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Unit One - Emancipation: Giving Meaning to Freedom

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Unit One
Emancipation: Giving Meaning to Freedom

When the American Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, it was clear that slavery -at least in the legalized form it had taken up until then - would also end. Enslaved women and men had done much of the work already, freeing themselves by the thousands under the cover of war. By early 1865, the federal Congress took its own steps to end the practice of what David Brion Davis recently called "inhuman bondage," passing the Thirteenth Amendment and sending it out to the states for ratification. After the end of armed conflict, soldiers with the occupying forces of the Union army and agents of the newly organized Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands fanned out across the former Confederacy to enforce emancipation. Though pockets of bondage would persist into the fall, particularly in more remote and inaccessible communities, legalized bondage gradually dissolved: pushed into oblivion by black workers, by Union officials, and by the nation at large when, in December, its representatives ratified the 13th Amendment.

Yet just as the end of the Civil War must not be confused with the end of slavery, emancipation did not automatically imbue freedom with meaning. It would take many people many weeks to enforce emancipation. It would take many more people a good deal longer to work out the terms of freedom.

It was an intense and sometimes deadly conflict, a struggle that David Swain, a former governor of North Carolina, considered a new war, and with good reason. Former Confederates and former slaveholders had their own ideas about how a post-slavery world ought to be organized, and who would have what kind of power on what terms. So too did Northern leaders, liberators, soldiers, and the thousands of Yankee teachers and entrepreneurs who saw in the former Confederacy a place to be subdued, transformed, and revived along free-labor lines. Hardly mute or inert bystanders, former slaves - men and women alike - also nourished their own expectations and dreams about freedom. Indeed, one can easily argue that as the most recently unfree, the four million people who had been liberated by war had the greatest stakes in this debate. It would be wrong, too, to conceptualize this debate in terms of these three categories of actors. White Southerners disagreed, sometimes violently, about the future of their region, its polity, and its productive system. Northerners embraced nearly as many understandings of freedom and free labor as there were people to articulate ideas. Women often projected ideas about freedom that conflicted with men's. Rich people's aspirations were not always shared by the poor. Farmers expected something different than did urban entrepreneurs. Former slaves also disagreed, and fault lines quickly appeared among them as black women and men considered what sort of social, political, and economic order ought to replace the now thoroughly discredited system of slavery.

The documents in this unit provide just a small sample of the range and complexity of an intense debate that would rock the nation for decades to come: what was freedom, who had the right to decide, and what did it mean for whom on a day-to-day basis? These materials can be profitably examined alone and on their own merits. Deeper understanding about this "war," one that arguably continues to this day, can be obtained by approaching the documents together, and in chronological order. It is then that the dynamic quality of what was an intense debate becomes the most visible.


Document 1:
A White Piedmont Farmer Reflects on Black Freedom

Home of a Cotton Sharecropper

Before the Civil War, David Golightly Harris (1824-1875) had been a small slaveholder in Spartanburg District, South Carolina. According to the 1860 census, he owned ten slaves and 550 acres of land, 100 of which he had under cultivation. Though not among the volunteers who eagerly flocked to take up arms in defense of the Confederacy (Harris served only fitfully, and only when conscription policies left him little alternative), Harris was a devout proponent of slavery and even as the war drew to a close, continued to conduct his farming operations in accordance with antebellum habits and practices. In these passages, drawn from his entries for 1865, Harris offers intriguing clues about what the Confederate defeat meant to him and his community, about the processes of emancipation and who drove them, and about the kind of social and political order Spartanburg District's residents expected to see emerge from slavery's ashes.

From Piedmont Farmer: The Journals of David Golightly Harris

April 21. Went to the village to hear the news. Lee has surrendered. Johnstone is about to surrender. The soldiers are coming home in gangs & we have gone up the Spout...I am now going to work instead of to the war. I think I will like it the best. (371)

April 27. All hands are engaged in the Buffalo Bottom. Four plowing & the other ditching, sprouting, burning brush & old logs &c. We are about half done breaking up this land. (372)

May 1. The first of May is generally looked forward to as a day of pleasure & beauty...But this has not been a day of pleasure to many in Spartanburg village because The Yankey are in the village to day. But they have done no in injury to private property, with the exception of taking every good horse & mule they could find. (373)

