Thursday, May 22, 2014

Relief Efforts for the Contraband Camps Continue in Northern Virginia, May & June 1864

Last month I wrote about the establishment of the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen. Founded by Philadelphia Quakers in January 1864, this charitable organization decided to focus its energies on assisting the contrabands living in camps around the nation's capital. As the Army of the Potomac battled Robert E. Lee's Confederates at places like Spotsylvania and Totopotomoy Creek, relief efforts for the freedmen continued back in Northern Virginia.

The association took steps to improve the material condition of the contrabands, providing clothing, bedding, and household items like sewing supplies. On May 19, the group sent the following to Camp Rucker, near Falls Church:
. . . 2 doz. Madras hdk's., 3 pieces of muslin, 3 pieces gingham, 1 piece of print, 2 pieces shirting, 1 gross buttons, 8 prs. small scissors, 2 prs. large scissors, 1 pr. shears, 1 lb. drab thread, and a donation from Franklin Wilson of 2 gross pant, buttons, 1 boy's shirt, 5 prs. stockings, man's coat, boy's jacket and pants, and a quilt. (First Annual Rpt. 21.)
The Friends' Association dispatched another box on May 28 to Camp Wadsworth in Langley (present-day McLean):
. . . dry goods valued $90-99. 12 infant slips, 12 girls' dresses, 2 prs. pants, 63 under garments, 1 gross thimbles, 2 gross buttons, 3 doz, spools cotton, 250 needles, one dollar's worth of garden seeds, 1 school bell, 5 brushes, stationery, valued at $30.68. (First Annual Rpt. 21.)
A somewhat idealized version of a contraband school, from Mary S. Peake, The Colored Teacher at Fortress Monroe by Lewis C. Lockwood (courtesy of Project Gutenberg).

Former slaves lacked even the most basic educational skills, and the Friends' Association also worked to organize schools on the government farms. Sarah Ann Cadwallader had already taken a teaching position at Camp Rucker earlier in the year. The Friends' Association conducted an inspection of Camp Wadsworth in June and reported that "some children of only eleven years of age are put to daily labor in direct violation of Government regulations, which require that they be sent to school till they are fourteen." (First Annual Rpt. 4.) This finding prompted the appointment of 20 year-old Lydia T. Atkinson of New Jersey to serve as a teacher at Camp Wadsworth.* Such efforts often filled a gap where the Union Army was unwilling, unprepared, or unable to lend a hand. As the spring turned into summer, the Friends' Association would become even more active in the camps around Washington.


*The PBS program, Finding Your Roots, featured a segment on Lydia T. Atkinson. (See here.) The Quaker teacher is actor Kevin Bacon's great-grandmother -- a relation that is even less than the famed six degrees!


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).

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