Letters of Freedmen

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Although few letters written by freedmen during and immediately after the Civil War seem to survive today, the examples that are available can help us better understand the experiences, attitudes, and aspirations of African-Americans just emerging from slavery. Included in the approximately twenty samples of freedmen's writing saved by teachers Lucy and Sarah Chase and preserved today in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society are descriptions of life under slavery, details about lessons in the freedmen's schools, expressions of affection for teachers, requests for assistance, reports of accomplishments and ambitions for the future, and accounts of the harrowing nature of life in the reconstruction South.

The errors of spelling and grammar which appear in these letters are a consequence of the fact that most students of the freedmen's schools were studying their a b c's for the first time, having lived their lives up to that point under laws which prohibited them from learning to read and write. And yet, the simple mistakes in no way lessen the impact of these letters, which testify to the determination of the students to acquire a firm grasp on literacy, master the conventions of polite social intercourse, and correspond with their former teachers.

Below you will find letters grouped thematically in order to suggest some of the universal truths they convey about the lives of freedmen in the Civil War Era. However, the details and voices which emerge from these letters serve as a powerful reminder that behind the history of slavery and its legacy are the largely untold stories of the lives of countless individual human beings . In the end, the real history of slavery is made up of the stories of people like Charlotte Ann Jackson, Emma Colt, Emma Bynum, Green Baker, Dennis Colman, Thomas Fry, Moses Hume, Salomond Green, Denis Adams, Louis Water, Matilda Hill, Abraham Rose, Celia Coonts, Georgeanne Cook, Elias Jefferson, James Quash, Julia Ruttledge, David Barr, Joseph Stewart, S. L. Rafe, and Jordan Johson.

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Descriptions of Life Under Slavery

Some of the pieces of student writing preserved by freedmen's teachers Lucy and Sarah Chase are valuable for the insights they offer into life under slavery. Both Emma Colt and Charlotte Ann Jackson, for example, describe the abuse they received at the hands of plantation owners and the methods used to make the slaves fear Northerners.

Like Emma Colt. who was taught that Northerners "had for legs like a hors and had one eye before and one behind and a horn on each side," many African-Americans had been told that people from the North would skin them, scalp them, or send them as slaves overseas. (In his article on "The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe," Edward Pierce reported "you could not talk with a slave who did not without prompting give the same testimony,--that their masters had been most industrious in their attempts to persuade them that the Yankees were coming down there only to get the land,--that they would kill the negroes and manure the ground with them, or carry them off to Cuba or Hayti and sell them.) However, many freedmen insisted that they had not believed these stories, expressing sentiments similar to those of Charlotte Ann Jackson, who wrote: "something told me not to Be afraid."

As these letters show, slaves did, in fact, have a great deal to fear before and during the war. However, personal testimonials like the one below from Emma Bynum describing her night-time escape to freedom across a river guarded by confederate pickets serve as a reminder of the courage repeatedly displayed by African-Americans during that period.


"When i was liveing Whith White People i was tide down hand and foot "

Charlotte Ann Jackson

When i was liveing Whith White People i was tide down hand and foot and they tide me to the Post and Whip me till i Could not stand up and they tide my Close over my head and whip me much as they Want and they took my Brother and sent him to Richmond to stay one year And sent my Aunt my Sister my farther away too and said if he did not go away they would kill him they Said they Was Goin to Put me in Prisens But the light has come the Rebles is Put down and Slarly is dead GoD Bless the Union Forever more and they was Puting People in tubs and they stead me to Death and i hope Slarly Shall be no more and they said that the yankees had horns and said that the yankees Was Goin to kill us and something told me not to Believe them and something told me not to Be afraid and When they Come heare they Would not let me come out to see them and when i was out in the Street they was stead i would Go away from them and they said I Better stay with them for the yankees would kill me i would Better stay

Charlotte Ann Jackson (1865?)


