|Letter by Mary M. Towne - Penn School
April 21, 1862
|Note: headline items in bold were added by editor for ease of reader. It is not known to
whom this letter is addressed.
Pope's Plantation, St. Helena Island, April 21,1862.
You do not know what perfect delight your letter gave me, when I got it after I had done hoping for it.
Everybody else got their letters two days before and I thought I should have to go to the plantation
without hearing, and once there I should never be sure of a letter again, gentlemen's pockets being
our only post. But it was handed to me while I was packing at Mrs. Forbes', and later in the evening
when I was being driven by Mr. Hooper in about half a buggy, with a skin-and-bone horse, across
cotton-fields, a voice from the roadside hailed us â€” "Have you got Miss Towne there? Here's a letter
for her. Came up with the groceries. Don't know why or where from. Don't know when." It was from
Ellen, and Mr. Eustis had rescued it from the groceries accidentally. In the dark there Mr. Eustis
welcomed me to Secesh Land, and I have seen him once or twice since. He and his son are both well
and in the highest spirits. Indeed, everybody here is well as possible, better than ever in their lives
before, and most of them in excellent spirits. And as for safety, you may be sure we feel pretty secure
when I tell you that we sleep with the doors unlocked below, just as we used to think it so wonderful to
do at Jasper's. But I shall put the padlock on my door, and as soon as there is any way of locking the
doors below, I shall do it. Now there are no keys and no bolts.
In Beaufort â€” "Befit" the negroes call it, or "Bufed" â€” there is less security, or folks think there is,
for they lock up, and Mr. F. was always getting up reports of rebel boats stealing by, but they, all
turned out to be fishermen. Stories of danger are always being circulated, but they come from
waggish soldiers, I think. They said that on one island the rebels had landed and carried away a lady.
There was not a word of truth in it, and just before we came here two regiments were ordered out to
receive the Michigan regiment which had been fighting at Wilmington Island. Some one asked what
they were called out for and they said the rebels had landed in force at Ladies' Island, â€” Mr. Eustis',
where we were going that afternoon. I drove that very evening over across part of Mr. Eustis' place in
the dark with one little darky, Cupid by name, and I never saw a more peaceful place, and never was
Health of Plantation
I think from the accounts of the negroes that this plantation is a healthy one. Salt water nearly
encircles it at high tide. On the left are pines, in front a cottonfield just planted, to the right the negro
quarters, a nice little street of huts which have recently been whitewashed, shaded by a row of the
"Pride of China" trees. These trees are just in bloom and have very large clusters of purple flowers â
€” a little like lilacs, only much more scattering. There is a vegetable garden also to the right and
plenty of fig trees, one or two orange trees, but no other fruit. We have green peas, though, and I
have had strawberries. Behind the house there are all kinds of stables, pig-pens, etc.
The number of little darkies tumbling about at all hours is marvellous. They swarm on the front porch
and in the front hall. If a carriage stops it is instantly surrounded by a dozen or more woolly heads.
They are all very civil, but full of mischief and fun. The night we arrived Mr. Pierce had gone about
five miles to marry a couple. One of the party wore a white silk skirt trimmed with lace. They had
about half a dozen kinds of cake and all sorts of good things. But the cake was horrid stuff, heavy as
But I am going on too irregularly. I will first describe the family and then tell you, if I have time, about
my coming and my future prospects.
Miss Donelson and Mrs. Johnson are going home tomorrow. I shall be very sorry to miss them, for I
have shared their room and found them very pleasant friends. I have got really attached to Miss
Donelson, whom I have seen most of, and I beg her to stay and go with Ellen and me to another
plantation. But she, after being very undecided, has just determined to go home. You know, of
course, that Ellen is coming. Mr. Pierce said he wrote for us to come together, but so as to make
sure, he has given me another pass which I shall forward by Miss Johnson, and then, if Ellen still
perseveres, we shall be together here after all.
It is not very warm here, I can tell you. To-day the thermometer is only 63, and I have worn my black
cloth vest and zouave jacket every day, being too cold the only day I put on my black silk.
Miss Susan Walker is a very capable person, I think, and she proposes taking charge of the
plantation hands and the distribution of the clothing. Miss Winsor is quite pretty and very sensible.
