30 December 2012


In honor of this very important event in our nation's, and our own local history, below are a few eyewitness accounts of "The Day of Jubilee," January 1st 1863, as it transpired on Smith's Plantation (aka "Old Fort Plantation," current Naval Hospital grounds].

It is not uncommon for eyewitnesses to have testimony (which in a sense is what is described below).  What are the common elements to each of the seven reports about the day?  What elements are only included by a few of the writers?  Is there a consensus about the significance of the event?  Based upon the reports, what clues are you given about the personalities and interests of each writer?

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Susie King Taylor, a former slave woman, was a laundress, volunteer nurse, and teacher who is most often associated with the Union's 1st South Carolina Volunteers: 
On the first of January, 1863, we held services for the purpose of listening to the reading of President Lincoln's proclamation by Dr. W. H. Brisbane, and the presentation of two beautiful stands of colors, one from a lady in Connecticut, and the other from Rev. Mr. Cheever.  The presentation speech was made by Chaplain French.  It was a glorious day for us all, and we enjoyed every minute of it, and as a fitting close and the crowning event of this occasion we had a grand barbecue.  A number of oxen were roasted whole, and we had a fine feast.  Although not served as tastily or correctly as it would have been at home, yet it was enjoyed with keen appetites and relish.  The soldiers had a good time.  They sang or shouted "Hurrah!" all through the camp, and seemed overflowing with fun and frolic until taps were sounded, when many, no doubt, dreamt of this memorable day."  Source: A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs, edited by Particia W. Romero and Willie Lee Rose, Markus Weiner Publishing, 1988, pp. 49 - 50. 

