The Little Sparrows


Angel of Mercy series:

A Promise for Breanna
(Book One)

Faithful Heart
(Book Two)

Captive Set Free
(Book Three)

A Dream Fulfilled
(Book Four)

Suffer the Little Children
(Book Five)

Whither Thou Goest
(Book Six)

Final Justice
(Book Seven)

Not by Might
(Book Eight)

Things Not Seen
(Book Nine)

Far Above Rubies
(Book Ten)

Journeys of the Stranger series:

(Book One)

Silent Abduction
(Book Two)

(Book Three)

Tears of the Sun
(Book Four)

Circle of Fire
(Book Five)

Quiet Thunder
(Book Six)

Snow Ghost
(Book Seven)

Battles of Destiny (Civil War series):

Beloved Enemy
(Battle of First Bull Run)

A Heart Divided
(Battle of Mobile Bay)

A Promise Unbroken
(Battle of Rich Mountain)

Shadowed Memories
(Battle of Shiloh)

Joy from Ashes
(Battle of Fredericksburg)

Season of Valor
(Battle of Gettysburg)

Wings of the Wind
(Battle of Antietam)

Turn of Glory
(Battle of Chancellorsville)

Hannah of Fort Bridger series (coauthored with JoAnna Lacy):

Under the Distant Sky
(Book One)

Consider the Lilies
(Book Two)

No Place for Fear
(Book Three)

Pillow of Stone
(Book Four)

The Perfect Gift
(Book Five)

Touch of Compassion
(Book Six)

Beyond the Valley
(Book Seven)

Damascus Journey
(Book Eight)

Mail Order Bride series (coauthored with JoAnna Lacy):

Secrets of the Heart
(Book One)

A Time to Love
(Book Two)

Tender Flame
(Book Three)

Blessed Are the Merciful
(Book Four)

Ransom of Love
(Book Five)

Until the Daybreak
(Book Six)

Sincerely Yours
(Book Seven)

A Measure of Grace
(Book Eight)

So Little Time
(Book Nine)

Let There Be Light
(Book Ten)

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc.
© 2002 by ALJO Productions

Cover design by Kirk Douponce/UDG DesignWorks
Cover image of boy by Robert Papp/Shannon Associates
Image of orphans by Getty Images
Background cover images by Corbis

is a trademark of Multnomah Publishers, Inc., and is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The colophon is a trademark of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.

Scripture quotations are from:
The Holy Bible
, King James Version

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission.

For information:

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lacy, Al.
      The little sparrows / by Al and JoAnna Lacy.
            p. cm. – (The orphan trains trilogy; bk. 1)
      eISBN: 978-0-307-56467-2
  1. Homeless children–Fiction. 2. New York (N.Y.)–Fiction. 3. Orphan trains–Fiction. 4. Orphans–Fiction. I. Lacy, JoAnna. II. Title.
      PS3562.A256 L58 2003
      813’.54–dc21                                                    2002013130


This book is affectionately dedicated to
Gail Messick of Montgomery, Alabama,
a faithful fan who has shown us much love.
We love you too, Gail. God bless you!

1 C


n midnineteenth-century New York City, which had grown by leaps and bounds with immigrants from all over Europe coming by the thousands into the city, the streets were filled with destitute, vagrant children. For the most part, they were anywhere from two years of age up to fifteen or sixteen.

The city’s politicians termed them “orphans,” though a great number had living parents, or at least one living parent. The city’s newspapers called them orphans, half-orphans, foundlings, street Arabs, waifs, and street urchins. Many of these children begged or stole while a few found jobs selling newspapers; sweeping stores, restaurants, and sidewalks; and peddling apples, oranges, and flowers on the street corners. Others sold matches and toothpicks. Still others shined shoes. A few rummaged through trash cans for rags, boxes, or refuse paper to sell.

In 1852, New York City’s mayor said there were some 30,000 of these orphans on the city’s streets. Many of the ones who wandered the streets were ill clad, unwashed, and half-starved. Some actually died of starvation. They slept in boxes and trash bins in the alleys during the winter and many froze to death. In warm weather, some slept on park benches or on the grass in Central Park.

