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Title: Friendly counsels for freedmen

Author: J. B. Waterbury

Release date: May 31, 2022 [eBook #68217]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: American Tract Society, 1860

Credits: The Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)







We welcome all who have come out of bondage to the privileges of freemen. Providence has unloosed your fetters. The war has been made use of by the Almighty to bring about this great change in your condition. We hope you will remember this; and when you pray, you must not forget to give him thanks for your freedom.

Your condition is in some respects much better, and in others somewhat[4] worse, than when you were slaves. Your master, if he was kind, took good care of you. Now that you are free, you have got to take care of yourselves. At first this may be a hardship; but by and by you will see that it is a good thing. In slavery you had little or no care, except to see that your task was done. Now that you are your own men, you have got to think and work both.

Thus freedom acts on the mind. It obliges you to seek a livelihood—to look up work such as you can do, that you may support yourselves and your families. It sets you to thinking how you can earn wages, and how you can best spend them. Freedom, remember, has its cares and anxieties as well as its benefits.



Don’t fall into the mistake of some, that freedom means idleness. No such thing. Free people have to work, and some of them have to work very hard even to get their bread. Some of the free colored people have by their own labor gained the means of a comfortable livelihood, and made themselves respectable. You can do the same, if you will use the same diligence. By industry you will soon be able to support yourselves and families, and lay up something perhaps for a rainy day. Thus you may secure something to depend on when you are sick or old and can’t work. There will no doubt be penny savings-banks, where you can put some of your money, and where it will not only be[6] safe, but will increase. We hope, if there are such banks, that you will take advantage of them.

At first, and before you get well a going, the government, aided by good people, is ready to lend you a helping hand. This is done to give you a chance to get used to your new situation. But the sooner you stop leaning on the government and on the help of the whites, the better for yourselves and for all concerned.

Don’t refuse to work then, even at low wages. Work at low wages is better than idleness. The Bible says, he that will not work, neither shall he eat. It says also, “Be diligent in business.”

Besides, if you are idle, and look for support to the whites, the slaveholders will throw it in our teeth, and say, “There, you see negroes wont work, unless there is a master over them.”[7] And so we shall be ashamed, not knowing what to say in reply. But if you are industrious and willing to work even at low wages, they can’t say this.

If the government wants able-bodied men among you for the army, to dig trenches, to build forts, or to enlist as soldiers, let it not be said that you refused. If you are invited to go in as field laborers, go in and work. You work now as freemen, not as slaves; and the money which is paid you, you can lay out for food and clothing, and for any thing else that is proper. In this country nobody expects to live without work.


Industry is one good thing. But there are other habits also we would recommend. Cleanliness is very important.[8] Black or white, a dirty person is a disgusting object. Even a poor person can possess the virtue of cleanliness. Soap and water are not very dear things; but if one don’t use them, they might as well cost guineas instead of coppers. What do you think of a mother who keeps neither herself nor her children clean? Who likes to enter a cabin or cottage where the dirt has to be wiped off a seat before a decent man or woman can sit down upon it? A clean person will see that even the patched garments he is obliged to wear are at least free from dirt. No matter how poor the house is you live in, it should be kept clean. The Bible says, “Wash you, make you clean.” Though this means soul washing, yet it shows God loves cleanliness.



Economy is another thing we recommend. This means saving all you can above and beyond what is needful for you to live upon. Don’t spend your money foolishly. Don’t spend it on rum or tobacco. Don’t gamble it away. Don’t buy expensive clothes or rich food. Some poor people, when they get a little money, think they may spend it in a frolic. All this is bad, and brings a man or a family very soon to want.

We don’t wish you to be stingy, nor like one who hates to spend a penny even for what is necessary. This is not what we mean. But take care of your wages. Make them go as far as you can in supporting yourself and family; and if there is any over, lay it up against a time of[10] need. Only don’t waste it; for the Bible makes the waster and the slothful man brothers. “He also that is slothful in his work, is brother to him that is a great waster.”


Sobriety is another habit or virtue we hope you will observe. Rum is the ruin of thousands. Keep clear of it, or it will ruin you. Soul and body die under its ravages. A drunkard is worse than a beast. Look at the drunkard’s home—or rather, dwelling; home is too sacred a word—and see how desolate and dreary and wretched it is. The Bible says, “Drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God;” so that they are miserable here, and more miserable hereafter and for ever.



Honesty is all-important. “Thou shalt not steal” is one of God’s commandments. When you were in slavery you may have thought that you had a right to take from your master what you could get hold of, and hesitated only from the fear of being found out. Even some slaves who call themselves pious, have thought it was not wrong to take from the master’s crib whatever they could lay their hands upon. But if they had read the Bible, they would have seen how wrong it was. The apostle Paul, writing to the bondmen in his day, says they must “not purloin;” which means, they must not steal even a little thing from their masters, nor from anybody else.

[12]If then any of you have fallen into this wicked habit, stop it at once. Besides, if you steal, the law will seize upon you, and you may have to go to prison, or suffer some worse punishment. You are now under law, and must be an honest keeper of the law.