"He had sould my brothers and sisters and would have sould me"

Norfolk VA 1864

Norfolk is a Dole place three yars ago i was dassnt to say that I was free but thank God I can say so now the man I lived with is named WW hall he says that Wel belong to him in hell and he says that he wishes that yankees Was at the Devel When i came a way i Diden no my abc he had sould my brothers and sisters and would have sould me and mother and father if he coud for he had us paced upsen [in other words, packed up to send?] to richmond to sell. He sead that the yankees had horns and thay [illegible word] was be hind them and thay had but one and thay usto <me> call me very bad they usto beat me this man was a negro byer he says before meny years he will be Doin the same bisniss he ses that the rebels will beher in may thank Lord that yankees came mond [?] he was goin to send us to richmond the next monday that yankees came satday night he carad my brother a way he sad that you al black that youall had for legs like a hors and had one eye before and one behind and a horn on each side

Emma Colt (1864)


"I left North carolina august be fore last and I had god by my side."



I left. North carolina. august be fore last. and I had god by my side. and he helped me a long. I traveled 65 miles and we had 52 in our number. be fore. we crost. the river. we could whear. the pickets soods.[? for swords?] strike the stirrup and we tought. we wold. be taken eny moment. the babys. cried. and we could whear. the sound of them. on the warter. we lay all night. in the woods. and the next. day. we traveled. on and we. reached. Suffolk that night. and we. lost twenty. one. of the Number.

Emma Bynum

Miss L


Descriptions of Lessons in Freedmen's Schools and Love of Learning

The letters sent to Lucy and Sarah Chase by their former students make it clear that the freedmen did indeed have, as Lucy once put it, "a greed for letters." The students enthusiasm for learning is clear in the way they detail their lessons, describe their books, and ask about future educational opportunities.

Some of the student writing kept by freedmen's teachers Lucy and Sarah Chase were probably examples of assignments done in their classes. Freedmen's teachers sometimes kept examples of student writing to use in their correspondence with supporters to demonstrate the progress of the students. The short essay below by Green Baker was probably written as part of a lesson in a freedmen's school.

However, other pieces of student writing are clearly letters sent by students to the Chase sisters after they had moved on to other teaching assignments or left at the end of their service in the freedmen's education movement. While the writing abilities and personalities of the letter writers vary, students frequently describe their current studies. Many of the letter-writers mention reading Lydia Child's Freedmen's Book, which included selections from texts by prominent abolitionists and African-American writers.




"A pleasant way to learn Grammar"

A pleasant way to learn Grammar Three Little Words

Three Little Words You Sometimes See Are Articles a an and the A noun is the Name of anything As School or Garden Hoop or swing Adjectives tell the kind of noun As Great small pretty White or Brown instead of nouns the Bro nouns stand her head his face your arm my hand Verbs tell at something to be done to Read Write Count Sing Jump or Run how things Are done the Advrbs tell As slowly quickly ill or Well Conjunctions join the words together as men and [?] wind or Weather the Preposition stands before a noun As in or through the door the interjection shows surpries as oh how pretty Ah how Wise the Whole Are called nine parts of speech Which reading Writing Speaking teach

Green Baker (1865 or 1866)


"I am in the freedmen Book and in Long Divison in Arthmetic"

Gardensville va pril[?] 29th 1870

Dear Miss Chase I take my pin in hand To Write your a few Lines to leat you know that I am Well and I hope that youre are well too I got thaes to letters fom you I am Doing well I am in the freedmen Book and in Long Divison in Arthmetic

I was very sorry When your Went a Way I Wish that your Was here know the [three illegible words] Head Im plese to Writ [illegible word]

Dennis Colmon To My D miss Chas

Miss Lucy Chase my Father is Well and 42 Age Mother


"I have been through four copy Books"


