Letters from St. Augustine
Civil War/Reconstruction/African-American Education
Identified teachers in St. Augustine:
Kate Foote Cornelia J. Smith
Eliza J. Smith (Syracuse, NY) Eliza Smith
Kate D. Connant Fannie J. Botts (Syracuse, NY)
Mary M. Harris Mary M. Harris
Cornelia N. Smith (No Pitcher, NY) Miss F.A. Morgan (New Haven CN)
Emily M. Wood Miss C J Henry, Palatka (Brooklyn or Julia M Bartlett Cohoes, NY)
Miss C.J. Henry, Palatka
Miss Cornelia Smith
Mrs M M Williams (NY, NY)
Charlotte J. Smith
While Booker T. Washington was not a native Floridian, he expresses the general excitement of the freedmen after the Civil War who were given the opportunity for education:
"This experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the first time, presents one of the most interesting studies that has ever occurred in connection with the development ;of any race. Few people who were not right in the midst of the scenes can form any exact idea of the intense desire which the people of my race showed for an education. As I have stated, it was a whole race trying to go to school."
The work of the Freedmen Bureau schools in St. Johns County was not done strictly by Federal Government involvement in the County, but represented a partnership between the United States Government, educational associations, and the freedmen. The original educational committee was formed on 5 March 1862 at a public meeting in Boston on behalf of the 10,000 liberated blacks in the islands of South Carolina.
Several organizations grew in various spots of the country eventually forming in May of 1866 The Freedmen's Union Commission. These letters were found in the copies of their journal called the Freedmen's Journal. Fragile journals can be found in the Boston Public Library.
The Union adopted a seven-point program for its mission in the south: 1) Systematic organization and grading of the schools; 2)Thorough training of all pupils in the elementary branches; 3) Careful preparation of the best pupils for normal classes; 4) Normal instruction and the employment of pupils in teaching as far as possible; 5) Engaging southern white and colored teachers in the work; 6) Enlisting the cooperation of the people in the work of supporting the schools to a still greater extent; and )7) Keeping carefully in view the ultimate object of paving the way for a free school system in the South, sustained by their own people of and for all classes and races.
The Freedmen's Bureau of the Federal Government also had seven components in their educational philosophy: 1. Primary Schools; 2. Night Schools; 3. Sabbath (Sunday) Schools; 4. Industrial Training; 5. Temperance Schools; 6. Normal Schools; 7. Summer Schools.
The parents chipped in by providing the teacher board, paying for the land, paying in the construction of school buildings, and paying for the books that the children used. For these parents, fresh out of slavery, the financial sacrifices were substantial.
The following letters represent the published correspondence of the Freedmen's Journal:
Dec 5th, 1862
"Many of the women make great efforts to learn to read, and meet with a good degree of success. Indeed, some learn very rapidly, and it is very pleasing to witness their delight at their progress, especially when they find they can commence reading their Bibles.
We are not at all of the opinion maintained by some of our acquaintances, that it is useless to attempt to teach the adults; and we think our experience here justifies our belief; for if they do not learn quite as quickly as the children, they make much greater efforts, which very nearly compensates. One woman who could read quite well, told us she had learnt entirely by watching and listening while the children of the family were being taught, and questioning them after the lesson was over, never having received an hour's regular instruction until we came."
Miss C. D. Connant, St Augustine FL
A letter recently received From Miss Charlotte J. Henry, says: " After having been closed four weeks on account of small-pox, the school was again opened on April 2d. The school has still an average attendance of 50, with a list of over 80. If there is no further interruption, a considerable advance will have been attained by the last of June. My Sunday school is a large and most satisfactory one.
There is some bad feeling that I hold the block house for my school. If the freedmen were able to build a school-house, or I could make other arrangements to accommodate the pupils, I would gladly comply with their wishes. I find no improvement in the state of feeling here among the inhabitants. I can see that they are losing influence and power constantly by a wicked adherence to their past wicked course, and the freedmen are gradually gaining influence. Physical relief for the helpless, the old, and the orphans will be needed for some time.
She speaks of having applied to the agent of the Bureau for rations to help this class.
