An 1865 Visit to Fredericksburg–Mary Washington, a school, and an orphan


Laura Smith Haviland


In September 1865, suffragist, reformer, and advocate for education for newly freed slaves Laura Smith Haviland visited Fredericksburg.  Her especial focus was on schools–especially schools for former slaves–and she spent time at a school for 181 white children operated by a Miss Strausburg (about whom I can learn nothing, and cannot pinpoint the location of her school). Her account provides a fairly vivid look at Fredericksburg just months after the end of the war. It was published in 1881, part of A Woman’s Life Work: Labors and Experiences of Laura S. Haviland.

On September 15, I took a steamer for Richmond, Virginia, and arrived on the 16th at Fredericksburg. Here were standing many chimneys, showing us the waste places and burned houses in this small but quaint old city. I called at the teachers’ boarding-house, kept by a good Union family, Wm. J. Jeffries [a Maryland-born shoemaker who lived at what is today 1104 Prince Edward Street–the house still stands]. Mrs. King accompanied me to the soldiers’ hospital. Here, as elsewhere, the poor suffering soldier seemed rejoiced to see and hear the representative of their mothers. After reading the Scripture and prayer I left a number in tears.

Here was the home of General Washington’s mother. I visited the house, and a feeling of solemnity came over me as we passed through her sitting room into the large bed-room, where report said she died. Nearby is her tomb. The pedestal only stands erect, but badly marred by the chisel in chipping off pieces, by hundreds of visitors. Our teachers inquired if I would not like a chip from the tomb. I told them that no chisel or hammer should be applied for me; but I picked up a little piece at its base. We had gone but few rods before a carriage drove to the tomb, and the chisel and hammer were flaking off keepsakes for four men. The long block of marble designed to have been placed on the pedestal lay near it half buried in the ground where it had lain nearly or quite a century.

After inspecting the rebel earth-works and rifle-pits, I visited Miss Strausburg’s school of 181 poor white children, quite unlike any colored school I had visited any where, as to order. They commenced to sneer at me the moment I entered, but their teacher invited me to speak to the school, and they became at once quiet and respectful. Little James Stone asked permission to sing for me, and he sang a religious hymn in which nearly all the school joined. To my surprise they sang the “Red, White and Blue” and “The Soldier’s Farewell to his Mother,” for which I thanked them. In passing along the street after the school was dismissed, many of the children came out with their mothers, pointing toward me. At two places I halted to speak to them and their mothers, which pleased them very much.


The Mary Washington Monument, which Haviland refused to vandalize, but availed herself of a piece anyway.



The next day I visited a few Union families, who gave some interesting facts concerning their trials. I left two dollars with one sick woman, who wept as I left her. I called at Major Johnson’s headquarters. He was very anxious to send on an orphan baby one year old to Camp Lee orphanage, in Richmond. He gave me a paper that would secure its admission. On arriving at Richmond I left my charge at the orphanage. As no name was on the paper, or was given to me with the child, the matron, Mrs. Gibbons, named him Haviland Gibbons.

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