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Yours for the Uplifting: Freedmen's Schools and Teacher Sarah L. Daffin


[P. 1]

Such were the words which concluded an

 interesting letter from one of our Teachers

 among the Freedmen—a young colored woman

 from Philadelphia. They arrested attention;

and, curious to know something of the experi-

ence of the writer in her little corner of the great field, we selected her letters from the

 hundreds on file, and carefully perused them.

They contained both the experience of the

 writer, and a picture of her progressive work.

Educated at the Institute for Colored Youth, in Philadelphia, a school established when as

 yet the friends of the colored people were few—

Graduating at a period when all eyes were

 turned southward, and all ears had heard the

 snapping of the fetters of the bondmen, with a

trained intellect and willing heart, this young

person quietly assumed the position of a Teacher.

Under the direction of some one or other of

the “relief” associations she had taught, pro-

bably as an Assistant, successfully at Norfolk,

Va., Wilmington, N.C., and Washington D.

C., being transferred from place to place, as was deemed best by her employers.


[P. 2]

The beginning of her correspondence with our Secretary, dated from a little town in the mountains of East Tennessee, November 1,

1868. Here she had been but a year. A

single extract from her first letter will be seen

To be in harmony with the quotations which


“My school is doing well. Pupils are making good

progress. One scholar has just died in the triumphs of



These expressions coming together, simply

show the profession of the writer—a religious

School Teacher.

The history of the work among the Freedmen

will probably never be written; but one thing

may be safely asserted, that wherever in a given

locality there is to be found to-day a colored

population of more than ordinarily good character

And growing intelligence, there will be discov-

ered the foot prints of a Christian Teacher, who

added to skilled work in her profession active

efforts for the formation of Christian character.

on the 26th of February this Teacher

writes as follows. It was the beginning of the farming


“Next month I shall lose nearly all my best pupils.

While I greatly regret it, yet I know it is right that

They must earn their bread by the sweat of their brows.



[P. 3, Continued]


“Our Sabbath School is increasing in interest. It is

good to be at the school prayer meeting, for God has

met with us. Not that his presence has been indicated

by the boisterous excitement which these people have

been accustomed to believe was the sure method of

worship, but by the still small voice which has calmed

away our fears, and breathed a hallowed influence

around us.

“The children have acquire a great love for reading

 our little library books, but our supply is so limited

that they have exhausted it long ago.”


In this letter she also asks for the appoint-

ment of a serious young colored girl, a native of

the locality, as an Assistant.

There was a period when the annoyance and persecution of Freedmen’s Teachers was a com-

mon pastime with many “rude fellows of the

baser sort,” in the South; but we trust a better feeling now prevails generally, though we wot

of two localities even at this writing where

heads are pillowed upon anxiety, fearing a repe-

tition of the midnight visits of armed men.

A favorite method of injuring and retarding

the school work among the colored people, was

at one time the burning of school houses.

She who writes “Yours for the Uplifting,”

in a letter dated March 7th, thus describes a

calamity of this kind:


“The sun rose this morning upon a smouldering heap

of ashes. On the spot where this time yesterday our


[P. 4, Continued]

school house stood. An incendiary applied the flame,

it is supposed, to the Bible and maps, which communi-

cated to the building, and when discovered it was too

well under headway to be checked. The bell fell with

A heavy crashed and is rendered useless.

“How little did we think on last Friday afternoon

when we held our weekly prayer meeting that we had

met for the last time in that house.

“It was a sad spectacle to behold the little ones this morning, having come to Sunday School, gathered

around the spot where we have loved to meet and to

see the tears running down their cheeks, disappointed,

yes, sorely disappointed, at finding no house.

“The colored people held service this morning in a

white Baptist Church, and then and there commenced

to pray earnestly for the soul of him who had thus tried

to injure them.


“Could there be a more practical illustration of the

command of Christ, ‘Pray for them that despitefully

use you and persecute you.’

“The minister exhorted the people not to entertain

the slightest feeling of vindictiveness towards any man,

but to view the secret hand in this seemingly unfortu-

nate circumstance.”


In this letter a donation of Bibles was asked.

The spirit of love is all conquering. The

strong bow before it, the resolute waver, and

the heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh. The

fixed, glassy eye is moistened at its approach—

remorse is followed by repentance; and from the low places of hated, malice, and all unchari-

tableness, there is a sweet uplifting.


