|Beginning of Freedmen's Schools in Sea Islands
Alvord's 5th Semi-Annual Report 1866
Port Royal Experiment
|First efforts.The army, to some extent, had carried its own instructors. Negro servants of officers
studied at the camp-fires of fellow-servants. Laborers learned of comrades. On the enlistment of
colored troops chaplains became instructors, and, with other officers detailed for this service,
taught, in some regiments, the whole rank and file. In the campaigns of 1864 and 1865, the
Christian Commission had 50 teachers employed during a large portion of their time in colored
camps and regiments.
It is supposed that at the close of the war 20,000 colored soldiers could read intelligently, and a
much larger number were in the elements of learning.
It should be said that schools for free colored persons, under various restrictions, had for years
existed in the larger cities of the southern States; slaves, however, in city or country could only learn
by stealth, and in most of the States high penalties existed for teaching them.
The American Missionary Association, whose labors from the first had been given to the African race
in this and other countries, founded a school for pupils irrespective of color at Berea, Kentucky,
previous to the rebellion. It was interrupted only while the war lasted.
First schools for "contrabands." The earliest school at the south for freedmen, or "contrabands,"
as they were then called, was commenced by the above association at Fortress Monroe, September
17, 1861. During the day it was for children, and at night for adults.
Soon after the capture of Port Royal, Rev. Solomon Peck, D. D., of Boston, went, with a military
permit, to Beaufort. South Carolina, and established a day school, which in a few weeks numbered
80 pupils, ranging in age from six to 15 years. This school was commenced on the 8th of January,
Barnard K. Lee, Jr., one of the superintendents of " contrabands," assisted by other government
officers, opened a Sabbath and day school at Hilton Head, South Carolina, the latter part of January.
Another school in Beanfort, opened February 1, 1862, was taught for a short time by an agent of
the American Missionary Association in what was called the " Praise House."
Edward L. Pierce, Esq., of Boston, who had early in January been sent out by the Secretary of the
Treasury to examine the condition of the abandoned plantations on the Sea islands, and the labor
of the colored people upon them, aided by his presence in these first efforts. He had also, with the
assistance of Reverends E. E. Hale and J. M. Manning, of Boston, secured the services of three
teachers, who went about the middle of February, and opened schools on Hilton Head island.
Formation of educational societies A more general movement was soon inaugurated. Mr.
Pierce's interesting report to Mr. Chase had produced a strong impression, and the Rev. Mansfield
French, on the 2d of January, 1862, was deputed by the government to "examine the condition of
the negroes along the whole southern coast." On his return in February, General T. Sherman and
Commodore DuPont united by letters in an appeal to the benevolent of the north in behalf of the
destitute within the limits of their command.
Public meetings were at once held in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The reports of Messrs.
Pierce and French, recommending " the establishment of schools and sending supplies to the
destitute," were promptly acted upon in the former city by the formation of the " Boston Educational
Commission," February 7, and in New York by the "Freedmen's Relief Association," instituted
February 20, and on the 3d of March, 1S62, 52 teachers, missionaries, and superintendents (40
men and 12 women) sailed from New York for Port Royal. These persons were sent in charge of the
Treasury agent, but under the special patronage of the Freedmen's Relief Association; a large
portion of them, however, (25 men and 4 women,) were selected and commissioned by the Boston
society. The whole company had transportation and subsistence furnished by the government,
which also, after a short time, paid the salaries of the superintendents. They were at first employed
mainly in the organization of labor and the relief of physical want; but schools were immediately
commenced by teachers at various points on the Sea islands.
Work reported to Secretary of Treasury. Other teachers followed in quick succession, and the
whole enterprise, as reported in June following to the Secretary of the Treasury, showed 86 persons
in the field a society in Philadelphia, called the "Port Royal Relief Commission," organized March 3,
1862, having contributed funds, provisions, and a number of laborers.
On the 28th of June this work was transferred to the War Department, under the local charge of
Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton then military governor of South Carolina.
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