Pleasure and Pain, Indeed!

Pleasure and Pain
Reminiscences of Georgia in the 1840’s
By Emily Burke

This vivid description of people and places, adventures and discoveries was written by a New England schoolmarm who spent the 1840’s in Georgia. With charm, sentiment, affection and delightful details, she tells about life in Savannah, tours to several plantations, various aspects of slavery, poor whites in the countryside and a camp-meeting in the woods. She loves the South and its people, but she is surprised to find Georgia still a frontier and she is troubled by slavery. Thus, she leaves Georgia at last with “mingled emotions of pleasure and pain.”

Emily Pillsbury Burke

Here is an excerpt from Letter XXV, Farewell to Georgia:
“While I regret the oppression that exists at the South, I love her still. Her sunny skies and forests evergreen, her birds of song with voices sweet and plumage gay are painted in indelible characters upon the tablets of my memory and often present themselves to my mind with all the freshness and vividness of pleasing dream when one awaketh, and, if I did not hold in grateful remembrance a place where I have received so many favors, my conscience must plead guilty for the sin of ingratitude, for I never received any other treatment while in the Southern country, but that of the utmost politeness and kindness. It is with mingled emotions of pleasure and pain that I think of leaving a place that has become so dear to me.”

Lithograph of Savannah by Smith and Hill, 1856.

Emily Burke came to Georgia in 1840 to teach at the Female Orphan Asylum in Savannah, Georgia. This institution, originally a part of the Bethesda Orphan House started in the early eighteenth century, became a separate institution in 1801. Emily was one of many New England schoolteachers who came to the South during this period.

Archibald Campbell, (detail) Sketch of the Northern Frontiers of Georgia, extending from the mouth of the River Savannah to the town of Augusta, 1780. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Some interesting detail here about Emily Burke after she left Georgia. Here is an excerpt from the introduction  by Felicity Calhoun (pen name of Julianna Waring of Savannah):
“When Emily’s husband died after less than a year of marriage, she returned to the North in 1849. Settling at Oberlin, Ohio, she became principal of the Female Department of Oberlin College. Though described by her contemporaries as “plain-looking,” Emily was considered sociable, friendly, gentle and popular. She was remembered with gratitude by students for campaigns to provide them with bureaus and rag carpets for their rooms and to protect them from bedbugs.
But, alas, Emily’s popularity and success were short lived. In 1850 she made the mistake of kissing one of the male students, a shocking indiscretion for the time. The student was so upset that he reported Emily to the Ladies’ Board of the college. Emily was dismissed, throwing the college and the town into an uproar. In April 1850, she pleaded her own case before the trustees of the college, saying she had been treated unfairly and without Christian charity. Petitions were signed by the students of the college and by the citizens of Oberlin, but the trustees declined to reinstate the disgraced teacher.
Emily left Oberlin reluctantly and went to Chicago, where she married David Flanders Kimball, a trader in grains and feed who had also been born at her hometown of Boscawen, New Hampshire. During the Civil War, Mr. and Mrs. Kimball went to Pittsburg Landing (Tennessee) to care for wounded soldiers. After the war, they returned to New England and lived in Penacook, a village outside Concord, New Hampshire. There Emily’s husband died in 1875 and she died in 1887.”

It seems Emily was fired based on the word of the male student and was not given the opportunity to defend herself with her own account. We did some digging and found some very  interesting details about the cast of characters involved and the events leading up to Emily’s dismissal.

If you would like more information about Emily Burke’s life after her years in Savannah, here are a few resources:

Alexander Press provides a very detailed database for research on women and social movements. Here are two letters pertaining to the Oberlin College controversy here and here.

On the website, this document discusses the time leading up to and during which Emily Burke presided at Oberlin College.  Chapter XXX, MAHAN.


Recent debate has been sparked surrounding a proposed homeless shelter that would be built upon the grounds of what is thought to be the biggest slave sale in the US in 1859. 
From the Savannah Morning News May 6, 2021:
The Weeping Time. A Homeless Shelter and a blighted neighborhood: How conflicting passions created a big Savannah controversy. By Katie Nussbaum

“As Savannah’s homeless population continues to grow with more than 1,000 residents who are unsheltered, the Salvation Army has proposed a transitional use shelter in west Savannah to aid nearly 200 of those residents. The site of the proposed shelter has caused controversy due to its proximity to the location of The Weeping Time, which is believed to be the largest sale of enslaved people in U.S. history.”

“The question — what’s the best use for what’s considered coveted and sacred property that could change the face of one of Savannah’s historic neighborhoods — remains open months after the land currently owned by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entered into an agreement to sell the property at 2305 Augusta Ave. to the Salvation Army for $500,000. “
Read the full article here.

This article from May 6, 2021, also by Katie Nussbaum, gives an in depth description of this sorrowful time.

Here Mayor Van Johnson states the facts surrounding this controversy.

From this in depth study of the event and the site, Professor and Landscape Architect Kwesi Degraft-Hanson provides great detail.
Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah’s Ten Broeck Race Course and 1859 Slave Sale
In 1859, one of the largest slave sales in US history took place at the Ten Broeck Race Course, now an obscured landscape, on the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia. At the behest of Pierce Mease Butler (1810–1867), 436 enslaved persons from the Butler plantations near Darien were sold in an event known and remembered as “The Weeping Time.” Because of the size of this sale, its effects upon those who were sold and their descendants, and the extent to which it inflamed the tensions leading to the Civil War, the Ten Broeck Race Course is an important cultural landscape, a place of heartbreak. Yet it was not until 2008 that the city of Savannah and the Georgia Historical Society placed a marker near the site of the sale.The significance of the Weeping Time sale and how the Ten Broeck Race Course came to be marked is the subject of this essay.”

Here is a flyer that was posted notifying nearby residents of this slave sale.

This marker was erected in 2008.


Our book TEN YEARS ON A GEORGIA PLANTATION SINCE THE WAR is comprised of diary entries by Frances Butler Leigh, the daughter of Pierce Mease Butler and Frances (Fanny) Anne Kemble. Her father had squandered his money gambling and was in debt up to his ears. She was managing the plantation at the time and decided to sell a large portion of their slaves in order to keep the property. This slave sale is referred to as The Weeping Time.

A companion piece JOURNAL OF A RESIDENCE ON A GEORGIAN PLANTATION consists of diary entries of Fanny Kemble, Frances Butler Leigh’s mother, during the time she spent on her husband’s plantation early on in their marriage. She left after a year and a half due to the horrors of slavery that she could no longer tolerate.

The accounts of both the mother and daughter are available here on our website. 

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