ISLAND NO. 10 AND HELENA.
Some time in November, 1863, I landed on the desolate shore of Island No. 10. Another woman from Ohio had just arrived, on the same mission. Rev. Benjamin Thomas, a Baptist minister from Ohio, was captain of the regiment that guarded the island. His wife was with him. They kindly gave us a part of their home. I cannot make you understand how it all seemed to me. I had scarcely ever seen a colored person, and had never spoken to but one till then.
Some time after I arrived two women were called up before Captain Thomas to be punished for fighting, and the fight was not yet over. Both were still in a most fearful rage, calling each other terrible names. Captain Thomas called me out, and in a laughing manner said: "Miss Moore, I will turn this case over to you. Since you came here to make people good, try your hand on these women."
I do not know what I said, only I know they laughed at my earnestness, and I cried myself to sleep that night, as I did many another night that winter. Such a mass of suffering, sin, and ignorance as was gathered on that island surely no one ever saw before.
I had a talk next day with the women Captain Thomas handed over to me, but I fear I did them but little good. I have learned since that you can never help any one till you love them a little after the way that Jesus loved you. I only pitied those women then. God showed me that I must keep in close communion with Him, and take His spirit with me in all my work, if I ever expected to be a comfort to any human soul; and there on that island, among those wretched people, I learned "to walk with God" as I never did before.
Soon the poor women learned to come to me with their troubles and cares. Miss Baldwin, who shared my labors, was an earnest Christian. We wrote hundreds of letters to our friends in the North for clothing, for the people were almost naked. Often we found children on the wharf with nothing on them but a part of a soldier's old coat. The women and children were free, but did not know where to go or what to do. They were taken by the soldiers on the boat, and as this was a "contraband" camp, they were landed here.
The winter of 1863-'64 was very cold. We suffered greatly. Our store-room had no fire. There we spent every alternate day. Our plan was to visit in the cabins and tents one day and find what each one needed, and give a written order, which we filled the next day from the store-room that our friends from the North kept filled in answer to our letters. Often those who needed help least would tell us the most pitiful story, so we found it necessary to visit their homes, if homes they could be called. They had to use so many things in common. Three families with six or ten children each, cooked their food in the same pot on the same fire. Each had to wait for the other. No wonder that a mother with crying, hungry children would quarrel when thus situated.
We had a large Sabbath school, besides other meetings with the women and children in their homes. It was indeed a great joy to read the Bible to those who had never heard it before. After spending five months on this island the whole colony was removed in April, to
I can never forget that helpless mass of humanity that I helped to stow away on those boats. Every day seemed a year, so much was happening. Part of the colony stayed in Helena, and part was scattered on the plantations that were near Helena within the guarded part. The Quakers, or Friends, from Indiana, had just come to establish an orphan asylum. They took some of our children. These good people had also an industrial school for the women and day schools for the children. Not long after I came to Helena they offered to employ me; to this I gladly agreed. My reader will remember that I started off on this mission with the promise of four dollars per month from the children. My heavenly Father knew I needed more help, therefore He had these godly Quakers ready to take care of me. I remained in their employ till the close of 1868, when I was obliged to leave the work. I wish I had time to tell you in detail the good accomplished by the Society of Friends during the war and just after it closed. Not only in Arkansas, but all over the South. They were very kind to their missionaries. They invited me to their yearly meeting in Indiana and treated me with great courtesy. They knew I was a Baptist but never asked me to unite with their church. I cannot say too much in praise of the Friends. Those I knew were surely a superior class of Christians.
THE HOME FARM NEAR HELENA.
The Home Farm, about three miles from Helena, was a contraband camp something like Island NO. 10. Here were gathered a great company of women and children and helpless old men. A company of soldiers in a fort near by guarded it. There were no white people there, and no one was teaching or helping those people to a better life. I offered to go and live there. The other teachers called me presumptious and crazy, but I went. We fixed up a room in a cabin with a colored woman. I got the soldiers to make me an arbor and some rude seats, made by driving posts in the ground and fastened on them a split sapling; nailed my blackboard to a tree, and divided the colony into four divisions. The very little children, older children, adults who could read a very little, or rather those who wanted to learn, and the old people who could only listen as I read to them. Each division spent about one hour and a half in school. A little before dark every evening a great crowd gathered around my cabin for family prayers. I read the Bible and explained it, and gave them a memory verse. Then they sang their weird, old plantation hymns, and prayed their old-time prayers till after dark. Then each retired with a sweet, glad song in all hearts, for so it seemed, judging by the joy in my own heart. O, how I did enjoy each day there! Once a week I came to Helena in the ambulance that brought the sick ones to the hospital. I have been exposed to smallpox and other contagious diseases, but the Lord has kept me. One of the nights I was in Helena a raid of rebel soldiers came to the colony, and so disarranged things that I could not go back. The same God that had sheltered me all these years brought me home the very day the danger came to that outpost. Praise the Lord!
