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Time Full of Trial: The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony, 1862-1867
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This thread will be devoted to a discussion of Time Full of Trial.

This will be a supplemental, single thread discussion and is not non spoiler. This discussion will be led by Bentley.

Time Full of Trial The Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony, 1862-1867 by Patricia C. Click

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Apr 19, 2009 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

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Synopsis of Book:

In February 1862, General Ambrose E. Burnside led Union forces to victory at the Battle of Roanoke Island. As word spread that the Union army had established a foothold in eastern North Carolina, slaves from the surrounding area streamed across Federal lines seeking freedom.

By early 1863, nearly 1,000 refugees had gathered on Roanoke Island, working together to create a thriving community that included a school and several churches. As the settlement expanded, the Reverend Horace James, an army chaplain from Massachusetts, was appointed to oversee the establishment of a freedmen's colony there.

James and his missionary assistants sought to instill evangelical fervor and northern republican values in the colonists, who numbered nearly 3,500 by 1865, through a plan that included education, small-scale land ownership, and a system of wage labor.

Time Full of Trial tells the story of the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony from its contraband-camp beginnings to the conflict over land ownership that led to its demise in 1867.

Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, Patricia Click traces the struggles and successes of this long-overlooked yet significant attempt at building what the Reverend James hoped would be the model for "a new social order" in the postwar South.

You can also preview the book on google:

Reviews of the book:

Other Background Documentation:

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I will be extending the dates. As soon as I get caught up on all of the discussions here; I will start posting on this one. Anyone can initiate discussion at any time.

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jun 06, 2009 10:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

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OK, here we go. I will open up discussion on the Preface. I will continue with the discussion until the end date and/or when we complete this book. Even if you have not read the book and would like to comment or have an opinion on the subject matter itself, we would of course like to hear from you.

The author Patricia Click introduces why she feels that the story of the Roanoke Island's freedmen's colony is one of national significance. She explained that she got interested in this subject matter when she took a summer position as an historian-in-residence for the town of Manteo, North Carolina.

Manteo is named after a Native American Croatan who in 1584 actually accompanied Sir Walter Raleigh back to England. Here is a write-up regarding this Native American.

Roanoke Island is located between the North Carolina mainland and the Outer Banks. Here is where the first English settlements in America were located. The last of these colonies was known as Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colony because it mysteriously disappeared in the 1580's.

A recent mayor of Manteo suggested that an interesting project for her internship would be to write a history of the colony of former slaves that was established on the island during the Civil War which at the time of the Civil War was known as the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony. Click started to do some research and really did not know where to start. She discovered that there was an evangelical missionary organization that had tried to do missionary work at that time. She located many letters that were written by the American Missionary organization housed at the Amistad Research Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. She also discovered thankfully that a microfiche had been made and was housed at the University of Virginia. She ended up just writing a paper that summer giving an overview of the colony; but she felt that at a later date she might want to write a complete history of the colony itself; but she correctly determined that a summer internship was certainly not going to give her the time she needed.

It wasn't until ten years later that she revisited that summer internship project and then realized that it was much bigger than she even imagined at the time. Click contemplated that what had happened to the colony was the result of a mixture of "evangelical, traditional republican, abolition sentiments that were tempered by the crucible of the military experience." She knew that this local experiment actually had national implications.

She decided to focus not only bringing the story of the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony alive; but she also wanted to write a book which would give a scholarly account of freedmen's camps and the missionary work which was done. She was however very concerned about the lack of substantial primary source material from the freedmen's perspective.

Click emphasized that she tried to remain faithful to the terms used at that time. At first, the former slaves were referred to as contrabands. The settlement was referred to first as a camp similar to what the Union outposts in the Southern coastal regions resembled. But in 1863 things changed, a General John G. Foster instructed the Reverend Horace James to "supervise the "colonization" of the island with former slaves"

According to Click, from that point it was referred to as a "colony" When referring to the people who lived in that colony; both men and women were referred to as simply "the freedmen".

The book's title is taken actually from a letter written by a missionary teacher in May, 1864 (Ella Roper) to the American Missionary Association's corresponding secretary (Reverand George Whipple). She wrote: "with a heart full of gratitude to God; that the past quarter had been "a time full of trial and yet full of joy because our Strong Deliverer seemed so near."

Click came to the conclusion that the missionaries even though they were naive; really did want to improve the lot of the freedmen with education and felt they were performing a service.

She does not let them off the hook for their self righteousness, however; but she decided to take them at their word in regards to their missionary spirit. She also stated that the work was a trial for everyone: the colonists, the teachers, the military authorities, etc. It was also as Click stated "a trial run for some significant ideas - free universal education, small freeholding, wage labor - that could have drastically altered society and culture in nineteenth-century North Carolina."

