word.
In the afternoon I walked out in the yard a few steps, and it was pleasant and touching to see how eagerly they watched me and passed the word, "Miss Hayiot's comin'," with bow and curtsey, asking, "How you find yourself to-day, Missus?" "Glad to see you on you feet, marm."
May 5. I had the school come up to me on the piazza, a plan I shall adopt for the future; it is cool and pleasant, saves me a walk which will be warm by and by, and also from the fleas of the praise-house. Louisa came up to give me two eggs, carefully wrapped in her apron. This makes over a dozen I have had brought to me by my grateful pupils.
May 6. In the afternoon Flora brought me a letter to read to her, which proved to be from her husband, who is cook to some officers at Bay Point. I am quite curious to see him—she is so fine and the children are among the brightest here. Some soldier had written it for him, and she was too pleased for anything at her first letter. It was signed "York polite," which she told me was his title. I can't make out whether they give each other surnames, and this is his, or whether it is really a title, as she says, like "Philip the Fair." She told me what to say, and I wrote an answer for her.
May 8. A Baptist minister, who came out with us and has been appointed the pastor of the island, came to lunch, went to the other plantations with Mr. Philbrick, and has come back to spend the night. He had been up to the praise-meeting by Uncle Peter's invitation. He is very much puzzled what to do about the religious feeling of these people and their habits and customs. I hope he will let them alone.
May 9. Went up to the praise-house for school in the morning; it is so hard to get the little things together and then, like as not, they have half of them to be sent back to wash their faces and hands. Asked the little children questions, such as "What are your eyes for?" "For see'long." "Teeth?" "For chaw'long," etc.
Sunday, May 11. In the morning a number of the women had come up to the house to see us. It seems they have always been in the habit of coming into the yard on Sundays. Tira, Sim's wife, brought me three little fish fried. The women said that all the people here were born on the place, and no new hands had ever been bought, only one sold, and his master allowed him that privilege because his wife belonged in Charleston and he wanted to belong to the same man.
Flora said at lunch, as she brushed off the flies, that her husband York was at work on the "main" (land), she did not know where, on a house, with five of their carpenters, when the war broke out, or rather, before the Fort here was "taken away," as they say, and that then the white people had not food enough to feed the blacks, and she is quite sure all her brothers and sisters who were carried off were dead before this—starved. York was five weeks getting back here, and arrived about Christmas.
Limus came for a reading-lesson, a man about fifty, driver on one of Mr. Soule's plantations next this, who comes over almost every day for me to teach him. He has a wife here and grown children, and another on the other plantation, the rascal. He is very smart and learns well.
Mr. Philbrick had business with Mr. Pierce, and did not come home to dinner. But he got into more business than he expected before he came back, and I never saw a poor man show suffering more than he did when he came in after ten o'clock and told us what he had received orders to do the next day. While he was at Mr. Pierce's, writing, young Hazard Stevens came over with despatches from General Hunter ordering all the agents to send him in the morning all the able-bodied black men between the ages of 18 and 45, capable of bearing arms, on the plantations. There was no explanation whatsoever of the reasons for the demand, no hint of what was to be done with them, and nothing but our confidence in General Hunter's friendliness to the race gave us a shadow of comfort. But that would avail little to the negroes, who would lose the confidence they are beginning to feel in white men. Yet there was but one thing for us to do, and it was with heavy, aching hearts that at midnight we separated. Companies of soldiers were to be sent from Beaufort in the night and distributed to the different plantations to prevent the negroes from taking to the woods, so that we were not surprised at being roused about two hours after by thundering knocks at the front door, echoing through all these empty rooms with a ghostly sound. This proved to be Captain Stevens again, alone, who had stopped to enquire the way to some of the other plantations he had to notify, and say that the soldiers would be here in about an hour. We had scarcely got to sleep again before we all were roused by their arrival, and eight men, a Captain and Sergeant of the New York 79th Highlanders, tramped through the house. Mr. Philbrick gave them a pail of water and some hardtack, for they had had a long walk, and then they stretched themselves on the floor of one of our empty parlors as quietly as could be, considering themselves in luxury. We slept as best we could the rest of the night, and were up early to get the soldiers their breakfast and get ready for the heart-sickening work. You never saw a more wretched set of people than sat down to our breakfast-table. I could not eat, for about the first time in my life. Nothing had been said to any one. Joe saw the soldiers on the floor when he opened the house door in the morning, and wore a sober face when we came down, but no one asked any questions, and we moved about, seeing to the breakfast, trying to look as usual (and failing), getting out tobacco and