Columbus Ga June 19 1868

To Miss Lucy and Miss Sarah

My Dear Teacher

I will now take this pleasure to write you a few lines to let you know I am well and I hope that these few lines will find you well and in good health and now I sopose you would like to here something about Miss Gayle and her school at this Present time Miss M & G. have a very larg school at this time and all of her old scholars that went to her when you was in school with her I will tell you my studies third reader second Geography second a rithmetic Webters Dictionary and elemntry spelling Book I have been through four copy Books I have been through 3 No 3 Copy Book 1 No 2 copy and I am also in No 5th copy Book. Miss G not attach was to the free school this year. She is teacher in Joe Caldwell dwelling room and I am going to Miss Gayle. We are going to a singing school and Mss Gayle are also We are going to have a consirt the 6 of July the singing school and Miss Gayle School wishes that you was here with ous to day is not our writeing day tursday and friday is our main writing day dont eny Classes say lesson only primer class say lesson those 2 days in writing.

Miss Gayle says that She will write to you soon her self I would like to here from you soon please write to me soon Miss G says she want to see you very bad

yours sincerely

Jordan Johnson


"I now studding in the freadman Book"

Gordonsville va 30 1870

Dear Miss Chase I write you A few lines to let you no that We All are well and I hope when these few lines reach you I hope they will find you thay same All thay children sends Thair love to you Emer sends her love to her receive you letters and I was very glad to hear from you Miss [illegible word] Allso send their love to you Allso Maria ses that Seh would like to hear from you. I now studding in the freadman Book Emer are coming to School now Luchius [illegible word] Sends his his love to you Edmen rese[?] sends his love to you Delfy Merfy sends her love to you

Thomas Fry


"I am determined to learn all I can"

[in pencil: L C Contraband]

Gordonsville Va April 16th 1870

Much respected Friend

I will acknowledge the Note you sent me & was much gratified to be able to hear from you and hope to be ale to hear from you again before you start on your Journey

Mrs Esther is getting along nicely and sends her love and best wishes for you & little Emma sends lots of love and would like to see you again & we all hope for your wellfare and hope you will have a pleasant Journey and go and return safely

I did not Appreciate untill now that you was so good & I am determined to learn all I can Certinly I think you had the most Patience of any Lady I ever say & I regret very much that I couldn’t have come to school more than I did I have now comenced to board at Mr Manns to have a much better chance to study than I did I think of you every dday and will not very soon forget you

you must try and write before you go on your journey please to excuse so short a letter and I will try and do better next time.

this from a faithful Friend and well wisher now good bye for now and may God bless and take care of you

this from Moses Hume

Mrs Mary Johnston

[in pencil:] Miss Fortin will have the kindness to put this with papers for the Misses Chase [?] expects to go to [?] to see the folks off but it is a little doubtful [a number of illegible words]


Greetings and Expressions of Affection for Teachers

Another regular feature of the letters sent by students to freedmen's teachers Lucy and Sarah Chase were expressions of affection. Students also frequently passed on greetings from their classmates, parents, grandparents, and siblings, suggesting that teachers were more than just purveyors of basic skills: they were part of the family and community life of the freedmen.

For example, at the conclusion of one of her letters, Julia Rutledge appended a list of names of the girls who had shared in sending their former teacher a present.


"I set a heap a store to you"


GordonsVille Va dC[? for Dec?] 21 1864 dC[?] 21

dear Miss Chase I bages you for near for doing so My father had Sout for doing So my father Sad that he was Sory that the thing haping So but I bag you father for so doing So my dear Mis Case Salomon Green father ask you partner to Mother is Sorry to i was work in gat the house at that time and he had call me three times Mother Say that you must for Giv me for so doing so Miss Chase you had bin Good to seee you

A few mor Words Iwill never do So no more

dear Miss Chases GordonSVille Va I will end my Leter Salomond Green Miss Green all so

[when paper is turned around:] I ask farmer[?] Miss Chase I set a heap a store to you


"I like fur you to Come backe Agine"

Gardensville va March the 4 1870

Miss Chase I take my pin inn Hand to wright you a Few Lines that we Want Com Backe Agine

When yur go Away I like fur you to Come backe Agine too if you could

Dennis Adams [?]

