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To distinguish those among the grown persons that worked in the house, who showed the greatest dexterity and industry in the different manufactures in which they were employed, the best workmen were separated from the others, and formed distinct classes, and were even assigned separate rooms and apartments. This separation was productive of many advantages; for, besides the spirit of emulation which it excited and kept alive in every part of the establishment, it afforded an opportunity of carrying on the different manufactures in a very advantageous manner.
The awkwardness of these poor creatures when they were first taken from the streets as beggars and put to work, may easily be conceived ; but the facility with which they acquired address in the various manufactures in which they were employed was very remarkable, and much exceeded my expectation. But what was quite surprising, and at the same time interesting in the highest degree, was the apparent and rapid change which was produced in their manners—in their general behavior, and even in the very air of their countenances upon being a little accustomed to their new situations. The kind usage they met with, and the comforts they enjoyed, seemed to have softened their hearts, and awakened in them sentiments as new and surprising to themselves as they were interesting to those about them.
The melancholy gloom of misery and air of uneasiness and embarrassment, disappeared by little and little from their countenances, and were succeeded by a timid dawn of cheerfulness, rendered most exquisitely interesting by a certain mixture of silent gratitude which no language can describe.
In the infancy of this establishment, when these poor creatures were first brought together, I used very frequently to visit them—to speak kindly to them, and to encourage them ; and I seldom passed through the halls where they were at work without being a witness to the most moving scenes.
Objects, formerly the most miserable and wretched, whom I had seen for years as beggars in the streets; young women, perhaps the unhappy victims of seduction, who, having lost their reputation, and being turned adrift in the world, without a friend and without a home, were reduced to the necessity of begging to sustain a miserable existence, now recog. nized me as their benefactor; and, with tears dropping fast from their cheeks, continued their work in the most expressive silence,
If they were asked what the matter was with them? their answer was (" nichts ") “nothing;” accompanied by a look of affectionate regard and gratitude, so exquisitely touching as frequently to draw tears from the most insensible of the by-standers.
It was not possible to be mistaken with respect to the real state of the
minds of these poor people; everything about them showed that they were deeply affected with the kindness shown them; and that their hearts were really softened, appeared not only from their unaffected expressions of gratitude, but also from the effusions of their affectionate regard for those who were dear to them. In short, never did I witness such affecting scenes as passed between some of these poor people and their children.
It was mentioned above that the children were separated from the grown persons. This was the case at first; but as soon as order was thoroughly established in every part of the house, and the poor people had acquired a certain degree of address in their work, and evidently took pleasure in it, as many of those who had children expressed an earnest desire to have them near them, permission was granted for that purpose; and the spinning halls, by degrees, were filled with the most interesting little groups of industrious families, who vied with each other in diligence and address; and who displayed a scene at once the most busy and the most cheerful that can be imagined.
An industrious family is ever a pleasing object; but there was something peculiarly interesting and affecting in the groups of these poor people. Whether it was, that those who saw them compared their pres. ent situation with the state of misery and wretchedness from which they had been taken; or whether it was the joy and exultation which were expressed in the countenances of the poor parents in contemplating their children all busily employed about them; or the air of self-satisfaction which these little urchins put on at the consciousness of their own dex. terity, while they pursued their work with redoubled diligence upon being observed, that rendered the scene so singularly interesting, I know not; but certain it is that few strangers who visited the establishment came out of these halls without being much affected.
Phillis Theatley Peters.
BORN in Africa, about 1754. Brought to America, and sold into slavery, 1761. DIED in Boston,
[Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, by Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant
to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New England. -London, 1773.]
IMAGINATION! who can sing thy source,
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
ON THE DEATH OF 0. E., AN INFANT OF TWELVE MONTES.
To purer regions of celestial light;