Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Isabel Barnwell

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Isabel O'Neill Barnwell
BornApril 17,1854
Nassau County, Florida
DiedJuly 25, 1946
Jacksonville, Florida
NationalityAmerican
EthnicityWhite
OccupationTeacher
Known forFederal Writers' Project

Overview[edit]

Isabel O’Neill Barnwell was a school teacher in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s. She was interviewed at the age of 85 as part of the Federal Writers' Project. Her interviewer was Rose Shepard.

Biography[edit]

Childhood to Early Adulthood[edit]

Isabel Barnwell was born on April 17, 1854 in Nassau County, Florida. [1] The land she lived on was called Nueva Esperanza (New Hope), a large plantation on a Spanish land grant. which was once a Spanish land grant owned by Don Domingo Fernandez. Fernandez later gave up some of his land to create the small town of Fernandina. His relative, Stephen Fernandez, married Barnwell’s aunt, Eliza Gunby. Her aunt later died and her uncle gave his children to Barnwell’s mother and father who moved to Fernandina to live. In total, Barnwell had 11 siblings and cousins. Barnwell was also highly educated. Her first teachers were her mother and Miss Matilda Seton who first exposed her to basic education such as spelling and arithmetic. Since she and her siblings needed a place to learn, her father constructed her first official school house, which consisted of a two-room log house. Her first official teachers were Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Boise who taught her for two years and returned to New York when the Civil War began. Many of her siblings would go on to college. Her brother James went to Harvard, her other brother John went to college in Schenectady, Tudy went to college in Midgeville, Georgia, Mary went to a college in Athens, and Florence attended Troy Female Seminary in which Miss Frances Willard was the principal. During her time at the seminary, Willard would later be inspired to be a part of the women’s rights movement and Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Barnwell personally heard Willard's ideas and described her as “brilliant” and “advanced for her time.” [2] During the Civil War, naval tensions in the Florida harbor, caused Barnwell’s father to relocate the entire family to Hamilton County in central Florida. Her brothers John, James, Isidor and Dunbar would become involved in the Civil War as generals, commissariats, and as part of artillery and army. At home, her older sister Florence became her teacher and taught over 20 other students in an African-American house for the rest of the war. Another school was built by her two sisters Florence and Tudy after the war when they moved back to Fernandina. If they were willing to learn, African Americans along with neighbors and friends were also taught on the large plantation. Barnwell credits her sister for teaching her French, one of her favorite languages. Music was also an aspect of Barnwell’s life. She sang along to a piano and listened to popular music. When she was fourteen, she moved with her older sister to Beaufort, South Carolina, for two years to further her studies. [3]

Later Adulthood to Death[edit]

Barnwell met Woodward Barnwell in South Carolina and later married him. [4] Together they moved to Savannah, Georgia. After moving back to Fernandina, Barnwell was approached by Ms. Ellis who asked if she would teach at the new public school at the O’Neill railroad. Her starting salary was 20 dollars, which later increased to 45 dollars.She agreed and obtained a teaching certificate to teach all grades from primary to advanced. For her many hours spent teaching at the school, she was later named as “the great teacher of Nassau County.” At the same school, she taught her own son, Woodward Barnwell Jr. subjects such as Philosophy, French, and English. Her son would later die in a gliding accident. During her the time at the school, Barnwell recalls picking up students personally with her horse and buggy to get them to school. She did so to maintain the 80 percent student attendance average imposed on her by the school’s superintendent, L.L Owens. Barnwell claimed that attendance and the importance of an education was not clear at the time as many students would claim that their own mother and father were successful despite not being educated. Outside of the school, Barnwell continued her daily work by cooking for her family in the evenings and selling produce on the weekends in the local market.[5]

She later died on July 25, 1946 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Social Issues[edit]

Civil War in Florida[edit]

Confederate Flag of Florida

Slavery existed in Florida with the majority of slaves living in Northern Florida. Because of its economic dependence on slaves, Northern Florida reflected the view of the deep South states and became a part of the Confederacy. Florida was also a frequent location for Union and Confederate battles. [6] Pressure from the Union to stop slavery caused tensions for those living on large plantations because the labor in a plantation was very intensive and had a high demand for slaves. Not only on land but also water, the Civil War caused strained tensions in Florida harbor where Union and Confederate boats would constantly carry out attacks. Federal boats would patrol the harbor frequently to create a blockade of Confederate states. Naval operations would extend from Florida to the Mexican coast to maximize their blockade. Navies were particularly significant for the Confederates in the Florida harbor because they allowed for the maintenance of overseas communications. The war also spurred innovation in naval technologies which brought about new forms of destruction to coastal areas near Florida. [7]