Note: You can read the electronic version of this memoir within the "Documenting the American South" digital library hosted by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill by clicking on http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/taylorsu/taylorsu.html.
Charlotte Forten, a young black woman from a prominent Free Black family of Philadelphia who came to teach the freedmen:
Thursday, New Year's Day, 1863. The most glorious day this nation has yet seen, I think.  I rose early -- an event here -- and early we started, with an old borrowed carriage and a remarkably slow horse.  Whither were we going? thou wilt ask, dearest A. To the ferry; thence to Camp Saxton, to the celebration.  From the ferry to the camp the "Flora" took us.  How pleasant it was on board! A crowd of people, whites and blacks, and a band of music -- to the great delight of the negroes.  Met on board Dr. [Solomon] and Mrs. Peck and their daughters, who greeted me most kindly.  Also Gen. S.[axton]'s father whom I like much, and several other acquaintances whom I was glad to see.  We stopped at Beaufort, and then proceeded to Camp Saxton, the camp of the 1st Reg.[iment] S.[outh] C.[arolina] Vol[unteer]s. The "Flora" c'ld not get up to the landing, so we were rowed ashore in a row boat.... Walking on a little distance I found myself being presented to Col. Higginson, whereat I was so much overwhelmed, that I had no reply to make to the very kind and courteous little speech with which he met me....I cannot give a regular chronicle of the day. It is impossible.  I was in such a state of excitement.  It all seemed, and seems still, like a brilliant dream.... The meeting was held in a beautiful grove, a live-oak grove, adjoining the camp....As I sat on the stand and looked around on the various groups, I thought I had never seen a sight so beautiful.  There were the black soldiers, in their blue coats and scarlet pants, the officers of this and other regiments in their handsome uniforms, and crowds of lookers-on, men, women and children, grouped in various attitudes, under the trees.  The faces of all wore a happy, eager, expectant look.  The exercises commenced by a prayer from Rev. Mr. [James H.] Fowler, Chaplain of the Reg. An ode written for the occasion by Prof. [John] Zachos, originally a Greek, no Sup.[intendent] of Paris Island, was read by himself, and then sung by the whites.  Col. H.[igginson] introduced Dr. [William] Brisbane in a few elegant and graceful words.  He (Dr. B[risbane]) read the President's Proclamation, which was warmly cheered.  Then the beautiful flags presented to Col. H.[igginson] for the Reg. in an excellent and enthusiastic speech, by Rev. Mr. [Mansfield] French.  Immediately at the conclusion, some of the colored people -- of their own accord sang "My Country Tis of Thee." It was a touching and beautiful incident, and Col. Higginson, in accepting the flags made it the occasion of some happy remarks.  He said that that tribute was far more effecting than any speech he c'ld make. He spoke for some time, and all that he said was grand, glorious... After he had done speaking he delivered the flags to the colorbearers with a few very impressive remarks to them.  They each then, Prince Rivers, and Robert Sutton [both who were non-commissioned officers of the 1st SC Vol] made very good speeches indeed, and were loudly cheered.  Gen. Saxton and Mrs. Gage spoke very well.  The good Gen. was received with great enthusiasm, and throughout the morning -- every little while it seemed to me three cheers were given for him.  A Hymn written I believe, by Mr. Judd, was sung, and then all the people united with the Reg. in singing "John Brown."  It was grand.  During the exercises, it was announced that [John C.] Fremont was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and this was received with enthusiastic and prolonged cheering.  But as it was picket news, I greatly fear that it is not true.  [Note:  It was indeed a false rumor!] 
We dined with good Dr. R.[ogers] at the Col.'s table, though, greatly to my regret he, (the Col.) was not there.  He partook of some of the oxen, (of which ten had been roasted) with his men.  I like his doing that.  We had quite a sumptuous dinner.  Our party consisted of Dr. [Seth] R.[ogers], Adjutant [G.W.] D.[ewhurst], Capt. [James] R.[ogers], Mr. and Miss Ware (Mrs. Win[d]sor's brother and sister[,] Mr. [William?] Hall, their cousin, whom I like much, and Mr. [John] and Miss [Elizabeth] H.[unn] and me.  We had a merry, delightful dinner.  The only part that I did not enjoy was being obliged to read Whittier's "Hymn" aloud at the table....So of course, it was murdered.... Col. H.[igginson] invited us into his tent -- a very nice, almost homelike one.  I noticed a nice secretary, with writing utensils and "Les Miserables" on it.  A wreath of beautiful oranges hung against the wall, fronting the door. I wanted to have a good look at this tent; but we were hardly seated when the Dr. and the Col. were called away for a moment, and Lieut. Col. [Liberty] Billings coming in w'ld insist upon our going into his tent. ... His tent was very comfortable too, and I noticed quite a large piece of "Secesh" furniture, something between a secretary and a bureau, and quite a collection of photographs and daguerres.  But I did not examine them, for my attention was occupied by Col. H.[igginson] to whom I showed Whittier's poem, letter and photo.... Col. H.[igginson] asked me to go out and hear the band play, which I very gladly did.  But it stopped just as we stepped outside the tent.  Just then one of the soldiers came up to the Col. and said "Do Cunnel, do ask 'em to play Dixie, just for me, for my lone self." The Col. made the request, but the leader of the band said he feared they w'ld not be able to play the whole thing as they had not the necessary pieces.  "Nebber mind," said the man[,] "jus' half a tune will do." It was found impossible to play even that but the leader promised that the next time they came they would be fully prepared to play Dixie for him.  The Dress Parade -- the first I have ever seen -- delighted me. It was a brilliant sight -- the long line of me in their brilliant uniforms, with bayonets gleaming in the sunlight.  The Col. looked splendid. The Dr. said the men went through the drill remarkably well.  It seemed to me nothing c'ld be more perfect.  To me it was a grand triumph--that black regiment doing itself honor in the sight of the white officers, many of whom, doubtless "came to scoff."  It was typical of what the race, so long down-trodden and degraded will yet achieve on this  continent.  After the parade, we went to the landing, intending to take a boat for Beaufort.  But the boat was too crowded, and we decided to wait for another.  It was the softest, loveliest moonlight.  We sat down among the ruins of the old fort. [Note: Fort Frederick].  Just as soon as the boat had reached a favorable distance from the shore that band in it commenced playing "Home, Sweet Home." It was exquisitely beautiful.  The lovely moonlight on the water, the perfect stillness around seemed to give new beauty to that every beautiful old song....Whither came Col. H.[igginson] and Dr. R.[ogers].  We sat around the nice fire -- the chimney and fire place, ...  We had a pleasant chat, sitting there in the firelight, and I was most unwilling to go, for besides the happiness of being in the society of the Col. and the Dr. we wanted dreadfully to see the "shout" and grand jubilee which the solders were going have that night. But it was already late, and hearing that the "Flora" was coming we had to hasten to the landing....Ah, what a grand, glorious day this has been.  The dawn of freedom which it heralds may not break upon us at once; but it will surely come, and sooner, I believe [,] than we ever dared hope before.  My soul is glad with an exceeding gladness.  But before I close, dear A. I must bring our little party safe home to Oaklands.  We had a good time on the Flora.  L.[Lizzie] and I promenaded the deck, and sang "John Brown," and "Whittier's Hymn: and "My Country Tis of Thee," and the moon shone bright above us, and the waves beneath, smooth and clear, glistened in the soft moonlight. Source: Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke, edited by Brenda Stevenson, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 428- 435.
Courtesy Library of Congress