Some of the children were merely turned loose by the parents because the family had grown too large and they could not care for all their children. Many of the street waifs were runaways from parental abuse, parental immorality, and parental drunkenness.

In 1848, a young man named Charles Loring Brace, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, and graduate of Yale University, had come to New York to study for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary. He was also an author and spent a great deal of time working on his books, which slowed his work at the seminary. He still had not graduated by the spring of 1852 but something else was beginning to occupy his mind. He was horrified both by the vagrant children he saw on the streets daily and by the way the civil authorities treated them. The city’s solution for years had been to sweep the wayfaring children into jails or run-down almshouses.

Brace believed the children should not be punished for their predicament but should be given a positive environment in which to live and grow up. In January 1853, after finishing the manuscript for a new book and submitting it to his New York publisher, Brace dropped out of seminary and met with a group of concerned pastors, bankers, businessmen, and lawyers—all who professed to be born-again Christians—and began the groundwork to establish an organization that would do something to help New York City’s homeless children.

Because Brace was clearly a brilliant and dedicated young man, and because he was a rapidly rising literary figure on the New York scene, these men backed him in his desire. By March 1853, the Children’s Aid Society was established. Brace was its leader, and the men who backed him helped raise funds from many kinds of businesses and people of wealth. This allowed Brace to take over the former Italian Opera House at the corner
of Astor Place and Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan.

From the beginning, Brace and his colleagues attempted to find homes for individual children, but it was soon evident that the growing numbers of street waifs would have to be placed elsewhere. Brace came upon the idea of taking groups of these orphans in wagons to the rural areas in upstate New York and allowing farmers to simply pick out the ones they wanted for themselves and become their foster parents.

This plan indeed provided some homes for the street waifs, but not enough to meet the demand. By June 1854, Brace came to the conclusion that the children would have to be taken westward where there were larger rural areas. One of his colleagues in the Children’s Aid Society had friends in Dowagiac, Michigan, who had learned of the Society’s work and wrote to tell him they thought people of their area would be interested in taking some of the children into their homes under the foster plan.

Hence came the first orphan train. In mid-September 1854, under Charles Brace’s instructions, Dowagiac’s local newspaper carried an ad every day for two weeks, announcing that forty-five homeless boys and girls from the streets of New York City would arrive by train on October 1, and on the morning of October 2 could be seen at the town’s meetinghouse. Bills were posted at the general store, cafés, restaurants, and the railroad station, asking families to provide foster homes for these orphans.

One of Brace’s paid associates, E. P. Smith, was assigned to take the children on the train to Dowagiac, which is located in southwestern Michigan. Smith’s wife accompanied him to chaperone the girls.

The meetinghouse was fairly packed as the children stood behind Smith while he spoke to the crowd. He explained the program, saying these unfortunate children were Christ’s “little ones,” who needed a chance in life. He told the crowd that kind
men and women who opened their homes to one or more of this ragged regiment would be expected to raise them as they would their own children, providing them with decent food and clothing and a good education. There would be no loss in their charity, Smith assured his audience. The boys would do whatever farm work or other kind that was expected of them, and the girls would do all types of housework.

As the children stood in line to be inspected, the applicants moved past them slowly, looking them over with care and engaging them in conversation. E. P. Smith and his wife looked at the quality and cleanliness of the prospective foster parents and asked them about their financial condition, property, vocation, and church attendance. If they were satisfied with what they heard, and saw no evidence that they were lying, they let them choose the child or children they desired.

When the applicants had chosen the children they wanted, thirty-seven had homes. The remaining eight were taken back to New York and placed in already overcrowded orphanages. Charles Brace was so encouraged by the high percentage of the children who had been taken into the homes, that he soon launched into a campaign to take children both from off the streets and from the orphanages, put them on trains, and take them west where there were farms and ranches aplenty.

When the railroad companies saw what Brace’s Children’s Aid Society was doing, they contacted him and offered generous discounts on tickets, and each railroad company offered special coaches, which would carry only the orphans and their chaperones.

For the next seventy-five years—until the last orphan train carried the waifs to Texas in 1929—the Children’s Aid Society had placed some 250,000 children in homes in every western state and territory except Arizona. Upon Brace’s death in 1890,
his son, Charles Loring Brace Jr., took over the Society.

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