June 3. Looked [at] every crop & find it (the corn) doing pretty well. The plows have gone to work again. (378)

June 5. Sale day. I went to the village in the buggy...There was a good many persons in the village, but little buisiness was doing. [Maj. Gen. Quincy Adams] Gillmore (A yankey) has issued a proclamation freeing all the negroes. I do not much think it will have much effect. Began plowing in the Buffalo Bottom. (378)

June 12. Monday. Splendid weather, good season in the ground. Four plows in the Buffalo Bottom. Two hands replanting. All hands hurrying. (379)

June 14. Another find day for work...All hands hoeing sugar cane...There is much talk about the negroes being free. Some have gone to the yankeys. I have heard mine say nothing on the subject. They are hard at work as usual (except York, who has been gone some time). I expect there will be some confusion about freeing the negroes, but I do not anticipate much trouble. It is about as cheap to hire help as to work your own negroes. (379)

July 6. MY BIRTH-DAY. To day I have been as busy as a yankey, "diving and delveing" in the Buffalo Bottom. Trying to make something for us to eat the next year...This day forty-four years ago, I came into this world. How long I am permitted to remain in it, no one can tell. I have lived through this terrible war & may be permitted to remain longer, or I may be taken away immediately. No one can tell, & I suppose it is best that such can not be known to us. Be that as it may, I am still alive, & intend to live as long as I can & be as happy & young as I can, for old age will come soon enough, without runing after it. My family are all well & happy. Long may it continue!! Old Will has disappeared to day. I expect that he wants to try to enjoy the freedom that the Yankeys have promised the negroes. I am willing for him to go if he will only stay away. The weather is very warm and ry. (383)

July 8. Started all hands to cutting oats. . . . (383)

July 24....There is much talk about freeing the negroes. Some are said already to have freed them. There is much apprehension of confusion & distress arising from the emancipation of the negroes...It is said that many have already been killed in this State & it is thought that it is only the beginning. (387)

July 25. Still warm & dry... Heard that Mr J Bomar Senior was freeing some of his negroes. Corn fine, but needing rain... (387)

August 5. Finished Laying By with the hoe. All hands are rejoicing that the crop is made for the year 1865. Oweing to the wet weather and a large crop of corn, my crop has not been well worked, but still, we will make a large corn crop. (388)

August 7. Sales day. I went to the village & found a good many persons there. It looked something like old times... We had a political meeting to send delagates to the Convention to meet at Columbia to revise the Constitution... (388)

August 14. Went to the village & found the citizens in a gloomy frame of mind on account of ugly state of affairs in the political wourld. Indeed it is a most gloomy time. We are conquered and the feet of the conquars are on our necks. We must submit to all they require & have no redress. Alas! A decree has gone forth from the Yankeys, that we must say to our negroes that they are free. If they stay with us, we are to pay them, & not drive them off nor correct them. The negroes seem to receive a higher place in the yankey opinion than the white people.

Negroes are permitted to do & say what they please and the white man has but little favours shown them. (389)

August 15. To day I told my negroes they were all free and requested all to go. Ann has gone off, & the others have gone to work. Some are cutting wood to make molasses with... Elifus has gone to mill. I fear much trouble and annoyance before we can get settled again. (389)

August 16. Freed the Negroes. Yesterday the people in this neighborhood did generally discharge their negroes, & told them that they were free. Two of mine had ran away before. Ann left yesterday when I told her she could go, but the others wisely concluded they would remain until New years day. I am glad Ann is gone and I would feel releived if the others would go. For the negroes now, with the yankeys to back them in their meanness, are worse than nothing. (389)

September 4. Went to the village, it being Sale-day and election-day for the Convention. There was some dozen or 15 yankeys at the village, regulating matters between the negroes & the whites, & administering the oath of allegiance to the United States. I did not take the oath & will not until circomstances compel me. (391)

September 16. Gwinn & I went to the village in haste and came home in haste without any reason for so doing. Yesterday the free negroes had a picnic at the village & seem to be enjoying their freedom to the utmost. The most of them are not disposed to work & the white men seem to be disposed to let them do just as they please & dare not to open their mouths to oppose them.

