Miss Laura M. Towne 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. During that time, she nursed a village full of abandoned slaves through a smallpox epidemic, fought tax collectors to defend the rights of a slave to purchase the land he had worked on all his life, fought with local preachers to defend the slaves' right to worship as they chose, and established a school to meet the needs of a population that had been denied access to education.
But what really set Laura Towne apart from all the other missionaries who came to St. Helena Island during the war was her tenacity. Most well-meaning teachers came for a while, suffered through a hot summer or two, and went home to find a good cause that did not ask so much of them. Laura Towne came to meet a need -- and stayed for forty years. After the war, she was appointed to oversee the spread of Negro schools all through the Low Country of South Carolina. And it was from that position that she came to make an appearance in the story of Jonathan Grenville.
If Jonathan was ever to accomplish his own goal of teaching newly-freed slaves to understand and appreciate the history of their new country, he would need the approval and help of Miss Laura Towne. But those who fell under Miss Towne's spell would also find themselves pulled into whatever cause she happened to be espousing at any given moment.