St. Augustine, May 1st, 1867
Rev. C. Kennedy
Dear Friend:--"Another month has passed, and almost all those with whose faces we had become familiar, have returned to their Northern homes.
St. Augustine has nothing now to commend it but the luxuriant vegetation which greets the eye at every turn; and its refreshing sea-breezes.
There are not near as many colored people here as formerly, for the reason that the families are beginning to avail themselves of the Government grants of land, and quite a number have settled in the country, and are now busily engaged in the cultivation of sugar-cane and fruit, vegetables, & corn, from which they expect to realize a comfortable living.
I presume that you have heard that the head-quarters of the Freedman's Bureau have been removed here; we have not yet, however, seen any of its officers.
Great complaints are made by the colored people of the Catholic schools. They say the children learn nothing but their prayers. A little girl from the Catholic school came to us to learn to read; she said her mother sent her because they did not teach her at the Sisters. I went to one of their schools last week, but they had not twenty in all, and these huddled together on the floor, while three sisters stood before them, who could scarcely speak any English word but Yes! and No! catechizing them from an English catechism.
M. M. Williams
Mrs. M. M. Williams, who communicates the following interesting letter, went back to St. Augustine this season with Mrs. Charlotte J. Smith, a sister of the estimable lady who was our Principal in that quaint and ancient city last year:
I must apologize to you for not having written to you before this, but our colored friends have been so glad to welcome me back, and to see a "Smith" here again, although not the veritable genuine "Miss Smith," that every moment that has not been occupied by school duties has been engaged in visiting.
You will rejoice with me when I tell you that our school opened on Thursday, November 13th, with the most encouraging success, our roll list already numbering 74 names, and our night-school 35 additional, making a total of 109 scholars, all of whom seem eager and anxious to improve the opportunities held out to them.
Great dissatisfaction is felt with the Catholic schools, and the nuns are said to have tried to inculcate the old slavery dogmas, which you can imagine are not calmly received. Many of the Catholic children have already returned to us, and many more will eventually return. Once woman told me that her little girl would not go to the Catholic school in spite of all her efforts. She would go to "Miss Smith's" school, and no other.
Miss Smith has a place in these people's hearts that never can be filled by any one else, and her name, I feel sure, will be a household word for many a long year.
I have taken pains to state to the colored friends the low state of your exchequer, and a meeting was consequently held on Friday evening, when every one present pledged their word to furnish $1 each to be put into the common fund, and applied ;for the support of the school. It is needless for me to state to you, that the fact of your having sent "Miss Smith's sister" out without a salary, has been a powerful incentive to exertion, although I regret that the colored people here are very poor.
We very much need a school-house and the appliances for education which cannot be permanently arranged in a church. When North, I was promised funds for a school ground, but they are not adequate for the exorbitant rates now demanded, so, unless some kind friend will step forward and aid us in increasing the amount, we must wait. Mr. Chase would put up a comfortable building for us, if we could only afford to purchase the lot. Something can probably be done by holding a fair, but it will be useless to attempt that until more of the travellers arrive for the winter.
We have graded our schools this year, which will, I think, be a great advantage. Miss Smith takes the Primary and I the Intermediate and Normal classes, while we labor conjointly in the night-school.
M. M. Williams
The Freedmen's Record.
By the 1870's the secular institutions that supported the education of the freedmen were worn out. Unfortunately their subscribers grew tired of the fundraising appeals, the Freedmen's bureau came to an end by 1872, and the North went about the business of making money. However, one group came forward to still channel northern teachers to the south - - - the American Missionary Association.
The Association had its roots deep into the abolishionst movement. The Association started as a group of churches joined in New England to help the Africans who overcame their captors in the Amsted incident. The incident was about a slave ship where the Africans took charge and tried to sail back to Africa but ended up in the United States. The Africans were turned over to be tried and hung, but the Association defended them and they were found innocent and allowed to return to Africa.
The Association was an interdenominational society in the beginning but gradually it became a Congregational missionary board. The Board for Homeland Ministries of the United Church of Christ is the direct decendent of the American Missionary Association. The AMA was formed September 3, 1846. It was the result of a growing dissatisfaction with the comparative silence of the older missionary societies in regard to slavery and was a protest against it.
