Efforts to help the contrabands began as soon as Union troops captured Confederate territory. In North Carolina, Horace James, chaplain in the Massachusetts 25th, set up evening schools where soldiers volunteered to teach the fugitives. Later, he appealed to fellow abolitionists back in Worcester to send missionary teachers and funds to support schools for freedpeople. He got such a good response that one soldier wrote home, "New Bern [N.C.] abounds with Worcester faces." The teachers formed relationships that facilitated African American migration to central Massachusetts.
Ties also developed between former enslaved men and the Union soldiers. Men in Worcester County regiments in the South befriended African Americans and helped them make their way to, and in, the North.
Once they reached Massachusetts, some free black men and women lived with and worked for the white people they had come to know in the South. Worcester's active anti-slavery community helped others find jobs and housing. The city's African American citizens were few in number — in 1862, there were scarcely 300 black residents in a city of 25,000 — but they provided significant assistance to the newcomers. Those who could afford it offered loans. Others helped with jobs and housing, sometimes sharing their own homes for a while. For example, in 1865, Elizabeth Mowbray, an African American who served as president of the Colored Freedmen's Aid Society, had seven southern refugees living in her Worcester home. The freedpeople themselves did everything they could to bring family and friends to the North.