Chimborazo Teacher's Register - November 1868
Richmond's Chimborazo School was established by the Freedmen's Bureau for the education of African Americans following the Civil War. The register for the 1868–1869 school term was kept by the teacher, Elizabeth Cartland (1849–1936), a white Quaker from New Hampshire. The register includes names and ages of approximately seventy students, a record of their daily attendance, and Miss Cartland’s answers to questions concerning the students' progress and the school's operations.
The Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands, often referred to as the Freedmen's Bureau, was established in March 1865 to help former slaves make the transition to freedom. In this capacity, the bureau supervised relief efforts, enforced labor contracts, and provided educational opportunities. Northern religious organizations and missionary societies, particularly the Quakers (formally known as the Religious Society of Friends), supported the bureau's educational efforts, believing that literacy was fundamental to citizenship. Elizabeth Cartland joined hundreds of other Quaker men and women who came south during and after the Civil War to assist with the education of freedmen.
Although many groups supported the efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau, African Americans took responsibility for their own education. During the Civil War, black soldiers in Union regiments availed themselves of every opportunity to become literate, sometimes even paying civilian instructors to conduct classes. After the war, freedmen raised money to pay teachers and purchase land for schools. They also supplied the labor to erect and furnish the buildings and improve school grounds. Black families frequently provided teachers with room and board. Sunday schools often doubled as primary schools, operating in the evenings and on Saturdays to provide basic instruction in reading and writing. By 1870, African Americans had spent over a million dollars on education.
Freedmen's Bureau schools faced many challenges, such as finding buildings in which to hold classes, hiring experienced teachers, raising money for salaries and supplies, and overcoming the prejudices of those who did not believe newly freed persons deserved a "free" public education. Over time, northern support of the bureau’s efforts began to wane, particularly after the national depression in the early 1870s. As money became scarce, the bureau began reducing its direct aid and turned over control of schools to local and state authorities.
Most of the Society's eight million manuscripts consist of large collections of family papers and business records, some of which contain more than 100,000 items. The register for Chimborazo School is a single item that belonged to Elizabeth Cartland. In 1981, her great niece, Mary Emhardt donated the register to the Virginia Historical Society because she wanted "to place it where it would most benefit blacks doing genealogical research." Along with the register, Emhardt provided some family background, which appears below:
The Cartland Farm, built circa 1747 in Lee, New Hampshire, served during the mid 1800s as an "Underground Railroad Station." Fugitive slaves stopped there on their way to Canada. The Cartland Brothers Joseph (1810–1898), Jonathan (1815–1885) and Moses (1805–1863) were at the farm during that period. From 1853 to 1863 Moses ran a boarding school on the premises called Walnut Grove School at which Frederick Douglass was an occasional visitor and lecturer. Douglass' few letters to my family I have given to the New Hampshire Historical Society…" The Cartlands were staunch Quakers, and after the Civil War Moses' daughter Elizabeth (Bessie) Cartland (1849–1936), my great-aunt, went to Richmond for a year to teach the blacks at Chimborazo School. She used to tell of occasional bullets whizzing through the windows.
This teacher's register was produced by the Freedmen's Bureau for use in schools throughout the South. The register is twelve pages in length, even though only one page has been reproduced here. The first page includes instructions to the teacher on how to record attendance and indicate the subjects each student was taking. Notice that Cartland has not completed the subject section, nor has she indicated the quality of individual scholarship or deportment (conduct) of her students.
This document is what archivists sometimes describe as "a printed form with handwritten completions." While the teacher provided the responses, the information supplied was shaped by the register's format and by the questions that the officials of the Freedmen's Bureau chose to ask. Thus, both Cartland and the Freedmen's Bureau produced this document, and it tells us about both. For example, even though Cartland's answer is "0," by their asking the question "How many white students?" we learn something about what the officials of the Freedmen's Bureau thought possible.
Notice that the date at the top of this page reads "November, 1869." This is incorrect; it should read "November, 1868." It appears that the date was written in a different hand with a different color ink. This was probably an innocent error made by Cartland herself at a later date, or by one of her descendants. The page before this one in the register is dated "10th mo. 8th 1868," meaning 8 October 1868. Also, the last day of November 1868 fell on a Monday, as it does here in the register.
Activities: Teaching the Document
1. Have your students examine the document. They should be able to identify it as a page from a school register. Point out to them that there are so many students in the school that the number from the preceding month, October, spilled over onto this page. Point out that the November roster begins with Celia Braxton.
2. Tell your students that a " • " indicates "present" and a " + " indicates "absent." Using the information in the attendance section, and the "Questions for Teachers," what can your students tell about the students who attended Chimborazo? Point out the range of ages of the students. What does this tell us about their commitment to education?
3. Draw your students' attention to the question that asks, "No. free before the war." Point out that almost all these students were former slaves. Examine the names. Your students may tell you that, with Emancipation, freedmen adopted the names of their former owners. This was sometimes true. However, many enslaved individuals had surnames—they just were not acknowledged by whites. Often, these surnames were different from the last names of their owners. Discuss with your students why slaves were usually identified only by their given names in court records and official documents.
4. What else do your students learn about the school by reading the "Questions for Teachers" section? (Cartland's answer to the fifth question appears to be "N. H. Friends association.")
5. Draw your students' attention to students 40 and 41 at the bottom of the page—Susan E. Freeman and Clidina Forest. Ask why they were neither absent nor present on the first three days of the month. (They should be able to figure out that they were added to the role four days after the month began.)
6. Draw your students' attention to students 60 through 73 at the top of the page—Maggie Volintine through Minnie Taylor. Make sure they see that the role was constantly updated with students' names being added at the end. How would they explain the attendance record of Josephine Harris? How many of the names in the top part (October) appear in the bottom part (November). Where are those names located? If we were able to turn the page back to October, what names might we expect to find?
7. If they could turn the page forward, how many additional names for November would they expect to see? (Draw their attention to the question that asks about total enrollment for the month. If they were able to turn the page, they would find thirty-three additional names added for November.)
8. Tell your students that, even though the information at the top of the page reads "November 1869," it should read "1868." How might someone looking at the register determine that the date is incorrect?
9. Draw your students' attention to the last Thursday of the month and ask why there are almost no students in attendance that day. Remind your students that many of Northern teachers were missionaries—they were motivated by religious conviction to teach those they deemed less fortunate into becoming responsible American citizens. In addition to literacy and religious instruction, this meant celebrating American holidays.
• Robert Francis Engs. Samuel Chapman Armstrong and Hampton Institute, 1839–1993.
• Eric Foner. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution.
• Joseph T. Glatthaar. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers.
• Herbert Gutman. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom.
• Wayne E. Reilly, ed. Sarah Jane Foster: Teacher of the Freedmen, A Diary and Letters.
Standards of Learning
• VS.8a, VS.8b, USI.10b, VUS.7c