L Chase


to Lusy Chase



"I hope you well on your jurny"

Gordonsville Virginia April 29th 1870

Dear Miss Chase I feal it my duty to write to you I am well at this time I hope you well on your jurny I hope This leter will find you well mother and Father send his love to you

I reseave you note I was very well pleasat you sayinf brother and sister send there love.

Louis Water

Miss Lucy Chase.



"Mother send her love"

Dear Mr Chase I am Well at this time and I hope this may Find you the Same I am Sorry that I Did not write to you Before Now Mother send her love I send my love to you I have no more to say to you howdy and Good By

Matilda Hill

Lucy Chase

Richard Hill Send his love to you Louis Finks[?] Send his Love to you



"I hope that you was here to teach us now"

Gardensville April 19 1870

Deas Miss Chase I am glad to here that you am well I am getting on Very Well in School but I hope that you was here to teach us now and My Grandmother sends her best love to you for the Stockings that you gave her While you was here And Mother sends her best love to you the trees and flowers is blooming out very pretty I heard about the falling of the Capitol in Richmond Wednesday please send My love to George Robinson if you sees him and the last time that i heard from him <he was not well> his mother was well, and most of the School Children went to fishing last Saturday down Mr Coulders and there was So many Children that We could not catch no fish you must sure and write to me I have no More to say at this time you must excuse me for Such a Short note.

your respectley

Abraham Rose

Abraham Rose To Miss Chase


Requests for Assistance

Teachers provided a variety of services for the freedmen from distributing food and clothing to writing letters to find lost family members. Below are just two examples.

In the first letter, a mother assures teacher Lucy Chase that the children have been caution to "obey your orders" and asks to be notified if that warning is not heeded. In general, freedmen's teachers were opposed to the use of physical punishment, an attitude that was not necessarily shared by the parents. Lucy Chase wrote in a letter: "We have our sympathies called out, almost every day, for the innocent children who are harshly beaten by their will-enemies, their harsh mama’s." Given the circumstances, it seems possible that the parents' attitudes was shaped both by their experience during slavery of beating as a typical form of discipline and their commitment to raising disciplined children (which is why Lucy refers to the mothers as the children's "will-enemies).

In the second letter, the writer pleads on behalf of a former slave with five children who cannot attend school because they have no clothes.


"if they dont obey you I want you to send me word"

Dear Miss Lucy Chase

I send Rosanna and Willis to school to obey your orders for I certainy do feel[?] you I heard that you had mighty bad scollars at that school I want you to please send me word Whether Willis and Rosanna do obey you or not if they dont obey you I want you to send me word for I promised to remember them if they dont I would please me very much if you would punish them when they don’t obey you I want to please send me them home when the trains come

Celia Coonts



"i had to stop my children from School be cause thay had not clothing"



Norfolk City Dec 27th 1866

This woman are a poor creature with 5 children and are much in need of clothen and desire the help of the mission She ware once the slave of mctoush and has never reseav eney thing from the govenment i had to stop my children from School be cause thay had not clothing to go to School her name are Jane Bright

Sign by

Georgeanne Cook (1866)

Miss Chase Teacher Norfolk City



Descriptions of Accomplishments and Aspirations for the Future

Some of the former students who corresponded with Lucy and Sarah Chase had high aspirations and speak enthusiastically of the steps they are taking towards self-improvement.

In the letters below, Elias Jefferson, James Quash, and Julia Ruttledge, all of whom had been students in freedmen's schools in Charleston, write of starting a literary society, organizing a temperance society, and serving as Sunday School teachers--activities that would have also been pursued by respectable white northerners in pursuit of self-improvement.

