They had been sworn in as teachers for the Freedman’s Bureau in Boston shortly after the Civil War ended.
The two women lived in a couple of rooms in an abandoned house on a former cotton plantation where liberated slaves had been resettled. They held school on the piazza of the house, or in one of the rooms with seats made of planks on blocks. In June they were sent a box of used clothing, which they distributed to the people on the island. When they were too tired to teach, they led the children in song. "Hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree" was a favorite. They also head the children describe their hardships as slaves. An eight-year-old boy had deep scars on his arms from whippings.
On Sunday, June 25, Mary Ames wrote in her diary:
The sun came out and we had Sunday school in the school-room. I do the preaching and Emily attends to the singing.
She is highly amused at my teachings. What surprises me is that they know so little of the life of Christ; not knowing even of his birth, but they all are familiar with his sayings. They all believe in a hell! I asked the children whom they love best. Some answered "God"; Zack said, "Ma; she loves me and feeds me." After school, George came and reproved me for telling stories to the children on Sunday. He considers it sinful.
Lydia Polite came to tell us that her baby had died. She is a very good, sensible woman.