The book is a story of what happened to these ideas and why.

Click presents an interesting rationale.


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In 1863, about 100 to 200 former slaves were arriving each day to the Union occupied Roanoke Island. This was just not an isolated event, as soon as the Union army would establish a foothold in any area, the local slaves would stream across Union lines looking for freedom. The military authorities obviously had their hands full; fighting a war and at the same time having to provide for former slaves and also being forced to provide for all of them in terms of protection and food.

The Union commanders were rightly concerned about their provisions and about military discipline. Most of the makeshift facilities for these unlikely refugees of war were called camps; it was Roanoke Island which would actually become a colony. The military commanders thought that the camps would be temporary and that colonies would be permanent. What to do with these folks was a problem; eventually the Union talked many of these former slaves into fighting for the Union; but it is odd that even the Northern Evangelicals who were totally for emancipation of the slaves never saw the slaves as ever being socially equal. They were all for political equality but not a social one. In fact, as Click so aptly points out: ""they thought that the former slaves would find their "natural" social position; which would likely be somewhere near the bottom of society." It does not seem that any of these Northern emancipators viewed the blacks as ever being socially equal. Roanoke Island was to be a social experiment; what it actually became was a "dress rehearsal" for Reconstructionism."

I guess in reading this that for me; freeing the slaves was all about readying the Northern Evangelicals for the second coming of Christ; and that Christ would not come until the slaves were freed. It had nothing to do with allowing the slaves to develop themselves into socially equal beings with whites. I sort of wanted to see the Union as being much more egalitarian which they were not.

What do you think were the true reasons/causes for the Civil War; were the slaves simply a pawn; what did they hope to gain for the freedmen that they did not already have and how was the Union prepared to help them or were they?

PS: After thinking about the above, I am convinced that the movement for the abolition of slavery was really not about the slaves and their freedom as much as it was about the Northern Evangelicals opinion about salvation and saving themselves; freeing the slaves was something that they felt they had to do to be ready for the Second Coming which they thought was imminent. Probably the Civil War actually dealt with two very different views of the country's purpose and how the North and the South had diametrically different views of what the federal government should control versus states rights (in some ways some things have remained the same). You only have to listen to the political ramblings of the two parties today. Also, at that time, before Lincoln was even president, seven states had seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. That in and of itself, was the main reason for the war; things were falling apart.

Here is a short writeup on some of the causes of the Civil War:


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Upcoming Week - Chapter One - This Important Victory: The Birth of the Colony - page 19 through 35

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This is the beginning of the Chapter One discussion. It appears that the Roanoke Island victory by Union General Ambrose Burnside was very significant for both sides. The Confederates did not fortify their troops there and yet the Union soldiers were able with this victory to control two sounds, eight rivers, four canals, two railroads and it exposed all of the defences of Norfolk. Despite the importance only 1500 men were defending it. They were no match for the 10,000 troops under Burnside. It became for the Confederacy the most disastrous event of the war. And from 1862 until 1867, the Union soldiers were able to provide a stronghold on Roanoke Island.

The slave population at the time of the Union victory was very scant on Roanoke Island; most of the slaves were housed on the mainland. But by 1862, with the Union victory, some had decided to venture forth onto Hatteras Island and they assisted Burnside with their knowledge of the currents, the channel, waterways, etc.

It was odd that the native islanders were thankful in part that the confederate soldiers were not the occupiers; they had pillaged much of the foodstuffs of the locals; the Union soldiers seemed actually somewhat better to some after what they had endured. The locals were able to return to fishing which had been prohibited by the Confederacy occupiers who feared that the islanders would set sail to Hatteras and share secrets. I guess if you cannot even trust your own; the battle is most likely lost before it has even begun. Hard to believe that the locals were happy in some respects to not be occupied by the Confederacy.

Colonel Rush Hawkins who was the regimental leader of the Ninth New York Volunteers was the first Union post commandant on Roanoke Island. He really does look all decked out on page 30. His uniform was supposed to be modeled after those of the French Algerion Zouaves. Quite fancy.

I was surprised that the Ninth New York even set up the Zouaves Minstrel and Dramatic Club and actually presented plays and minstrels to the island natives and soldiers. They had to turn people away; it was so popular.

One of the only problems was their post surgeon, Dr. Thomas, who seemed to be addicted to opium and it was determined he was unfit to take care of the sick. There were actually two hospitals, and a James Emmerton took over temporarily the spot Thomas held. I guess Thomas had been helping himself to the anesthesia narcotics!!!!! Sort of troubling they did not spot his problem earlier.