The style of the letters also testifies to the ambitions of their authors. The writers observe all of the conventions of genteel letter writing and, despite the fact there are occasional errors, also employ a sophisticated vocabulary and syntax. All three of these students, for example, express the wish that they will meet their former teachers in heaven if not on earth, a sentiment that may seem unusual today but which also appears in letters the Chase sisters received from cultivated friends in the North. It is also interesting to note that all three of these students--Elias T. Jefferson, James M. Quash, and Julia A. Rutledge--include a middle initial in their signature, another attempt to signal refinement.

Although the final example in this section displays less literary sophistication, it tells a simple story that serves as a reminder of one reason freedmen may have been so highly motivated to seek out educational opportunities. In his letter, Dennis Adams tells of his father's hopes to make him a preacher, explaining: "I am his onely son He had Won name Mosis & he was Sold."


"Miss Rutledge & myself are about to start the Literary Society"

Charleston, S.C. September 11th 1867

Highly Esteemed Ladies

I Received your kind Letter of the 7th and it Was a source of Great Joy to me & all my friends We often thought & spoke of you and intended Writing to inquire after you but we delay in so doing Miss Rutledge & myself are about to start the Literary Society All my Classmates join me in Remembrance To you and Miss Sarah I hope these may find you enjoying good health

We can never forget those Pleasant Evening that was so kindly Devoted to our improvement We can, never, never forget of Which We are so much indeted I hope that We Will be able to see each other again in this Life and if not I hope we may in heaven

I hope to hear from you again Shortly No more at Present

your Humble servant

Elias T[?] Jefferson



"we have organized a Temperance Society"

Charleston Sept. 18th /67

Most Beloved Ladies & Teachers,

With a heart of Joy & Gratitude I take up my Pen to address you with these few lines, hoping when Received, that they may find you enjoying good health as they have left us, quite well at present. in Compliance with the Letter you done us the honour of Writing. I must really say that it was a moment of Glad Tiding when I heard that there was a letter Received from you, in as much as it was Joy and Gladness when I open those Pages and found that you all were sick since you arrived. it was a minute of deep regret, though I contented myself By Saying that the Lords will must ve done, though I hope through his infinite mercies he may enable you to regain your health and strength again. I must really say that I regret very much that I could not call to see you before you left the city, on the evening which we were to call, I was Detained By some of my friends whom I call to pay a small visit, but notwithstanding you were in my thoughts ever since, your absence from me. I am happy to state that I and my friend Mr. Jefferson have become Teachers in the Congregational Church Sabbath School and also members of the same. Red. Mr. Merritt Pastor, and am also happy to say that we have organized a Temperance Society, to which we have some Twenty two Names enrolled at Present and are getting more at every Meeting. all of my Classmates join me in Love to you, and wish you best heartfelt wishes . I learned from my friend Mr. Jefferson that he omitted that I wishes the studies of Ministry if it can be procured I hope that you may be able to renew your health again so that you can use your best effort in behalf of us. I would have Written before, but I have just arrived home from the country and was very happy to hear from you. Remember me to Miss Lueze [?] tell her she must really excuse me for not Writing to her separately but I hope she will Receive this as to her also. I miss you all very much but I hope to see you all again if not on earth may we meet never to part again in heaven.

Nothing more of importance to communicate at Present you must really excuse my bad Writing as I am much fatigue having arrived home yesterday morning. I must close with wishing you Peace Prosperity and Happiness write as soon as Possible I will be happy to hear from you as often at Possible. All letters can be directed to E. F. Jefferson for any one of us and it will be safe.

I am Very Respectully Your humble Schollar James M. Quash[?]


