Friday, February 8, 2019

Miss S. M. Pearson, December 22, 1863

Newbern, N. C, Dec. 22d, 1863.

On the morning of Nov. 23d, I was duly installed as Teacher in a log school-house, in Camp Kimball, just across the Trent River, about one mile from the city. I will suppose you have some knowledge of this school, as Mr. Doolittle was its first Teacher. There were present this morning eighty-eight pupils. Mr. James gave me full power to make any changes I might think best, which privilege I have availed myself of. I found all the little ones on the back seats and completely hid by the larger ones. I commenced the next morning by taking the names and ages of all present, the result being 106. There has been a steady increase of numbers each day, until I now have 212 names registered, of all ages from five years to sixty-one. I have fathers and mothers with their children. Women leave their work until the latter part of the day, and boys refuse to accept situations, that they may avail themselves of these privileges. I would that every child in the North, could look on, and see the eagerness manifested by these poor colored children hi their books. It would give them some idea of their own privileges, and perhaps stimulate them to renewed diligence.

I had the benches in front made lower, and placed the smaller children on them, thereby enabling them to touch their feet to the floor. This done, I could command every eye in the room. To arrange them in classes was a work of time. I found a great variety of books, and but three of the National series. They have a great desire to read from a large book, supposing they are learning faster. I found they knew by heart the lessons in the “Picture Primer” which they had, and could tell me how much of the book they knew, while in fact they could not read one word. Another difficulty has been to keep them in a class. After arranging them, I have had to watch very sharp, and tell them time and again, until now they do very well. I have introduced six dozen National Primers, having two classes — one just commencing to read words of two letters, the other a class of thirty-five, reading words of four and five letters. I have a letter class, numbering sixty and upwards; this comprises scholars of all ages. These I teach in concert from the various cards which I have introduced, giving them oral instruction of various kinds, afterwards hearing each one read from the Picture Primer which I found in school. This exercise seems to interest the older ones, as much as the class itself. I have a class of ten in the National First Reader, a small class in the Second Reader, also several who require attention separately. They are anxious to know how to write and cipher. I give some exercises on the blackboard, besides copies on their slates, and never before have I felt so much the need of two pairs of hands as now. I was without an assistant until last week, and now have one who has been teaching in Newbern since July, and is only with me for a short time. I have formed a class in Davis's Primary Arithmetic, numbering ten. These I intend to hear recite after the others are dismissed, but they are mostly disposed to stay and listen.

I have been obliged to dismiss the younger children at the close of their exercises, in order to make room for the rest. This difficulty will be obviated by enlarging the building, which has already commenced, when I shall hope to labor to better advantage. I wish I could introduce you to this school as it appears in the morning, and let them sing to you one of their own native songs; afterwards one which they have just learned — “Rally round the Flag.” They are delighted with our songs, and catch them very readily. You may imagine how they look, but to know fully, you should see for yourself. All the books I ever read, gave me but a faint idea of their real appearance. I cannot call all their names, but can tell them wherever we meet, by the flash of their eyes. I find them strong in their attachment to us, while their thoughts are oftentimes expressed in the most touching language. I wish I could give you an exact report of one of their public speeches, as well as some of their prayers. They call down all manner of blessings on us Teachers, as well as all the people of the North, not excepting Mr. Linkum and his Cabinet. My own language is meagre compared with theirs. They speak but the utterances of a full heart, overflowing with gratitude and exceeding great joy, that after so many years of oppression and wrong, they are now Freedmen. Who can wonder? One expression which I heard in a prayer, I must repeat: —“Grant, O Lord, that not a feather be lacking in the ‘wing of the North.’ Indulgent Father, we thank thee thou didst ever make a Linkum. O spare his life, and bless our Union Army; may one man put a thousand to flight, and ten chase ten thousand.”

The sick in camp send for the “School Misses.” Some of their leading men have been to the school-house, and expressed their gratitude for my service in a very acceptable manner. I also visit them in their homes, and as far as possible relieve their wants by distributing clothing, but my pen fails to tell you of the destitution, rags, patches, and half nakedness. I would that I were able to arouse the people of the North more thoroughly to a sense of the needs of this suffering people; another winter may not find them so unprepared for the cold.

I think I have introduced you sufficiently for the first time to my school, which I have named for Dr. Russell, and it will hereafter be known as the Russell School. I hope to be able to give you favorable reports from time to time. There is a great work to be done, and no person who has a love for this field of labor, need stand with folded hands.

S. M. Pearson.

SOURCE: New-England Educational Commission for Freedmen, Extracts from Letters of Teachers and Superintendents of the New-England Educational Commission for Freedmen, Fourth Series, January 1, 1864, p. 10-11

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