The American Missionary Association was the combination of four separate missionary groups. The Amistad Committee was formed August 26, 1839. The Union Missionary Society to discountance slavery and the fruits of slave labor. The Committee for West India Missions Jamaica (1837) and The Western Evangelical Missionary Society formed in 1843.
In the American Missionary of March 1865 the American Missionary Association defined its mission to the freedmen:
The work to be done for the Freedmen is threefold:
1. To promote their physical comfort.
2. To promote their intellectual improvement.
3. To promote their spiritual welfare.
The records for the American Missionary Association are stored at Tulaine University in New Orleans in the Amsted Center.
In St. Augustine significant things had taken place in the education of freedmen. The Freedmen's Bureau before its demise was able to build a school building in St. Augustine. The lot was at 61 Cordova the Dragoons Barracks lot. In 1870 the trustees of the school were Fatio Dunham, George W. Atwood, Josue Riley and Pablo Gray. Pablo Gray was a former Corporal in the 21 Regt Company A of the USCT.
The school itself faced Spanish street. The building was 33 ft long and 15 feet wide with a 10 porch that was 3 ft wide. The Freedmen's Bureau report list it as 30 x 60 which would reflect that it was a two story building. The cost of the building was $4000.00 which was substancially more than the rest of the
buildings in the state of Florida where buildings averaged only a little over $1000. The only buildings equaling St. Augustine was at Maudeau in Duval county also costing $4000.00, Tallahassee for $5,500.00, and Gainsville for $6000.00. The land was occupied by the permission of the Sec of War. Interestingly enough the land was requested almost 20 years previously as the site for a school but the transfer was never approved. The authority to build for the Freedmen's Bureau came about on May 26, 1869 and the construction was approved July 15, 1869. The school was ready for the fall term. The school became Public school #2 (Colored) in the St. Johns County School system and would retain that designation for the following decades.
However, the first name listed for the school was the Bronson school after Dr. Oliver Bronson Jr. who was active in the school and the "Colored Home" that later became the Buckingham Smith Association. Dr Bronson was an interesting St. Augustine citizen that was instrumental in black education
the executor of the Buckingham Smith estate, and public education in St. Johns County. He was said to be one of the earliest superintendents of the St. Johns County School system. Through his donation a second building was constructed on the school lot. A 15x15 cottage with porches on the east and west. Later an outdoor kitchen was constructed. This building was used to house the teachers and finance the school through rentals to St. Augustine tourists. This is perhaps one of the most unique methods of financing black education to be found in the south.
A school report for April of 1870 listed 33 male and 33 female. The average attendance was 50. None of the students were white 2 were over 16 years, 30 were primary studies, 40 learning to write and over 100 attended Sunday School.
An interesting reference to a Mr. Howard "our colored minister" was praying for the return of the teachers in Oct of 1871. No other reference to Mr. Howard was found. He would be one of the first black congregational ministers in Florida.
The general poverty of the area was telling in education as Miss Semple reported to the association that "quite a number of my best scholars are unable to go to school for want of clothes." (Semple to Cravath Oct 6, 1871)
Identified St. Augustine Teachers under the sponsorship of the American Missionary Association:
Leydia P Auld (East-Boston Ms) Miss Carrie M. Semple (Cincinnati OH)
Abbie A Bowker (Brunswick ME) Antoinette Turner (New Haven CN)
Louise H Merwin (New Haven CN)
G P Burke
A A Bowker
Carrie M Semple Miss Mary N Gillespie (Vincennes IN)
Lightfoot Watkins (St. Augustine) Lightfoot Watkins
Mrs. Fletcher (night school)
Miss S A Mather Alice Kearney (Michigan)
Mrs. L W Russell (St. Augustine)
Mrs. Isadore Hamlin (Ann Arbor Michigan)
Isadore Hamlin (Ann Arbor Michigan) Mrs. Minnie Beals
Mrs. Minnie Beals (Matron of colored home) Miss Owens
St Augustine Fla
25th Sept 1871
Field Secretary Am Miss Society New York
I am gratified by the reception of your respects of the 20th inst, containing the good news that Miss Semple will return to St. Augustine soon to resume charge of our Public School, which she so successfully re-organized out of great compassion and cordinated to the end of the term with great credit to herself and benefit to the schollars.