I have much work that I need done, but find it a hard matter to hire. Weather very warm for the time of the year. (391)

September 17. Sunday... Family well, Horses well, Cattle well, Hogs well & everything else are well so far as I know, if it was not for the free negroes. On their account everything is turned upside down. So much so that we do not know what to do with our land, nor who to hire if we want it worked. I am trying to find some honest men to rent mine to, but such as I want are hard to get. We are in the midst of troublesome times & do not know what will turn up. (391-92)

October 26. HAULING CORN from the Buffalo Bottom. All hands are at it. Even old Judy makes a good hand unloading the wagon. (395)

November 24. Finished sowing Wheat. We have been a long time putting in a little... To day rented to Mr. M Brewten the Camp Place. Fowler tends one half of it. In this district several negroes have been badly whipped & several have been hung by some unknown persons. This has a tendency to keep them in the proper bounds & make them more humble... (397)

December 19. Tuesday... This morning we Killed four Hogs weighting 176, 150, 176, 150, making 652 lbs averageing 162 [163] lbs. This aded to the other killing (480) makes me 1132 pounds, and leves me five of the best hogs to kill yet. We will have no bacon to bragg upon but there will be enough to do us & may be a little to sell. As my negro[es] will all be free after Christmas, if they leave me (as I suppose they will) I will not have so many to feed.

I do wish the negroes would all go to the Yankeys & stay with them until they all got their satisfaction. Between the negro & yankey, we are certainly in an humble and awkward situation, & what makes it much worse, there is no hope of a situation that will be more pleasant. The yankey Congress has refused to admit our members to a seat with them & so we are to have no representation at all. (399)

December 25. Christmas morning... The negroes leave to day to hunt themselves a new home while we will be left to wait upon ourselves. It may be a hardship; but I hardly think it will. I do think that we can do without them as well as we have with them.... (400)

December 31. Sunday. Christmas is gone. Wet, sloppy, & disagreeable, but we have had several egg-noggs & no insurrection amongst the negroes. Everything is quiet, though no one knows what to do. (400)

Source: David G. Harris, Piedmont Farmer: The Journals of David Golightly Harris, 1855-1870. Edited with an introduction by Philip N. Racine (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990)

Document 1 Questions

  1. Can you discern any relationship between work on the farm, political developments, and slave emancipation? How does the sequence of events help us understand Harris's expectations about freedom and the future social, political, and productive relations between black and white Southerners?
  2. Harris complains at several points about the presence of Union authorities. But given other information he provides in these passages as well as what you know about Andrew Johnson's proclamations (Unit 2 and 3) and the South Carolina black codes (Chapter 3, Unit 8), just how heavily was the "conqueror's" foot resting on former Confederates' necks?
  3. We learn a lot about Harris in reading his diary entries, but he also reveals a good bit of information about the African Americans who worked for him too. What were they doing (and when) in these tumultuous months? How do their actions help us understand their ideas about freedom and its meanings?
  4. On what kind of note does Harris end the first year of freedom? How does this help us think forward into 1866?


Document 2:
President Andrew Johnson Offers Amnesty to Former Confederates

Among the most prominent of those who contributed to the debate about freedom and its meaning in the wake of the Confederate surrender was the President of the United States himself: Andrew Johnson, who assumed the highest office in the land after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. With Congress in recess until December and peace scarcely restored in the former Confederacy, Johnson found himself in a position to act not only immediately, but with unusual autonomy. Determined to return the nation as quickly as possible to much of its former state, he issued two proclamations on May 29th. The first, which quickly came to be known as the "Amnesty Proclamation," opened the way by which individual former Confederate could be restored to citizenship in the nation. The process moved quickly. By late summer, even those thousands of former rebels who fell into one or another of the fourteen exempted classes were applying for and receiving pardons from the nation's chief executive. (For an example of a pardon application, see the Online Classroom unit on "Planters, Poor Whites & White Supremacy")

Andrew Johnson's Pardon for Former Condfederates

No. 37
May 29, 1865.

