The John A. Rockwell Papers consist of approximately 250 letters, dating from 1865-1867. The letters are from the period when Rockwell served as Superintendent of the American Missionary Association's (AMA) Lincoln School in Macon, Georgia, and record his efforts on behalf of the freedmen population in the area of education. The correspondence deals almost exclusively with the problems of administering and supplying a school for freedmen in the heart of the former Confederacy.
Many of the letters are simply requests for supplies, such as food, clothing, school furniture, and books, while others are receipts for the same. All of the correspondence is incoming to Macon, and mostly to Rockwell, although there are letters to other AMA workers in Georgia. There is little discussion of the attitudes or abilities of students, just as there are few detailed descriptions of the local White response to the new school. The letters do show how closely the AMA and the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands worked in securing land and buildings for new schools. Only after consulting with the Freedmen's Bureau and determining the usefulness of confiscated former Confederate land did the AMA decide on the location of a school, and it was not unusual for the Association to take advantage of land offered by the Bureau.
Notable correspondents include: William C. Child, Secretary of the Charitable Department of the American Tract Society in Boston; Erastus Milo Cravath, Field Agent and later District Secretary and Field Secretary of the AMA offices in Nashville, Tennessee; G.S. Eberhart, State Superintendent of Georgia for the Freedmen's Bureau; E.A. Ferrald, Superintendent of the Freedmen's School in Chattanooga, Tennessee; B. Griffith, Corresponding Secretary of the American Baptist Publication Society in Philadelphia; Samuel Hunt, Superintendent of Education for the AMA; Simeon Smith Jocelyn, member of the Executive Committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society; Thomas Kennedy, Assistant Treasurer of the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission in Cincinnati, Ohio; G.R. Montrose, a New York agent of the AMA; T.K. Noble, Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau in Louisville, Kentucky; John Ogden, Agent and Superintendent of Education for the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission; Fannie Hogan Randall, a teacher in Americus, Georgia; Lewes McHenry Robinson, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Milledgeville, Georgia; Edward Parmalee Smith, General Field Agent for the AMA; Michael E. Strieby, Corresponding Secretary of the AMA; William J.R. Taylor, Corresponding Secretary of the American Bible Society in New York City; George Wagner, First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau in Americus; Georgia Whipple, Corresponding Secretary of the AMA; and W.E. Whiting, Assistant Treasurer for the AMA.
Of the 69 letters from E.M. Cravath, four were written to Martha D. Ayers, fourteen to Hiram Eddy, and fifty-one to John A. Rockwell. The letters to Ayers and Rockwell cover roughly the same chronological period, January 1866 to January 1867, whereas the correspondence with Hiram Eddy begins in December 1865 and ends in February 1866. Martha Ayers arrived in Macon, Georgia, in January 1866 and immediately set about the task of keeping the account books of Lincoln School. From the start Cravath warned her not to overwork herself, and his letters are full of advice for the women teachers and suggestions to Ayers concerning appropriate accounting techniques. The significance of the letters from Cravath to Ayers lies in the glimpse they provide of the position and responsibility of women in the AMA schools, as well as in the outline of the methods of supplying AMA schools and in the financial record of the Association's exertions on behalf of the freedmen.
In Cravath's correspondence with Hiram Eddy, much is revealed of the plans to establish AMA schools in Milledgeville and Andersonville, Georgia. Despite an outbreak of smallpox and orders from the AMA's New York office to reduce the amount of funds spent in Georgia, Eddy was able to establish a new school in Milledgeville. He considered using African American teachers until enough Whites could be found to fill positions at the school. In Macon, he began planning a night school in late 1865, although it was never actually organized until the next year. These fourteen letters to Eddy are important because of the generous evaluation Cravath makes of the Lincoln School.
John A. Rockwell's correspondence with E.M. Cravath dates from January 1866 to January 1867, during which time Rockwell was Superintendent of Lincoln School, and deals largely with the administration of the institution. Some of the topics covered in the discussion of administrative procedures are the attitude of the White populace of Macon, Milledgeville, and Andersonville, Georgia, toward the AMA schools, the progress of a night school at Macon, the bookkeeping procedures employed at Lincoln School, and the working hours for the female teachers at the AMA schools.
Also discussed in these letters is the question of local Black support for the schools. Rockwell wanted to use African American assistant teachers to relieve the work load of the already overtaxed White teachers. He also worked to encourage Blacks in Milledgeville, as well as the other two school locations to a lesser degree, to help with the expenses of running the schools by pledging a small monthly donation for their upkeep. Rockwell was unsuccessful in this endeavor and finally was forced to resort to a "pay school plan" for those African Americans who could afford it. A letter from Cravath to Rockwell also notes James A. Thome's projected journey through the South to inspect the condition of the freedmen before his mission to Great Britain where he hoped to arouse support for the American benevolent societies working in the South.
Correspondence from executives of the AMA include letters from Samuel Hunt to G.S. Eberhart, Hiram Eddy, and John A. Rockwell, which deal with school matters such as rules for teachers' conduct, the establishment of night schools, and the strengths and weaknesses of women teachers. The letters from E.P. Smith to Martha D. Ayers, Eddy, and Rockwell are concerned with encouraging Macon teachers to provide newspaper material for the AMA's use in raising funds in the North and with the efficient allocation of supplies and funds to the freedmen's schools. Much of the Smith correspondence to Rockwell is shipping lists of supplies sent to Macon and requests to acknowledge receipt of those items. There is another side to the Smith-Rockwell correspondence that is revealing. both men were close friends, and Smith's letters contain remarkably candid evaluations of the AMA's work among the freedmen. Occasionally amid what is otherwise a discussion of strictly business affairs Smith interjects his personal and highly favorable views on Rockwell's work in Georgia.
The communications from Michael E. Strieby, George Whipple, and W.E. Whiting of the New York City offices of the AMA all touch on how Rockwell was spending the money allocated to his schools. Strieby and Whipple, as two of the New York Corresponding Secretaries, were particularly concerned that Rockwell, or a teacher that he appointed to the task, keep them regularly supplied with "special and particular incidents illustrating every-day life among the Freedmen." These stories were then used to dramatize the AMA's appeals for funds from northern churches. Sometimes this publicity resulted in a church adopting an AMA school as the sole object of its benevolent work in the South, but more often than not, it simply encouraged northern churchmen to give more generously to the general fund of the Association. Whiting's correspondence, on the other hand, deals solely with receipts and disbursements from the New York office.
There is also correspondence in the collection from men in other charitable organizations that cooperated closely with the Association's work in the South. The Western Freedmen's Aid Commission was just such an organization, and Thomas Kennedy was just such a man. There are three letters from Kennedy, who was the Assistant Treasurer of the Commission, to Rockwell concerning the arrival and distribution of supplies from Ohio. G.S. Eberhart, although working for the federal government and not for a private philanthropic organization, was the State Superintendent of Georgia for the Freedmen's Bureau. The Bureau's aid in the acquisition of land for schools in Andersonville and Ft. Valley, Georgia, seems to have been indispensable to Rockwell's success in those two communities.
Finally there are three letters from two Freedmen in Georgia. The October 1866 communication from Wyatt Moore is especially valuable for the glimpse it gives of a local African American group's plans to sail for Africa and its request of Rockwell to "procure a Teacher to go with us to Liberia." The two letters from Lewes McHenry Robinson, a member of the Board of Directors of the Milledgeville Methodist Episcopal Church, are requests for aid in constructing the first church for Blacks in that town.