“New faces” – An April 1867 letter from the Pottsville Freedmen’s School

Each Monday, we are sharing stories about the efforts of the Pottsville Freedmen’s Relief Association and the school they opened in Tennessee during Reconstruction.


On April 30, 1867, Fannie A. Couch took up her pen to write a letter for publication in the Miners’ Journal of Pottsville.

She addressed the letter to J.A. Passmore, but she understood her audience to be the people of Schuylkill County. In part, her aim was to inform readers about the work of the Pottsville Freedmen’s School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But the other objective was to provide information about the good work of the school so that readers may provide fundraising to keep the school going.

In the letter, Couch provides analysis of the school’s work and the students who are attending. She notes attendance is high, but also notes that the circumstances that came with emancipation hampered the school’s efforts. African Americans in the South were free from bondage, but in the early years after the Civil War, this often meant dislocation. Families traveled in search of work; others sought family members who had been lost in the destructive realities of slavery. Still more sought new homes away from the plantations they had once been forced to call home.

Couch’s letter is a wonderful piece of evidence about how Freedmen’s Schools functioned and how white teachers viewed their black students, as well.

Freedmens School Letter - April 1867

The following interesting letter has been received from Miss Fanny A. Couch, one of the teachers of the Pottsville Freedmen’s school, Murfreesboro, Tenn. We hope all interested in this movement will do all in their power to give it both aid and comfort.

Murfreesboro, Tenn., April 30, 1867.

To Mr. J.A. Passmore, Sec. of Com. Of “Penna. Branch of American Freedmen’s Union Commission.”

Sir:

A letter should have been written perhaps, earlier in the month, but be deferring it until the present date I am prepared to report the attendance of the pupils in our school during the month of April. I may here mention that no separate report of our school for the month of March was required of us by the Superintendent at Nashville, as we did not commence our labors until the 6th of that month, and no record had been kept from which to report correctly the attendance for the days previous to that date. A report as near as could be made was handed in with that of the morning school.

The whole number in attendance during the present month is 100; the daily average attendance 62. The cause of this small average is the constant change which has been thus far, and must necessarily be at this season of the year going on in the schools. Many of our pupils attend very regularly, seldom being absent a day, but the larger number are unable to attend so constantly, while many that were in attendance during the early part of Spring were obliged to leave school as soon as the weather became sufficiently settled to enable them to give their attention to outdoor employment.

Every week and almost every day new faces present themselves within the school room. These pupils are commonly the children of parents who have recently moved to the place or its vicinity, and in some cases are girls that are spared a portion of the day from the families in which they are employed. It will only add a line perhaps to my letter if I give the name of one of the interesting pupils received into our school this week; it is Eliza Elizabeth Rowena Clementine.

In regard to the progress of the pupils: – of the number that can attend regularly the progress is decidedly, good. This I mention not to our credit at all as instructors, but for the credit of the race for which we are laboring. The capabilities of this class of people are too often underrated.

A word in regard to other colored schools in this place. In the “Pottsville Freedmen’s School,” Miss S. and myself are the only teachers. In the morning school there are five teachers, two of whom are colored assistants. One other school, a normal class, under the instruction of Miss Plummer from Maine, makes up the number under the charge of the “Penna. Branch of American Freedmen’s Union Commission.” Out of this Association there is one colored school in operation. This has been established and is conducted upon sectarian principles, in favor of which in this work I can say nothing.

One step has been taken for the good of the colored population, which I would not forget to mention. The pastors of several at least of the three churches of Murfreesboro, have after due consideration of the matter, resolve to preach to the colored people every Sabbath afternoon, and commenced last Sunday afternoon to put the resolution into effect.

The intention is as I heard it announced from the pulpit, to preach the pure gospel – nothing but the gospel, they feeling it be a duty incumbent upon them to do something for the salvation of souls among that people. The determination is to prosecute the work. There are those, it may be expected, who are so narrow-minded and prejudiced, as at once to suspect and accuse these ministers of the gospel of acting from some sinister motive, or of having some ulterior design; but have we a right so to do ere such has been proven to be the case? Should it be a matter of wonder that these divine teachers do now see their duty?

There are now two or three colored churches in the place, and these churches are supplied with colored preachers; but if the people can also have the privilege of listening to educated preachers from our church it should be a matter of rejoicing rather than of fault-finding.

Setting aside schools and churches, let me direct your thoughts to the very centre of the State of Tennessee. At a distance of about a mile and three-quarters from Murfreesboro, on what is known as the Liberty Pike, is a large, flat rock, which for its extent and its flatness, would be a curiosity for a geologist. Until quite near to it one is slow to believe it to be a rock. At the time when a proper site for the location of the capital of the State was under consideration, this rock was ascertained to be the geographical centre of the State, and but for one vote, so I am informed, the vicinity of this rock would have been chosen for the erection of the capitol. This rock suggests the probability of its having been at one time the bed of a body of water; in fact, the rocks in this section would mostly tend to confirm one’s belief of the theory advanced by a celebrated geologist, that this portion of the country had at some period, been entirely under water.

Our visit to Stone River battle ground and cemetery has for several reasons, been postponed from Saturday to Saturday. Should the weather be favorable, we contemplate a visit to that interesting spot the last of the present week.

Respecting the request that we should furnish interesting letters, I hope you will excuse the lack of interesting matter in this. I take it for granted the committee will overlook all such deficiencies.

Thanks for whom thanks are due for the many papers received form the several M. C.’s

Very respectfully,

F.A. Couch.  

We will have another update from the Pottsville Freedmen’s School next week, including the teachers’ visit to the battlefield at Stones River.


Featured Image: A Freedmen’s School in Mississippi, 1866 (Internet Archive)
Read more of our series on the Pottsville Freedmen’s Relief Association


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