crackers to give the men on all these plantations when they went off. It had been arranged that Mr. G. should see to these two plantations after Mr. Philbrick had taken part of the soldiers to Coffin's Point. When he had gone, Mr. G. began on Joe before he went to the field for the other hands—telling him that General Hunter had work at Hilton Head for a great many black men, that he did not know what for, but had received orders in the night, and they must be obeyed and he must march; he had to go at once to his house for his cap, say good-bye to his wife and come to us to leave his will, for he said he never expected to come back. We made as light of the whole thing as we could, but did not dare to say anything (as we knew nothing) which might make them feel afterwards as if we had deceived them, for the thing they dread is being made to fight, and we knew that there had been men about trying to recruit for Hunter's pet idea, a regiment of blacks. One man had been obtained on this island! We told Joe that Mr. Philbrick knew nothing about it and was going with them himself, and gave him a letter Mr. Philbrick had written asking for him to be returned as a personal favor, as he was a house-servant. He did the same thing with each of the drivers, for the good of the plantation crops. The men were easily collected, ten here, and went off after all with much less emotion than we expected; the soldiers behaved admirably, delighted with the treatment they had received, and cheering the negroes with tales of money and clothes, treating them most kindly. Mr. Philbrick called all the hands together at Coffin's and told them the simple fact, all that he himself knew, and named the men who were to go, and the whole thing was accomplished with much less apparent suffering than we had supposed possible. Many of the men were not averse to trying their hands at life in the world, for many of their number have been and still are at work for officers, etc., at Hilton Head and Bay Point, etc., with most desirable pecuniary results, but they are afraid of being made to fight. Flora, our heroine, said the women and boys could take care of all the cotton and corn if the men did have to go—that they did not trust many white people, but they did trust Mr. Philbrick.
The day passed in perfect quiet: the women finished their work in the field, I kept school, Mr. G. came back from the Point and after lunch took the driver's place, sharing out the week's allowance of corn to the people, while H. and I sat under the shade of the trees, watching or talking to the women. Wil'by, Joe's wife, was the only one who seemed really sad and heart-sick—all the rest were as usual. Dr. Wakefield came and recounted his miseries while I set the tea-table, when, just as everything was cleared away, Mr. G. came in, with his face all aglow, to tell us that the drivers, Joe, and one or two others had been sent back, and in a moment Joe appeared, radiant with happiness. Mr. G. found he had not seen his wife, so went to her cabin and told her the ladies wanted her, and it was pretty enough to see her simple delight as she caught sight of Joe in the doorway. They both laughed nervously, then shook hands shyly, and she curtseyed, then hid her face against the wall, saying, "I so thankful I can't say a word," and pretty soon, "Oh Joe, I couldn't eat the hominy for dinner;" and Joe, "I couldn't eat the biscuits, either, that Mr. Philbrick gave me, had to gi' um away—and then I was so glad, I didn't feel hungry till I got home." We sent them off to eat hominy and be happy, and sat down to write with lighter hearts ourselves.
Mr. Philbrick soon appeared. He found Mr. Pierce had been down to Hilton Head and found what he had in part suspected to be the fact. General Hunter found that the negroes misapprehended his wishes and ideas, and he could not raise as many as he wanted, so had resorted to these measures, meaning to give the men an idea of the life and drill, and after a few weeks not retain any who wished to return to their homes. All the superintendents were indignant at the way the thing was done, but it will not turn out so badly as we feared, I trust. The people are used to being made to do things, and are not in the least rebellious, as any white man would have been. If we can have blacks to garrison the forts and save our soldiers through the hot weather, every one will be thankful. But I don't believe you could make soldiers of these men at all—they are afraid, and they know it.
The cotton-agent left Coffin's Point to-day, so that we can go there now whenever we can get the house ready. Then we shall have horses and vehicles more at our disposal; you may hear of our carriage and span yet, but I shall hate to leave here. This moon is lovely, and to-night the flats are covered with water by the full moon tide, and the sea looks as if it came to our doors.
The opinion just expressed concerning the impossibility of making soldiers from Sea Island negroes was, very naturally, the view that prevailed at this time among the superintendents and teachers; in the extract that follows it is stated with even more decision. As the letters progress, the reader will see the development of a complete change of mind on this point.
FROM W. C. G.
May 27. Negroes—plantation negroes, at least—will never make soldiers in one generation. Five white men could put a regiment to flight; but they may be very useful in preventing sickness and death among our troops by relieving them of part of their work, and they may acquire a certain self-respect and independence which more than anything else they need to feel, if they are soon to stand by their own strength.
