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Queer, tender, wistful faces, so
earnest one forgets their grotesque character and ragged, faded
forms, cluster in the porch; such a set as one might once have
seen put up at auction as a 'refuse lot' of plantation negroes.
The men wear old army cloaks, while the women, with dresses in
every stage of decay, are so comic, one struggles between the
ludicrous and the pitiful.... The faith of this class seems to be
fastened nowhere so strongly as upon Mrs. Griffing. Salutations
follow her along the streets, enough to satisfy the proudest
Pharisee, and it provokes one between a smile and a tear, to see
the women waiting timidly, yet eagerly, for a word from her, to
set their faces all aglow. They used to say, persistently, 'We
belongs to you,' and no efforts could induce them to change that
phrase. 'Who has we but the Lord and you?' was the simple
argument which stayed protest from the kind, proud woman who was
their benefactress. A few words from her will draw out histories
simple, funny, and sad beyond question."

Our friend had a strong belief that the able in body could sustain
themselves if labor were provided, which it could not be there, so she
urged them to go to the North, which greatly needed laborers to fill
the places of Northern men in the army. Woman's help, too, was as much
in demand, for in many places large farms were wholly managed by women
in the absence of husbands and sons; but it was learned by Mrs.
Griffing and daughters through repeated testimony, that the life-long
teaching of the slaves had been, that no good could come from
Northern people,[28] and this led the many in their pitiable ignorance
to believe that, somewhere in the North, the monsters surely lived who
were waiting to destroy them, and that the kind few whom they had met
were of a different race; that "the North" was beyond the sea, and
they could never return, nor hear from their friends left behind; so
persistent argument was needed to convince the most ignorant of their
false notions, and many of them never were, until some had gone and
returned with good tidings. The first company prepared to go numbered
sixty persons, for whom Mrs. Griffing procured Government
transportation and a day's rations. She went with them to New York
City, and as they passed from the cars the sight was a new and strange
one. Filing through the streets, the anxious, wondering women dressed
partly in neat garments given them, with others of their own selection
in less good taste; while on the men an occasional damaged silk hat
topped off a coat that would have made Joseph's of old look plain;
with ironclad army shoes; or a half-worn wedding swallow-tail, eked
out by a plantation broad-brim, and boots too much worn for either
comfort or beauty. This motley band, led by a gentle and
spiritual-faced woman, will not soon be forgotten by those who saw it
depart. Leaving a few at one depot, and a few at another, to be met at
the journey's end by their employer, Mrs. Griffing took those
remaining to Providence, near which place homes had been provided.
After these sent messages back to friends, others went more readily,
and during a little more than two years over seven thousand freed
people left Washington under Mrs. Griffing's special supervision and
direction for homes in the North. I wish I could say how many parties
she actually convoyed on the journey, and how many miles she traveled,
but I know that she went as far as New York with a great many; and as
I have seen them start, knew and felt that it was too much for her,
and longed that some stronger person should appear to share her
burdens, and relieve her from these exhausting duties. Perhaps she had
written letters till twelve o'clock the night before; had taken a long
walk beyond the Navy-Yard cars, in the afternoon, to visit her
centenarians; or had received calls, and talked till her voice had
almost given out.

But she had the comfort of knowing that many remained where they had
been sent, some buying homes and planting vines about the roof-tree.
To behold this, she had wrought heroically in the past for
emancipation. She was busy with her hands, busier with her brain, and
her spiritual nature was like a spring of sweet waters, overflowing in
bounteous blessing on all around. Of the great painter Leonardo da
Vinci, his biographer says: "He always saw four things he wanted to do
at once." Our friend always saw many more. Her mind was teeming not
only with ideals as beautiful as those of the great artist, but with
practical plans to educate the ignorant, and lift them to self-support
and self-protection. Her being was instinct with constructive and
spiritual force.

