|Letter from J. M. M'Kim to Stephen Colwell,
Chairman of the Port Royal Relief Committee
Port Royal Experiment
|This document is a propaganda piece to encourage money, supplies and people for the
Port Royal Experiment. It does give critical information about the South Sea Islanders
and the first Africian-American troops. This letter was appended to M'Kim's original
address to the people of Philadelphia. All bolded sections have been created by the
editor for your ease of reading and ability to find critical information.
THE FREED BLACKS OF SOUTH CAROLINA.
LETTER FROM J. M. M'KIM
To STEPHEN COLWELL, Esq., Chairman of the Port Royal Relief Committee.
Philadelphia, July 24, 1862.
Dear Sir :â€”I comply with your request to add in this form, what, for lack of time, I was obliged to
omit in my address of the 9th inst., as well as to restate some things which for the sake of
condensation, were left out of the published report.
Can the Freedmen maintain their freedom
I. One point alluded to on that occasion, but not discussed, was the mooted one of the black man's
courage. Has the negro the spiritâ€”the pluckâ€”to do his proper part in maintaining the status
now, or hereafter to be, assigned to him? This is a practical query, clearly within the scope which,
as I understand it, my inquiries were expected to take. I will answer it by the statement of a few
facts, general and particularâ€”-pro and con. First, general and con:
Servitude is not a condition favorable to the growth of courage. Chattel slavery, in fact as well as in
law, unmans its victims. The Helots were not so brave as their Spartan masters. The African, on his
own continent, and on this, is of a milder type of character, and less given to war than the Anglo-
Saxon or Celt. The negroes in our Southern States have not, since the breaking out of this
rebellion, made haste to rise in insurrection; neither do they now show any especial eagerness to
enlist as soldiers. In certain contingencies, not unlikely to happen, it would not be safe to count
confidently on their fighting qualities. (Note: At this point he is talking about Hunter's
Regiment. Soldiers were enlisted by impressment after volunteering had failed.)
But, on the other hand, man is a fighting animal. Courage is an essential quality of his nature. The
power to face danger, and death if needs be, without flinching, is common to the whole human
family, in all countries, and under all circumstances. While the Helots were not equal to their
masters, nevertheless, as soldiers under them they made the Spartan arms invincible to the world.
The African naturally prefers the toils of peace; but he has always, when occasion required it,
shown himself capable of the arts of war. Up to this time in his history he has never failed to fight
when he has had at the same time the motive and the means. His record on his native continent, in
our revolutionary war, in the war of 1812, and in the history of San Domingo, furnish ample
illustrations of this fact.
"Then why does he not now rise," it is asked, "in insurrection?" I myself put this question to an
intelligent negro, well known at Beaufort, Prince Rivers by name, now a Sergeant in the First
Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. "Why," said I, "don't the blacks on the main now rise
against their masters?" "Lord, sah," was the reply, "what would be de use? Dey has no chance.
What could dey do? no gun, no sword, no knowledge, no chanceâ€”no nuthin'."
"But suppose they had a chance, would they fight then?" "Yes, sah." "How do you know they
would?" "'Cause I know dey would. Only let'em know for sureâ€”-for sure, mine youâ€”dat de white
people means right; let 'em know for sure dat dey's fightin' for themselves, and I know dey will
fight." "Well, Prince, wouldn't you call this a good chance?" "Yes, sah; I do call this a good chance,
and I tell my people may be it's de last chance. Dat's de reason I jine de soldier. I was gettin' big
wages in Beaufort, but I'd rather take less, and fight for de United States; for I believe de United
States is fightin' for me, and for my people." (Hunter's Regiment was never paid for service.)
"Do your people generally feel as you do?" "No, sah; but dey would if dey knowed de same as I
do." This is the testimony, substantially in his own words, of a black man, who is regarded where he
lives as in all respects competent to bear witness on the subject.