[P. 5]

A fortnight later she writes:


“On the 9th the citizens, irrespective of party, held

a meeting to express the sentiments of the community

in relation to the destruction of the colored school

house. The speeches made upon the occasion were

highly sympathetic—indeed, practically so—for one

hundred and seventy-five dollars were contributed tow-

ards a new building, besides offers of assistance in doing

the work. We are getting along nicely with the



A new school house is erected, and in less than two months we read:


“The new house is dedicated. The school is in good condition—the pupils exhibiting continued interest in

their studies.”


And a little later:

“On Friday afternoon we dispense with our usual

lessons, and have all who can read join the Testament

class, and peruse the Word of God for the space of one

hour. We commenced with the 1st Chapter of Matthew,

and have gone on until we have reached the 17th of

John. One pleasing feature in this connection is the

love these children have for the Bible.

“I never have reason to tell them to bring their Tes-

tament, for they are only too glad to have Friday come.

After the reading we spend an hour in prayer. Many

of the children who have been compelled to leave school

in order to work come in on Friday afternoons to take

part in these exercises.

“Those who attend show a fervent spirit, and fre-

quently when assembled around the Mercy Seat the

Spirit of God hovers over us, and causes us to experi-

ence that sweet calm which

“None but he who feels it knows.”



[P. 6]

Thus, in a quiet, simple way, is solved the

vexed question of “religious teaching in com-

mon schools.” Notwithstanding the time thus

abstracted from secular learning, the school

reports from this locality compared very favor-

ably with others; for in the profession of teach-

ing, as in all other pursuits in life, the promise

holds good, “See ye first the Kingdom of God

and His righteousness, and all these things shall

be added unto you.”

In October she writes:


“Everything is moving along admirably; and upon

the whole, I feel that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.”


Near the close of the year, her services being

required in a school of somewhat higher grade,

where a teacher had just resigned, she writes:


“Never before have my pupils seemed so near to me

as now. I have labored here just two years, and I feel that by God’s grace I have been the humble instrument

of doing something for Jesus.

“Last evening three of my scholars professed faith

in Christ, and eight others are groaning earnestly for


“Sad were our hearts as we gathered at our last Fri-

day school prayer meeting. Remembrances of many

happy moments spent together at this place thronged

our memories, and we freely mingled our prayers and


“Since writing the above, another of my boys has

found peace in believing.



[P. 7]

“Two of my pupils who have long been a source of

anxiety to me, have at last given the brightest evidence

of their acceptance with God.”


In striking confirmation of our belief that the

success of the secular teachers is in no wise

lessened by this direct christian effort, the suc-

cessor of this young woman, a white person

from the North, having no acquaintance with

her predecessor, writes in her first letter:


“I am much pleased with the School. It is very

orderly, and great pains have been taken with their

Studies, especially Geography and Mental Arithmetic.”


Such was the uplifting in an obscure place;

and in printing these extracts from letters never

intended for publication, there is no intention of

praising the writer—not the slightest. The

christian has no wish or desire to appropriate

to himself or herself that which has been done

through the influence of Divine Grace.

But these letters may possibly open the eyes

of some who read them, and who are long to

do something in the Lord’s great household, to

“ready work for willing hands.”

They may also remind some that our work

among the Freedmen is not simply teaching a

few negro children to read, but, through pious

and faithful instructors, to do that for them



[P. 8, Continued]

Which their parents cannot do—“train them in

the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

Reader, are you for the “Uplifting” person-

ally or by your means? Has not the denomi-

nation with which you are connected a work

among the colored people? Are you aiding

it? When the heart is lifted in prayer for all

who need light, and you think of the heathen in

lands afar off, do not forget those who, with

only the experience and judgment of children,

must for a long time to come look to you for


There is the same promise to “seed sowers”

in this field as elsewhere, and the same necessity

for Gospel labor.

There are to day cities in the sunny south,

villages by the river banks, and cabins in the “old fields” where,

through missionaries and missionary teachers to

the Freedmen, the Lord’s table is spread for all,

but there are also whole districts without a

single elevating influence. Are you for the





Background Information

While the Teacher subject of this pamphlet about a Freedmen's Sunday School in Tennessee remains anonymous, she is likely Sarah L. "Sallie" Daffin, an 1860 Institute graduate who was appointed by the Presbyterian Church and supported by many relief organizations as she taught freedchildren in Norfolk, Virginia, Clinton, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The content of the pamphlet addresses the Teacher's work at the Tennessee school and how educating the Freedmen was a spiritual act as well as a social good.

Image: "American Negro Historical Society Papers," Leon Gardiner Collection [0008B], Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Link: http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/Object/Show/object_id/12395


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