WHEREAS the President of the United States, on the 8th day of December, A. D. eighteen hundred and sixty-three, and on the 26th day of March, A. D. eighteen hundred and sixty-four, did, with the object to suppress the existing rebellion, to induce all persons to return to their loyalty, and to restore the authority of the United States, issue proclamations offering amnesty and pardon to certain persons who had directly or by implication participated in the said rebellion; and whereas many persons who had so engaged in said rebellion have, since the issuance of said proclamations, failed or neglected to take the benefits offered thereby; and whereas many persons who have been justly deprived of all claim to amnesty and pardon thereunder, by reason of their participation, directly or by implication, in said rebellion, and continued hostility to the government of the United States since the date of said proclamations, now desire to apply for and obtain amnesty and pardon:

To the end, therefore, that the authority of the government of the United States may be restored, and that peace, order, and freedom may be established, I, ANDREW JOHNSON, President of the United States, do proclaim and declare that I hereby grant to all persons who have, directly or indirectly, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted,

amnesty and pardon, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, and except in cases where legal proceedings, under the laws of the United States providing for the confiscation of property of persons engage in rebellion, have been instituted; but upon the condition, nevertheless, that every such person shall take and subscribe the following oath, (or affirmation,) and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate; and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation, and shall be of the tenor and effect following, to wit:

The following classes of persons are excepted from the benefits of this Proclamation:---

1st. All who are or shall have been pretended civil or diplomatic officers, or otherwise domestic or foreign agents, of the pretended confederate government;

2d. All who left judicial stations under the United States to aid the rebellion;

3d. All who shall have been military or naval officers of said pretended confederate government above the rank of colonel in the army or lieutenant in the navy;

4th. All who left seats in the Congress of the United States to aid the rebellion;

5th. All who resigned or tendered resignations of their commissions in the army or navy of the United States to evade duty in resisting the rebellion;

6th. All who have engaged in any way in treating otherwise lawfully as prisoners of war persons found in the United States service, as officers, soldiers, seamen, or in other capacities;

7th. All persons who have been, or are, absentees from the United States for the purpose of aiding the rebellion;

8th. All military and naval officers in the rebel service, who were educated by the government in the Military Academy at West Point or the United States Naval Academy;

9th. All persons who held the pretended offices of governors of states in insurrection against the United States;

10th. All persons who left their homes within the jurisdiction and protection of the United States, and passed beyond the federal military lines into pretended confederate states for the purpose of aiding the rebellion;

11th. All persons who have been engaged in the destruction of the commerce of the United States upon the high seas, and all persons who have made raids into the United States from Canada, or been engaged in destroying the commerce of the United States upon the lakes and rivers that separate the British Provinces from the United States;

12th. All persons who, at the time when they seek to obtain the benefits hereof by taking the oath herein prescribed, are in military, naval, or civil confinement, or custody, or under the bonds of civil, military, or naval authorities, or agents of the United States as prisoners of war, or persons detained for offences of any kind, either before or after conviction;

13th. All persons who have voluntarily participated in said rebellion, and the estimated value of whose taxable property is over twenty thousand dollars;

14th. All persons who have taken the oath of amnesty as prescribed in the President's Proclamation of December 8th, A. D. 1863, or an oath of allegiance to the government of the United States since the date of said Proclamation, and who have not thenceforward kept and maintained the same inviolate. Provided, That special application may be made to the President for pardon by any person belonging to the excepted classes; and such clemency will be liberally extended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States...


Source: U.S. Congress, United States Statutes at Large (Washington D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1937), vol. 13, pp. 758-60.

Document 2 Questions

  1. In the first paragraph of the proclamation, President Johnson makes reference to his predecessor's 1863 and 1864 offers of amnesty to those then in rebellion. Why would Johnson do this? Who is he speaking to in this passage, and what does its inclusion tell us about the national political climate in May 1865?
  2. What conditions does President Johnson attach to amnesty? What must each applicant expect to do or give up in return for full citizenship rights?
  3. What does President Johnson promise to give each application on receipt of amnesty?
  4. In what ways do the terms of this proclamation affect relationships between former slaves and former slaveholders?
  5. What kinds of freedom (or freedoms) are foreclosed on by President Johnson's Amnesty Proclamation?