Every effort possible will be put forth to raise funds to relieve your society, from any burdens which it would otherwise be
Very respectfully yours,
Geo W. Atwood
Sec board Trustees
Pub School No 2
St Augustine FLa
Oct 11, 1871
Rev E M Cravath,
We had a safe and pleasant journey and received a most- cordial welcome from friends both white - colored. Mr. Howard our col. minister said he had been praying for my return ever since I left. No wonder I came. He and others had dug a trench to drain the lot which was full of water - cleaned the school house and planted some trees in the yard. I found the house in good condition although many have been injure by the severe storms of wind and rain which have been frequent for a month past.
We have the prospect of a large school. I find Miss Watkins ready to come take her school. as I learn that Miss Mather as well as Dr. Bronson wish her employed. I will give her the primary department. If the school is not large enough to employ my niece too or if the expense is too great. i will give her charge of the night school. I think. However that her salary can easily be made up At least Miss Mather is confident of it and friends here also.
I forgot to ask you about Bibles. I am very anxious to have one for each desk. i have so many Catholic scholars I should not think it wise to give them to the pupils now. but I find they are very anxious to have them. I would like a Bible Lesson at least once a week. If you have any to spare I sould like about fifty. If you cannot send bibles. I would like testaments. I have ordered groceries with Miss Mathers and they might be sent togehter by schooner. I should like six boxes of chalk also. I forgot to pay for the book (Abbotts Teacher) you purchased for me. I enclose the am't $1.25. I am greattly obliged for it and all your and Miss Cook's Kindness
Yours Truly C M Semple
St. Augustine Florida
June 3rd 1874
Rev E.M. Csavath
You will find with this the reports for April and May which I hope will be satisfactory. We had no registers from Dec until March. When they came found me in the sick room attending my niece who was very ill for six weeks. During the time of her illness she had been six and I two weeks. Since then I have confined my duties entirely to the school room scarely seeing time to make reports. Miss Mather tells me that James Williams, who was educated here sometime past is to teach this summer, the others who would have been capable of helping in this work were sent to Atlanta, through the kindness of Mr. Margroand and others. I have more in school who are old enough as yet---- I think the time is not far distant when we shall be well supplied with those abundantly capable of teaching in our places.
I find my school very interesting indeed.
Thanks for the "Missionary".
Yours very respectfully,
PS Will give information in regard to S. Schools in June Report
St. Augustine FL
March 6th, 1875
Rev. E.M. Cravath
I find myself once more "in the harness', and like the work very well indeed.
Of course Mrs. Mamlin has written you that she was obliged to leave. Dr. Bronson insisted on my taking her place, although I was already employed as Matron of the "Colored House," for aged and infirm. The double duty is very fatiguing, but as the school is to be closed the first of May think I will be able to endure it.
I find the attendance very irregular - only a small average attendnace compared with the number of names recorded. There should be some different regulations made concerning the duration of the regular school term. The people of St. Augustine "gather their harvest" in the winter--it is the only time when they can find employment. They must keep their children from school to act as waiters, nurses and for the innumerable crowd of tourists who visit this place annually. The "Peabody Fund" is taken away from both schools-- and they can only carry on the schools until the 1st of May. There is nothing to prevent a teacher from remaining all summer., the climate is delightful - and more good could be accomplished in three months of summer schooling than during the rest of the year.
Miss Kearney wished me to ask you if you could not allow her something for household expenses -- the rooms of the house are all rented, she has the people to wait on -- has to have their continually passing through her rooms, and has nothing to show for it.
Do you keep up the school at Beaufort NC still? Where is Mr. Bull -- at Woodbridge?
I send you a copy of a document, which fell into my hands the other day, and may interest you. Don't you think a teacher is needed still?
