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A Northern Teacher Finds Eager Students and Threatening Neighbors

Edmonia Highgate, the daughter of freed slaves, grew up and was educated in New York. She was part of a wave of northern reformers who traveled south as the Civil War was still ongoing to set up schools for freedpeople, both adults and children. In this letter to her sponsor the American Missionary Society, Highgate notes that while her students were eager to learn, area whites were hostile to her school and the changes it wrought. The author’s original spelling and grammar has been preserved.


Lafayette Parish 

Vermillionville, Dec. 17th, 1866 

Rev. M.E. Strieby, Sec. A.M.A.: 

Dear Friend: 

Perhaps you may care to know of my work here for the Freed people… The Lord blessed me and I have a very interesting and constantly growing day school, a night school, and, a glorious Sabbath School of near one hundred scholars. The school is under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau, yet it is wholly self-supporting. The majority of my pupils come from plantations, three, four and even eight miles distant. So anxious are they to learn that they walk these distances so early in the morning as never to be tardy. Every scholar buys his own book and slate, etc… Most of them are trying to buy a home of their own. Many of them own a little land on which they work nights in favorable weather and Sabbaths for themselves. They own cows and horses, besides their raising poultry. 

There is more than work for two teachers yet I am all alone. God has wonderously spared me. There has been much opposition to the School. Twice I have been shot at in my room. Some of my night-school scholars have been shot but none killed. A week ago an aged freedman was shot so badly as to break his arm and leg—just across the way. The rebels here threatened to burn down the school and house in which I board before the first month was passed. Yet they have not materially harmed us. The nearest military Jurisdiction is two hundred miles distant at New Orleans… But I trust fearlessly in God and am safe… 

Yours for Christ’s poor, 

Edmonia G. Highgate

Source | Edmonia G. Highgate, “Letter to M.E. Strieby,” 17 December 1866, available from PBS, Reconstruction: The Second Civil War,
Creator | Edmonia G. Highgate
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Edmonia G. Highgate, “A Northern Teacher Finds Eager Students and Threatening Neighbors,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 30, 2023,

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