|Diary of Laura M. Towne - Teacher Penn School
April 17, 1862
|Title heading in bold added by Editor for your ease in reading and finding information
Beaufort, S.C., April 17, 1862.
At Mrs. John Forbes', formerly Mr. Tripp's house,â€” a modern built new building with expensive sea
wall and other improvements. The wind blows freshly nearly all day and the tide rises over sandy,
grassy flats on three sides of the house. These sands are full of fiddler-crab holes, and are at low
tide the resort of negro children with tubs on their heads, crabbing. Soldiers, fishermen, and
stragglers also come there, and we see not a little life. Boats frequently pass by, the negro rowers
singing their refrains. One very pretty one this morning Moses told me was: â€”
"De bells done rang An' we goin' home â€” The bells in heaven are ringing." Every now and then
they shout and change the monotony by several very quick notes, or three or four longdrawn-out
ones. One man sings a few words and the chorus breaks in, sometimes with a shout or interjecttional
notes. Another song was, "We're bound to go" â€” to heaven, I suppose. Another had a chorus of
"Oh yes, ma'am," at every five or six bars.
Visit to Freedmen House
Yesterday Caroline took us to her mother's house. They were expecting us and were neatly dressed,
and elegantly furnished indeed was their room. It had straw matting and a mahogany bureau, besides
other things that said plainly "massa's" house had contributed to the splendor, probably after the
hasty retreat of "massa's" family. The two women there were both of the colored aristocracy, had
lived in the best families, never did any work to speak of, longed for the young ladies and young
"mas'rs" back again, because April was the month they used to come to Beaufort and have such gay
times. But if their masters were to come back they wanted to go North with us. They begged us to
stay, for "seemed like they could n't be happy widout white ladies 'roun'." They hoped it would be
healthy so that we could stay, but they thought it would not be so, because the city is not cleaned as
it used to be. They would have gone with their masters, both of them, but they had relations whom
they did not want to be parted from, "except by death," who were not going. One of them had gone at
first, but ran away and found her way back here, "by de direction of de Lord." They were both nice
women. In the quarters we afterward went to, we saw a dirty family and two horribly ugly old women.
They had got a lesson from some one and said, "We got to keep clean or we'll all be sick." They were
not putting their lesson to use.
The little cook-house belonging to this fine mansion is dark and dirty, but nearly empty. Cut-glass
tumbler and flower glass on the mantelpiece spoke of the spoliation. Caroline, who escorted us,
walked a little distance behind, without bonnet or any outdoor garment. She, however, wore a silver
thimble very ostentatiously and carried a little bit of embroidered curtain for a pocket handkerchief,
holding it at the middle with her hand put daintily at her waist. We passed a soldier â€” they are at
every corner â€” and he said something rather jeering. Caroline stepped up, grinning with delight,
and told us he said, "There goes the Southern aristocracy with their nigger behind them." She
seemed to be prouder than ever after this. She is rather pretty, very intelligent and respectful, but not
very industrious, I fancy.
The walk through the town was so painful, not only from the desertion and desolation, but more than
that from the crowd of soldiery lounging, idling, growing desperate for amusement and occupation, till
they resort to brutality for excitement. I saw a soldier beating a horse so that I think it possible he
killed him. Others galloped past us in a most reckless, unconscionable manner; others stared and
looked unfriendly; others gave us a civil military salute and a look as if they saw something from
home gladly. There are two Pennsylvania regiments here now, I think. The artillery is encamped near
Besides soldiers the streets are full of the oddest negro children â€” dirty and ragged, but about the
same as so many Irish in intelligence, I think, though their mode of speaking is not very intelligible.
The streets are lovely in all that nature does for them. The shade trees are fine, the wild flowers
luxuriant, and the mocking-birds perfectly enchanting. They are so numerous and noisy that it is
almost like being in a canary bird fancier's.
Visit to School - Note language
This morning we went â€” Mrs. Forbes, Mr. Philbrick, and I â€” to two of the schools. There are not
many pupils now, as the General is sending all the negro women and children to the plantations to
keep them away from the soldiers. They say that at Hilton Head the negroes are getting
unmanageable from mixing with the soldiers, and this is to be prevented here. Women and children,
some with babies, some with little toddling things hanging about them, were seated and busily at
work. We saw in the school Mrs. Nicholson, Miss White, and Mr. Nichols, who was teaching the little
darkies gymnastics and what various things were for, eyes, etc. He asked what ears were made for,
and when they said, "To yer with," he Could not understand them at all. The women were given the
clothes they make up for their children. I saw some very low-looking women who answered very
intelligently, contrary to my expectations, and who were doing pretty good sewing.
There are several very light children at these schools, two with red hair, and one boy who has
straight black hair and a head like Andrew Jackson, tall and not wide, but with the front remarkably
developed so as to give it an overhanging look. Some, indeed most of them, were the real bullet-
In Miss White's school all of them knew their letters, and she was hearing a class spell words of one
I have seen little, but have had two talks with both Mr. Pierce and Mr. French, and have heard from
Mrs. Forbes much of what has been going on as she sees it. Mr. Hooper also enlightens me a little,
and Mr. Philbrick. They all say that the cotton agents have been a great trouble and promise still to
be, but Mr. French says we have gained the victory there. There seems to me to be a great want of
system, and most incongruous elements here. Some of the women are uneducated and coarse in
their looks, but I should think some of them at least are earnest and hard workers. Perhaps they are
better fitted for this work than people with more refinement, for it certainly takes great nerve to walk
here among the soldiers and negroes and not be disgusted or shocked or pained so much as to give
it all up.
The Boston and Washington ladies have all gone to the plantations on the islands near here, where I
am also going, and that leaves Mr. French and the New York party for the mainland, or I mean for
Beaufort and this island.
I have felt all along that nothing could excuse me for leaving home, and work undone there, but doing
more and better work here. Nothing can make amends to my friends for all the anxiety I shall cause
them, for the publicity of a not pleasant kind I shall bring upon them, but really doing here what no
one else could do as well. So I have set myself a hard task. I shall want Ellen's help. We shall be
strong together â€” I shall be weak apart.
Not told of Freedom
I think a rather too cautious spirit prevails â€” antislavery is to be kept in the background for fear of
exciting the animosity of the army, and we are only here by military sufferance. But we have the
odium of out-and-out abolitionists, why not take the credit? Why not be so confident and freely daring
as to secure respect! It will never be done by an apologetic, insinuating way of going to work.
I wish they would all say out loud quietly, respectfully, firmly, "We have come to do anti-slavery work,
and we think it noble work and we mean to do it earnestly."
Instead of this, they do not even tell the slaves that they are free, and they lead them to suppose that
if they do not do so and so, they may be returned to their masters. They keep in the background with
the army the benevolence of their plans or the justice of them, and merely insist upon the immediate
expediency, which I must say is not very apparent. If they do not take the higher ground, their cause
and reputation are lost. But the work will go on. May I help it!
|Laura M. Towne