FROM H. W.
May 13. Old Peggy, the "leader" from Fripp Point, came over, and Flora brought her to see the school. She sat on the doorstep, very much interested and uttering frequent ejaculations of "Oh Lord!" H. had her sewing-school, and then I my regular session, with diminished numbers. Hope the men took their books. Saw Wil'by to-day and asked if she did not feel pretty well, when Susan answered, "She feel pretty well, Missus, but I don't; can't feel right with five boys all gone, not so much as that (pointing off the end of her finger) left of one of them; two carried off by Secesh, one with a Captain of ours at Fort Pulaski, not heard from since Christmas, and now two gone yesterday." But she seemed to feel, spite of her regrets, that if they could help she was glad they should. Flora said old Peggy and Binah were the two whom all that came into the Church had to come through, and the Church supports them, and she contributed thirty-five cents to get her some flannel for garments, which she had always been used to till now. Of course we gave them to her.
May 14. Our new equipage with its two horses drew up, and I got in, while H., shocked at the rags, cut out the lining of the top of the buggy, showering me with sand thereby. The buggy and horses were legacies from Mr. S., the cotton-agent, who departed yesterday.
There have been seven babies born on the three plantations since we came, and thirteen since Mr. Philbrick came, for which we have been able to supply but little and that only on this place. The Master always provided for the new babies two of each garment and half a dozen diapers.
I found that they had a most heart-rending time [at Mr. Eustis' plantation] on Monday. The two companies of soldiers coming over Sunday night had frightened them, and they kept watch all along the creek through the night of their own accord, for fear of Secesh. The thing was not judiciously done the next morning, and seems to have made a great deal of suffering which was avoided here.
May 15. After lunch I walked down to the quarters and stopped at all the cabins. Found two of the men had already come back from Hilton Head and had eased the minds of all the mothers and wives by the reports which they brought back of comfortable quarters, good food and clothing, confirming all our statements. I think here a greater degree of confidence than ever will be established by this painful episode. Mr. Philbrick says they have not behaved so well at Coffin's Point as to-day since he came. We walked down to the field to see them hoeing corn in their own "nigger field"—what is raised for the plantation, not their own private patches, but that out of which their weekly peck comes, and which therefore they will work on out of hours. Their task is done, often, by eleven o'clock.
Went to see Binah. She is always very glad to see us, and to-day reached to a little shelf at the foot of the bed, off which she took a small tin pail and gave us three eggs—her last. I remonstrated, but she said, "You gib me ting, I say tank 'ee," so I picked them up and thanked her.
Mr. Philbrick sent for the people to make the final payment for cotton-planting, which is now finished, and we stood at the window to watch them as they came up, and help give out the money. One woman, who had not done so much work, was disturbed at not getting as much money as the others, and Mr. Philbrick could not make her understand. Flora came to H. afterwards and said, "You must excuse we niggers, we no sense, and Mr. Philbrick so patient; all Secesh on these islands couldn't make so much as he has with we."
May 16. Dr. Wakefield arrived with the news of the rebel Flag-steamer's having escaped from Charleston through the inside passages, passed Beaufort and gone to Hilton Head. It was manned by blacks, who came off at two o'clock night before last with their wives and children, the officers having all gone ashore. It mounted two guns, and had four others on board which were to be taken somewhere, passed Sumter with the right signals, and Beaufort with a Federal flag, and was sent back there again from Hilton Head. I should like to have been in Beaufort. It is magnificent.
The sales have been quite large, as Mr. Philbrick's denims have arrived, and the negroes had yesterday their second payment. The cloth is sold at the wholesale price, as it was bought. I am afraid they will never get it as cheap again. Now we can give away the made clothes with more freedom.
Got old Peter to make me a piggin for fresh water in my chamber; as they always carry everything on their heads, a pail is no advantage. It is of a red color, and very nicely made. When I gave it to Flora to fill, she said, "him name Harriet"—whether intended as a compliment to me or to the piggin I could not understand. When we told Joe about the steamer, he exclaimed, "Gracious! 'zackly, that done beautiful," and kept exploding through the rest of dinner, "my glory," "gracious," "smartest ting done yet."