Be truthful. Some have said that lying is universally practised among the slaves—that they seem to think it is no sin, or if it be a sin, that it is a very little one. If this be so, then we urge you to get your minds at once set right in this matter. Lying is a sin, and a great sin. God has said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” and that forbids lying of all kinds. He says too, “Lie not one to another.” And still more, he says, “Liars[13] shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.” He is a God of truth, and he commands us all to “speak the truth in love.”


Perhaps you are not a profane swearer. We hardly think swearing is as common among the blacks as it is among the whites: to the shame of the whites be it said. Yet we have heard some shocking oaths from colored men and women. This wicked habit the Bible condemns. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” “Swear not at all,” said Jesus. If any of you have fallen into this dreadful habit, break it off, stop it at once. And if you have not, then guard against it.



Be chaste. I dare say you know what that means. Whatever bad examples you may have had, you should now and henceforth keep from that destructive vice which God has forbidden in the seventh commandment. It is, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This means, to keep to your own wife, and the wife keep to her own husband. If you break over this bound, you break God’s law. In slavery, this vice or wickedness has not been thought so very bad; and perhaps, in some instances, it may even have been encouraged. But it was wicked then, and it is wicked now. Whatever apologies you may have made for it before, you are now out of the house of bondage, and under the same laws that all are. A[15] woman’s character, married or unmarried, is blasted if she is impure; and in the sight of God an impure man is equally sinful.

All young people should guard against this vice. They have a character to form and to maintain; and how can that be done if this vile habit is indulged? A virtuous character is as precious to a colored woman as it is to any woman. And with regard to men and women both, the Bible says, “Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”


Keep the Sabbath. Make it not a day of work nor of pleasure, but of rest and of worship. The Bible says, “Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.” Cease on that day from all unnecessary[16] work. Let your families have rest also. Put on your best clothes—parents and children both—and after you have prayed in your closet and prayed with your family, then go to church, taking with you such of your family as are old enough. Don’t idle about on the Lord’s day. If there is a Sabbath-school, go to it yourselves, and take your children along with you. If you follow these rules, you will grow wiser and better. It is in this way that people are trained up for heaven.

These habits are, you see, all based on the Bible. It is God’s morality we are recommending. And yet, after you have done all these things, you have done nothing more than your duty. You must not make a religion out of these good habits. That is, you must not think that these are all that religion requires. Religion demands these, and something[17] more. You must have “the broken heart,” sorrow for sin—sorrow before God, because you have broken his laws. Religion bids you turn from all sin—even sins of thought. It commands you to go to Jesus, that you may have your sins washed away in his precious blood. It tells you that you must put your whole trust in the Lord Jesus for salvation. Religion calls upon you to love Jesus, and from love to do whatsoever he hath commanded.

This is the inward experience of religion. But all the good habits we have been recommending are such as a religious person will practise. If a man pretends to be religious, and is a bad man in his outward conduct—if he loves to speak against his neighbors, or tells lies about them, or steals, or swears, or is impure, he is not a religious man; he is a hypocrite; and “that man’s religion,”[18] the Bible says, “is vain.” We want you to be religious and moral both.


A great many good people are now engaged in teaching you to read and write. This is very important; for then you can read the Bible and other good books, and see your way to heaven clearer. Besides, some learning is very necessary and useful in business, in writing letters, and in many ways. While you were slaves, you were for the most part not permitted to learn to read and write; but now you have the opportunity, and you must give your attention to it.

It is a new thing to you, this learning to read and write, and it may come hard at first; but if you keep on, it will soon become easier. And when you have once[19] learned these, what a pleasant thing it will be to you to write a letter, or to sit down in your own house and read all about Jesus and salvation!

You must see that your children learn also. Perhaps they will take it quicker, and then they can read to you. How nice it will be, after your day’s work or on the Sabbath, to listen to your children reading to you out of the precious Bible! This will be one of the best blessings connected with your new-found freedom.


One of the first things you should endeavor to secure to yourselves is a home. Each family should aim at this. No matter how small your house be, if it is a home, and your home, there will be a charm about it. I see not why every[20] family among the freedmen may not obtain such a home—where he can have his family to himself, and train his children to good morals and religion. Freedom makes a home worth something.

Get a house, then, as soon as you can; no matter how small or how poor it is. Perhaps by your industry you may make it larger and better. Move your family into it, and begin to live as one who is responsible to God, and who is determined to show that slavery has not robbed him of all his manhood.

In this home have family worship. Pray with your family every morning, asking God’s blessing in something like the following words:



Our Father which art in heaven, we thank thee for keeping us safe through the night. We thank thee for our sleep, which has done us so much good. Grant now, O Lord, that we may have thy blessing through the day. Help us to be diligent in business. Keep us from all harm and from all wrong. Help us to do thy will in all things. O Lord, bless this family; make us Christians; give us sorrow for all our sins, and pardon them for Jesus’ sake. May we trust in Jesus alone for salvation. Help us to obey all thy commands. May we love all men, even our enemies. May we serve thee faithfully until we die; and then, O Lord, take us to heaven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

The evening prayer might be somewhat as follows:



O Lord, we give thee thanks that thou hast preserved us through the past day; that thou hast helped us to do our work, and hast not suffered us to fall into any hurtful evils. Yet, Lord, we know and feel that the day has not been without its temptations and sins. We have done many things which we ought not to have done, and have left undone many things which we ought to have done; and for these sins, O Lord, we ask thy forgiveness. Oh, wash them all away in the blood of Jesus. Give us hearts to love and obey thee more perfectly hereafter.

