"We rejoiced at midnight with great pride and joy to think that our country is at last free."
-- Laura Towne, Jan. 1, 1863
The Emancipation Proclamation has been celebrated on New Year's Day in all parts of the United States -- but throughout history there hasn't been a celebration quite like the one at Camp Saxton on Smith Plantation on Port Royal Island in 1863.
Charlotte Forten, the first African-American to come to St. Helena Island to teach at Penn School, wrote an account of this momentous day in her diary.
Forten and Laura Towne, the founder of Penn School, arrived late, and the ferry to Camp Saxton left without them. A second ferry came to pick them up, and they were on their way to celebrate the most glorious day this nation had yet to see. Because of the excitement, Forten does not give an account of every detail from this day, but she relates that it was dream-like.
The grounds of Camp Saxton were once occupied by a very old fort, "De La Ribanchine," which was built in 1629 or 1630. The celebration was held in a beautiful live-oak-lined grove, adjoining the camp. Forten sat on the stand and looked around at the various groups, she thought she never had seen a sight so lovely: black soldiers in their blue coats and scarlet pants; the officers of this and other regiments in their handsome uniforms; and crowds of onlookers, men, women and children grouped in all attitudes under the trees. The faces were happy, eager and with an expectant look.
The Rev. Fowler, chaplain of the regiment, opened with a prayer. This was followed by an ode, written for the occasion by Professor Zachos, superintendent of Parris Island. He read the ode, and then it was sung by white people. In a few elegant and graceful words, Col. Higginson introduced Dr. Brisbane, who read the president's Emancipation Proclamation, which was cheered. Flags were presented by Dr. Cleaver's church in New York to Higginson for the regiment. After a speech by the Rev. French, some of the black people -- on their own accord -- began to sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee," a very touching and beautiful incident.
There was quite a sumptuous dinner at the celebration. There was a grand barbecue. Ten oxen had been roasted whole, standing in its pit. The dinner was merry and delightful. Forten was asked to read Whittier Hymn.
This was a first for her. It was a brilliant sight, the long line of men in their uniforms with bayonets gleaming in the sunlight. Forten commented: "To me it was a grand triumph -- that black regiment doing itself honor in the sight of white officers of whom doubtless come to scuff. It is typical of what the race, so long downtrodden and degraded achieve on the continent."
EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION BREAKFAST CAKE
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup (more or less) milk
1 to 2 cups washed blueberries
1/4 cup honey
Grated rind of one orange
Grated rind on one lemon
Cream sugar and butter, add egg and beat. Sift dry ingredients, add blueberries, then add alternately with milk to the butter, eggt and sugar mixture. Make a dough stiff enough to handle. Pat out 1/2-inch thickness on a floured brad board. Cut with a biscuit cutter and arrange in greased pie pan in tilted fashion. Spread with honey and sprinkle with orange rind and lemon rind and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a hot oven. Serve hot or cold.
LUNCHEON IN DENVER-WESTERN BEEF STEAK
1 pound hamburger meat
4 lean strips bacon
1 bell pepper
3 small pimiento
Chop peppers and pimientos into fine cuts. Add salt, pepper, paprika to taste and meat sauce. Combine these ingredients with hamburger meat and mix together well. Take mixed meat and divide into four portions about the size of a coffee cup. With a palm of hand, moon shape balls so one strip of bacon can go around without doubling up. Fasten bacon to ball with toothpick and place in skillet with lots of shortening. Cook for 15- to 20-minute duration.
"The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro, National Council of Negro Women" (2000)
Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at email@example.com.