Document 3:
President Andrew Johnson Appoints William W. Holden Provisional Governor of North Carolina

With Congress in recess until December and peace scarcely restored in the former Confederacy, President Johnson found himself in a position to act not only immediately, but with unusual autonomy. Determined to return the country as quickly as possible to its former shape, he issued two proclamations on May 29th. The first which appears above and which quickly came to be known as the "Amnesty Proclamation," opened the way by which to restore individuals to the nation. The second, which is reproduced here and in which Johnson appoints William W. Holden as Provisional Governor of North Carolina, laid out the process by which former rebel states would be brought back into the Union.


No. 38

WHEREAS the fourth section of the fourth article of the Constitution of the United States declares that the United States shall guarantee to every state in the Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion and domestic violence; and whereas the President of the United States is, by the constitution, made commander-in-chief of the army and navy, as well as the chief civil executive officer of the United States, and is bound by solemn oath faithfully to execute the office of the President of the United States, and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; and whereas the rebellion, which has been waged by a portion of the people of the United States against the property constituted authorities of the government thereof, in the most violent and revolting form, but whose organized and armed forces have not been almost entirely overcome, has, in its revolutionary progress, deprived the people of the State of North Carolina of all civil government; and whereas it becomes necessary and proper to carry out and enforce the obligations of the United States to the people of North Carolina, in securing them in the enjoyment of a republican form of government:

Now, therefore, in obedience to the high and solemn duties imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States, and for the purpose of enabling the loyal people of said state to organize a state government, whereby justice may be established, domestic tranquility insured, and loyal citizens protected in all their rights of life, liberty, and property, I, ANDREW JOHNSON, President of the United States, and commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, do hereby appoint William W. Holden provisional governor of the State of North Carolina, whose duty it shall be, at the earliest practicable period, to prescribe such rules and regulations as may be necessary and proper for convening a convention, composed of delegates to be chose by that portion of the people of said state who are loyal to the United States, and no others, for the purpose of altering or amending the constitution thereof; and with authority to exercise, within the limits of said state, all the powers necessary and proper to enable such loyal people of the State of North Carolina to restore said state to its constitutional relations to the federal government, and to present such a republican form of state government as will entitle the state to the guarantee of the United States therefore, and its people to protection by the United States against invasion, insurrection, and domestic violence; Provided that, in any election that may be hereafter held for choosing delegates to any state convention as aforesaid, no person shall be qualified as an elector, or shall be eligible as a member of such convention,

unless he shall have previously taken and subscribed the oath of amnesty, as set forth in the President's Proclamation of May 29, A. D. 1865, and is a voter qualified as prescribed by the constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina in force immediately before the 20th day of May, A. D. 1861, the date of the so-called ordinance of secession; and the said convention, when convened, or the legislature that may be thereafter assembled, will prescribe the qualification of electors, and the eligibility of persons to hold officer under the constitution and laws of the state,-- a power the people of the several states composing the Federal Union have rightfully exercised from the origin of the government to the present time...

Source: U.S. Congress, United States Statutes at Large (Washington D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1937), vol. 13, pp. 760-61.

Document 3 Questions

  1. When President Johnson refers to citizens, who is he talking about?
  2. What kind of rights and powers do those citizens exercise?
  3. What kind of authority does Johnson believe belongs to the individual states? What kind of authority does Johnson believe belongs to the federal government?
  4. In what ways does this proclamation along with the "Amnesty Proclamation" affect balances of power in the former Confederacy? Who gains? Who loses?
  5. Above all, where do the former slaves fit into Johnson's vision of a post-slavery nation, and who has the right to decide?

Document 4:
A Northern Military Officer Advises Former Slaves on Freedom

Reading Government Orders, Rights & Privileges

Northerners harbored their own ideas about freedom and its meanings. As was the case with former slaves and former slaveholders, those ideas reflected the individual's personal history and experiences.

For Northerners, that meant, of course, that their ideas had taken form alongside and in conjunction with a deepening system of wage labor, one that up through the Civil War era was still seen by many as a temporary step on the road to economic and political independence. Thus Northern understandings about free labor often reflected a faith that hard work, frugality, patience, and sobriety would pay off: enabling the industrious to accumulate wealth, ascend the social ladder, and eventually take their place as full citizens with all the rights and privileges thereof. In the first of the three documents below, Captain Charles Soule reports on conditions around Orangeburg, South Carolina, addressing his letter to the head of the Freedmen's Bureau, General Oliver Otis Howard. In the second document, which was enclosed in Soule's letter to Howard, the captain turns his attention to the former slaves, offering to them what he considered sage advice about their new condition, advice that was a product of a free-labor society. But as the third document (Howard's reply to Soule) suggests, Northerners were not of one mind about freedom and what it meant for whom. Like former Confederates and former slaves, they too imbued this very elastic term with sometimes dramatically different meanings.

