Mary Ames and Emily Bliss in early June 1865 had spent nearly a month on Edisto Island, S.C., setting up a school for freed slaves. They were two well-to-do young white women from Springfield, Mass., and the southern heat was getting to them.
Mary Ames was the daughter of David Ames, Jr., a paper manufacturer. She kept an account of her year on the island in her remarkable diary. Her diary then became A New England Woman’s Diary in Dixie in 1865.
Just weeks after the Civil War ended, Mary Ames and Emily Bliss were sworn in as teachers for the Freedman’s Bureau in Boston. Then on May 1, they boarded a steamer bound for Hilton Head.
They arrived at Edisto Island in an old Army wagon on May 10. Many liberated slaves had resettled on the island’s former cotton plantations with help from the Reconstruction government. Mary and Emily then set up camp in an abandoned plantation house. They engaged Sarah, a freed slave, to help around the house. She had six children, including the eldest, George. Mr. Everett, the school supervisor, also lived on the island.
Mary Ames Writes
On June 4, 1865, Mary Ames wrote in her diary,
No churchgoing–too warm, and the walk too long for Sundays, as we are obliged to take it every week-day. We seated ourselves on the piazza to write letters. Soon a crowd of children were around us, all wanting books, and before we knew it we were teaching school. George and Zack came with the others. George is patient and promising. We are surprised at the ease with which he acquires the sound of words. He teaches his father after leaving us.
She then reported some encouraging news:
The captain of the Hudson offered to get our rations in the city. We gave him our bags and trust they will be returned well filled. At bedtime we heard a boat whistle. We may have letters to-morrow.
This story last updated in 2022.
Sometimes I just can’t understand how these women were so dedicated but aren’t we lucky that they were?
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