Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen Extends a Helping Hand

As I discussed extensively in a series of posts last year, the Union Army established contraband camps across Northern Virginia in late May and early June 1863. Although the military had primary responsibility for running the camps in Virginia and elsewhere, private charitable organizations also took action to assist the former slaves who were quartered there. As one historian has written, "[t]he philanthropic shock troops came south and performed their humanitarian services to relieve the nation and themselves of a pressing moral burden." (Magdol 92.) One particular group of Friends (or Quakers) focused its efforts on the camps in Northern Virginia throughout 1864.

On January 6 of that year, a large number of Friends assembled at the Race Street Meeting House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The group, "[i]mpressed with the immediate need of attention to the welfare of the colored people in our country liberated from bondage," founded the "Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen." (First Annual Rpt. 3.) The assembly adopted a constitution and chose an Executive Board and Finance Committee. On the same day, the Executive Board established a committee for the "judicious distribution of supplies." (First Annual Rpt. 3.) The board also introduced a "proposition. . . to send teachers among the freed people, which was considered and referred to the Association, recommending the appointment of an Educational Committee to unite with one from the Board." (First Annual Rpt. 3-4.) The Educational Committee was finally appointed in March and continued to operate until the association decided to entrust sole responsibility for education to the Executive Board's own committee.

The Race Street Meeting House (1856) in Philadelphia (courtesy of Society of Friends (Quakers) Meeting Houses and Schools).

The Friends' Association aimed to garner the support and cooperation of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends.* The new group distributed an address that was read at monthly meetings and other gatherings of the Yearly Meeting. As the First Annual Report of the Friends' Association reported:
The response to this appeal gave encouragement to believe that the continued aid of Friends would be freely given in the work before us, and, therefore, with renewed earnestness, we made preparations to hear the cries of the needy, and, according to our means and ability, to endeavor to relieve their sufferings. (First Annual Rpt. 3.)
In February 1864, the Executive Board, "[w]ith the view of ascertaining the appropriate field for operation. . . requested the Corresponding Secretary to communicate with agents and other persons in portions of the Southern States where the freed people had collected, enquiring concerning their condition." (First Annual Rpt. 4.) A couple months later, two members visited contraband facilities in Gen. Benjamin Butler's Department of Virginia and North Carolina. In the end, the Friends' Association opted "to concentrate [its] labors in the neighborhood of Washington." (First Annual Rpt. 4.) The proximity of Washington to Philadelphia may have in part influenced the association's decision. (Friends' Intelligencer 8.)

Lucretia Mott, c. 1860-80 (courtesy of Wikipedia). The noted abolitionist and women's rights activist served on the board of the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen along with her husband, James.

By April 1864, the Friends' Association had begun to distribute supplies to the camps in Northern Virginia. The First Annual Report noted that on April 25, Camp Rucker near Falls Church received:
. . . 7 Colton's maps, 1 Smith's large U. S. Map, 2 school atlases, 1 writing chart, 2 doz. Wilson's First Reader, 2 doz. Wilson's Second Reader, 3 doz. Wilson's Speller, 4 doz. Wilson's Charts, 1—8, 1 doz. Wilson's Charts, 15—16, 1 pt. liquid slating, 4 doz. slates, 200 pencils, 8 brushes, soap, candles, school bell, 1 doz. lamps, 12 doz. thimbles. 40 spools of cotton, 6 papers needles, 6 pieces tape, 4 boxes buttons, 1 package dried fruits; and 134 garments sent from Women's Association. (First Annual Rpt. 21.)
Teachers dispatched by the Friends also began to arrive at camps in the region. Sarah Anne Cadwallader was placed at Camp Rucker that spring. As the First Annual Report informed members of the association, "[g]ood results are apparent from her labors." (First Annual Rpt. 4.)

Today's post begins a periodic series on the Friends' activities at the contraband camps in Alexandria (Arlington) and Fairfax Counties. The association's efforts are an integral part of the story behind the camps. They shed light not only on how charitable organizations supplemented government policies to provide for the economic well-being of emancipated slaves, but they also help us to understand conditions in the camps and the experiences of the contrabands living there. I look forward to retracing the steps of the Friends in Northern Virginia throughout 1864 and beyond.


*For those unfamiliar with the Friends' religious organization, as I was, information on yearly meetings can be found here. A history of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is available here.


Assn. of Friends (ed.), Friends' Intelligencer: A Religious and Family Journal, Vol. XXI (1865); Board of Managers, Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen (1865); Edward Magdol, A Right to the Land: Essays on the Freedmen's Community (1977).

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