Schedule Alert: My author talk Friday, March 17, at the Library Express bookstore in Scranton has been POSTPONED due to Winter Storm Stella. I’ll let you know when we’ve got a rescheduled date.
Meanwhile, dear reader, here are two fresh History Nuggets:
“Singing Their A,B,C.” One fact that moved me in my book research was how urgently the fugitive slaves of Waverly, Pa., yearned to read and write. As I state in Embattled Freedom, they knew education would lift them out of “the dark cavity of oppression” wrought by slavery, and they welcomed the schooling that white allies provided. It seems the same yearning was true for the droves of “contraband” slaves who fled toward the Union army for protection down in the war-torn South. This comes through clearly in the book I’m currently reading, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War. The author, historian Chandra Manning, has a wealth of examples. She tells of a free-black woman living near a contraband camp in Virginia who turned her home into a crowded school and taught the three R’s and hymns until tuberculosis overtook her. Not far from there, two white sisters from Massachusetts helped contraband women by tacking a large alphabet card onto the wall of the sewing room so everyone could keep “head and fingers busy” while they made clothing and repaired army material. When more slates were needed for the writing lessons, one of those sisters slipped away and pried roof shingles off a rebel building. In Tennessee, a runaway serving as a cook for the army kept a spelling book at hand so he could study even while tending his pots. In South Carolina, an elderly ex-slave taught math by lining his contraband pupils into rows and having them march around in shifting formations. He devised a method to teach reading by setting the alphabet and phonetics to song. When the old man’s brother died, the pupils “carried schoolbooks like hymnals” to the graveside, “singing their A,B,C, through and through again.” They knew education was a blessed thing.
“A Pioneer Antislavery Man.” As the contraband camps formed, white missionaries and Northern benevolent societies stepped in to attend to body, mind and spirit. Their presence continued after the war, at that point to assist the millions of newly classified freedmen. One of the white patrons, I discovered, was a Waverly man. John L. Richardson had been a teacher and principal of Waverly’s elite Madison Academy in the 1850s and would have known the village’s abolitionists and fugitives. After the war, according to an old county history, the “pioneer antislavery man” became a roving agent of the New York American Missionary Association and “addressed thousands of his countrymen in favor of the newly-created citizens of African descent.” Richardson raised thousands of dollars, helped to set up freedmen schools, and trained the teachers. He reminds me of another impressive figure from my research, Joseph Kiddoo, commander of the stalwart black regiment that included six soldiers from Waverly. Kiddoo went on to head the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas, where he prioritized education and advocated for black civil rights. Direct exposure to black people and their aspirations had a lasting effect on many white Northerners. Richardson and Kiddoo are prime examples.
More Book News. Embattled Freedom will be available as an e-book later this month, according to my publisher, Sunbury Press. Paula Radwanski of Tunkhannock, Pa., won last month’s book giveaway. Congrats, Paula! I’ve gotten some nice press for Embattled Freedom and am in the process of scheduling author talks–updates to come. And my book launch was a big success, with about 100 folks attending. Many thanks to my hosts at the Waverly Community House. Below is a photo from the launch. Civil War re-enactor Bob Bowell and I are displaying a replica of the dramatic battle flag of the black regiment that included six Waverly men.