The Schools of Fernandina Wisconsin State Journal July 21, 1863 The Rebellion Record a diary of American events and documents
The Schools or Fernandina.- From correspondence dated Fernandina, Fla., July twenty-first, of the Wisconsin State Journal, we extract:
The colored schools, which have been in successful operation here for the past eight months, closed on Wednesday for a vacation of two months. The progress made by the pupils more than equals the expectations of the most sanguine friends of the race. The children have evinced an aptitude to learn and a capacity fully equal to white children at the North, and in all the better characteristics they are in no way behind them. None who have witnessed the grateful expressions of fathers and mothers, and the daily tributes of flowers, and other evidences of affection of the children for their teachers, will ever question the natural susceptibility of this people to cultivation and a prompt response to the ordinary appliances which make mankind respectable. Corporeal punishment has been so rare that I question whether, during the entire term, among three hundred children, there have been more than half a dozen cases; and I have never seen uneducated children anywhere exhibit more sensibility to the dishonor of a banishment from school, or other similar infliction, than these children of slavery.
Some of the girls and boys had comitted pieces, which were properly spoken; and one little ebony, only eight years old, showed extraordinary aptness at declamation in a little piece he had learned. True, he was in rags, and his skin was coal-black, but a more intelligent and happy face I never saw. If permitted, that boy will yet shame many a " pale-face" by his superior intellectual power.
At the close of the exercises, a little book or primer was presented to each scholar as a present for their attendance and good conduct; and it was pleasing to see with what eagerness and satisfaction each received this first testimonial of scholarship. Nearly three hundred presents- were distributed, which were furnished principally through the Liberality of Hon. Joseph Hoxie, [New York Judge]of New- York, who had visited the schools a few months since, and whose judicious selections were universally commended and his generosity fully appreciated. These children will never forget this occasion.
Among the songs by the school, interspersed throughout the exercises and every child sings in these schools was the following, which, aside from its intrinsic merit and affecting pathos, Was particularly interesting from the fact that just before the rebellion, a congregation of slaves attending a public baptism on Sunday, at Savannah, were arrested, imprisoned, and punished with thirty-nine lashes each for singing the song of spiritual freedom "now a crime since slavery had become a " divine institution:"
"My mother! how long 1 Mothers! how long ! mothers! how long! Will sinners suffer here? Chorus ”It won't be long! It won't be long! It won't be long! That sinners 'ill suffer here!
"Well walk do golden streets! we'll walk de golden streets! we'll walk de golden streets! Where pleasures never die! Chorus ”It won't be long 1 etc.
"My brother! do sing! my brother! do sing! my brother! do sing! De praises ob de Lord! Chorus It won't be long! etc.
. "We'll soon be free ! we'll to be free! we'll to on be free! . De Lord will call us home! Chorus ”My brother! do sing ! my.brother! do sing! my brother! do sing! De praises ob de Lord!"
And these verses, so expressive and pathetic, are added to almost indefinitely in the same style by the interested singers. Now where this and the hundred kindred songs sung by the slaves came from, or who amidst the darkness of slavery inditeth them, I cannot of course say, but it is easy to determine the source of the inspiration. In patient faith and enduring hope these " Songs of Zion" have been sung by generations of these bondmen, as the only relief for bleeding hearts and lacerated bodies, and now God comes in judgment to requite the nation for the wrongs inlicted upon his oppressed and suffering poor.
Another interesting and significant event connected with the people here, occurred on Monday. The women called a meeting at the church, to consider the propriety of presenting Colonel Littlefield's regiment (See 21 USCT), now enlisting here, a stand of colors. Like the great dinner and celebration on the Fourth, all was arranged by the colored women, and $50 was contributed on the spot, by these poor fugitives, from the hard earnings of their brief freedom”contributed to purchase an American flag to be borne by their colored brethren”the flag which had been to them till now the emblem of oppression. They cherish no feelings of malignity for the wrongs which have been inflicted, but hail the new era of freedom with joy, and rally to the country's standard with pride and satisfaction, now that the country is prepared to respect their humanity and protect their rights. Among the contributors was one slave woman, who has five sons and a husband in the army, while she remains at home to care for younger children.
Ned Simons, an old negro belonging to the Dungenness estate of General Nathanel Greene, on Cumberland Island, and who was left by the rebel inheritor, Nightingale, on his evacuation of the place, died here last week, at the house of the lady teachers of the schools, who have kindly cared for him since their arrival here. Ned was over one hundred years old, and remembered General Washington well, and was one of the number who assisted in carrying him through the streets of Savannah on his last visit to that place. Old Ned took a lively interest in the affairs of the nation, and rejoiced in the prospect of the freedom of his race. He was deeply interested in the cause of education, and, though partially blind with age, he desired, himself, to learn to read. On being asked why he wished to learn, when he could not expect to live much longer, he replied, "As the tree falls, so it will lay;" his attainments on earth would contribute to higher attainments on high; and the ladies yielded to his request, and during the last months of his life he, with much labor and effort, acquired a knowledge of his letters and syllables. Poor old Ned! After a long life of unrequited toil and slavery, he has "gone where the good negroes go;" where no slave-driver will ever follow; where he can sing "de praises ob de Lord" in freedom and safety.