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In Their Own Words

June 04, 1740

Daily Life at Bethesda Orphanage Described

What was life like for the 60 or more children at the Bethesda Orphan House near Savannah? According to an unsigned report dated on this day [apparently written by someone associated with the orphanage], “[N]o time is allowed for idleness or play, which are Satan’s darling hours to tempt children to all manner of wickedness, as lying, cursing, swearing, uncleaness &c… .” As the following daily schedule from that report indicates, there was indeed little free time for the orphans:

“They rise about five o’clock, and each is seen to kneel down by himself for a quarter of an hour, to offer up their private prayers from their own hearts; during which time they are often exhorted what to pray for… .

“At six all the family goes to church, where a psalm is sung and the second lesson expounded by Mr. Whitefield … .

“At our return home about 7, we sing Bishop Ken’s Morning Hymn; and whoever is president of the house uses family prayer as the spirit gives him utterance… . Between seven and eight we go to breakfast in the same room with the children, who sometimes sing a hymn before, sometimes after and sometimes both before and after every meal, as well as say graces. During breakfast the business of the day is talked of and each appointed his station and perhaps some useful questions are asked the children, or exhortations given them.

“From eight to ten the children go to their respective employs, as carding, spinning, picking cotton or wool, sewing, knitting. One serves the apothecary, who lives in the houses, others serve in the store or kitchen; others clean the house, fetch water, or cut wood. Some are placed under the tailor, who lives in the house; and we expect other tradesmen, as a shoemaker, carpenter &c., to which others are to be bound.

“At ten they go to school, some to writing, some to reading. At present there are two masters and one mistress, who in teaching them to read the scripture, at the same time explain it to them, and sing and pray with them more or less as they think fit … .

“At noon we go to dinner all in the same room, and between that and two o’clock every one is employed in something useful … .

“From 2 ‘till 4 they go again to school, as in the morning, and 4 to 6 to work in their respective stations as before mentioned. At six the children go to supper, when the master and mistresses attend to help them, and sing with them, and watch over their words and actions.

“At seven the family all goes to church, where is a psalm and exposition after the second lesson, as in the morning service. And at our return about 8 many of the parishioners come in to hear Mr. Whitefield examine and instruct the children by way of question and answer, which perhaps is an edifying to all present, as any of his sermons or expositions. His main business is to ground the children in their belief of original sin, and to make them sensible of their damnable state by nature … .

“At nine o’clock we go to supper, and the children up to their bedroom, where some person commonly sings and prays again with them. Before they go to bed, each boy, as in the morning, is seen to kneel by his bedside, and ordered to pray from his heart for a quarter of an hour, some person instructing them how to pray as in the morning.

“On the Lord’s Day we all dine on cold meat, prepared the day before, because all may attend the worship of God, which we have that day four times at church, which fills those hours employed at work on the other day. And thus is our time all laid out in the service of God, the variety of which is a sufficient relaxation to a well-disposed mind and obviates idle pretenses for what is called innocent (though in reality damnable) recreations.”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), General Oglethorpe’s Georgia: Colonial Letters, 1733-1743 (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), Vol. II, pp. 437-439.