"he thinks She will be able to get us at the Oberlin College"

Charleston December 2nd 1867

Dear Miss Sarah

You must wonder which I have not writen it is not through neglect. Sickness is the cause of it my Sister was extremely ill for the last thre months wich kept us very buisy and distress. I did not write but my thoughts is always with you and Miss L. I went to Mr Cardoza and explain maters to him he do not Speak much for the Hampton College. and the Oberlin College we must have money he advise me to write to Miss Thayer New york my teacher. She taught here thre winter ago he thinks She will be able to get us at the Oberlin College

I have writen Some time ago but have not receive any answer. haveing been so anxious I was unable to see any further in to it. Mr. Cardoza thinks it best for one only my Sister thinks if I can Succeed it is best for Sarah to remain. it is so trouble Some if we could have a teacher here every winter I think it best Still I am very anxious to go away it would be more to my advantige but I do not like giving so much trouble about it I don’t hear yet of any afternoons School. All the girls is much please with your Letter. tha all sens love to you & Miss Lucy

the times is very hard with it all we are getting on fine the votering came of fine I shall enclose a Jareanum leaf for each

These are the names that sent you the Pres[?] Mary Alston Cathrene Provost P. Jackson Edwards Julia Johnston ‘ S. Beckman Susan Scott D. Levy Anna Brown Julia Rutledge These are the names as far as I can remember my Sisters join with me in love hope this will find you and all well Sarah say she will write Soon Good Night from your Loveing Schollar Julia A. Rutledge


"I am here in virginneia at school the school you wrote to tell me about"

Normal School Va. Oct 4th1868.

Dear Miss Chase

I will venture to send sen you another letter hoping you may get it I have not heard a word from you for the last year which keeps me in a anxious state dear Miss Chase I cannot tell you how very anxious I am to hear from ou – if you get this letter I will send my picture as I prommise it and would like you to have one pleas if we are fortunate enough to take up our corresponds again for I would like much to have a picture of you and Miss Lucy – I will give you an account of my self. I am here in virginneia at school the school you wrote to tell me about paying my way by working the girls work in doors and the boys on the farm the girls all have all the domestic affairs wash for the boys sow all the scrubbing to do there are about 14 girls and 22 boys five from Charleston Mr Jefferson are one of the number I like it very much indeed wee are very comfortably fix our chambers are neatly furnish with cottage setts and every conviientary wee have water pipes in the house a bathing room –

I will tell you the rules the bell ring at half pass five allowing us half our to dress then it ring at six for breakfast tha allow five minuts if you are not there in time you are mark the bell ring at eleven for the boys to stop work and fix for dinner and school we dine at 12 clear up our ineing room and get in school by one we have school from one to five and then we recite [?] about a half our and the bell ring for evening prayers after prayers wee go in to supper at half pass seven the bell ring for us to study wee study untill half pass 8 the bell ring for us to get ready for bed at nine it ring for us to out the lights – and the best of it wee have such a very kind Miss [?] Matron She tries in every way to make us happy each schollers love her and y would not be happy without her She is a Miss Breck from Massachusetts – I hear from home pretty often Sarah did not come She is at home my sisters did ot think wise for both of us to leave home the rebs have taken Mr Sumners school building at the corner of Morris and Jaspser Court where we spent those delightful ours in the afternoons trying to gain knowledge thea have ift for the colord children The picture you gave I had it neatly frame in a guild frame & have sent to have it here with me Louissia Elliott exspect to come on very soom Louissia are one of your schollars – dear Miss Chase I am very anxious to see you I often wish you were here to teach I trust I will have the pleasure of seeing you once more. Should we not meet on earth may we meet in heaven where partins is no more give my best love to Miss Lucy tell her I will write her next –

Good bye with a double portion of love. Yours truly Julia A. Rutledge

[Notes in pencil at bottom:] xcuse my anxiety Hampton churchletter Aunt Nancy & Susan

[Note in pencil on side: Attend!]