Keep us, O Lord, through the night, from all harm. Give us peaceful sleep. And when the night of death shall come, may we sleep in Jesus, and awake in heaven. This we ask through Jesus Christ, our blessed Redeemer. Amen.

[23]Learn also the Lord’s prayer, and help your children to learn it. You should often say it as a morning prayer; going down upon your knees with your little ones, and all repeating it aloud together.


Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

As soon as you learn to read, let your prayers be accompanied by the reading daily of at least a few verses out of the[24] Bible. Take great pains also to teach your children to pray. There are a great many pretty little prayers they can learn, and some of them are in verse. I will give two of these, though I dare say some of you know them already.


“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take;
And this I beg for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”


“Now I awake, and see the light;
’Tis God who kept me through the night.
To him I lift my voice, and pray
That he would keep me through the day.
If I should die before ’tis done,
O God, accept me through thy Son. Amen.”

Teach your children to fear God and to keep his commandments. Train them[25] up for him. Remember they are given to you to be brought up for some good and useful end. Let them have every advantage within your reach for their improvement. And above all, set them a good example yourselves, which will have more effect in making them good children than any lessons which you or others may give them.


Try to make your house a happy home for yourselves and for your children. So far as you can, keep the children clean and neat. Especially take care that they don’t learn bad ways, by getting into the company of bad children.

Make things as pleasant as you can in and around your house. What a difference there is! Some cottages or cabins look very pretty, and some look very[26] bad. It is easy to tell what sort of people live in a house, by the very looks of it. Dirty within and dirty without tells a bad story of the inmates. On the other hand, when we pass a log-cabin where things look tidy, we are apt to say to ourselves, “Some nice people live there.”

Now, when a stranger approaches your house, let him notice a pretty garden-spot, with flowers and vegetables, all well kept. When he enters, let his eye be cheered by seeing how nice every thing looks, how well swept the floor is, how the tin things shine. Let him notice a few books, with marks of study or reading upon them. Especially let him see the Bible or Testament in daily use. As he glances around, it would be pleasant if he could see a little picture here and there hanging on the wall, or a flower-pot with a pretty pink or rose blooming[27] in it, showing that you have a liking for such things. He would say, “Well, this looks like freedom. I think you must be quite a happy family.”

Will any one say that such a picture of home comforts may not be seen among the families of the freedmen? I trust that many who read this little book, or hear it read, will say to themselves, “Well, I mean to try and see if I can’t have such a home.” Try, then, and we believe you will succeed. It will be a very pretty picture to show some who maintain that it is useless to attempt to elevate or to improve the condition of the colored race.

These counsels are from your friends. We rejoice in your freedom, and we long to see you improve it to the utmost, thus showing to the world the superiority of a state of freedom under the worst aspects over that of slavery under the best.



And now try to think over all the things mentioned in this little book, and bear them in mind, so that every day they will keep you right. For instance, say to yourself, I will be industrious. I wont lie around a mere idler. And when I have work to do, I will be faithful and do it. I wont be an eye-servant, working only when my employer is looking at me.

Next, I will be clean. I will keep my body clean, and my house clean, and my children clean; and this will remind me that I must be clean in my thoughts.

Then I will remember to save my wages, and not spend more than is necessary, and to lay up something for a time of need.

As to rum and other intoxicating[29] liquors, I wont touch them, any more than I would handle a fiery serpent.

I will not steal even a small amount. If the devil says, Take it, I will say, No; it isn’t mine; God has forbidden me to take it.

I will guard my lips from lying. I will always speak the truth. Even if it is against myself, I will still keep to the truth; for I know God abhors the deceitful tongue.

When I hear people taking God’s name in vain, I will say, That is very wicked. Lord, help me to keep from this dreadful sin.

And so also, when I am tempted to impurity, I will say as Joseph in the Bible said, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” I will keep from such vice.

I will remember the Sabbath too, and try to keep it holy. I will go to church[30] and prayer-meeting. I wont do any unnecessary work on that holy day.

Try to keep all these good resolutions, and ask God to help you. You need God’s help; and he will give it to you, if you pray for it.

And now learn and say the following beautiful hymns, with which I will close:



Just as I am—without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am—and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am—though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt—
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am—poor, wretched, blind—
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am—thou wilt receive.
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am—thy love, I own,
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come!



“A charge to keep I have;
A God to glorify;
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfil:
Oh, may it all my powers engage,
To do my Master’s will.
Arm me with jealous care,
As in thy sight to live;
And Oh, thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give.
Help me to watch and pray;
And on thyself rely;
Assured if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.”


Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

Archaic or variant spelling has been retained.

The cover image for this eBook was created by the transcriber and is entered into the public domain.