Harriet Ware, a Northern white teacher to the freedmen, wrote a letter home about the day's events:
Jan. 1, 1863.  We started [from R.'s] at ten o'clock with four oarsmen, under a cloudless sky, which remained undimmed through the day. The men sang and we sang, as we wound our way through the marshbound creek, reaching the Smith Plantation [current Naval Hospital grounds] just as the Flora was landing her first load from the Ferry. We followed the crowd up to the grove of live-oaks with their moss trimmings, which did not look so dreary under a winter's sun, but very summer-like and beautiful.  The regiment, which had been drawn up at the wharf to receive the guests from Beaufort, escorted them to the platform in the middle of the grove, where we found it -- the regiment -- in a circle round the stand, where they remained quiet and orderly as possible through the whole proceedings, which lasted about three hours.  Guest, white and colored, were admitted within the line, and as ladies we were shown seats on the platform.  The general arrived in his carriage with the Mission House ladies.
 It is simply impossible to give you any adequate idea of the next three hours.  Picture the scene to yourself if you can, -- I will tell you all the facts, -- but if I could transcribe every word that was uttered, still nothing could convey to you any conception of the solemnity and interest of the occasion.  Mr. Judd, General Superintendent of the Island, was master of ceremonies, and first introduced Mr. Fowler, the Chaplain, who made a prayer, -- then he announced that the President's Proclamation would be read, and General Saxton's also, by a gentleman who would be introduced by Colonel Higginson.  And he rose amid perfect silence, his clear rich voice falling most deliciously on the ear as he began to speak.  He said that the Proclamation would be read "by a South Carolinian to South Carolinians" -- a man who many years before had carried the same glad tidings to his own slaves now brought them to them, and with a few most pertinent words introduced Dr. Brisbane, one of the tax-commissioners here now, who read both proclamations extremely well.  They cheered most heartily at the President's name, and at the close gave nine with a will for General "Saxby," as they call him.  Mr. Zachos then read an ode he had written for the occasion, which was sung by the white people (printed copies being distributed, he did not line it as is the fashion in these parts) -- to "Scots wha hae."  I forgot to mention that there was a band on the platform which discoursed excellent music from time to time.  At this stage of the proceedings Mr. French rose and, in a short address, presented to Colonel Higginson from friends in New York a beautiful silk flag, on which was embroidered the name of the regiment and "The Year of Jubilee has come!"
Just as Colonel Higginson had taken the flag and was opening his lips to answer (his face while Mr. French was speaking was a beautiful sight), a single woman's voice below us near the corner of the platform began singing "My Country, 'tis of thee."  It was very sweet and low -- gradually other voices about her joined in and it began to spread up to the platform, till Colonel Higginson turned and said, "Leave it to them,"  when the negroes sang it to the end.  He stood with the flag in one hand looking down at them, and when the song ceased, his own words flowed as musically, saying that he could give no answer so appropriate and touching as had just been made.  In all the singing he had heard from them, that song he had never heard before -- they never could have truly sung "my country" till that day.  He talked in the most charming manner for over half an hour, keeping every one's attention, the negroes' upturned faces as interested as any, if not quite as comprehending.  Then he called Sergeant Rivers and delivered the flag to his keeping, with the most solemn words, telling him that his life was chanined to it and he must die to defend it.  Prince Rivers looked him in the eye while he spoke, and when he ended with a "Do you understand?" which must have thrilled through every one, answered most earnestly, "Yas, Sar."  The Colonel then, with the same solemnity, gave into the charge of Corporal Robert Sutton a bunting flag of the same size; then stepping back stodd with folded arms and bare head while the two men spoke in turn to their countrymen.  Rivers is a very smart fellow, has been North and is heart and soul in the regiment and against the "Seceshky." He spoke well; but Sutton with his plain common sense and simpler language spoke better.  He made telling points; told them there was not one in that crowd but had sister, brother, or some relation among the rebels still; that all was not done because they were so happily off, that they should not be content till all their people were as well off, if they died in helping them; and when he ended with an appeal to them to above all follow after their Great Captain, Jesus, who never was defeated, there were many moist eyes in the crowd.
General Saxton then said a few words, regretting that his flag had not arrived as he intended, and introduced Mrs. Gage, who spoke to them of her visit to St. Croix and how the negroes on that island had freed themselves, and telling them that her own sons were in the army; she might any day hear of their death, but that she was willing they should die in the cause and she hoped they were ready to die too.  Quartermaster Bingham led the regiment in singing "Marching Along." Mr. Judd had written a hymn which he and a few friends sang.  Judge Stickney spoke.  The whole regiment then sang "John Brown," and was dismissed in a few words from the Colonel to the tables for the twelve roasted oxen, hard bread, and molasses and water, except one company and certain corporals whom he mentioned, who came to the foot of the steps to escort the colors.