Let me hear from you as soon as convenient
Mrs. M C Beals
Lest you should have forgotten who I am I remind you that I was Minnie C Owens married A.C. Beals son of H. L. Beals whom you of course know very well - and am now, as always ready to do all in my power for the colored people
May 18, 1875
Please find enclosed my account with the Teacher's House which was built by Dr . Bronson and turned over to your agency. There were three rooms, more than they the teachers ? and which the crowd here was so great and rooms in such demand. I provided the necessary articles and rented them as you will see by my statements inclosed of at $4 per month as the teachers at first ? to rent them.
I undertook this businness at the request of Dr Bronson who desired me to do it as long ago when Miss Simple was here.
The money I handed to Dr Bronson, he has put painters at work on the house to day, and will I presume pay anything in good order.
Last year the Teachers decided that a kitchen should be built as they were to remain here all summer and the stove made the whole house so warm and uncomfortable. I sent for a carpenter and after figuring some time he said he would build it for $118 which I paid him.
We house Mrs. Beals in the school now and think we are fortunate in getting so good a teacher as a Teacher. She and her sister will take the school next year I beleve.
It was a great trial to give up Miss Simple for she is by far the best Teacher I know. I think Mrs Beal comes next. I hope the school will soon recover the standing it had when Miss Simple had it. Two of her scholars are at Hampton and three have been at Atlanta. I hope four of them will turn out good Teachers of their race.
S A. Mather.
S.A. Mather acct with Teachers Home
Paid for cleaning rooms .50
Stove for Mrs. L room 6.50
Paid Miss Hamlin for rocking chair and ? 5.00
Chamber set 2.75
1/2 doz towels 1.33
11 yds shirting 4.13
4 pillow casing .90
1875 April 18th Credit
Recieved of Miss Lawrence for rent of room 4 month at $14 pr m $56.00
April 30 Rent of Miss ? for rent of room 3 m at $15 $45.00
April 15. recd of Miss Hamilon for rent of room 1 month 13 days as 10 per m $14.00
St. Augustine FL
21st May 1875
Rev. E Cravath
Sec Amer Miss Assoc
It would be difficult to say whether I was the more ? ? or my wife amused at my mixing up the two "Alices" as I did in my letter to you of 22nd April last.
The facts are that both of the young ladies named reside in the same family together and as associates are almost inseperatable and if Miss Kearny is ill for a day, Miss Carlter volunteers to take her place in school they always visit together and only yesterday both of them spent their afternoon and evening intermission in my family and dined and suppered with us, and rarely a week passes but they pass some part of a day together in at my house.
Miss Alice Kearney is the person in whose behalf I appeal and will continue teaching until the end of this month instead of the end of April as I before intimated. She has taught two terms for us and now only leaves because Miss Beal has thr right to elect her own assistant which she does by choosing her own niece., and as her pay for tuition has been barely enough for her sustance while teaching it is simply just that she should not depend of us friends for the means to transport her to her home in Michigan after two years of faithful and arduous service. I cannot tell you how reluctantly I make this appeal in her behalf yet hope she will not be disappointed
Very Truly yours,
Geo W Atwood Sec
Pub School No 2 St Johns Co. FL
June 7th 1875
Rev E M Cravath
I am rather late about sending in my report but i have not been at all well.
Miss Kearney went away before the school closed, and I had the entire work of preparing the school for examination - exhibition, decorating the rooms etc. People expressed themselves remarkably well pleased with exercises - spelling particularly - said by some, to be the best ever heard.
Will write at greater length when I have the decision of trustees concerning the school for another year.
Mrs. M.O. Beals
Dec 7 1875
I write you to day as a ? ? making a statement of matters that effect the col. school. As there has been a change in the Trustees the whites finding themselves opposed in all their plans by the cold Trustees resigned yesterday and the Board is now wholly col.
Dr. Bronson made the arrangement with Mrs Beals by her sister Miss Owens before his death to take charge of the school and we all supposed it was the very best thing that could be done for the school for we know the teachers are excellent. I don't believe there are any better in the state. Had there been any col'd teachers qualified to take charge of the school all would have preferred them having the place but after being so fortunate in securing these excellent teachers we did not think it best to displace them because they were white that is the only objection brought against them.
