You will have been sometime without letters from me, when you receive this, as the “Arago” was not allowed to take a mail last week, I understand, because of the late movement on Charleston. Last night, I went over to tea at a plantation 4 or 5 miles from here where some of the teachers, four ladies and the same number of gentlemen live. The interesting member of the family is Miss Lottie Forten, from Philadelphia, a niece of Mr. Purvis, and a quadroon. She is quite pretty, remarkably well educated, and a very interesting woman. She is decidedly the belle here, and the officers, both of the army & navy, seem to think her society far preferable to that of the other ladies.
After tea we went to what the negroes call a praise-meeting, which was very interesting. The praying was done by an old blind fellow, who made believe, all the time, that he was reading out of a book. He was also the leader in the singing, and seemed to throw his whole soul into it. After the meeting they had a shout, which is a most extraordinary performance. They all walk & shuffle round in a ring, singing & chanting, while 3 or 4 stand in a corner and clap their hands to mark the time. At certain parts of the chorus, they all give a duck, the effect of which is very peculiar. The shuffling is what they call shouting. They some times keep it up all night, and only church members are allowed to join in it.
Their singing, when there are a great many voices, is fine, but otherwise I don’t like it at all. The women’s voices are so shrill, that I can’t listen to them with comfort.
I met Mr. Arthur Turner, a brother of Ned Turner’s, over there, and today he came to see me. He has been teaching here some time. The licentiousness among the negroes is very great, but they say that the improvement in that respect, is very encouraging. They feel no shame about it at all, and hardly understand that it is wrong. As a general thing the men seem to me to have better faces than the women.
Today there has been a great meeting for the coloured people, at the Baptist Church 6 or 7 miles from camp. I rode down there, and heard a speech from a coloured preacher of Baltimore, named Lynch, & another from Mr. [one word crossed out and illegible] which latter was very bad. It may have seemed so to me, because [two words illegible] very much. (This is private).
Mr. Lynch was very eloquent. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than a coloured-Abolitionist meeting on a South Carolina plantation? Here were collected all the freed slaves on this Island listening to the most ultra abolition speeches, that could be made; while two years ago, their masters were still here, the lords of the soil & of them. Now they all own a little themselves, go to school, to church, and work for wages. It is the most extraordinary change. Such things oblige a man to believe that God isn’t very far off.
A little black boy read the Declaration of Independence, and then, they all sang some of their hymns. The effect was grand. I would have given anything to have had you there. I thought of you all the time. The day was beautiful and the crowd was collected in the churchyard under some magnificent old oaks, covered with the long, hanging, grey moss, which grows on the trees here. The gay dresses & turbans of the women made the sight very brilliant.
Miss Forten promised to write me out the words of some of the hymns they sang, which I will send to you.
Yesterday I went to church at the same place, where the meeting was held on the 4th. The preaching was very bad, being full of “hell & damnation” but administered in such a dull way, that sleep soon overcame most of the Congregation & we counted fifty darkeys fast in arms of Murphy. After the sermon the preacher said “Those who wish to be married can come forward.” Some one then punched a stout young fellow, in white gloves, near me, and as soon as he could be roused, and made to understand that the hour was come, he walked up to the altar. A young woman, still stouter, & broader shouldered, than the bride groom, advanced from the women’s side of the church, accompanied by a friend, and they both stood by his side — so that it looked as if he were being married to both of them. However they got through it all right, as he evidently knew which was which, and they both said “Yes sir” in answer to all the preacher asked them. They were both coal black. I couldn’t find out if the bride had been snoring, during the sermon, as well as the groom. At the church they sing our hymns, and make a sad mess of them, but they do justice to their own at their praise meetings.
We have just had Miss Forten & two other ladies to tea, and entertained them afterwards with some singing from the men. It made us all think of those latter evenings at Readville, which were so pleasant. If there were any certainty of our being permanently here you & Annie (if Father or some other protector would accompany you) could come down & spend a month without the least difficulty. You would enjoy it immensely. There is enough here to interest you for months.
As you may suppose, I was bitterly disappointed at being left behind, but nothing has been done at Charleston yet, and we may still have a chance.
Today I went on board the Monitor “Montauk” & the Rebel ram “Fingal.” The latter is very strong and very powerfully armed—but the work is rough, and looks as if they wanted money & workmen to finish it properly.
We don’t know with any certainty, what is going on in the North, but can’t believe Lee will get far into Pennsylvania. I suppose it is not sure that he will not get Washington this time. My feeling towards the Government is one of pity — as if they were a poor weak creature goaded & tormented on every side, not knowing which way to turn.
No matter if the Rebels get to New York, I shall never lose my faith in our ultimate success. We are not yet ready for peace — and want a good deal of purging still. I got a letter from Annie this afternoon, but no others. What lively times they have been having at Portland. I wrote to General Strong this afternoon, & expressed my wish to be in his Brigade. Though I like Montgomery, I want to get my men alongside of white troops, and into a good fight if there is to be one. The General sent me word, before he went away, that he was very much disappointed at being ordered to leave us so I thought it well to put it into his head, to try to get us back.
Working independently, the coloured troops come only under the eyes of their own officers and to have their worth properly acknowledged, they should be with other troops in action. It is an incentive to them too to do their best. There is some rumour tonight of our being ordered to James Island, and put under Genl Terry’s command. I should be satisfied with that.
I shall write to Effie & Susie tomorrow if nothing happens to prevent it. Please tell them, so, if they don’t hear from me, for we may have to leave this, at any moment. Indeed I have been expecting it, every day.
Goodnight darling Mother. Give my love to Father & the girls. I hope you are all well. I had a note from Cousin John today enclosing an ivy leaf from the wall at Hugomount, Waterloo.”
If the Rebels get near New York, do go to Massachusetts. I shall be so anxious, if you don’t. Lenox would be a safe place.
Your ever loving son
Will you send this to Annie?
July 5, 1863
A letter from Shaw to his mother, begun on the 3rd, extended on the 4th, and completed on the 6th:
Comments are closed.