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Wisconsin in the Civil War

A Minister Teaches Escaped Slaves to Read and Write

On February 12, 1862, the 13th Wisconsin Infantry visits a school for escaped slaves run by a Wisconsin minister in Osawatomie, Kansas. The men are surprised to see how much the students have learned in a short amount of time. The teacher may have been Reverend D.D. Reed, a Baptist pastor from Columbus, Wisconsin, who helped found Wayland Academy in 1855.

At Ossawattomie I saw a novel and interesting sight in the shape of a school of "contrabands." The school in question is taught by a Wisconsin man called Elder Reed. At his solicitation I visited his school during an evening session, finding congregated there some fifty pupils of all sizes, ages and shades of black, and of both sexes. Five weeks before they were all slaves in Missouri, and scarcely one of them knew a single letter of the alphabet. When I saw them, after they had attended school some thirty days, all knew the alphabet, many were spelling words of two syllables, and a few were beginning to read.

It was a strange sight to see old gray bearded men struggling for knowledge amid the "a b abs" of the speller, and reciting in the same class with their children, and, for aught I know, grandchildren, for many upwards of fifty and children of six were often in the same class, the boy so small that he has to stand upon a desk behind his mother in order to look over with her. But, to give the little fellow his due, he was the brightest scholar of them all, and could even beat his mother reading. Besides spelling and reading, which are made their particular study, the whole class occasionally united in a general exercise upon Geography or Mental Arithmetic. Their aptness at answering the promiscuous questions put them induced the remark from an officer near me, "They beat me. I never learned so fast as that." I think the most skeptical proslavery mind could hardly fail to be convinced, after visiting this school, that there is something human in the negro; that at least he possesses an intellect susceptible to cultivation.

Source: E.B. Quiner Scrapbooks: "Correspondence of the Wisconsin Volunteers, 1861-1865," Volume 5, page 88.

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Osawatomie, Kansas in March 1862.
Osawatomie, Kansas in March 1862.

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