In one of my visits to the town of Beaufort, I conversed with Hannah Small, wife of Robert Small, the
hero of the "Planter," and' heard from her the whole story of that adventure. According to her
statement, which was amply corroborated by facts previously known, the men and women engaged
in that exploit were animated by a courage that would be equal to any of the perils incident td a
condition of war. The whole party had solemnly agreed irt advance that if pursued, and without
hope of escape, the ship should be scuttled and sunk; and that, if she should not go down fast
enough to prevent capture, they should all take hands, husband and wife, brother and sister, and
jump overboard and perish together! Now, I think that, if you will add to the courage evinced in this
transaction by the whole party, the cool, stragetic skill of its leaders, you will have a fact that will
throw some light on this mooted question.
Before leaving the island I had a letter from a gentlemanâ€” one of the superintendentsâ€”
containing an incidental allusion to this subject, which it may not be amiss here to quote:
"Ordinarily," says the writer, "the blacks show a lack of courage, but when an emergency occurs,
they display a coolness which I would like to commend to their white brethren. About ten days ago
we were roused from our beds about daylight by one of the neighboring superintendents, with the
cry that the rebels were upon us, and that we must go to the boats immediately. All were startled,
and much panic prevailed among the whites, (there were three men of us and two women,] and two
of the men undertook in an excited manner to force the men of color to leave their families. The
colored men stood calm, and did not move, till one of them said, 'If massa will tell us what to do,
we'll do whatever massa says.' Then being directed, they took hold, and we were soon in our boat
and under way. A short time after we left, some Union pickets came in, and in an excited manner
told the people that the rebels would be there in twenty minutes, and would burn the plantation
"They were believed; but instead of running off as we did, the women of the party collected our
household stuff, clothing and valuables, placed them in a box, while the men took it on their heads,
went to the woods near by, dug a large pit, and buried the box, and covered the place with
brushwood; after that they went about taking care of themselves, and looking after their own things.
They then placed the old people and children in little canoes, ran them into creeks into the marsh
during high tide, and there remained concealed in the high grass for six hours, till return tide, under
a blazing sun. Everything was done coolly and with method. I could but notice the contrast."
II. Speaking, in my address, of the goods sent to the blacks, the clothing, made and unmade, etc., I
intimated that their distribution was not made wholly as an act of charity, but that a portion of them
were sold. The money to pay for these goods was made by the negroes by picking and packing
cotton, planting the new cropâ€”a dollar an acre on which had been paid by Mr. Pierceâ€”and
selling chickens, eggs, vegetables, fresh fish, and the like, to the soldiers. The negroes show quite
a Yankee turn for traffic. This may be noticed by any one who will watch them on the beach at
Hilton Head, where they come in their canoes to dispose of their commodities. The men of the
100th Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts 1st are quite sharp at driving a bargain, but the
negroes are fully a match for them. They will dispose of their half-fledged chickens at fifty cents a
pair, their eggs at a quarter of a dollar a dozen, and their scanty strings of mullet or whiting at "a
quarter," in as short a time and with as much ease as would any old Jersey marketman, brought up
to the business on the curbstones of Philadelphia.
On my return from my tour I brought home to the Treasurer of the Committee nearly $300â€”the
proceeds in cash of goods sold from the Philadelphia boxes on the island of St. Helena. Mr.
Philbrick, one of the superintendents from Boston on the same island, told me that he had sold for
cash goods to the amount of about $800, and that he could have made the amount larger if he had
had the articles. He had purchased the goods out of his own pocket, and sold them at wholesale
prices, his object being to accommodate the people and save them from the extortion of sutlers
and other traders. Since coming North, I have received a letter from this gentleman, in which he
gives the items of his sales, which items throw incidental light on another subject germane to this,
and I will therefore quote them. They are as follows:â€” *
Sugar, at 12c per lb.â€”1 bbl., Molasses, 50c per gallonâ€”4 bbls., . Shoes, at $1 per pair, ..... Salt,
at $1 per bushel, .... Cotton Denims, 15c per yardâ€”-2,420 yards,. Tobacco, at 20c and 38c per
lb., Soap, at 20c per bar, . .. . . Ready-made clothing, .... $816 52 Connected with this, let me state
that among the Philadelphia articles that were exposed for sale a few days before I left, were a
quantity of very small, low-priced looking glasses, and a halfdozen iron pots and pans. The former
came into immediate request, and for the latterâ€”there not being enough to supply the demandâ€”
there was almost a scramble.
