The Amistad Research Center’s exhibition on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation will be on display through the end of June. This 1862 letter represents my personal favorite document in the exhibition – humble, yet poignant words from John Oliver, an African American carpenter who sought to assist refugee slaves crossing Confederate lines in any way he could. Oliver was teaching school and studying for the ministry in Boston when he heard William Roscoe Davis, one of the first “contrabands” to seek refuge at Fort Monroe, Virginia, speak about the education of freemen at Fort Monroe. After a brief stay at Fort Monroe, Oliver started work in Newport News, Virginia, where he established one school with seventy students and another with forty, in addition to an evening school with over one hundred students.
His letter reads:
Since I have heard Wm Davis Speak of the condition and educational wants of the Slaves who are constantly coming into Fortress Monroe and other places along the line of the army, I have felt a desire to go and help teach them. And with my knowledge of both Slavery and the Slave and the condition in which the former has left the latter, I Believe that I would be of great Service to that people. The work of the Anti-Slavery men is not yet compleat and now that they have melted away the little end of the chain that has so long held that people in Slavery, They must also at this very beginning prepare their minds for this new berth the crisis upon which they have already entered.
Please let me know what further steps are necessary to obtain a place in the above capacity at Fortress Monroe and the conditions. Rev. L. A. Grimes will call to see you.
Yours very truly,
18 Blossom St. [Boston]”
Posted by Andrew Salinas
(Image from the Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.)