May 17. H. called me out of school this morning to see one of the crew of the Planter, the steamer that ran off from Charleston. He proved to be a man from McKee's plantation who had a wife and children at Coffin's Point and had come round in a boat with a crew and pass from General Stevens to take them to Beaufort. Almost all the men came from about here; David had two brothers with wives at Coffin's Point who were afraid to run the risk, and, though they belonged to the crew, went ashore. The pilot first proposed the plan, and they arranged a day or two beforehand with the wives they had there, took them on board in boats I think at two o'clock, passed Fort Sumter with the signal, two long whistles and a short, and came round inside the islands so that they did not encounter any of our blockading fleet till they came off Otter Island, where there is a vessel lying within sight of Coffin's Point. Then they raised the Federal flag which was on board, were boarded by our men and cheered as they passed on their way. Beaufort was amazed at a steamer with the Federal flag coming from that direction. The guns were to be mounted between Sumter and Charleston at the new Fort Ripley. David said they had made up their minds to blow up the vessel rather than be taken—they knew they should have no mercy. I hope the men who stayed were not hung for not informing. He said Charleston was "very interrupted," not a white woman left in the town, as they were expecting an attack from the Federals. He reports coffee at $1.50 a pound, sugar 50 cents there, but I don't know how much he is to be relied on; he was very quiet and modest—the fireman; said he used to work in the field here, but would "go furder" before he ever would do it again.
To-day a quantity of bacon, which was sent from Philadelphia, was given out to the hands on both the Fripp plantations. There has been a good deal of trouble about their working Saturday, and the bacon was only given to those who went into the field to-day, I hope with good effect. They have not done a third the usual work this year, and it is hard to bring anything to bear upon them. I hope Captain Saxton, who we hear is coming out as head of the whole concern, will have sufficient authority to settle some points which have been left to the individual superintendents and with regard to which they have not pursued the same course, making it very hard for some.
Rufus Saxton, Captain in the United States Army, had been a quartermaster at Hilton Head ever since its capture. On April 29, 1862, he was assigned, as Brigadier-General of Volunteers, "to take possession of all the plantations heretofore occupied by the rebels" in the Department of the South, "and take charge of the inhabitants remaining thereon within the department, or which the fortunes of the war may hereafter bring into it, with authority to take such measures, make such rules and regulations for the cultivation of the land and for protection, employment, and government of the inhabitants as circumstances may seem to require." He was to act under the orders of the Secretary of War, and, so far as the persons and purposes specified were concerned, his action was to be "independent of that of other military authorities of the department," and in all other cases "subordinate only to the Major-General commanding." Many of Saxton's orders are signed "Brigadier-General and Military Governor," but of course he was never a military governor in the sense in which that term was used of Lincoln's military governors of states. Doubtless Saxton was recommended for his position by General Hunter, both being ardent anti-slavery men.
FROM H. W.
Sunday, May 18. Started [for church] directly after breakfast in the buggy. It is the first time I have been up, and I am glad to have seen the sight. The church is of brick, in a grove of very beautiful live-oak trees wreathed with grapevines and hanging moss, under which were tied every conceivable description of horse and vehicle, from Mr. Pierce's six-seated carriage and pair of fine Northern horses to the one-seated sulkies, and mules saddled with cotton-bags. Just as we arrived the people were all pouring out of church after Sunday School, for a short intermission before the service. I was very sorry to lose that part of the performances. Mr. Hooper is superintendent, and they say has an admirable faculty at interesting the children, who are taught besides by the white people present in classes. We had a pleasant chat with Miss W. and Miss Towne and the gentlemen, most of whom do not meet at all except once a week at church, and then the people were collected again, and when they were seated, Mr. Pierce summoned us, the four ladies, to an empty pew with himself. The church is painted white inside, very plain, with galleries, and filled full of black people,—doors, windows and aisles. Dr. French had come over from "Biffert," as they call it, and conducted the services. He read a hymn through, "Am I a soldier of the Cross?" etc., and then deaconed out two lines at a time, while the negroes sang it in their peculiar, nasal manner, one always leading. He preached them an admirable sermon, familiar in its style. He told them of his visit to the men who had been carried to Hilton Head, which interested them very much and comforted them too, I guess. Compared them to the Israelites coming out of Egypt, as in a transition state in which everything depended upon themselves—they must not behave so ill that God would make them wander forty years in the wilderness instead of reaching Canaan in eighteen months. It was pleasant to see their interest—the "elders" all sat under the pulpit and in the front seats, and many would nod their heads from time to time in approbation, equivalent to the "'zackly" and "jus' so" of their every-day speech. They were all well dressed—a few in gaudy toggery, hoopskirts, and shabby bonnets, but mostly in their simple "head hankerchers" [which] I hope they will never give up. Many of the men on the road had their shoes in their hands to put on when they got to church. Most of them wear none. The women, many of them, came up to shake hands with us after church and said they must come and see us. There are no white ladies on the islands beside us and those at Pope's (Mr. Pierce's).