Lieutenant Duhurst was waiting to escort us to dinner at his mess-table.  We walked into the old fort [For Frederick], part of the walls of which are still standing, made of oyster-shells and cement, very hard still.  It was built, say the authorities, in 1562, half a century before the Pilgrims landed. [Fort Frederick was built by the English circa 1720.]
 Miss Forten had a letter from Whittier enclosing a song he had written for the Jubilee and which they have been teaching the children to sing at church next Sunday. 
 After dinner we went up to the camp, and a very nice-looking place it was.  The tents only hold five, so that there were a great many of them, making the camp look very large.  The officers' tents are in a row opposite the ends of the streets, but with only a narrow street between.  The Adjutant took us into his, which is a double one with two apartments like the Colonel's, as his wife is coming out to live there and teach the first sergeants to read, write, and keep their accounts.  As dress-parade was to come off at once, we stayed to see that.  Only the commissioned officers were white; the uniform of the privates is the same as any others, except that the pantaloons are red, faces and hands black!  The parade was excellent, -- they went through the manual, including, "load in nine times."  There were eighteen men absent without leave, a circumstance not to be wondered at, as they had kept no guard all day, and a negro thinks to go and see his family the height of happiness.  Colonel Higginson said, "Think of a camp where there is no swearing, drinking, or card-playing among the men,  -- where the evenings are spent praying and singing psalms, and it is the first sound you hear in the morning!"  He is a strong anti-tobacconist, but he lets the men have all they can get, and helps them get it.
We started just after sunset, and at the same time with the band, who were rowed up to Beaufort as we went across the river.  They played "Sweet Home," and the music sounded delightfully, but made Mr. Williams exclaim, "Now that's too bad, when a fellow is going to an old South Carolina whitewashed house, with a broken table and chair in it!"  Nevertheless, he was very merry, and we had a fine row.  The sunset was perfectly clear, the sky retained its brightness for a long time, and the moon was so bright that it did not grow dark.  Our delay made us against tide for the second hour, so the negroes turned out of the main creek into the narrow creeks among the grass, which at high tide are deep enough, though very narrow.  Our oars were often in the "mash" on one side, but the men knew their way and brought us safely thought.  They grew very much excited as they rowed and sung, shouting with all their might, and singing song after song the whole way home.  They singing while they row always sounds differently from [that] at any other time to me, though they always sing the same, religious songs.  Source: Letters from Port Royal: Written at the time of the Civil War, edited by Elizabeth Ware Pearson, W. B. Clarke Company, 1906, pp. 128 - 135.
Thomas D. Howard, originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, was a teacher/missionary on Hilton Head Island.  He arranged transportation for some of the freedmen and Northerners on the island to attend the festivities at Smith's Plantation. His recollection was written down in 1910 for his nieces and nephews.   
January 1, 1863 Freedom.  The place selected for the celebration was the Smith plantation on the broad and deep Beaufort River and on its right bank four miles below Beaufort....This plantation was ideal for the occasion.  The house faced the water and before it was an extensive lawn shaded by immense live oaks, from which abundant streamers of hanging moss was suspended.  Our boat lay at anchor, and others on the beach, and the interesting exercises preceded the barbecue.  Early in the afternoon the assembly broke up in order that those from a distance should reach home before dark.
If this joyful occasion may be termed sublime in its significance, I will make a dissent suggested by the name of the superintendent in charge, -- Mr. Hyde.  Mr. H. was a sanctimonious religionist of the strictest Presbyterian school, and a much older man than the average of the superintendents. In common honesty he was, as will be seen, conspicuously lacking.
It had been arranged to furnish negroes on plantations with certain staple articles at cost, bought at wholesale and brought down on govt. transports free.  Among these articles was Molasses, delivered in barrels on the plantation to be sold at prices fixed at Headquarters. 
From the Smith Plantation complaints were brought in that more than the right price was being paid.  Mr. Hyde was reprimanded.  Soon after came in another complaint that the molasses was very thin.  On this Mr. Hyde was dismissed, with, of course, a free passage to New York. 
Not long after Mr. H. reported to me as a missionary on Hilton Head Island presenting a certificate signed by Mr. M. French.  Of Mr. French I will only say that he seems to have been a missionary sent down by some society, with no connection with the work of which Gen. Saxton was the head, nor with me, and that with his rotund form, oily address, and assumption of authority his daguerrotype would furnish a good illustration for one of Dickens's [sic] Peeksniffs.
 I knew something of the transaction at the Smith Plantation, but desired written information, and so wrote to Capt. Harper asking what I should don in the matter.  He replied at once that Mr. Hyde's appointment as superintendent having been withdrawn, he had no footing in the Department and it would be best for him to leave for New York by the first opportunity, -- which he did.  It is only fair to say that this was the only like case that came to my knowledge.  Source: Charles Howard Family Domestic history by Thomas D. Howard, Sophia W. Howard and Sally B. Hayward, edited by Elizabeth H. Andrews, Cambridge, [MA], 1956, unpublished typescript. 