The point on which "incidental light" is thrown by these facts, is, the enlarged market for Northern
manufactures that will be created by an enlarged area of freedom. The average cost of maintaining
a slave, independent of his food, has been computed at $13.50 per annum for a field-hand, or
$4.50 a head all round. This covers the expense of two suits of clothes, two shirts, and every six
years a pair of blankets; and, for fieldhands onlyâ€”that is, for about one out of every threeâ€”a
chip hat, or cheap cap, and one pair of shoes; and, for such as are old enough to need it, one
handkerchief. Whatever they get over this, as a general thing, they buy out of their own earnings.
Now, it will be seen that, as soon as these people become free, their wants increase. They begin to
demand articles of clothing like that worn by the laborers at the North; and articles of house use
also, such as pots, kettles, pans, brushes, brooms, knives, forks, spoons, soap, candles, combs,
Yankee clocks, etc., etc. Some of these articles are already in request; others are coming into
demand. Ten thousand new customers, to be sure, is not a very large number in the aggregate of
a nation, but they are sufficient to effect somewhat the gains of Northern men of business. Now
fancy this 10,000 multiplied by 400, making 4,000,000, the total number of slaves in the country,
and what an overwhelming economical argument does it furnish in favor of pushing this Port Royal
experiment to its logical conclusion.
III. The subject of climate is one which, in this connection, needs a passing notice. It is a matter on
which much ignorance prevails, and in regard to which even the best informed acknowledge a want
of light. The climate question at the South has been made subservient to the slavery question, and
there is reason to believe that the alleged facts propagated from that quarter, in favor of the one,
are not much more to be relied upon than those that have been put forward in support of the other.
The favorite theory of the Charleston savans, as stated in the loose phraseology in which one
oftenest hears it is: "A night on the plantations during the height of summer is almost certain death
to a Northern white man;" or, as it is put forward by its more cautious advocates: "The Southern
climate is fatal to unacclimated white people; they cannot bear the sun in day time, nor breathe the
air at night without imminent danger of life." The inference they desire to be drawn from this is, that
cotton, rice and sugar can only be raised successfully at the South by black slave labor. Now,
whatever may be the truth on the general subjects of climate and slavery, the fact of this argument
is as lame as its logic. Our soldiers on Hilton Head, reputedly one of the least healthful of the
islands, toil in the sun by day and stand guard at night; and yet up to this time they appear to be as
healthy as the same number of men in similar service in other parts of the field. White carpenters
from the North, who have been working for the government there, say that they can bear exposure
to the weather as well and even better than the colored carpenters working alongside of them.
They can stand the sun nearly as well, and the rain and the sudden changes of the weather a
great deal better.
I was admonished, while debating whether or not to undertake this tour, that it would be dangerous
to go to Port Royal after the 1st of June. When I had made up my mind to go, I was advised not to
expose myself to the sun; to keep in out of the night air; not to sleep with my windows open; not to
drink the water of the country, but instead to slake my thirst with tea, coffee, or claret! But I did go
after the 1st of June ; I exposed myself considerably to the sun, and spent a large part of nearly
every night in the open air; I always slept with my windows open ; and I drank the water freely; in no
instance resorting to either tea, coffee, or claret as a means of quenching my thirst; and yet I never
enjoyed better health in my life than I did there and since my return.
I am aware that " one swallow does not make a summer," nor one summer prove the truth of a
theory; but when the experience of a single individual is sustained by that of a whole bodyâ€”as is
mine by that of the teachers and superintendentsâ€”a fact is furnished of some significance; and
the presumption is raised that if one half of the pro-slavery climatic theory rests upon false data, as
has been shown to be the case, the other half may not be much more firmly supported.