[1. Report]
Orangeburg, S. C., June 12th, 1865.
General: In accordance with the request embodied in your "Circular Letter" of the 16th ult., I have the honor to tender the following report of the organization and operations of the Special Commission on Contracts with Freedmen, at Orangeburg, S.C. Upon the occupation of this District by the U.S. troops, affairs were found to be in a very unsettled state. The "scouts" who had latterly enforced local order and preserved discipline upon the plantations, were disbanded; no civil magistrates had power to act; the planters, uncertain as to the wishes of the United States authorities, were afraid even to defend themselves against aggression and robbery; -while the negro laborers, who in this neighborhood outnumber the whites five to one, already excited by the prospect of freedom, were urged to lawlessness and acts of violence by the advice of many of the colored soldiers. Not only was there every prospect that the crops would be neglected, but it also seemed probably that the negroes would revenge themselves, by theft, insults, and violence, upon their former owners. To avert disorder and starvation, officers detailed for the purpose were sent into the country to explain to white and black alike their condition under the new state of affairs, and to induce the laborers, if possible, to resume work upon the crops, -which are now in the most critical stage.

It was soon found, however, that uniformity was needed in these operations; and during the last week in May, Brevet Brigadier General Hartwell, commanding the Brigade, appointed a Special Commission to have charge over all the relations between proprietor and laborer; to supervise contracts, made under Brig. Gen'l. Hatch's orders, and to act also as Provost Judges in cases of disorder or crime upon the plantations. The commission originally consisted of four members; afterwards of five; and this number is at present reduced to two by the establishment of an auxiliary board in Columbia, S.C. The limits of jurisdiction are indefinite, and cases are frequently brought to our notice from remote districts in the State.

It is found that office work alone, -merely answering questions, deciding disputes, and administering justice, occupies the attention of two officers and a clerk; while several officers are needed to visit the different sections of the neighboring country, to assemble the planters and the negroes at convenient points, and to explain, -to the former, the necessity of making equitable contracts with their workmen, of discontinuing corporal punishment, and of referring all cases of disorder and idleness to the military authorities: -to the latter, in plain and simple terms their new position as freedmen, their prospects, their duties, and their continued liability to punishment for faults and crimes.

In the two weeks which have passed since the Commission was appointed, several hundred contracts have been approved, as many plantations visited, and probably two thousand whites and ten thousand blacks have been addressed. The officers engaged in this work have frequently ridden alone and unarmed twenty-five miles, or further, from the Post, and have almost invariably met with courteous and hospitable treatment at the hands of the planters, -most of whom seem desirous to comply in good faith with the wishes and orders of the Government, and to make the best of a system of labor which, notwithstanding, they thoroughly disbelieve.

It is found very difficult to disabuse the negroes of the false and exaggerated ideas of freedom they have received, in great measure, from our own colored troops. They have been led to expect that all the property of their former masters was to be divided out to them; and the most reasonable fancy which prevails, is that besides receiving food, clothes, the free rent of houses and gardens, and the privilege of keeping their hogs and poultry, they are to take for themselves all day Saturday and Sunday, and to receive half the crops. Their long experience of slavery has made them so distrustful of all whites, that on many plantations they persist still in giving credit only to rumors set afloat by people of their own color, and believe that the officers who have addressed them are rebels in disguise.

Even where they are satisfied that the idea of freedom comprehends law, order, and hard labor, there are many whom the absence of the usual restraint and fear of punishment renders idle, insolent, vagrant and thievish. Owing to the entire want of cavalry in this Department, it has been found possible to investigate only a few of the cases brought before the board in its judicial capacity; and the members view with solicitude the alarming increase of vagrancy throughout the country, and the idleness, half-way-work, and turbulence of a large portion of the negro population, -which they are powerless to check, except in the immediate vicinity of a military force.