Esther Hill Hawks, wife of the surgeon to the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, came to Beaufort as a a teacher to the freedmen.  However, she was trained as one of the first female physicians and assisted her husband during some medical procedures - and even ran the hospital for the black soldiers in his absence.
 Soon after their return [from their expedition] Col. Higginson took command of the Regiment and commenced a thorough and systematic coarse [sic] of Military discipline.  The regiment is stationed four miles down the river from Beaufort on the Smith Plantation and have christened their Hd. Qts. as Camp Saxton.  Col. H. [Higginson] arrived here about the middle of Nov. Preparations were already going forward for the celebration of the 1st of Jan. in antitipcation of the Presidents confirming his emancipation proclamation.  In the regiment, Chaplin Fowler, is at work for that end, and Mr. French is stimulating the freed people of Beaufort and the adjacent Isles, to participate in it. -- The colored people have had their confidence so often abused, that many of them are timid and suspicious.  They do not understand the object of the meeting -- and the white soldiers, in many instances encourage this feeling by telling them that Gen. Saxton is going to get them all together and then deliver them up to their old masters! so that, when the day arrived -- some of the Superintendants found that their people had absented themselves, and were nowhere to be found. -- This prevented there being so large a company of colored people present as there might otherways have been.  Still the day, Jan 1st 1863, was a day long to be remembered, bright and beautiful; and a very large concourse of people, officers, teachers -- and citizens were early gathered in the beautiful grove, near Camp Saxton, where the ceremeonies of the occasion were to take place.  The order of exercises consisted of speaches [sic] from Gen. Saxton, Col. Higginson Rev. Mr. French Chaplin Fowler, Mrs. Frances D. Gage, and a poem read by Prof. Zachos, written for the occasion a quartette, sung several songs, written by Jr. Judd, Sup. [Superintendent] of the colored people.  Then a beautiful stand of colors was presented to the Regt. from the members of Dr. Cheever's church of N.Y. through Mr. French.  Several of the colored soldiers made short speaches, [sic] and then, Col. H. [Higginson] invited the crowd to partake of the feast of roast beef - bakers bread and molasses and plenty of lemonaid prepared for them on some tables near the camp.  A bar-becue I think he called it. Ten beeves had been cooked whole, -- or nearly so.  This is done by digging a deep pit, and burning oak wood in it till a great bed of coals results, then suspending the animal over it to cook with frequent bastings and turnings. I think, by the quantity of raw beef I saw leaving the grounds, in women's aprons the cooking was rather a failure!  No provision was made for feeding white folks, so at the close of the exercises we rode wearily home, fortifying ourselves as we often needed to, with the reflection that if the occasion had been earlier tedious it would be pleasant to remember, in the future that we were present at the first celebration of the indipendence [sic] of the freedmen in South Carolina.  May it never be less!!  Source: A Woman Doctor's Civil War:" Esther Hill Hawks' Diary, edited by Gerald Schwartz, University of South Carolina Press, 1984, pp. 41-42.
Laura Towne, a Northern white missionary teacher who arrived on St. Helena Island in April 1862 and dedicated the rest of her life to Penn School, wrote in her diary about January 1, 1863:
We rejoiced at midnight with great pride and joy to think that our country is at last free.
We were late in the morning, and when we reached the ferry saw the Flora depart without us.  Sergeant Arthur took us across in his boat, and we waited at the General's house until the Flora's second trip.  It was a thousand pities, for when we reached Camp Saxton at Smith's Plantation, we arrived through the dense crowd at the foot of the platform only in time to see Colonel Higginson standing between his two color-bearers, Robert Sutton and Prince Rivers, looking small -- tall and large man as he is -- compared with them; but we missed Colonel Higginson's speech, which was stirring and eloquent. 
In one of the pauses of the exercises, just after the regiment received its colors, I believe, the soldiers and people spontaneously broke out with "My Country, 't is of thee," and Colonel Higginson made happy use of this incident.  Mrs. Gage and others had spoken; Mr. Zachos' poem had been read, Mr. Judd's also.
 We sang the John Brown son with the people, were then asked up to the platform with the other ladies, and all was over.  There was a grand barbecue, and we went to see the oxen, each standing roasted whole in its pit.  As we went to reembark, Captain Saxton made his horse rear and bow to the ladies several times.  At last he grew restive and would have thrown Captain S. if Mr. Fairfield had not sprung to the rescue.
 At the General's again we dined, I sitting at his right hand, he taking me in to dinner.  The staff, Mrs. Gage, Miss Thompson, and our party were the guests.  Dinner over, was sat up in the General's parlor and talked, I with Mrs. Gage, the General and Captains amusing themselves decking out Nelly and Tilly with scarfs and swords.  I observed that the General gave his yellow scarf to Tilly, his red one to Nelly, thus letting Miss Thompson rank Nelly.  They retained these scarfs all the evening. 
 I wore my blue silk dress and it looked well, but not so pretty as Miss Louise Kellogg's, who came with other guests to the dance.  This was opened by the General and myself in a cotillion -- neither of us dancing the Lancers.  I found I had not forgotten, and I enjoyed it exceedingly. Source: Letters and Diary of Laura M. Towne Written from the Sea Islands of South Carolina, 1862-1884, edited by Rupert Sargent Holland, Negro Universities Press, 1912, rep. 1969, pp. 98 - 99.

