From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Monday, 9/25/1865, p. 1, c. 2
Addresses by a Colored Lady and Henry Ward Beecher.
A young lady of color, Miss Richmonia R. St. Pierre by name, related some of her adventures and experiences last evening in the African M.E. Church Bridge Street near Myrtle avenue.
Miss St. Pierre was been in the secret service of the government; an announcement sufficient to account for the dense crowd which filled the church and assembled round the entrance to it unable to find admission.
Close packed, they were, inside, sitting or standing, wherever a foot of space could be found, whites, yellows, blacks, the number of the latter largely predominating.
About eight o’clock, Miss St. Pierre, accompanied by Professor Howard Day, entered the church and took a seat on the platform beside the pastor, Rev. J.M. Williams.
She is a good looking young woman of six and twenty, in height and general appearance strongly resembling Miss Anna Dickinson. They might, indeed, be easily mistaken for twin sisters. Miss Richmonia possesses a good deal of Anna’s fire and vim, but lacks entirely her cultivation and polish.
The proceedings were opened with singing and prayer.
The heat became intense – almost suffocating.
Some confusion arose in the negro crowd standing at one of the entrance doors; in the midst of the jam several white ladies could be seen applying their elbows right and left.
Rev. J.M. Mitchell arose and said:
I hope that people will sit as close as they can in order to make as much room as possible.
There was a general packing up tighter, and the female whites obtained seats, wedged firmly in between some lusty specimens of male blacks.
Professor William Howard Day introduced Miss St. Pierre to the audience, comparing her to Florence Nightingale, and saying that she had been a power for good while in Richmond. She came with letters of recommendation from
Generals Terry, Ord and S H Roberts, the one from the latter of which he had in his hand and read.
Miss St. Pierre then came forward and said that she was about to tell a few plain facts, and to show them how many changes a young and unprotected female might have to go through. She was born in Virginia in which State she remained until seven years of age. Her skin at that time was as white as that of any of those before her. She was then told she was destined for a missionary’s life in Africa and came North to be educated for that purpose. Of her parents she knows nothing, and at the present time is quite alone in the world. Her course of education lasted during a period of eight years. In December, 1854, she sailed from New York, by the bark Lamartine for Liberia, where she remained six years actively engaged in educational and missionary work. Upon her return to the United States, she went south and lived in the Confederacy four years in the guise of a slave. Northerners may read of Southern slavery, but they do not, cannot know what it is. The law of that period forbade a colored person walking in the street without a written permission from those called their owners; and more than five were not permitted on any account to assemble together. At that time she, who had breathed the air of freedom, was nearly in despair and almost prayed to die. For two years she saw the progress of the Confederacy with almost a broken heart. Even the females did all they could for its success; and yet in Richmond there were females who have been more true to the Union than the men. After McClellan’s seven days fight, the Southerners took pains to bring their own wounded into Richmond with all possible dispatch, and at the expiration of a week the brought the wounded Unionists; they brought them in on common wagons and pitched them on the sidewalks. They did that for three successive days. (Groans) They brought them in and threw them down. This she had seen (groans) with her own eyes. (Groans.) If a person were to speak to these prisoners or to hand them a glass of water, it was Castle Thunder for them. One of the two Union women in Richmond was a delicate Southern lady, rich, well-known in the Confederacy, and who resided in a splendid white mansion in that city. This lady disguised herself as a beggar and visited these prisoners in company with the speaker. “Why, cousin John,” they would say, addressing one of the prisoners, the Confederate guard looking on meanwhile; or “Why, Mr. So and So, how came you to get in the Union army? I am ashamed of you!” The rest was easy, for she, the speaker, never knew a Yankee yet that could not take a hint. (Laughter and applause.) The guard grumbled somewhat but the speaker being only a beggar all passed off to their entire satisfaction. Miss St. Pierre then gave a description of Belleisle, but without stating any new fact in connection with that prison. In spite of rebel vigilance a few faithful ones used to meet night after night in a certain beautiful white dwelling, and from there did Butler and Grant obtain information which they desired. She gave an account of the escape of Colonel Streight and others from Libby Prison, by