Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Just Finished Reading - Dear Ones at Home: Letters from Contraband Camps

Dear Ones at Home: Letters from Contraband Camps, edited by Henry L. Swint is yet another book that has lingered on my book shelves for way too long. I suppose it happens to many book lovers who continue to buy books and see recent acquisitions get pushed out of the way in favor of even more recent books. And then, before you know it, there sits a book that you've had for 10 years or longer. Often when I pull an old ignored friend off the shelf and get into it I find that I wished I had jumped on it sooner. 

Anyway, this book was quite the read. There are not a whole lot of accounts from people who spent time in Civil War era contraband camps, either as an aid worker, which was the case here, or as one who sought aid. 

Dear Ones at home are the letters of sisters Sarah and Lucy Chase sent to their family and friends back in Worcester, Massachusetts and other locations. The Quaker sisters were indefatigable workers with freedmen aid societies who sought to clothe, feed, and educate former slaves who came into Union army lines as their forces made incursions into the South. The editor's selection of letters track the sisters' work from Craney Island and Norfolk in southeast Virginia in 1863 to Roanoke Island, North Carolina to Savannah and Columbus, Georgia, and finally to Gordonsville, Virginia in 1870. 

The letters give great insight into how these two women perceived those they worked with, as well as how they perceived white Southerners. The sisters appear to have had a tremendous amount of patience with the challenges they faced in their work. Demands on their time and resources were seemingly endured with kindness and extra exertion. The letters also are helpful in learning the stories of the freedmen and freedwomen, who the sisters worked with closely in diverse situations. What clearly comes through in these missives is the Chase sisters' compassion and their belief that their efforts would bear beneficial fruit. Also of great significance is the freed people's desire to improve their individual situations. 

The editor's footnotes help familiarize the reader to mentioned personalities who may not be well-known. This collection of selected letter is one not to be overlooked. The perspective of the freedmen society aid workers is one that is both informative and inspiring to the modern reader. I highly recommend it in order to better understand the difficult situation that both the freed people and their helpers endured while seeking liberty, citizenship, and equality.

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