Courtesy Library of Congress
Thomas Higginson of Cambridge, Massachusetts was an ardent abolitionist, a member of the "Secret Six" who financially supported John Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry, a minister, and a published author.  He was colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteers, (later called the USCT 33rd), from Nov. 23, 1862 until his resignation in May 1864:
January 1.  A happy new year to civilized people - mere white folks.  Our festival has come & gone with perfect success, and our good Gen. Saxton has been altogether satisfied.  Last night the great fires were kept smouldering in the pits & the beeves were cooked more or less, chiefly more; it does not really take more than 4 hours, during which time they are stretched on great stakes made of small trees, and turned by main force at intervals.  Even the night before I carried a small piece to supper in my fingers, from the first cooked, & there is really nothing disagreeable the looks of the thing, beyond the scale on which it is done.
About ten these people began collecting, steamboats from up & down river, sent by Gen. Saxton to convey them, & from that time forth the road was crowded with riders & walkers -- chiefly black women with gay handkerchiefs on their heads & a sprinkling of men.  Many white persons also, superintendents & teachers -- two of the Wares & Edward Hall, a young minister whom Dr. Rogers admires.  Edward Hooper in Captain's uniform & Dr. Rogers' pretty little Quadroon friend, Charlotte Forten, who is here as a teacher.  But most of these superintendents do not interest me much & seem rather secondrate & inefficient.
 My companies were marched to the neighborhood of the platform & collected sitting or standing, as they are at Sunday meeting; the band of the 8th Me regiment was here & they & the white ladies & dignitaries usurped the platform -- the colored people from abroad filled up all the gaps, & a cordon of officers & cavalry visitors surrounded the circle.  Overhead, the great live oak trees & their trailing moss & beyond, a glimpse of the blue river.
 The services begun at 11 1/2 -- prayer by our chaplain -- President's proclamation read by Dr. W. H. Brisbane, a thing infinitely appropriate, a South Carolinian addressing South Carolinians -- he was reared on this very soil, and emancipated his own slaves here, years ago.  Then the colors were presented to me by Rev Mr French, who received them in N.Y. for us, unknown to us & had that fact very conspicuously engraved on the standard -- a fact which saves the need of saying anything more about the Revd Mr French.  But whatever bad taste was left in the mouth by his remarks was quickly banished.  There followed an incident so simple, so touching, so utterly unexpected & startling that I can scarely believe it when I recall it, though it gave the key note to the whole day.  The very moment Mr French had ceased speaking & just as I took & waved the flag, which now for the first time meant anything to these poor people, there suddenly arose, close beside the platform, a strong but rather craced & elderly male voice, into which two women's voices immediately blended, singing as if by an impluse that can no more be quenched than the morning note of the song sparrow -- the hymn "My country 'tis of thee Sweet land of Liberty[."]  People looked at each other & then at the stage to see whence came this interruption, not down in the bills firmly & irrepressibly the quavering voices sang on, verse after verse; others around them joined; some on the platform sung, but I motioned them to silence.  I never saw anything so electric; it made all other words cheap, it seemed the choked voice of a race, at last unloosed; nothing could be more wonderfully unconscious; art could not have dreamed of a tribute to the day of jubilee that should be so affecting; history will not believe it; & when I came to speak of it, after it was silent, tears were everywhere.  If you could have heard how quaint & innocent it was! Old Tiff & his children might have sung it; & close before me was a little slave boy, almost white, who seemed to belong to the party, & even he must join in.  Just think of it; the first day they had ever had a country, the first flag they had ever seen which promised anything to their people, -- & here while others stood in silence, waiting for my stupid words these simple souls burst out in their lay, as if they were squatting by their own hearths at home.  When they stopped there was nothing to do for it but to speak, & I went on; but the life of the whole day was in those unknown people's song.
 I spoke, receiving the flags & then gave them into the hands of two noble looking black me, as color guard, & they also spoke, very effectively, Prince Rivers & Robert Sutton.  The regiment sang Marching along & Gen. Saxton spoke in his own simple & manly way, & then Mrs. F D Gage spoke to the women very sensibly & a a Judge somebody from Florida & then some gentlemen sang an ode & the regiment the John Brown song & then they seemed to have a very gay time; most of the visitors dispersed before dress parade, though the band staid [sic] to enliven us.  In the evening we had letters & so ended one of the most enthusiastic & happy gatherings I ever saw.  The day perfect & nothing but success.  Now I must stop --
 P.S. I forgot to say that in the midst of the services it was announced that Gen. Fremont was appointed Commander in Chief & it was received with immense enthusiasm.  It was shouted across by the pickets above -- a way we often get news. Source: The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Christopher Looby, University of Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 75 - 78.
Selected Digital Resources Worth Reviewing