That there will be sicknessâ€”epidemic sicknessâ€”in many cases fatal sickness, in these islands
this summer, is more than probable. A rank vegetation under a high solar heat, long continued,
must produce malaria, which in turn must produce disease; but that this disease will be more
virulent, or more widely spread than the epidemics of other low lands, in regard to which there is no
especial fearâ€”as for instance, the valleys of the west, or the Atlantic flats of the east, is a matter
in regard to which much may be said on both sides. For, as a set-off against the heat of the sun at
Port Royal, it must be remembered there is the refreshing sea breeze; and, as a counteractive of
the miasmata in the air, there is the salt with which the atmosphere is at all times more or less
In view of all these facts, the most intelligent people on the island, with whom I conversed,
expressed but little apprehension of disease. The truth is, more concern was manifested about the
mosquitoes and fleas than about yellow fever. The one was a present and actual evil, the other a
future and contingent one. As it was, the teachers and superintendents were cheerful and happy.
Most of them were willing to remain throughout the season. They had come there from a high
sense of duty, and there, from the same motive, they meant to abide. At the end of three months
they will be able to give more information about the climate of South Carolina than can probably be
learned from any other source.
IV. Independent of the matter of climate, there are other sanitary aspects to this question which
demand a share of attention. There is reason to suspect that the slaveholder's therapeutics are as
much at fault as his ethics or economics. The Southern medical man delights in the "heroic
system." His favorite reliances are mercury, antimony, and cantharides; drastic doses inwardly and
torturing applications outwardly. When well, a Southern man's diet is salt pork, with stimulating
drinks to make it digestible; when sick, his medicine an exhausting cathartic to " clear him out," and
a horse-power tonic to build him up. In other words, the knocking down and jerking up practice* of
the plantation carried into medicine ; and this prac tice
* I brought away with me from the islands two slave-holders' journals which came into my
possession there, which contain many curious things, and among the rest copious notes of medical
practice. One of these, slightly abbreviated, but in its original language, I copy by way of illustration,
taking it at random from a number of the same kind. It is as follows:
"Charlotte's Case of Typhoid Pneumonia.â€”On Tuesday she came to me and said she had a bile
under her arm which gave her fever. Ordered poultice and a dose of salts. Next morning
pulsequicker and quicker; salts had acted freely. Next evening my wife told me she was brought to
the yard, and she thought her quite an ill negro. Saw her and found my wife's opinion correct, and
that she had began to do what was proper, viz : gave her flaxseed tea, with a little Tartar. Found to
bleed her impossible : the Golden time had passed. She complained of violent headache Ordered
mustard poultice back of the neck. Finding next day that the disease was very obstinate, pult
increasing in quickness and symptoms more aggravating, I put on a blister and commenced with
small doses of calomel, nitre and opium, continuing the flax tea and Tartar. Saturday, the fourth
day, no better; applied blister again and added a little more calomel. Symptoms increasingly worse,
and now pult 120. Fifth day applied another blister and the same prescriptions as the day before.
Sixth day no better. Saw Dr. H. M. Fuller and got his advice. Recommended stimulants composed
of ammonia and pepper, and said I must depend principally upon the blisters, which I have done,
but see as yet no earthly benefit derived from anything yet made use of. Seventh day another
blister and pepper tea more freely; her breathing more difficult and some reluctance to swallow; a
vacant look and somewhat deaf. Eighth day weaker and worse; tried another blister and had to
give her wine whey to hold her up, with the ammonia and pepper tea; but all in vain; she kept
growing weaker and weaker until about nine o'clock at night, she died. Thus has terminated a case
which has caused me more anxiety and concern than any case of a colored person I have ever
It ought to be added that the cure of souls, not of the body, was the professional function of this
It is impossible to read this extract without being reminded of Charles Lamb's letter to Bernard
"Did you ever have an obstinate coldâ€”a six or seven weeks' unintermitting chill and suspension of
hope, fear, conscience, and everything? Yet do I try all I can to cure it; I try wine and spirits, and
smoking, and snuff in unsparing quantities, but they only seem to make me worse instead of better.