I hear they intend to retain. Miss Owens and take charge of your cottage. If Miss Owens is removed her sister the principal says she will resign immediately. The cottage belonged to the AMA until I sent in my account and told them I had forwarded the same to you.
Dr. Bronson asked me to be in charge of the cottage which I have always done with pleasure though it involves a good deal of labor. If you wish me to continue please signify it to me. I promised to refund the money advanced for Miss Owens travelling expenses from the rent of rooms. If they are judicious managed. I should think as much might be realized as last year. I handed my acct with Dr. Bronsons receipt of $90.00 to the trustees. Application for rooms has already been made so the prospect for renting is very good.
Hoping to hear from you soon.
I am respectfully yours
S A Mather
P.S. The question has been raised as to your holding the building. To whom was the deed given of the land on which the school house and cottage stand. Your reply to this will oblige. Yours S A Mathers
June 23rd 1876
Rev Geo Whipple Sec
My Dear Sir
? B. F. Oliveras, member of our County Board of Education, presented a letter from you at the last meeting of the Board, to which I was directed to make reply. It is the desire and request of the Board that this $20 now in your hands be paid by draft to J.W. Allen Treasurer of our Board to be used for the purpose of repairs and painting on the School House No. 2. (Colored) as there is some need of such work.
Second, it is the desire and request of the Board that the entire care and management of the dwelling house built by Dr O. Bronson for the use of the teachers of said school be committed to the Board to be used for the purposes designed by them. The Board being ready at all times to report to the Am Miss Assoc. and acting simply as its agents for the good of all concerned.
Bro Whipple Permit me to add that I entirely concur in the ? . The trust will be held and managed by the Trustees of Dist No 2 (under the control of the County Board) who are respectable and capable colored men. The teachers next year will be colored at least two of them, and it will be more satisfactory to all parties to have the thing so managed. Since the death of Dr. Bronson, I take his place as Supt and it is my earnest desire to carry out his wishes for the colored people.
Yours in Christ
C. O. Reynolds
Office of Supt Schools
St. Augustine Fla
Oct 1st 1877
Treasurer of the American Missionary Association of the City of New York
Will you be kind enough to inform me who is the proper person to take charge of and control the two story frame building on the Government lot in the City of St. Augustine, near the Colored School House? By reference to the Deed an file in the Clerk's Office of this County, I find that the late Dr. Oliver Bronson deeded to Edgar Ketchum to the effect "that the said house shall be forever used as a residence for the Teachers of the free colored School of St. Augustine, or that it shall be used for the use and purposes of said School, such School being in conformity to, and under the Laws of the State of Florida, in regard to Public Schools, and in case said House shall cease to be used for such purposes as above, it shall thereupon revert to and become a portion of my Estate" (Bronson).
I am the Superintendent of Schools for the County of St. Johns, duly appointed and commissioned by the Governor of the State and am now officiating as such; and am desirious of taking care of all School property, and see that "matters and things in general" be properly cared for. I have never been placed in possession of the Keys of the building in question. The Building has been unoccupied since the closing of the school on the 28th June last.
An early reply is solicited.
Thos F. Russell
Office of Supt Schools
St. Augustine Fla Nov 5th 1877
Rev M E Strieby (?)
Your favor of the 26th ult. to hand. in reply, would stat that the Dwellings House referred to, is a small cottage built bny the late Dr. Bronson upon the lot of land owned by the US Government in the City of St. Augustine, upon which said lot stands an large and commodious School House, built by Gen. O.O. Howard of the Freedman's Bureau for the education of the colored children. The cottage was for the use of teachers selected for the colored School, to reside in. This cotage is only a few yards from the School building and is not closed, as the teachers now in charge of the School House, have Their own residences in the City. This Cottage building was designed by the late Dr. Bronson for the residence of teachers; or to be rented, and the rentail to go towards sustaining the Colored School, either in repairs of building or paying salaries of teachers, & c.
All the public Schools of this County are under my immediate supervision as Superintendent of Schools, commissioned by the Governor of the State.
My only object in writing is to know who has charge of the cottage in question, and who has the keys? The Cottage is upon the Lot, of which I now have control, and am desirious of doing what I can to forward the interest of Education
Thos F. Russell