After this I began to teach the colored soldiers that were guarding Helena. I found none that could read well; several others could read a little, having been taught occasionally by officers of the regiment. I found only one who was a Christian. I opened a school in four or five companies which I taught at different hours of the day. I never had more than ten at once, and yet I had more than one hundred on my list. Each day I taught all one verse of the Scripture till they knew it perfectly; giving them plain, easily understood texts, such as "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" "The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God;" "God so loved the world," etc.; "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Other than this I said very little to them on the subject of religion except a short prayer at the opening and closing of the school. I had not been teaching more than six weeks till I noticed a seriousness in the manner of some, which showed they were under conviction of sin. The Bible did this. Those texts of Scripture sank down deep into their hearts, and all night long as they stood on guard, God's word was doing its blessed work. There I learned the value of the Bible, and from that day to this I have been trying to get God's words into the homes, the hands, and the hearts of every human soul I meet. God speed the day when His message will be made the subject of the social conversations, and Bible study be the great work of our associations, conferences, and conventions.
One day I said to the boys in each division: "All of you who are sorry for your sins and want to be forgiven, come to the children's school room at 7 o'clock." It was next to my home. There the other teachers taught the children each day. When I entered that school room, there sat three of my boys in tears. "My sins, my sins. How can I be forgiven?" was all they could say; and I, what could I do? No preacher there; no chaplain in that regiment; nothing could I do, but tell them about Jesus and his love, and then we all got down on our knees and prayed as I never prayed before. Then the boys prayed. When we rose from our knees two were converted. I wish you could have seen them as they quietly walked the floor praising God, their faces all aglow with the joy of pardoned sin. The next night five new inquirers came and one poor boy rushed in saying, "O pray for me; I am on guard to-night, but I am such a sinner I have come to ask your prayers." I think three were converted that night.
For one week we had the meeting every night, after that we met only once a week, and on the Sabbath. The teachers of the children often met with us. The good work went on, till sixty of those soldiers were converted.
Those who were converted were nearly all between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four years. It was perfectly marvelous, the progress they made in their studies. I had been a teacher for most of the time among white people for the past fifteen years, but in all that time I never had pupils that learned as fast as some of those boys. They not only memorized, but reasoned; got hold of ideas and expressed them in writing. I taught them only about seven months, and all that time they attended to their usual soldier duties. It was all learned in the spare minutes that the other soldiers in the regiment idled away. But few of these boys knew even their alphabet till they came to me. Their conversion to Christ did much to awaken and strengthen their intellects. It is well that I had this glorious experience with these colored soldiers in the first part of my work among this despised race. From that day to this nothing has occurred that could dampen my enthusiasm for the colored people, both as regards their moral and mental elevation.
Rev. Carter, an African Methodist Episcopal minister came to Helena about the time I left. He was the only colored minister there. They wanted to be baptized; I took them to the home of this pastor. He examined them, and one Sabbath about twenty-five marched down to the Mississippi River and were buried with Christ in baptism. We formed ourselves into a little church with no officers--only the following
COVENANT OF CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS IN MISS MOORE'S SCHOOL.
We, the undersigned, feeling the need of united effort on our part to resist the many temptations that surround us, and the sins that so easily beset us in our present trying position, therefore resolve
I. That we enter into a solemn agreement to meet together every Wednesday night for prayer to Almighty God for help and assistance to serve Him who gave Himself a ransom that we through faith in Him might have eternal life.
II. Resolved, that the object of this meeting be to inquire after the spiritual progress of each other, and to comfort, cheer, and encourage each other in every good word and deed.
III. Resolved, that we each at all times exercise toward each other that brotherly watch care and love which the children of God are required to feel, and if a brother be overtaken in a fault, we that are spiritual will seek to restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we, also, be tempted.
IV. Resolved, that henceforth, with God's help, we will endeavor to live as humble and devoted followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and strive in all that we do or say to have an eye single to the glory of God.
This covenant was signed by 62 men, representing seven companies in the 56th regiment.
Mother's sickness called me home about the close of the war, and these soldiers were soon after mustered out of service. I kept in touch with a number of these soldiers for several years. Three, James Owen, George Gaines and John Meadows, are to-day faithful ministers of the gospel. I give you some of the words they wrote in my album just before I left for the North. You wonder that they express themselves so well. I took much pains in showing them how to write letters. It was one of our every-day studies with those who could write. I can take space for but four of the many letters written in my album:
HELENA, Ark., July 20, 1865.
