This is my favorite -- and also the best-known--picture of Miss Laura M. Towne. She was a Unitarian, an Abolitionist, and a medical student. | In 1862, at the age of 37, she left her Philadelphia home to travel to the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Her purpose: to do whatever she could to help the newly freed slaves become useful and productive citizens. The Road to Frogmore, published in 2012, tells the story of the first few years she spent in South Carolina during the Civil War.
Laura Town and her life-long friend Ellen Murray joined the Port Royal Experiment in 1862 to test their abolitionist ideals against the realities of slaves abandoned by their owners in the Low Country of South Carolina. They hoped to find a place they could call home, as well as an outlet for their talents as schoolteacher and doctor.. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until . . .
Until they experienced the climate—violent storms spawned over the Atlantic, searing heat, tainted by swamp gasses, cockroaches, bedbugs, swarming mosquitoes,and “no-see-ums” that left nasty bites in their wake.
Until they met the slaves themselves—full of fear and resentment of white people caused by centuries of cruelty, slaves who had never seen the outside world, slaves whose superstitions included breath-sucking night hags, evil graybeards living in local trees, and unfree spirits rolling down the roads at night in balls of fire.
Until the dedication of the missionaries found itself tested by lack of food, furniture, medicine, and the bare necessities of life. Until the unity of the abolitionist effort fell apart under the strains of religious differences and unrecognized prejudices.
And until the combination of battle wounds and a raging smallpox epidemic made death their constant companion. Could these two independent women survive the Civil War and achieve their goal of turning slaves into citizens?
For the next week or so, I'll introduce you to some of the real people with whom she worked-- and those against whom she had to struggle in order to establish the kind of school she wanted to provide for the children she loved.