"he want to make a Preacher of me"

Gordensville Va January the 10 1870

Miss Chase I write to you this even to let you know that Father says that I learn very fast and went to the Preacher and talk About going to the college Richmond or [illegible word] he want to make a Preacher of me. he think A Great Dele of me And I am his onely son He had Won name Mosis[?] & he was Sold[?] But I am his yungest 13 yearse of age he 58 Mis Chase I hope that you will excuse me bad[?] My Short[?] hand writing I had a heap on my mine to tell you but my Siter [illegible word] name Allen 8 yearse old he and I [2 illegible words] that I could not rite Dennis Adams[?] jur must

Mis Chase in Boston



Descriptions of the Difficulties and Dangers of Life During Reconstruction

In 1865, freedmen's teacher Lucy Chase wrote to a friend: "I am confident that the negro will suffer more the coming year of peace than he has during the war." The letters she received from former students and friends among the freedmen suggest that her fears were well-founded. The examples below include several references to the death of Republican organizer George Ashburnham in Columbus, Georgia. The murder of Ashburnham, by the Ku Klux Klan on March 31, 1868 marked the beginning of a wave of violence intended to intimidate African-Americans. While S.F. Rafe uses her letter to offer news about the progress of the library, she clearly feels distracted and overwhelmed by the many incidences of terror taking place against African-Americans in her community, and can only exclaim: ""my Heart grows sick my brain swims I must cease. I can only exclaim My God how long?"


"Our City is now under Millitary law"

Columbus Ga, J. 29,1868 To Miss Sarah L. Chase

My Dear Teacher.

I take the present opportunity to write to you and you all informing you that we are all well at this time present and doing well. I go to school to Miss Gayle and are learning quite fast. I study 3d Geography, 3d Reader, 2 Arithmetic Websters Dictionary Wlementary spelling Book Miss Gayle has 33 scholars I live in Bealwood two miles north of Columbus on a large farm the time has expired again for our Northerned Teacher to leave us I suppose you heard of the Death of Mr Ashburn there is one good thing the Millitary has taken that Case in hand another good thing

our City is now under Millitary law. I don’t think our City has ever been in such condition before. We have not forgotten 2 times 1 are 2 and 5 times 5 are 25. We are going to a Singing School and Miss Gayle our Teacher also Mr Thornton our Teacher is going to give A Concerts and I wish tha[t] you and Miss Lucy Could Attend The colord people are very anxious for you all to come back

Miss G received A letter from you and was very glad <of hearing of> you to hear from you nor have I forgot that pretty little speller that you gave me before you went Away Miss Gayle say that she will write to you soon Miss Gayle say she would like to see you so would I

yours truly David Barr


"k.k.k. ku cuk klan"

Columbus ga June the 29[?] 1868

Miss lucy Chase i take this opportunity to rite you a few line to let you know that i am well and doing well i hope that you are well and doing well Miss chase when you rite to me sine my name Joseph m. Stewart and then i will get it mother tole me to tell you Lydia give her best respects to you bouth and tell you that she has not forgoting you she has spoking of riteing a god while we dednot stay up the country mor than too munts we is liveing in Columbus yet we have not any new in our city mirder mr ashmon [George W. Ashburn] take on Color people [illegible words] about it they were goint to burn down the city if it hadn to bind for trup them that kill the gentlmon is bold k.k.k. ku cuk klan tha hav cot them and tha tryal com of Juli

Alik Sample started to liberty and and tha herd that he had sumthing to with it and thay tried to kitch him but he lef som [illegible word] behine and put out tha coden kitch him got of before tha cod kitch him

James Barber Chippir Bobewood[?]the city morshil and one of the trup they wer 27 in all John wells[?] but he got our by telling the names of all that had a hand in it the ones hoe had a hand in suting thay are to be hung ones hoe watch thay are to go to pentengry for life time Joseph m. Stewart


"my Heart grows sick my brain swims I must cease
I can only exclaim My God how long?"

