Friday, May 8, 2015

Lizzie Coulter Goes South, Part I

On a snowy early April morning in 1868, two young women from Bovina, Elizabeth A. Coulter and Mary Adee left from Delhi for Boydton, Virginia, near Roanoke. Lizzie and Mary were not traveling on any kind of social visit but were sent by the Missionary Society of the Bovina U.P. Church to teach “Freedmen of the South.” The Andes Recorder for March 17, 1868, reported on the society’s plan to help educate freed black men and women. The paper noted that “the Freedmen are said to be extremely anxious to have teachers sent them, agreeing to pay their board while there, which in their reduced circumstances must be a heavy task.” The trip was arranged through a Bovina native and Civil War veteran, George W. Graham, an agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau, stationed in Boydton. The Recorder noted that “the society pays them $20 per month, yet the remuneration is considered no equivalent for the trials they may have to encounter among strangers, who are not supposed to be particularly partial to northern teachers coming among them.”

Mary H. Adee was the daughter of Stephen B. Adee and Elizabeth Ludington, born in 1846. Elizabeth Coulter, more commonly known as Lizzie, was the daughter of David Coulter and Margaret Hamilton. She was born in Bovina in September 1839. We know quite a bit about Lizzie’s and Mary’s trip to Virginia and Lizzie’s time there because she kept a diary, now at the Delaware County Historical Association.

Accompanied by Bovina pastor J.B. Lee and their friend Minnie Graham from Delhi, they left Delhi at 6 am on Monday, April 6, getting to Hancock around 2 pm, “too late for the Express train.” When they left Hancock at 6 pm, Minnie took a different route via New York City, likely to visit friends, with plans to meet up with Lizzie and Mary in Baltimore. Lizzie, Mary and Reverend Lee got as far as Great Bend two hours after leaving Hancock and stayed the night. They left Great Bend the next morning and got to Scranton at 10, where they had to spend “a very stormy disagreeable day” waiting to take the next stage of their journey. Leaving Scranton at 5, they arrived in Northumberland at 10, passing “through a tunnel….where it was as dark as midnight.” Departing Northumberland at 2 am on April 8, they got to Harrisburg about daylight. Lizzie noted that they crossed a bridge nearly a mile in length. Lee left them at Harrisburg and they continued on to Baltimore, arriving at 10 am.

In Baltimore, they were taken to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Burns (“found Mrs. Burns a very kind friendly woman”) where they found Minnie waiting for them. They had breakfast and dinner with them and took a train for Washington D.C. at 3 pm, arriving there around 6. From the station, they took a street car for Aquia Creek, where they took a steamer on the Potomac. Lizzie noted that they “had a pleasant sail a beautiful moonlighted evening.” From there, they went to Richmond, arriving around 5 am on the morning of April 9. They went to a hotel there for a couple of hours, then continued south, taking “the Richmond and Danville train for Roanoke.” They arrived in Roanoke at 2 pm on Thursday (“it is only a station consisting of four or five houses”).

They were not quite finished yet. They had another thirty miles to go to get to Boydton. “Our conveyance was an open wagon drawn by two mules without any back to our seats.” Lizzie and Mary only traveled about 11 miles that day, staying at what she described as “a sort of hotel” that was kept “by a bachelor and a number of colored people.” Departing at 7 the next morning, April 10, they finally reached Boydton at noon.

Lizzie was frankly unimpressed with Boydton, noting that “it is not a very pleasant place.” Here they met up with Mr. Graham, the Freedmen’s Bureau agent. She spent about 10 days in Boydton, getting adjusted to things, such as how much further ahead the vegetation was in Southern Virginia than back at home. Lizzie and Mary also had to adjust to being gazed at in “utter amazement [by] both whites and colored.” She noted in her diary that her “health is excellent for which I trust I am thankful.” Unfortunately, as the summer progressed, this would no longer true. In part two of this story, I will report on Lizzie's trials and tribulations as a teacher in Virginia.

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