means of a tunnel which they dug, and of the appearance the night but one after that event of six men, Yankee prisoners in appearance, before the white mansion aforesaid, who said they wanted refuge, as they understood that the ladies resident there were good Unionists. “No, no,” said the lady of the house, “no Unionists here.” Little did they know that underneath the disguise they were known to be rebel detectives and that the true prisoners were free and beyond their reach. The doings of this lady of the white house troubled Jeff Davis and his colleagues terribly. She was suspected of being a spy, but was left unharmed, as no proof could be found against her. The speaker then gave an account of her escape from Richmond and arrival at Norfolk, where she commenced educational operations among the auspices of the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society. After the fall of Richmond the American Missionary Society made the first move towards the establishment of freed schools in that city. Miss St. Pierre returned to Richmond, On her arrival there she was sent for by the Provost Marshal and gave a good deal of information on certain subjects which government wanted to possess. Thus she was taken into the confidence of the government, while by the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society, she was not treated with anything like the proper consideration, which was owing, she supposed, to her color being a little darker than their’s. She complained bitterly of this, and then went off at a tangent and pitched into General Patrick, at that time commanding in Richmond, for the following reason: A rebel walking in one of the streets of the city, pushed against and rudely insulted a colored man’s wife. The colored man resented the affront and planted a shower of blows on the person of the rude rebel. Three or four men of the 24th Massachusetts came up at the time and arrested the colored man. Next morning, said Miss St. Pierre, he was taken before Patrick and ordered to be shot. To instill a lesson in the minds of the colored people, Patrick ordered a coffin to be made, which was exhibited on the corner of one of the worst secesh streets in Richmond, and into this the poor black husband was put, covered with molasses and flour, and she wanted it remembered that the flies at that time were very numerous and annoying. What white man, that was a man, would order anything like that to be done? (Colored man at Reporter’s elbow: “Nobody but an Irishman would do it.”) The stuff was put on him to attract the flies. (“Shame, shame.”) News of what had happened went to the White House at Washington, and President Johnson for once was lenient in the right place and revoked the sentence Patrick had passed upon him. Miss St. Pierre next related some of her experiences in school teaching in Richmond, her establishment of discipline therein first and teaching the little blacks how to read, &c., afterwards. While engaged in this work a government ambulance was placed at her disposal from 7 A.M. to 5 P.M. In concluding she advised all those who could to go South as missionaries among the freed people ; not to talk sympathy so much, but to do something for their colored brothers and sisters. While talking about that there was one thing she must mention – The bayonet has been put in the hands of the negro; another thing yet remains to be done – he must have the ballot. She was half afraid that Northern Abolitionists would do nothing more than talk, and that the colored race would not obtain justice. She had had a deal to put with in the North. Why, if a colored man or woman calls at the houses of these same Abolitionists, they are “not at home” to them. Justice must be done to our race. Do us justice, she said in conclusion, almost unintelligible in the excitement into which she had worked herself – do us justice, or I say, “Look out, look out ! else insurrection worse than anything that has yet taken place will be the result.” After a few more words she sat down.
Professor Howard Day came forward and said that a trial of Wirtz, late keeper of the Andersonville prison, was attracting much attention, would Miss St. Pierre inform the congregation if she knew whether Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government were cognizant of the horrible treatment of our Union prisoners at Andersonville?
Miss Pierre answered emphatically, Yes. She had heard expressions from the lips of Jefferson Davis which entirely condemned him. And not only he, but Memminger and Stephens, and General Lee, too, knew all about it. She advised government not to be so long about trying these men, as they get delicate during the operation, and reclined in Court on sofas; and have to be fanned and other attentions paid to them. She wanted the work short and sure.
These allusions to the dying condition of Captain Wirtz were received with laughter and applause.
After a collection had been taken up to enable Miss St. Pierre to continue her work in the South, when her health shall have become sufficiently re-established, the meeting dispersed.