The Com. can see this – about the murders [Note in pencil]

Catharine Harts James maried [sic] one of Caroline Paynes daughters Mrs. Spencer has moved home + sends her love She was so very sory that you did not return this Winter Mrs Martin, Hart, & Clark & many others send love to you The People generally are well & quiet here but there is much suffering among the Coloured people in the Counties of Madison, Hamilton & Jefferson. in consequence of the outrages pepetrated by the Kue Klucks there has ben no less than one hundred & twenty Blacks men, women & Children killed in the last three months, one poor man living on his own land procured by hard labour since the War sold this year eight hundred dollars worth of Cotton. Week before last a band of White ruffiens came to his house took him to the Woods and hung his Wife & daughter to the rafters a woman was shot down in her feild merely because she asked a man not to destroy her Watermelons. A party of people goin to a Picnick in a wagon passing through a thick Wood was fired into by person conceeled in the brush one poor man was killed while trying to save his Child a ball passing through his body & through the Child also killing them both you ask for the particulars but my Heart grows sick my brain swims I must cease I can only exclaim My God how long? Aunt manerva is not dead it was a son of hers, he was shot by a little White boy on the place where he lived they buryed him without leting his Mother or ayn any one know of his death But I am making my letter too long I am sorry that I cannot say anything encouraging for the Temperance cause some I believe are carefully observing there Pledge but there is know society formed some ar

The Library is progressing rather better I have added about a dozen books We loan perhaps three or four in a week since writing the above I have seen Mr Erwin he promises me that he will call a meeting, & try to form a Temperance Society next week

About the Land I think the peice you wanted is sold but ther is a forty first back of Mr Freeze Mill opisite our hous that belongs to the State.

Mr Rafe is well & joins me in love to you hopeig this may find you as well as it lives us I remain your Obliged Friend

S.L. Rafe


The Assertion of Human Dignity


Freedmen's student Jordan Johnson opens his letter to Lucy Chase in traditional fashion, probably using conventions that he was taught as part of his lessons at the freedmen's school. However, Johnson's personality quickly surfaces as he tells a story designed to ensure that his former teacher remembers exactly who he is. There is both humor and pathos in Johnson's tale of how he responded to Lucy Chase's joking references to his habitual mode of dress. Determined to be recognized as an individual human being rather than as a comic caricature, Johnson forced his teacher to treat him more seriously. Having done so, he was content to return to wearing his familiar clothing and to conclude his letter: "My name is Jordan Johnson the red neck tier."


"My name is Jordan Johson the red neck tier"

Columbus Georgia, May 11th, 1869

to my Dear teacher

Miss Lucy Chase

I take this opportunity to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and doing well and wish to here the same from you it has been along tim since I have heard from you and I injoy a great pleasure in written to you hopen these few lines will Reach you and find you well I would have Ritten to you before now I did not know how to direct my letter to you I went to the teachers dwelling house a few days sense Miss Kimble give me a card how to direct my letters to you Remember me the one who went to school at the Baptist Church to school and kept door their the one you call red neck tier and there was one morning I came with out a neck tier and you ask me where it was I told you it was at home and you ask me what was the reason I did not ware itt I told you the reason at I didn’t ware it because you call me red neck tier you told me to I put it one the nexday and you would not call me red neck tier any more

Miss Gales is in Mobile Aleb

If you wish to write to her Direct your letter to Mary A Gayle Stone Street church Mobile Alb

My name is Jordan Johson the red neck tier I will bring my letter to a close

Your truly carler J. C. Johnson

P.S. Remember me I will you do you Remember David Barr he is ded he went to Mobile last sept with his teacher Miss Mary A. Gayle to mobile with her and came Back on the on the 28th ist of december and was taking with fits a few days after and died January 1 1869 and was berried on the 2 of january David Barr is dead Death

You truly friend Jordan Johnson J C Johnson When you write to me Direct your Letter to Jordan Johnson in the care of S. H. Hill Columbus Geargia May 11 1869




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An American Antiquarian Society Online Exhibition
Curated by Lucia Z. Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College

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