Kind Teacher:--I want to say some words of comfort to you. You have been a great light to me and have led me from darkness into such light as I never saw before. Dear teacher, I wish I could repay you for your kind teaching and Christian walk, by which you have led me to consider my own salvation and turn to God. I feel as if no other friend so dear could leave me. But I know that the spirit of Him who goes with you will stay with me.
Your obedient scholar,
JAMES C. OWEN.
Here is another from an eighteen-year-old boy:
Kind Teacher:--O that I could reward you for your great kindness to me and our poor, degraded and long-oppressed people. I know not my future, but whatever it is, I intend you shall hear it, and I also intend that, with the help of God, you shall hear nothing bad of me. Your people have often said that the negroes could not be made into intelligent people, but I am determined that that shoe shall not fit me. I will try as you have often told me, to choose for my companions the moral, the sensible, and, especially, the religious. I do want to be useful in this world, and try to do good to all I meet whether white or black. I never will, with Jesus to help me, forget the promises I have made to God and to you, to live so on earth, that at last I may meet my teacher who has been my dearest earthly friend, in immortal glory where parting is no more.
Your most obedient scholar,
GEORGE W. GAINES.
Kind Teacher:--I want to inform you that I have been studying about the greatness of your good that you have done the poor colored people who has been bound down in the South under the hands of the slave trader who has driven them from to to fro for many a long year, shot them like dogs, fed them like hogs and run them like deer. Miss Moore, there never was any other nation of people that ever was read of by this generation that ever had anyways near the hard and cruel treatment that the poor colored people have had. You are one that came down to this low wilderness of the South when the times were dark and gloomy, and the poor colored people were in deep ignorance and you have proved yourself more than a common friend to them. I am one who has lived in bondage for twenty-one years, and I always looking to see who is the true friend to the black people. I never do pass one or speak to you or any other teacher but I think, "There is a friend." Miss Moore, your name is bound to be written in the of many, long to be remembered, long to be loved, long to be Blessed with the name of God. I do wish I was well enough learned to write and spell, so I could just write what I can see and know about what You have done and what a great friend you are to the black people. It will be hard for us poor colored soldiers to get along without you.
The specimens already given are the best and I will take space for part of one more letter:
Dear Teacher:--I thank God for the optunity he has blesst me with sending a good teacher to our regment to teach my fellow solders how to read the Holy Bible, the first Book among many books, and to right Letters to thar frends. Dear, teacher since you have bin hear you have learned a great many of the Regment how to read God's word and how to find him. Dear teacher the time is drawing near when we have to part, and how I dread that. . . . . Dear teacher, I have been deprived of a grate portion of my time for study on account of sickness, but I thank God for what I receave. I thank God that he spared me to see the time I long hope for and was afraid that I would never see the south winds blow over a free country. O if I could open the eyes of my people from a deepe slumber they would behold the glowreyfull light of liberty which have been hidden behind the cloud of slavery for many years. But now there is a chance for us, let us make haste and improve the advantages of the day and night, but the first Book of all is the Bible; it teach us how to live and how to die. Dear teacher we will never be able to pay you for the great good you have done but heaven shall be your reward.
ALFRED S. WILLIAMS.
You will see by the words of these young men that even at that early date they felt the heavy hand of prejudice that would discourage them from trying to be or do what white men had done, or from what other human lives had attained. It was not from me that they got their ideas of what the white people would do or say. It was a subject on which I seldom spoke. I only sought to save their souls and enlighten their minds and this has been my effort ever since. It is sad to remember that all through the struggles of 39 years of freedom this hand has been heavy upon them. O God, how long!
In 1868 I went to Lauderdale, Miss., to help the Friends in an orphan asylum. After I had been there about six weeks the superintendent's daughter sickened and died, and both parents left to carry the remains of that loved daughter to her grave in Richmond, Ind. I was left in charge of the asylum. Soon after, that terrible disease, the cholera, made its appearance. Eleven of our children died within one week, and then the plague stayed. But that one week brought me face to face with death as I had never been before. There was no other white woman there. I had the care of the children, gave them their food, conducted their morning and evening prayers, and watched by the sick bed of the dying. Often those who were well and happy when they retired, ere the daylight came were in the cold grave, for they were buried the same hour they died. I was often up with them during the night and held their cold little hands in mine. Two of them I remember especially; they died a gloriously triumphant death, saying, with their last breath: "Sister Moore, I am going to Jesus; I will meet you there." Most of them expressed a hope in Christ. Since then I have never needed to ask: "Will any one there at the beautiful gate, be waiting and watching for me?" How wonderfully God has blessed me; praise His name!
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