Lucinda Humphrey Hay

Lucinda Humphrey Hay, offspring of parents active with the Underground Railroad, was among dozens of missionaries who went south during the Civil War to assist former slaves in their transition to freedom. Hays, who married Capt. Henry S. Hay near the end of her work among the freedpeople of Memphis, is recognized as a founder of LeMoyne Owen College as this institution had its beginning at Camp Shiloh, where Hay opened a school in November 1862.

Exposed to small pox and other maladies, Humphrey’s time in the South would be but two years, from the summer of 1862 to the summer of 1864. However, in that time, she made her mark, teaching many enthusiastic freedpeople to read. Her first school was opened in a building where lived black employees of the General Hospital, a facility where she herself was early on employed as a nurse during the day and a volunteer teacher in the evenings. Once moved to Camp Shiloh, which Hay refers to as a contraband village, she reopened her school, a simple slab house that in time was fitted with windows, seats, and a blackboard. The school closed temporarily in January of 1863, but on the first day of that year, perhaps in recognition of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Hay held outdoors an examination and an exhibition for her students. One of few whites working at Camp Shiloh, she relied upon the assistance of both freedmen and freedwomen about the village. She gives mention to her “co-workers in the great cause before [them],” seeming especially grateful to the freedman Levi, who, she wrote, “had the confidence of the people.” In addition, she gives mention to Uncle Jerry, whose sermon likewise indicates appreciation for her work as a teacher:

...we is here on liberty’s ground a worshipin God, under our own vine & fig-tree, and de good Lord he hab sent us diss good ladies--dey couldn’t shoder dise arms but de sord had put it into tare hearts to come and teach us poor African race...I feel it my dispensible duty  to do something for dis yere unspeakable kindness. I feels it my dispensible privilege, and I know dat ya all feels it your dispensible duty.

Uncle Jerry was one of a few leaders, white and black, who spoke at the January 1 events. Others included Rev. Porter, whose wife also had assisted Hay. Uncle Jerry’s acknowledgment of cooperation between Hay and freedpeople of the Shiloh contraband village is affirmed by Hay, who from the beginning of her work, recognized the talent of many of the black residents and workers, some of whom were anxious to take up where she left off.

A fluent writer, Hays composed, mostly while at Memphis, the story of her sojourn there, which included Captain Hays's courtship. Her manuscript, “The Freedmen, or Romance of American History,” which included illustrations, was nearly ready for publication before her untimely death a few days before Christmas in 1864. She died near Tipton, Iowa.