Jane Deveaux

It’s hard enough to take severe risks to pull yourself ahead, but to take on those risks for the sake of others takes a certain kind of courageous person. Jane Deveaux was one of those brave Savannah residents. She risked her freedom to help slaves read and write. The application for Laurel Grove South to be turned into a historical landmark had this information about Jane:

Also among the mulattoes buried in Laurel Grove-South are members of the
Deveaux families. Jane A. Deveaux, a free mulatto, is listed as seamstress and
pastry cook on the Chatham County register of “free persons of color” between 1828
and 1863. Her tombstone, however, records a far more important occupation which she
pursued. Between 1836 and 1864, Jane Deveaux ran a clandestine school, teaching
blacks to read. For almost 30 years she risked fines and public whippings for her
efforts to educate her people. Her tombstone in Laurel Grove-South registers her
true importance, recording that she was “a devoted Christian celebrated as a early
educator of her people, she has built for herself a name more enduring than monuments
of stone or brass.”

This is an article about Jane’s legacy from WJCL:

Jane DeVeaux was born in 1810 to a former slave and a free woman from Antigua.

Her father, John DeVeaux, was the choir director at Second African Baptist Church, and later the pastor at the First Bryan Baptist Church.

DeVeaux and her mother, Catherine, secretly taught freed and enslaved children to read in the church, and at her mother’s home on East York Street.

“She never registered herself as an educator or a teacher… She would list herself as a pastry cook,” said First Bryan Baptist Church’s Historian, Georgia Benton.

It was illegal to educate slaves.

Black children would hide their books in buckets or paper bags, and pretended they were going to learn a trade.

There were several secret schools in Savannah during the antebellum era, and many were raided and shut down.

DeVeaux’s lasted the longest.

“There were too many camouflages around DeVeaux… She joined the group that was going to make 100 Confederate soldier uniforms. They looked at her, ‘Well, this black woman is going to make uniforms.’ Not knowing she was educating blacks at the same time,” said Benton.

The punishment for blacks who were caught teaching, or learning, was a hefty fine, and a public lashing.

DeVeaux ran her school for 30 years.

Call it Savannah’s best kept secret, or a hunger for something greater.

6th line down, Jane on the Register of Free Persons of Color from 1826
Jane in the 1880 city directory, right page, upper middle

Even more than a bold teacher of slaves, Jane may have been a protestor in the fashion of Rosa Parks, yet long before Parks was alive. According to this court record below, Jane was accused of sitting in one of Savannah’s beautiful squares…and refusing to leave. That was in 1875, when Jane would have been about 65 years old. She was ordered to pay a $2 fine or spend 5 days in jail.

It’s obvious from both her work and records like this that Jane was going to do what was right, no matter what it took.

Last row, court record from 1875. Jane is accused of “sitting on a square railing and refusing to leave.” She was fined $2 or 5 days in Jail.

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