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Collections >> Titles by Harriet A. Jacobs (Harriet Ann) >> Harriet Jacobs' report "Colored Refugees in Our Camps" The Liberator, April 10, 1863


FROM The Liberator 10 April 1863, p. 60.

The following letter is from a very worthy, intelligent woman, who was herself a slave during twenty-five years, and who is now manifesting sympathy with her long-oppressed people by nursing them in the vicinity of our camps. To do this, she not only relinquishes good wages in a family for many years strongly attached to her, but also liberally imparts from her own earnings to the destitute around her.



Since I last wrote to you, the condition of the poor refugees has improved. During the winter months, the small pox carried them off by hundreds; but now it has somewhat abated. At present, we have one hundred and forty patients in the hospital. The misery I have witnessed must be seen to be believed. The Quakers of Philadelphia, who sent me here, have done nobly for my people. They have indeed proved themselves a Society of Friends. Had it not been for their timely relief, many more must have died. They have sent thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to different sections of the country, wherever these poor sufferers came within our lines. But, notwithstanding all that has been done, very many have died from destitution. It is impossible to reach them all. Government has erected here barracks for the accommodations of five hundred. We have fifteen hundred on the list.

Many have found employment, and are supporting themselves and their families. It would do your heart good to talk with some of these people. They are quick, intelligent, and full of the spirit of freedom. Some of them say to me, "The white men of the North have helped us thus far, and we want to help them. We would like to fight for them, if they would only treat us like men."

The colored people could not do enough for the first regiments that came here. They had entire faith in them as the deliverers of their race. The sight of the U. S. uniform took all fear out of their hearts, and inspired them with hope and confidence. Many of them freely fed the soldiers at their own tables, and lodged them as comfortably as possible in their humble dwellings. The change is very sad. In return for their kindness and ever-ready service, they often receive insults, and sometimes beatings, and so they have learned to distrust those who wear the uniform of the U.S. You know how warmly I have sympathized with the Northern army; all the more does it grieve me to see so many of them false to the principles of freedom. But I am proud and happy to know that the black man is to strike a blow for liberty. I am rejoiced that Col. Shaw heads the Massachusetts regiment, for I know he has a noble heart.

How pitiful it is that members of any religious sect should come here, and return home to report their observations, without one word of sympathy for God's suffering poor! This is suggested to me by reading the New York Evangelist. These poor refugees undoubtedly have faults, as all human beings would have, under similar circumstances. I agree with that noble man, Gen. Saxton, who says they appear to him to be "extremely human." As to drunkenness, I have seen but one case. As to stealing, I wish the writer in the New York Evangelist had made himself acquainted with the old slave-pen here, now used for a prison. When I last went there, I found seventy whites and one colored man. The marriage law has been disregarded, from old habits formed in slavery, and from want of true friends to encourage them in the observance of it now. I wish the writer of that article could have been where I was last night, in our rough, little, poorly-built church.

It was densely crowded; and although some alarm was excited by the rafters giving way overhead, quiet was soon restored, and the people were deeply attentive. Eight couples were married on this occasion. We have a day-school of eighty scholars, and a large number attend our evening school—mostly adults. A large sewing-circle, composed of young and old, meet every Saturday afternoon. Three colored men teach a school in this city for those who can afford to pay somewhat for instruction. They have a large number of pupils, mostly children of colored citizens, but a few of the "little contrabands" attend their school.

We are now collecting together the orphan children, of whom there are a great number, owing to the many deaths that have occurred of late. In justice to the refugee women, I am bound to testify that I have never known them, in any one instance, refuse to shelter an orphan. In many cases, mothers who have five or six children of their own, without enough to feed and cover them, will readily receive these helpless little ones into their own poor hovels.

O, when will the white man learn to know the hearts of my abused and suffering people!


Titles by Harriet A. Jacobs (Harriet Ann)