Read CHAPTER III of Mary S. Peake The Colored Teacher at Fortress Monroe , free online book, by Lewis C. Lockwood, on

The religious and educational part of the mission has been one of blessedness and promise. And in this, as in everything else, I have aimed to teach self-development. In connection with the gathering of the people in religious meetings, I proposed to commence Sabbath and week-day schools, with such teachers as I had at hand. Meanwhile, some of the children of the vicinity, getting perhaps some hint of my intention, or prompted by an impulse from on high, called on Mrs. Peake, and requested her to teach them, as she had taught the children in Hampton.

It was with much gratification that I learned this request. I soon found from observation, as well as information, that we had in her a teacher of the choicest spirit, and of peculiar qualifications. She was happy in having pupils as ready to learn as to request instruction. Her school numbered at first only about half a dozen, but in a few days she had between fifty and sixty. These scholars were found to have generally very fair intellectual capabilities, and a few evinced quite rare talents. Among these was her own little daughter, five years old, named Hattie, but familiarly called by the pet name of Daisy. She learned to read simple lessons fluently in a very short time. Others also exhibited a precocity which from day to day rewarded and stimulated the ardor of this devoted teacher.

Mrs. Peake was not satisfied with the ordinary routine of the week-day school room, but felt that the teacher of a mission school should aim to educate the children for eternity as well as for time. She found great assistance in the primer, catechism, and other elementary religious books, with which she had been furnished. She felt that the teachings of the week-day school ought to be largely preparatory to the rehearsals of the Sabbath school. What an impression for good would be made upon the rising generation, were this course universally pursued!

Mrs. Peake deeply realized that every undertaking, and especially that of training the young, should be begun and continued with prayer. She not only prayed with her pupils, but taught them to pray. Having a rich store of scriptural knowledge, and feeling its worth, and the importance of simplifying it to the young, in order to awaken their interest, she bestowed special attention on catechetical instruction. Not satisfied with having Scripture truths committed to memory, she explained and inculcated them, with line upon line and precept upon precept, drawn from her own knowledge and experience. I can not think that this spiritual instruction interfered in the least with the other, but rather was a handmaid to it, furnishing a pleasant as well as profitable variety, awakening and developing heart and mind at once.

Mrs. Peake also considered singing an important part of a right education. Among the favorite hymns first learned and sung in her school were, “I want to be an angel,” “There is a happy land,” “Around the throne of God in heaven,” “Here we meet to part again,” “In heaven we part no more,” and others of kindred spirit, so familiar in the Sabbath schools at the North. How ardent was her desire to win the young intellect and affections for Jesus and heaven! With strict appropriateness may we apply to her the poet’s language,

“And as a bird each fond endearment tries,
To tempt its new-fledged offspring to the skies,
She tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.”

While Mrs. Peake attached prime importance to the training of the rising generation, she felt that great improvement might be made among the adults. This view inspired her action from the first in Hampton, and with a blessed result, that is now apparent to all. She was accordingly very ready to gratify the desire of a number of adults for an evening school, notwithstanding her increasing infirmities. The result is, that several, who scarcely knew the alphabet before, now begin to read with considerable readiness.

In these multiplied labors, she exhibited a martyr spirit, of the true type. Often when she was confined to her bed, her pupils would be found around her, drawing knowledge as it were from her very life. Again and again did Dr. Browne, brigade surgeon, who concerned himself for her like a brother, advise her to consider her weakness, and intermit her exhausting duties. The scene of these labors was the Brown Cottage, near the seminary, fronting on Hampton Roads. The school room was the front room, first story. Her own family apartment was the front room, second story. It will ever be a place about which precious memories will linger.

It was proposed that, on Christmas day, the children of the school should have a festival. All the week previous, they were busy, with their teacher, in preparations and rehearsals. A large room on the first floor of the seminary was decorated with evergreens for the occasion, and at one end a platform was constructed. At an early hour in the evening, the room was crowded with colored children and adults, and soldiers and officers. The programme opened with the singing of “My country, ’tis of thee.” Chaplain Fuller read the account of the nativity of Christ. Dr. Linson prayed. Then the children discoursed very sweet music in solo, semi-chorus, and chorus, and at intervals spoke pieces in a very commendable manner, considering that it was probably the first attempt of colored children in the South.

Little Daisy, (Mrs. Peake’s only child,) about five years old, was the acknowledged star of the evening. She sang very prettily in solo, and also in connection with the chorus. She sang alone the whole of the hymn, “I want to be an angel.”

I spoke of the contrast between the present and the past. A year ago, white children in Hampton could enjoy a scene of this kind, but colored children were excluded. But now times have changed. The white man’s child is away, and the colored man’s child is on the stage, and swells the choral song. And this is but a miniature picture of what will be. The present is prophetic of the future. The few hundred children about Fortress Monroe, now gathered into schools, after the pattern of this first school, are types of one million of children throughout the sunny South, on whom the sunlight of knowledge is yet to shine.

After the concert exercises, the members of the school and others repaired to the Brown Cottage. Here we were conducted into the school room, which, like the concert room, was tastefully decorated with evergreens; and we filed around a long table laden with refreshments, and surrounded with Christmas trees, loaded with good things, all gotten up spontaneously by, and at the expense of, the colored people in the neighborhood. The viands were partaken of with a relish, and by unanimous consent it was declared a merry Christmas of the right type; the children sang, “Merry Christmas to all! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas to all!”