The New South, a newspaper published by L. Thompson who arrived with the Union occupation in Beaufort 1862 - 1867, carried an article about the festivities.  The New South newspaper was digitized by the South Carolina Digital Library.  Read the article at

For prior entries in this blog about the history of Emancipation Proclamation see http://beaufortdistrictcollectionconnections.blogspot.com/2010/01/emancipation-proclamation.html; and http://beaufortdistrictcollectionconnections.blogspot.com/2010/12/john-greenleaf-whittier-and-penn-school.html 

John Steuart Curry’s mural "The Freeing of the Slaves" depicts the active role that enslaved, former enslaved, and free blacks took to make Emancipation happen. Read the article at http://www.news.wisc.edu/21226.

The Library of Congress, Civil War Trust, and the National Archives each have fabulous resources on the Emancipation Proclamation online for all to see and use for free:

Emancipation Proclamation: Primary Documents in Our History Web Guide  (Library of Congress)

Emancipation Proclamation web exhibit (Library of Congress)

A digitized 20 item collection Civil War sheet music on the topic of the Emancipation Proclamation (Library of Congress)

Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (Civil War Trust)                                             http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/emancipation.html

Emancipation Proclamation (National Archives)                                                                          http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/

  • Drop by the St. Helena Branch Library to see the "Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War" exhibit opening tomorrow, Dec. 31st at 1:00 pm.  The exhibit will be on display through Feb. 2nd.
  • Reminder:  The Library system is closed New Year's Day, January 1st.  We resume regular hours, January 2nd.

Happy New Year!

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