African American Education[edit]

During and after the Civil War, some educational policies were changed to accommodate African Americans. Some Southern schools allowed for the education of African-Americans. Many of these schools were segregated schools. Schooling was supposed to openly educate African Americans who were supposed to be considered as equal citizens, but this was not always the case. Education in these schools would not focus on academics but character building which would reaffirm that African Americans were at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Cases of African American education became more frequent but some taught African American in private for fear of being condemned by society. African Americans motivated by their newfound rights and freedom took it upon themselves to self-teach how to read and write as well as find schooling places for their children. [8]

Women's Christian Temperance Union and Women's Rights Movement[edit]

Portrait of Frances Willard

The openly voiced opinions of women were just beginning to emerge in the second half of the 19th century. Both the women’s right movement and the temperance union was hindered because of the Civil War which demanded much of the nation’s attention. Women began to voice their own support of temperance instead of acting alongside males in favor of temperance. The women began to “demand an equal [political] role in a traditionally male sphere of action.” [9] In other words, women decided to take matters in their own hands regarding their own rights and protests for temperance without the dependence on male political action. Frances Willard was a well-known advocate for women’s rights and temperance. She worked for 22 years and made 9 trips throughout the South. Her actions would lead to the rapid growth of supporters of both temperance unions and the women’s rights movement. [10]

References[edit]

5th Florida Infantry Regiment Flag. November 21, 2012. Wikimedia Commons.

Dannenbaum, Jed. "The Origins of Temperance Activism and Militancy among American Women." Journal of Social History 15, no. 2 (1981): 235-52. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3787109.

Foster, John T., and Sarah Whitmer Foster. "Aid Societies Were Not Alike: Northern Teachers in Post-Civil War Florida." The Florida Historical Quarterly 73, no. 3 (1995): 308-24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30150452.

Frances Willard Portrait. April 28, 2014. Wikimedia Commons.

"Ms. Isabel O'Neill Barnwell (1854 - 1946) - Find A Grave Memorial." Ms. Isabel O'Neill Barnwell (1854 - 1946) - Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed October 03, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=160604824.

MISS WILLARD HERE. (1895, Dec 08). Courier-Journal (1869-1922) Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1037015115?accountid=14244

Solomon, Irvin D., and Grace Erhart. "Race and Civil War in South Florida." The Florida Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3 (1999): 320-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30147583

Shepard Rose (interviewer): Mrs. Isabel Barnwell, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"The Navy in the Civil War." 1883.Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Aug 11, 9. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/172716513?accountid=14244.


Notes[edit]

  1. "Ms. Isabel O'Neill Barnwell (1854 - 1946) - Find A Grave Memorial." Ms. Isabel O'Neill Barnwell (1854 - 1946) - Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed October 03, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=160604824.
  2. Shepard Rose (interviewer): Mrs. Isabel Barnwell, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  3. Shepard Rose (interviewer): Mrs. Isabel Barnwell, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  4. "Ms. Isabel O'Neill Barnwell (1854 - 1946) - Find A Grave Memorial." Ms. Isabel O'Neill Barnwell (1854 - 1946) - Find A Grave Memorial. Accessed October 03, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=160604824.
  5. Shepard Rose (interviewer): Mrs. Isabel Barnwell, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  6. Solomon, Irvin D., and Grace Erhart. "Race and Civil War in South Florida." The Florida Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3 (1999): 320-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30147583.
  7. "The Navy in the Civil War." 1883.Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Aug 11, 9. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/172716513?accountid=14244.
  8. Foster, John T., and Sarah Whitmer Foster. "Aid Societies Were Not Alike: Northern Teachers in Post-Civil War Florida." The Florida Historical Quarterly 73, no. 3 (1995): 308-24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30150452.
  9. Dannenbaum, Jed. "The Origins of Temperance Activism and Militancy among American Women." Journal of Social History 15, no. 2 (1981): 235-52. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3787109.
  10. MISS WILLARD HERE. (1895, Dec 08). Courier-Journal (1869-1922) Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1037015115?accountid=14244