Things seemed so much better under the Union soldiers the slaves seemed to stream into the encampment (of course, trying to escape their slavery). There had actually been about two hundred slaves to begin with that had been pressed into labor by their Confederate predecessors. Some of them wanted to return to try to free their wives and families.

Another 250 slaves streamed in before too long; some of them had been hiding in the woods. As Patricia Click writes: "As the former slaves poured onto the island, however, Union authorities grew very concerned about their living conditions, primarily because of fears that sanitation problems in the makeshift camp would have adverse effects on the Union encampment. There were also fears that the proximity of the contrabands to the Union soldiers would interfere with military discipline. The search for a long term solution to the refugee problem ultimately led to the establishment of an officially sanctioned contraband camp. That camp, in turn, became the site of the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony."

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Next week's assignment is Chapter Two: An African Village of Grand Proportions: the Birth of the Colony". (page 35 - 57)

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At any time, feel free to also post any of your questions or comments about the reading that you personally may have; we will always try to assist; our discussion posts are simply to get discussion going.


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Regarding Chapter Two:

This chapter is actually a story of the birth of the colony at Roanoke. The chapter begins with Vincent Colyer, who was an agent of the New York Christian Commission who had accompanied the Union troops to Roanoke Island. He witnessed what Click calls “the early flowering of the community of former slaves. He reported that the first thing that the group did together was build a place for worship which took a bit of creative maneuvering. By the end of 1862, the refugees had in fact built two churches and many of the “colored preachers” as they were called then impressed Colyer. He was very surprised because North Carolina law had prohibited black men from preaching since 1831.

The refugees knew that they valued two things: education and religion and they wanted to develop a durable colony. But as they streamed in the Union soldiers were worried about sanitation and disease.

General Burnside developed a four point policy: he allowed the slaves to enter, he took their names, their masters’ names, their former places of residence, he gave them jobs and charitable support and refused to return them to their owners. Post Commandant on Roanoke Island was Rush Hawkins and Hawkins arranged for each “contraband” to become employed by the US Government and receive pay, a ration, and soldier’s allowance of clothing. When Burnside ordered for the contrabands to be placed outside of the hands of the military, he asked Colyer to become the superintendent of the poor in the Department of North Carolina. Colyer said of Burnside that he was not an abolitionist, but he “had too much sagacity to despise the services of the blacks and was too large hearted a man to love slavery."

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General Burnside ordered Colyer to make sure that all of the black folks were treated humanely. Burnside wanted Colyer to get 10,000 black men to build forts in North Carolina. Colyer had problems getting that done because he had actually 7500 women and children and only 2500 men by 1862 and a 1000 of these were on Roanoke Island. In the summer of 1862, Reverand Means, a hospital chaplain from Massachusetts replaced Colyer but he continued much of the work Colyer had begun. In January 1863, came Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This helped speed more black folks to stream into North Carolina and the Union Camps. The situation got so acute that they needed a National Policy which they had not thought of before.

In March, 1863 the War Department finally set up the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission to look into what to do with the freedpeople. Means passed away in 1863 from typhoid fever and an army chaplain Horace James took over. James had always opposed slavery and was a strong advocate of temperance. He had an excellent educational background; but seemed to view Roanoke Island as an experiment to prove some of his ideas about freeholding, free labor in a self supporting community of former slaves. However, there had also been a Militia Act of July 17, 1862, and it was Lincoln himself who authorized the governors of New England to recruit black regiments. Lincoln also authorized Brigadier General Edward Wild to raise four regiments of black soldiers in North Carolina. What transpired after that authorization was that General Butler who succeeded General Foster in NC now decreed that black freedmen were now prohibited from other forms of government employment and were forced to be placed into service immediately in the Union army. If they refused and felt that they were being railroaded into conscription; then they would be arrested and put to work on government fortifications without the expectation of rations for their families. Never mind that the government owed most of these men a year’s back salaries.

Horace James who now was in charge of turning the refugee settlement into a permanent village now felt inspired to try to develop a model of social enlightenment.

From reading this book, I am really surprised that they blackmailed the freedmen after not paying them for a year to join the Union regiments otherwise they would now be arrested and their families would not receive their rations and could starve. It was particularly dangerous for freedmen to be retaken by the Confederacy; who would just hang them. Some amazing revelations for me in this reading.

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The next chapter is "A New Social Order: Horace James's Ideas for the Colony. (pages 35 - 57)

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Since I have come back from vacation; it has taken some time to get caught up on Barzun and other threads. I have extended the dates on this book.

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This book is still open for discussion.

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