Mr. Hooper told us of General Hunter's proclamation declaring all slaves free in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. We got no letters or news from the North of any sort, and are waiting anxiously to know how this news is received there and what has happened since we heard last. He promises free papers to all who enlist, and gives each a chance to come home to his family if he concludes to do so. Expresses great regret that the thing should have been done as it was, but I don't know what he could expect, and it will be some time before the impression will die out, particularly among the women. The men are well contented there, and most of them will stay, I daresay; there are over five hundred.
May 19. This evening Dr. Wakefield arrived with the Doctor of the Roundhead Pennsylvania Regiment. Said the pilot of the Planter, as he passed Fort Sumter at daybreak, broke into the Captain's room, put on his regimentals, and walked up and down the deck mimicking the Captain's gait, so that if they should use their glasses at Fort Sumter no suspicion should be excited!
May 20. We are fortunate in being on a plantation so far from town, the soldiers, and the influence of the cotton-agents. At Coffin's Point the people have shown the effects of having soldiers quartered there so long, though they were a less simple and quiet sort than these in Secesh times. The quarters here are the cleanest and prettiest I have seen, though there is room for improvement.
The day has been a very busy one. A large box of Philadelphia clothing I overhauled, made a list of everything in it, and with H.'s help rolled up half and packed again to go to Coffin's Point. It is the last box of clothing we shall have, I hope. We thought we should enjoy the giving more things, now that the goods have come by the piece which they prefer to buy, but they are so jealous, and it is so hard to keep the run of so many families so as to distribute the garments equally, that it is hard work, and proves the wisdom of those who decided it was best to sell in the first place. The old people and babies of course we give to entirely, i. e., as far as we have the means. I should like a box full of baby-clothes and flannel for the old rheumaticky women, whose garments are all worn out.
Heard Joe tell Flora, "Don't call me 'Joe' again; my name Mr. Jenkins." I find they all have surnames, of one sort and another, a wife taking her husband's.
May 22. When they go into the field to work, the women tie a bit of string or some vine round their skirts just below the hips, to shorten them, often raising them nearly to the knees; then they walk off with their heavy hoes on their shoulders, as free, strong, and graceful as possible. The prettiest sight is the corn-shelling on Mondays, when the week's allowance, a peck a hand, is given out at the corn-house by the driver. They all assemble with their baskets, which are shallow and without handles, made by themselves of the palmetto and holding from half a peck to a bushel. The corn is given out in the ear, and they sit about or kneel on the ground, shelling it with cleared corn-cobs. Here there are four enormous logs hollowed at one end, which serve as mortars, at which two can stand with their rude pestles, which they strike up and down alternately. It is very hard work, but quicker than the hand process. After it is all shelled, the driver puts a large hide on the ground and measures each one's portion into his basket, and men, women, girls, and boys go off with the weight on their heads. The corn-house is in a very pretty place, with trees about it, and it is always a picturesque sight—especially when the sand-flies are about, and the children light corn-cob fires to keep them off. The corn is ground by hand by each negro in turn for themselves; it is hard work and there are only three hand-mills on the place, but it makes very sweet meal and grits. The negroes do not like the taste of that which is ground by steam-mill at Beaufort; I suppose the heat of the stones hurts it. The blacks at Hilton Head, who have had our Indian-meal given them as rations, cannot eat the "red flour." They separate the coarse and fine parts after it is ground by shaking the grits in their baskets; the finest they call corn-flour and make hoe-cake of, but their usual food is the grits, the large portion, boiled as hominy and eaten with clabber.
E. S. P. TO EDWARD ATKINSON
Pine Grove, May 25. We received the Philadelphia bacon and salt herring about a week ago and divided it among the cotton-workers. I have also distributed a part of the salt you sent. This allowance of bacon was given once a fortnight and weekly at this season by the different masters, and the quart of salt monthly. Several plantations near Beaufort which had been stripped of their corn by the army have been referred to me for supplies. I have loaded three flat-boats from the corn-barns here and at Coffin's, where there was a surplus, sending off 285 bushels shelled corn in all. The removal of this corn from my barns gave occasion for some loud and boisterous talking on the part of some of the women, and made the driver of this plantation feel very sober, but I pacified them by telling them the Government showed its determination to provide for them by this very act, for here were several plantations on Ladies Island, destitute of corn, which might have been fed with much less trouble from the pile of bacon and herring recently received, but that the Government did not consider that a just division of good things, so they sent me a part of the bacon and fish, and took my corn to feed the destitute. Thereby, said I, you are all gainers, for you have corn enough left to last till potatoes come, and you get the bacon besides, for which you ought to be thankful. The noisy ones stopped their clamor and the sensible ones thanked me and hoped I would stay and take care of them, saying they had about given up hopes of seeing any more meat in their lives, and were very thankful for even this bit to grease their hominy with.