I sleep in a damp room, but it does me no good ; I come home late o'nights, but do not find any
(Continued) carried out with rigid uniformity and disregard of exceptional cases. The same
prescriptions (the expense being equal) for the black man, whose blood is thin from a hominy diet
and prostrating labor, as for the white man whose vessels are turgid with a surplus of meat and
riotous living. Surely if a Southerner can stand all this, and his climate besides, it is fair to suppose
that a Northern man, with a constitution at least equal and a better system of hygiene and
medicine, might risk a residence at Port Royal with the hope of surviving it.
Investigation and experiments will, in all probability, show that the health difficulty in the way of
reconstruction at the South is no more formidable than others which have already found a solution.
Perhaps it will turn out in the matter of medicine, as in that of morality and religion, that the best
wisdom is to be found with the slaves. "I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because
Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." A medical
gentleman on Port Royal Island, who serves the Association in the double capacity of surgeon and
superintendent, informed me that on entering upon his duties he found a large number of the
people ill with small-pox and other fevers of a dangerous character; that not one of the small-pox
cases had proved fatal, though some of them were very aggravated, and that he ascribed this fact
more to the skill and judgment of an old black nurse whom he had found there, than to any power
of his own in the healing art. In a letter which this gentleman has since written me he thus alludes to
"I owe much of my success to the presence of a very excellent and intelligent colored womanâ€”'
Aunt Hannah'â€”who has been unremitting in her labors. I generally administered a laxative in the
initial stages of the fever, and after that, teas, as practised by the black nursesâ€”such as orange
leaf, rosemary, and life everlasting. This I did from the conviction that it would be unwise to depart
from uniform habits so long established and so deeply rooted. The result has been exceedingly
gratifying, and has taught me that all of wisdom is not confined to the 'schools.' The method of
treatment by the nurses is exceedingly simple, and I am now satisfied very effectual. I am not
ashamed to say that I have learned many useful lessons from these simple people."
The blacks on these islands have, from tradition and experiment, accumulated many facts in regard
to the healing powers of roots, herbs, and the like, which men of science might turn to good
account. They themselves, however, express more faith in the white man's medicines than in their
own. When I would ask them what they did in this, that, or the other kind of sickness; what they
gave for this, and what they took for that, they would answer invariably by mentioning some drug of
the apothecary, such as ipecac, calomel, salts, or something else that "massa" would give them.
"But suppose your master was not near, and that there was no white man to give you anythingâ€”
then what would you do?" "Den we take orange leafâ€”de sour orange, not de sweet (the native
seedling, not the grafted), and we make tea of him; dat make we sweat and take away the fever ;"
or, "we tie up de head wid 'gympson''leaves (stramonium); dat make we quiet and stop de pain ;"
or, "we give it (the child) Asia root tea; dad bery good for de worms," etc., etc. By a course of
interrogation like this, facts were elicited showing that these ignorant people have quite a copious
pharmacopoeia. They have their sudorifics, anthelmintics, diuretics, carminatives, antispasmodics,
etc., etc., some of which they claim to be specifics, and none of which certainly are any the less
valuable because called by a homely negro name, instead of a learned technic from the dictionary.
It is fair to presume that among the simple remedies of these people are to be found some quite as
efficacious and a good deal less dangerous than many that are weighed out from the shelves of
the apothecary. It is to be hoped that Gen. Saxton will have on his medical staff men competent
and willing to give to this subject the attention due to its importance. The sanitary question is
closely allied to the slavery question; whatever throws light upon the one aids in the solution of the
V. I have in my possession some letters from gentlemen at Port Royal which I should have been
pleased to introduce in the course of my address at Sansom Hall; but there was not time; neither is
there space here. Nevertheless, as some of them contain testimony corroborative of statements
made in the speech, as well as new matter for thought and reflection, I will take the liberty of making
a few quotations. The first shall be from a letter from Mr. Philbrick, the superintendent from Boston,
to whom reference has already been made. He says:
"They (the blacks) work on with a degree of confidence and industry that has surprised me.
