Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Beloved Teacher

This story took place over 150 years ago on St. Simons Island off the coast of Georgia. *

In the 1800s the owners of the rice plantations on St. Simons Island decided to hire a teacher to teach their children. They found a young teacher that lived in Ohio that was willing to move south.

Margaret was wise beyond her years. She had traveled extensively in both America and Europe and had attended some of the finest schools.

St. Simons Island
She settled happily into her new assignment. She spent her days at the little schoolhouse on the island teaching the plantation owner’s children. Then at night, she would teach the slave children at her home.

Many of the plantation owners objected to her teaching their slaves, but Margaret was strong-willed, so she prevailed in this endeavor.

One young slave boy, Joshua, became Margaret’s best pupil. Joshua loved the stories and poems Margaret read, and he often stayed late to hear more. 

He was lucky for his master was a kinder man than most of the plantation owners. He told his teacher that he felt learning would help him to gain his freedom in the future.

Unfortunately, Joshua never attained his dream. A slave uprising occurred on the plantation adjacent to his masters. The plantation owner was killed in this struggle, and a mob of angry men gathered that night to seek revenge.

This mob attacked several plantation slave quarters, including ones that had not been involved in the uprising. They came to Joshua’s family cabin, ripped down the door and started to beat his parents. Joshua jumped in to defend his mother and was clubbed on the head, he died instantly.

Margaret grief-stricken started to isolate herself from the rest of the community. It is said she only spoke now to the children that she taught. She was often seen wandering aimlessly through the island’s backwoods.

One day as she sat in the school preparing the next day’s lessons, she spotted a black raven that sat on one windowsill. This raven would fly above her as she walked home every day.

Isolated and lonely, Margaret began to read poems to this raven, as he sat near her in the afternoons. Two plantation children returned one day after school to find an item they had left behind. They quietly observed their teacher reading to this blackbird.

They ran home and announced to their parents that their teacher was “a witch.” Their parents ignored this, but rumors started to fly. Many people at the time had a fear of “black magic.” They began to wonder if this silent teacher could be a witch.

Others, not liking the fact that she taught the slave children started to add fuel to the fire. Hysteria took over, and an angry mob went to her home one night. They dragged her out, accused her of being a witch, and then killed her.

After this, the community refused to allow her body to be buried in the local churchyard. Joshua’s master, who was a kind man buried her alongside one road. He placed a stone marker on her grave. On it, he carved, “A Beloved Teacher.”

Soon after he buried her, people started to observe that all the vegetation in the area began to die. Even today, 150 years later, nothing grows in this area--no trees or moss or even grass.

* This story is a good example of how folklore often reflects people’s superstitions.

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