The people are taking hold of the cotton-fields with much more heart than I had feared, after the levy of recruits two weeks ago. The cotton has been mostly hoed once and is growing well under the favorable weather. Some of the corn is five feet high and it is all hoed and ploughed except the latest portion, which was planted this month. A small portion of the cornfields has been neglected, being the portions assigned to some of the men who are absent. There were ten young men belonging at Coffin's Point who escaped notice on the day of the levy, but who, on learning that I had called for them, came and delivered themselves up next morning. I sent them on towards Beaufort and they met Mr. Pierce on the road. He told them that General Hunter did not want their service against their will, and as they preferred to return home they did so. I had just organized the whole gang anew after this, when Mr. S., who I thought was gone for good, turned up with an order to collect cotton on the mainland, and requested me to let him have a boat's crew to explore for two days. I told him the men were all organized and at work, each on his own acre, but if he couldn't get men elsewhere I should not refuse for such a short time. The men came back on the third day without Mr. S. and notified me that he had hired them (and two more joined them, making twelve in all) to collect cotton for a month or two on the neighboring territory beyond our previous pickets, under protection of scouting-parties detached for the purpose. The men were offered fifty cents per day, and as I had no authority to offer anything definitely, except, a house to live in and their allowance of corn, I told them they were free to go where they pleased, but advised them to stay. Of course they all went off, but have been back twice since to spend a night and have gone again this morning. They are nearly all active young men and are pleased with this roving sort of life, but you may imagine how fatal such a state of things is to my efforts at organization, and how demoralizing upon the general industry of those remaining at home these visits of the rovers are, to say nothing of the breaking up of old gangs and abandoning allotments of land. Some of these men who were about to go with Mr. S. told me their wives would carry on their tasks while they were gone, and I told them that if they would do so I would let them avail themselves of the proceeds of their labor, but if these patches should be neglected, I should assign them to other men, and their planting labor would be forfeited. Thus far I find but one neglected patch, and unless this is soon hoed by some of the friends of the sick woman to whom it belongs, I shall have to assign it to some one else. It is a common practice among them to hire each other to hoe their tasks, when sickness or other causes prevent them from doing it themselves, so that most of the tasks of the lying-in women are taken care of by sisters or other friends in the absence of their husbands.
The more I see of these people the more surprised I am that they should have done so much as they have this year without any definite promise of payment on our part, and with so little acquaintance with us. The course we have been obliged to pursue would not have got an acre planted by Irish laborers. I do not think it the best course, but under the existing confusion it was only one. If we were authorized to say that we could pay a definite sum per one hundred pounds for cotton raised, or a definite sum per month for certain services performed, we might have accomplished much more, but under the present arrangement I doubt if we can do the usual work for next year's crop, i. e., in preparing manure. The only men left upon these plantations are the old ones and they are not fit to cut the marsh-grass commonly used for cotton manure. The only way I can get the cornfields ploughed is by asking the drivers to take the ploughs in their own hands, which they do very cheerfully and with good effect, each one ploughing three or four acres per day. I do not think the hands can be expected to work on all summer without further payments of money or some equivalent. I wait rather anxiously for the development of Captain or rather General Saxton's instructions. He has not arrived yet, but is daily expected.
The two thousand five hundred yards of cloth you sent me is all sold with the exception of about three pieces, and paid for in cash; a few have said they had no money and ask me to set it down in the book for them to pay when they get money from the cotton. I always trust them in this way when they desire it, and find them very reluctant to run up a long score. My willingness to trust them gives them confidence that they will be paid for their cotton labor, and though the "white folks" at Hilton Head are telling them that the cotton crop is a mere speculation on our part, I don't think they listen much to them. One man told me to-day that nobody could cross the sill of my door to harm me or my ladies while he could prevent it. This same man was sent by his master, the day that Hilton Head was taken, with a fleet of flat-boats, to bring the secession soldiers away from their forts.