Though we came on to the ground nearly two months later than the date when they generally begin
to prepare for the new crops, we have planted more than half the ground that was planted last
year, including a much larger breadth of corn. The generally expressed feeling is one of content;
they are willing to endure a certain amount of privation for the sake of being their own masters.
There is, too, a very general feeling of religious trust; a feeling that God has interfered to drive
away their old masters and give them a chance for themselves. . . . . They never refer to their
masters' cruelty unless closely questioned. I have not searched for cases of this kind, because I
thought it a waste of time to talk over past troubles when the present hour was so crowded with
duties. The have no malice in their hearts.
"I overheard one of the servants in this house, the other day, telling another that he ought to pray
for 'old massa.' 'No, I won't,' said Joe, 'I can't pray for him.' 'Oh, yes,' said Flora, 'who knows but he
may now be perishing for want of a meal's victuals, while you have plenty.' There is a lesson,
thought I, in Christian forgiveness, which a woman of more culture would do well to study. I do not
believe there is another race in the world so docile or so easily managed. I am confident that no
Irishman could be induced to perform the amount of labor they have accomplished this year with so
little definite promise of payment. They work well and willingly whenever they see clearly that they
are to profit by their labor. It is to be regretted that so large a portion of their work this year has
been upon a common field, where there was not felt that individual interest which alone can
stimulate labor to its best results. This gang system is a relic of the old slave system, and it must be
abandoned when the people come to work for regular wages.
"I will only say, in conclusion, that I came here from my home in dear old Massachusetts, impelled
by a sense of duty, to see what could be done toward organizing a system of free labor out of the
crumbling ruins of the old method. I have become deeply interested in the work, and shall continue
here from the same motive that brought me till I see the organization sufficiently perfected to stand
alone and sustain itself as a beacon light before the world."
Mr. Richard Soule, Jr., also of Massachusetts, in a letter containing much valuable information, has
"There is but one feeling among the negroes in respect to their present condition as compared with
that under their old masters. They consider themselves much better off, and have no desire for the
return of their masters. They would take to the woods or escape in boats, they all say, if they had
any intimation that their masters were coming back.
"Our experiment here has fully satisfied me of two things: first, that the negroes will do as much
work in the condition of freemen, and under a judicious system of day-wages, as they formerly did
under the stimulus of the lash; secondly, that there is no need of providing for the emigration of
any considerable portion of them, as they would prefer to stay where they are, and as their
services will be required on the places where they have been accustomed to labor.
"The time has arrived, it seems to us, for the Government to take some definite steps in this matter.
If the status of these blacks is now that of freemen, let us know it beyond a doubt, and then we can
work for their improvement and elevation, both physically and morally, with much better heart than
we do now, when the future seems so uncertain.
"If they are declared to be free, my plan would be to pay them day wages for their work, and
require them to purchase all they need in the way of food and clothing, abolishing the present
system of allowances and gratuities of land for private cultivation. I would have an account kept of
their hours of work, precisely as is done in our workshops in the North, the pay to be graduated
according to the amount of work done. In this way they would soon learn to appreciate the
advantages of industry, and would soon acquire the thrifty habits of freemen.
"The improvement of their physical condition being first secured, I would make provisions for their
education by establish ing schools in convenient localities, with competent teachers, to be paid in
part at first, and wholly by and by, by a tax on the parents. It would not take a long time, I think, to
make the entire population self-supporting, and to enable the more thrifty of them to accumulate
something in advance of their immediate wants."
Dr. James P Greves
I have one more letter from which I desire to quote, and I shall have done. It is from the "medical
gentleman" above referred to, Dr. James P. Greves, superintendent and physician on Edgely
plantation, Port Royal Island.
