Black Santa’s Save Christmas
It is startling to remember the cause of the suffering and desolate Christmas experienced below. Far from being caused by a natural disaster or such, it was simply a the result of a despotic government’s ravaging army, led by a war criminal, that would kill or maim anyone who stood in the way of their lord’s political hegemony. The little girl who searched her stocking in vain could not understand this.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
Black Santa’s Save Christmas in 1864:
"It was a grim hour for all of the South when William Tecumseh Sherman (was) marching relentlessly through Georgia…(and) A young mother has caught much of the pathos of the hour in several brief entries in her diary. Dolly Sumner Lunt, from Maine, married a planter who lived near Covington, Georgia. Three years before the start of the war her husband died, and as Mrs. Thomas Burge, Dolly continued on the estate with her daughter "Sadai" Sarah. The Burges were still there when Sherman’s men passed, and many of the plantation Negroes, afraid of the soldiers, slipped into the house to be with their mistress.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Burge described her preparations for a bleak meal, her attempts to provide the plainest of presents for her remaining servants. "Now how changed!" she wrote, "No confectionery, cakes or pies can I have. We are all sad…Christmas Eve, which has ever been gaily celebrated here, which has witnessed the popping of firecrackers and the hanging up of stockings, is an occasion now of sadness and gloom." Worse, she had nothing to put in her Sadai’s stocking, "which hangs so inviting for Santa Claus."
On Christmas night Mrs. Burge penned a sorrowful afternote: "Sadai jumped out of bed very early this morning to fell in her stocking. She could not believe but that there would be something in it. Finding nothing, she crept back into bed, pulled the cover over her face, and I soon heard her sobbing." A moment later the young Negroes had run in: "Christmas gift, Mist’ess! Christmas gift, Mist’ess!" Mrs. Burge drew the over her own face and wept beside her daughter.
The next year, Christmas came more happily to the Burge plantation. On December 24 (1865) the mother gave thanks to God for His goodness "in preserving my life and so much of my property." And on Christmas Day she added:
"Sadai woke very early and crept out of bed to her stocking. Seeing it well-filled, she soon had a light and eight little Negroes around her, gazing upon the treasures. Everything opened that could be divided was shared with them. "Tis the last Christmas, probably, that we shall be together, freedmen! Now you will, I trust, have your own homes and be joyful under your own vine and fig tree."
(The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane, David McKay Company, 1958, pp. 205-206)