In the opinion of a majority of the Commission, little danger to the welfare of society, or of the country, need be apprehended from the former slaveowners, who appear generally desirous to become good citizens. It is the ignorance, the prejudice, the brutality, and the educated idleness,-if so it can be termed-of the freedmen, -all attributable, not so much to their race, as to the system of slavery under which they have lived, -that are mainly to be watched and placed under restraint. To supply the place of the rigid plantation discipline now suddenly done away with. Some well digested code of laws and punishments, adapted to the peculiar position of affairs, should be applied throughout the entire South.

The impossibility of attaching, in future, money value to the former slaves, will break up, in practice, as the Emancipation proclamation has done in theory. the system of slavery; and the interests of capitalists and landowners of the South will lead them to make the best possible use of freed labor: but it will be more difficult convincing the freedmen themselves of their true position and prospects. Only actual suffering, starvation, and punishment will drive many of them to work. It is a general complaint on the part of the planters that although the laborers have had fair offers made to them of compensation, including a share of the crops, they nearly all have shortened their day's work several hours, and persist in taking to themselves every Saturday.

In districts remote from our posts of occupation the plantation discipline still prevails, and cases of flogging and shooting are continually brought to the notice of the Commission from places sixty to eighty miles from Orangeburg. Nor are the planters always to be blamed for such measures of self-defence. There must be some restraint in every community, and where there are but two classes, the one educated and intelligent, the other ignorant and degraded, it is preferable, if one class must govern, that it be the former. It is to be hoped, however, that civil or military authority will soon supplant such an exercise of irresponsible power, which is liable to great abuse.

A form for making contracts, adapted after consultation with a number of planters, is enclosed herewith. It was found, at the outset of our operations, that half the crop,-which General Hatch had recommended as fair compensation, was too much to give, if the laborers were also to be fed and clothed until the end of the year. At the wish of General Hartwell, therefore, the planters have been left to make their own proposals, the Commissioner reserving rights to disapprove such contracts as seemed unjust to the workmen. It has been found, however, that in almost every instance, the offers have been very liberal. It is usual to promise food, and as far as possible, clothing, to all the people on the plantations, both workers and dependents; and in addition, either a certain share of the crop, varying according to the circumstances from one-tenth to one-half (the latter in very rare instances), to be divided among the laborers only;-or, so many bushels of corn to every "hand",-usually a year's supply. In consideration of the fact that only one third of the people supported, on the average, are laborers, and that General Sherman's armies have destroyed the fences, taken the stock, and devastated the whole region hereabouts, the Commission are of the opinion that these contracts are very favorable to the workmen. It would appear that so low, uneducated and inefficient a class of laborers as these now suddenly freed, should not receive more pay than Northern farm laborers,-allowance being made for difference of circumstances.

A day laborer in the North, with a large family, usually has to pay all his wages for food, clothing, and house-rent. If he can have his own little garden, and a stock of poultry and pigs,-as most of the freedmen have, he is fortunate; and if in addition to all this he gets a share of the crops-say a year's supply of food, over and above expenditures, he is prospering beyond most of his fellows. Were the freedmen to receive more, the relation between capital and labor would be disturbed, and an undue value placed upon the latter, to the prejudice and disadvantage, in the end, of the laborers themselves.

For the present year, a better condition of affairs than that now prevailing can hardly be looked for. An influx of immigrants from Europe and from the Northern States, increasing the proportion of white inhabitants to the blacks, dividing into smaller farms the arable lands of the South, and introducing a system of money payments for labor, together with the gradual education of the negroes themselves, will, it is hoped, bring order out of this chaos. The plan adopted by the Commission is only meant to compose matters, as far as possible, in order that the crops may be tilled and reaped. It will give the members great satisfaction to be relieved by the adoption of some general plan, from duties which are very arduous and responsible, and in the discharge of which, through the want of a mounted police force, they cannot avoid disappointing many applicants, and neglecting a large number of cases which should properly demand their attention.

In addition to the form of contracts, is enclosed an address to the colored people of the District, which embodies all that the visiting officers include in their speeches. All the points upon which any doubt or question has arisen are touched upon and explained in the simplest and most familiar terms which can be used. Awaiting instructions for the future, I have the honor, General, to remain your obedient servant.
[signed] Charles C. Soule

[2. Enclosure]
[Orangeburg, S.C., June 1865]
To the Freed People of Orangeburg District.
You have heard many stories about your condition as freedmen. You do not know what to believe: you are talking too much; waiting too much; asking for too much. If you can find out the truth about this matter, you will settle down quietly to your work. Listen, then, and try to understand just how you are situated.