It would be hard to find any sphere of woman's activity in which she
had not been leader. Believing that "the manifest intention of nature
is the perfection of man," she faithfully did her part. In the
laborious and the menial she served the colored poor, while she
neglected no opportunity to open their spiritual vision. She fed,
warmed, and clothed them; ministered to the sick; attended the dying;
procured their coffins; spoke the comforting words, and sung the hymns
at their funerals. She instructed them in their Sunday meetings, and
gained release for those in prison for petty offences, or for those
unjustly accused. Soldiers often appealed to her to assist and aid
them. Her work at the jails was very wearing, for the poor creatures,
not unfrequently the mother of an infant left at home, arrested for an
imaginary offense, or for _stealing_ bread to avert starvation, would
_plead_ so hard for her to get them released, and had such full faith
that she could, that it was a constant tax upon her sympathy and
strength, as was all her work connected with them.

Josephine Griffing had to deal too much with the realities of life and
death to make many records of her work, save those required in the
routine of her office. These were mostly kept by her daughter Emma,
her official assistant. But the substance of what was done in these
years may be found in the archives of the Government. On the calendar
of both Houses of Congress, in the _Congressional Globe_, in the War
Office, in the Freedman's Bureau, in the offices of District
Government and District Courts, and perhaps in the prisons, the future
historian may find abundant records of the patient and humane labors
of this merciful, vigilant, and untiring woman. Whether he finds them
in her name is not so certain!

Mrs. Griffing not only devoted to these people the six days of the
week allotted to labor, but her Sundays were given to public
ministrations as well as private visits to the distant and aged,
unable to come to the Relief rooms during the week. But for a real
picture of the condition of these people, nothing can be more graphic
or full of feeling, than her own account in a letter to Lucretia
Mott,[29] intended as an appeal to the Society of Friends in
Philadelphia. It, with others, had early responded, and with its
contributions in part, she had established the soup-houses before
noted. Her account is also in connection with the Bureau, of
historical interest. During this long struggle her evenings were spent
in writing letters to the North, framing bills, petitions, and appeals
to amend the laws of the District. As she was interested in all the
reforms of the day, she was frequently called upon for active service
in conventions and political gatherings.

Of the public men whom she consulted, two at least, I know, made
everybody and everything yield when she appeared; these were Secretary
Stanton and Chas. Sumner--so interested were they in the objects of
her devotion, and so sure that Mrs. Griffing would not take their time
without sufficient reason. Benj. F. Wade and Henry Wilson would not
yield the palm in their respect to her, and Senator Howard, of
Michigan, was also one of her most friendly helpers. Stevens, Julian,
Dawes, Ashley--all the friends in Congress--could tell of her great
achievements, and their unbounded confidence in her, as the following
letters show:


WASHINGTON, D. C., _March 11, 1865._

_To the Commissioner of the Freedman's Bureau_:

SIR:--I take pleasure in giving my influence to this application
for a place at the head of freedmen's affairs in the District of
Columbia for Mrs. Josephine S. Griffing, believing her to be
eminently qualified to develop the resources of the freed people
in this District, most of whom are women and children--secure the
national interest, and give satisfaction to the country. Mrs.
Griffing has given successful public and private efforts in
behalf of the colored race for many years, and has devoted the
entire time of the last year to an investigation of the condition
and best method of giving relief to the multitudes of freed
people in and around the National Capital. Finding many thousands
of women with families without employment or the means of
self-support, she has conferred with the President and Governors
of the Northwestern States upon the practicability of encouraging
their emigration. To meet the destitution of these people in this
city during the past winter, Mrs. Griffing has disbursed from the
Government about $25,000 in wood and blankets and rations, and
$5,000 in clothing and money from the public charity. I believe
the appointment of Mrs. J. S. Griffing to a chief clerkship or
general agency for the District in this Bureau will be creditable
to the Government and satisfactory to the freed people.

Z. CHANDLER.


I fully concur with my colleague. Mrs. Griffing is both worthy
and capable, and I trust her services will be secured.

J. M. HOWARD.


If I had this appointment to make, I would make Mrs. Griffing
Commissioner.

J.



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