"When 1 arrived on the 15th of March, I found everything here in a chaotic state. Being suddenly
left by their former masters, who also took with them the teams on the place and many implements;
afterwards the United States troops taking all their cattle, milch cows, sheep, and other stockâ€”
even their corn, they seemed to be at a loss what to do. Of course no work of any consequence
was done, and without a forthcoming crop they must starve, or be sustained by the Government.
They therefore cordially welcomed me, and agreed to work under my directions. I found but one
mule to do the ploughing; therefore most of the work must be done by the hoe.
"To add to the difficulties, the small-pox made its appearance in an aggravated form, and there
being no one here to caution them, very many had been exposed to its contagion. The result has
been that out of 71 residents on the place, 29 have had smallpox, and many have been prostrated
with other forms of sickness, measles being also very prevalent. No one case of small-pox has
proved fatal. I owe much, etc." (already quoted). "With all these drawbacks there are now planted,
and in fine growing condition, about 90 acres of corn, 43 of cotton, and 17 of sweet potatoes, peas,
and other vegetables. If the season prove favorable, we shall have a surplus. At present, the
population is almost entirely sustained by Government, and must so continue to be till the corn is
ripe. They are generally destitute of clothing of all kinds. Their masters issued to them their last
supply in December, 1860; consequently they suffer from want of necessary clothing. This want
has been partially supplied from the North; but very few shoes have been sent. We need shoes
now for fall use. Flannels, when they can be had, are worn the year round, on account of the
humidity of the climate. I would here state, to the honor of our soldiers, that many of the people
would have been naked, had they not received clothing from them.
"I have been impressed from the first with the belief that the primary care of the superintendents
should be for the welfare of their bodies. Very little real progress can be made in reforming any
people whose physique is neglected. They are naturally a religious class, and that part of their
nature needs but little direct stimulation; but they need to be led into correct habits of body, and
how can this be accomplished if they are allowed to continue to live in filthy, dark and contracted
huts? You have seen a specimen of them. How can you raise a healthy ambition among such a
people under such circumstances? Improve their physical, and they will rapidly improve in the moral
and religious departments of their nature. In school they learn rapidly, and all ages join, from gray
hairs to childhood. For the first four weeks, I taught in the evening, being too much occupied
through the day by other pressing duties. Since that time, assisted by Miss Howell and Miss Wright,
we have had four sessions a day, to accommodate the working as well as the other classes of our
people. Many of them now read in the Testament, and nearly all have made good progress; about
fifty in all have been thus taught.
"They have their vices. Deception and petty thieving prevail. They are careless, indolent and
improvident. They have a miserable habit of scolding and using authoritative language to one
another. All these vices are clearly the result of slave education, and will gradually disappear under
improved conditions. Miss Howell has established a sewing school among them, which was much
needed. Heretofore when a garment began to give way it was thrown aside; now they see the
benefit of mending. But very little progress can be made until larger and better dwellings are
furnished them. I hope government will allow the avails of the cotton crop to be appropriated in part
to an improvement in this respect. There is now not a sawmill on any of the islands, although there
is abundance of timber. A most economical expenditure at this time would be the erection of such a
mill, and the employment of a good Yankee to run it. The fall is now near at hand, and better
houses are an absolute necessity. The tenements on this place are rotting down and leak badly.