She has the school-children to teach and is most efficient and reliable. Ellen will teach the adults on
this plantation. I shall â€” just think of it! â€” I shall keep house! Mr. Pierce needs a person to do this
for him. The gentlemen of the company are always coming here for consultation and there will be a
large family at any rate â€” Mr. Pierce, Miss Walker, and we three younger ones, with young Mr.
Hooper, who is Mr. Pierce's right-hand man. We shall have visitors dropping in to meals at all hours,
and the kitchen is about as far off as Mrs. Lambert's from you; the servants untrained field hands, â€”
and worse, very young girls, except the cook, â€” and so I shall have a time of it. I am also to do
copying or be a kind of clerk to Mr. Pierce, and to be inspector of the huts. I shall begin by inculcating
This is not a pretty place, but the house is new and clean, about as nice as country-houses in
Philadelphia, without carpets, though, and with few of the civilized conveniences. We shall have no
ice all through the summer, and the water is so thick that it must be filtered, which will make it warm.
That is the worst inconvenience I see. We are at no expense at all here. The hands on the place are
obliged to work. All who can be are kept busy with the cotton, but there are some women and young
girls unfit for the field, and these are made to do their share in housework and washing, so that they
may draw pay like the others â€” or rations â€” for Government must support them all whether they
work or not, for this summer. So far as I have seen, they are eager to get a chance to do housework
or washing, because the Northerners can't help giving extra pay for service that is done them, even if
it is paid for otherwise, or by policy. One old man â€” Uncle Robert â€” makes butter, and we shall
have plenty of it as well as milk. Eggs are scarce. These things belong to the plantation and are
necessary to it. We do not pay for them. Robert brought in a tally stick this morning, grinning, to Miss
Walker and showed how many days' work he had done â€” rather wanting pay, I think. Miss Walker
said, "We have paid part in clothes, you know, Uncle Robert, and the Government will take care you
have the rest some day." "Oh, I know it, ma'am," he said, and he explained that he only wanted her to
see how many days he had worked. He is very old, but should certainly be paid, for he takes care of
all the stock on the place, if he does not work the cotton. Neither is he our servant; he only makes the
butter for us and for sale (which goes to the support of the company expenses), and this is a small
part of his work.
So matters are mixed up. Mr. Pierce has no salary and Government gives him only subsistence and
pays all his expenses â€” nothing more. So he is entitled to comfortable living, and this we shall profit
by. I suppose he is determined to do as Anna Loring asked â€” take especial care of me, for he has
established me where I shall have the fewest hardships. When I say that we shall profit by it, I mean
that we must necessarily share his comforts. For instance, our ration of candles is onehalf a candle a
week. Now, Mr. Pierce must have more than this, and we, downstairs in the parlor, see by his light.
That is, we have common soldiers' rations, and he, officers', or something equivalent. I could not
bemore fortunately placed, it seems now, but if I find I cannot do what I came for in this position, that
is, influence the negroes directly, I shall go somewhere else, for I find we can choose. Mr Eustis
cannot have any lady there, the house being only a larger sort of cabin, with only three rooms in all.
Many of the ladies will go home in summer, but not because the place is unhealthy. They only came,
like Mrs. Johnson, to stay awhile so as to start this place, and others came who were not suitable.
Mrs. French's object was to write a book and she thinks she has material enough now.
Health in Islands
All the people here say it is healthy on these islands, but the plantations inland are deadly. I am on
an island in a nice new house, and I do not think there will be any necessity for leaving. But if it
should begin to get sickly here, we have only to go to St. Helena's village on this same island (but
higher and in pine trees; more to the sea also) to be at one of their "watering-places" and in an
undoubtedly healthy situation. There are no negroes there, though, and so we shall have no work
Why soldiers suffer in heat
The reason why soldiers are more likely to suffer is that they have to live in tents. Just think of the
heat in a tent! I was at the Cavalry Camp at Beaufort and in the tent of Mrs. Forbes' son. It was a
pretty warm day, but there was a charming sea breeze. The tent did not face towards the wind, and
the heat was insufferable in it â€” and the flies as bad as at Easton, I should fancy.
Mr. Pierce has just brought me some copying and so maybe I shall not be able to finish this letter.
It is one o'clock and I have been scribbling all the evening for Secretary Chase's benefit, and so have
to neglect my own family. I have had no time to write in my journal for several days, which I regret very
|Laura M. Towne