How the people are to be made comfortable during the next winter, I do not know. Had they new
and roomy cabins they would be ambitious to keep them clean. The groundwork of reform and
progress must be improvement in the physical condition and surroundings. They excel the whites in
emotional religion, but their intellects need cultivation; there must be education therefore to
establish an equilibrium. I am satisfied that the law of kindness will work like a charm with them. As
teachers and guides we need unwearying patience and steady perseveranceâ€”never losing sight
of the fact that habits inwrought by time into the texture of their being require time to eradicate. In
several instances I have been tried to the utmost by serious quarrels among the people, which
seemed to require prompt interference; but I always kept cool, and put off adjudication for twenty-
four hours. In the mean time they have had time for reflection, and before the twenty-four hours
would be expired the party most in the wrong would come and acknowledge the wrong, and
promise amendment. If one is honest with them, and gets their confidence, the rest is easily
The suggestions in this last extract, in regard to things needed by the blacks, remind me of a
memorandum that was furnished me before leaving the Islands, and which it was understood I
should in some way or other make public. It was as follows:
"The clothes most in request here are coats, shirts, and trousers for men ; jackets, shirts, and
trousers for boys of eight to sixteen ; frocks and chemises for women and girls. Flannels are
needed and should be provided in the proportion of not less than one to six; that is, one-sixth of
the undergarments should be flannel to meet the necessities of the weakly and infirm. Clothes for
newly-born babies and for babies up to a year old much needed; also for school children of both
sexes, from five to twelve, and for older boys and girls, from eight to sixteen.
"In purchasing new things don't let the mistake be made of catering to what by some is considered '
the negro taste.' Their taste is the same as ours. The prettiest thingsâ€”that is, the things that we
would consider prettiestâ€”are always first chosen. Yellow osnabergs are their detestation; they are
ugly in themselves, and remind the people of their condition as slaves.
"Made-up clothing is always acceptable, especially that for children, which should all be ready-
made ; but it is not necessary that clothes for the adult should be made up. This they can do for
themselves. Many of them prefer to buy the stuff and make it up their own way."
Before closing this letter, sir, I deem it proper to say, that the enterprise in which your Committee is
interested is under obligation for many acts of kindness and cooperation performed by officers of
the army and navy at Port Royal, especially by the two distinguished gentlemen who respectively
command at that point. The deep interest manifested by Gen. Hunter in the success of this
movementâ€”his protecting care over the blacks, and his considerate kindness to the white
instructorsâ€”have been matters of grateful acknowledgment to .the friends of the cause, as well as
of bitter misrepresentation to its foes. To no other military man in the field, perhaps, are the freed
blacks of Port Royal, or their friends, or the honor of the country, so far as they are concerned, so
much indebted as to David Hunter, Major-General commanding in the Department of the South.
To Com. Dupont is due a similar acknowledgment. While at Beaufort, looking over a book
containing accounts of the New York Association, I saw an entry to this effect: "52 dresses, 20
shirts, 200 yards calico, needles, etc., etc., got by Com. Dupont for the freed people on St. Simon's
Island." This little circumstance, of no importance in itself, indicates the practical interest taken by
the head of our fleet at Port Royal in the welfare of the deserted and defenceless people whom he
regards as in some sort thrown upon his care. In an interview I had with him on the Wabash, I said:
"Commodore, the gentlemen on our Committee will be greatly pleased to learn that you have had
no disposition to'throw obstacles in the way of their enterprise." "Obstacles, my dear sir !" was the
reply, "so far from it, it has been my greatest pleasure to co-operate with these philanthropic
I am particular in these details of feeling and conduct manifested by the two gentlemen named,
chiefly because their services to the freed people call for recognition, but partly also because their
respective antecedents and history are such as to invest them with a peculiar interest in the eyes
of Philadelphians. Gen. Hunter was born near this city, on the Jersey side of the Delaware. His
father, who was Professor of Mathematics in Princeton College, was a native of Pennsylvania. The
General himself is closely connected by family ties with prominent citizens living in and resident
near this city. We have, therefore, a local as well as general interest in his fortunes and good
name. The same may be said of Com. Dupont. In the interview already referred to, he alluded, and,
I fancied, with some pride, to Philadelphia as his "nearest city," and spoke of its people as including
many of his best and most honored friends. For these reasons, therefore, I hope to be pardoned
for these somewhat personal allusions.
Without further protracting this letter, already too much extended, I subscribe myself, dear sir,
Yours, very respectfully,
J. M. Mckim.