You are now free, but you must know that the only difference you can feel yet, between slavery and freedom, is that neither you nor your children can be bought or sold. You may have a harder time this year than you have ever had before; it will be the price you pay for your freedom. You will have to work hard, and get very little to eat, and very few clothes to wear. If you get through this year alive and well, you should be thankful. Do not expect to save up anything, or to have much corn or provisions ahead at the end of the year.

You must not ask for more pay than free people get at the North. There, a field hand is paid in money, but has to spend all his pay every week, in buying food and clothes for his family. and in paying rent for his house. You cannot be paid in money, for there is no good money in the District, nothing but Confederate paper. Then, what can you be paid with? Why, with food, with clothes, with the free use of your little houses and lots. You do not own a cent's worth except yourselves. The plantation you live on is not yours, nor the houses, nor the cattle, mules and horses; the seed you planted with was not yours, and the ploughs and hoes do not belong to you. Now you must get something to eat and something to wear, and houses to live in. How can you get these things? By hard work and nothing else, and it will be a good thing for you if you get them until next year, for yourselves and for your families. You must remember that your children, your old people, and the cripples, belong to you to support now, and all that is given to them is so much pay to you for your work. If you ask for anything more; if you ask for a half of the crop, or even a third, you ask too much; you wish to get more than you could get if you had been free all your lives. Do not ask for Saturday either: free people everywhere else work Saturday, and you have no more right to the day than they have. If your employer is willing to give you part of the day, or to set a task that you can finish early, be thankful for the kindness, but do not think it is something you must have. When you work, work hard.

Begin early at sunrise, and do not take more than two hours at noon. Do not think, because you are free you can choose your own kind of work. Every man must work under orders. The soldiers, who are free, work under officers, the officers under the general, and the general under the president. There must be a head man everywhere, and on a plantation the head man, who gives all the orders, is the owner of the place. Whatever he tells you to do you must do at once, and cheerfully. Never give him a cross word or an impudent answer. If the work is hard, do not stop to talk about it, but do it first and rest afterwards. If you are told to go into the field and hoe, see who can go first and lead the row. If you are told to build a fence, build it better than any fence you know of. If you are told to drive the carriage Sunday, or to mind the cattle, do it, for necessary work must be done even on the Sabbath. Whatever the order is, try and obey it without a word.

There are different kinds of work. One man is a doctor, another is a minister, another a soldier. One black man may be a field hand, one a blacksmith, one a carpenter, and still another a house servant. Every man has his own place, his own trade that he was brought up to, and he must stick to it. The house servants must not want to go into the field, nor the field hands into the house. If a man works, no matter in what business, he is doing well. The only shame is to be idle and lazy.

You do not understand why some of the white people who used to own you, do not have to work in the field. It is because they are rich. If every man were poor, and worked in his own field, there would be no big farms, and very little cotton or corn raised to sell; there would be no money, and nothing to buy. Some people must be rich, to pay the others, and they have the right to do no work except to look out after their property. It is so everywhere, and perhaps by hard work some of you may by and by become rich yourselves

Remember that all your working time belongs to the man who hires you: therefore you must not leave work without his leave not even to nurse a child, or to go and visit a wife or husband. When you wish to go off the place, get a pass as you used to, and then you will run no danger of being taken up by our soldiers. If you leave work for a day, or if you are sick, you cannot expect to be paid for what you do not do; and the man who hires you must pay less at the end of the year.

Do not think of leaving the plantation where you belong. If you try to go to Charleston, or any other city, you will find no work to do, and nothing to eat. You will starve, or fall sick and die. Stay where you are, in your own homes, even if you are suffering. There is no better place for you anywhere else.

You will want to know what to do when a husband and wife live on different places. Of course they ought to be together, but this year, they have their crops planted on their own places, and they must stay to work them. At the end of the year they can live together. Until then they must see each other only once in a while.

In every set of men there are some bad men and some fools; who have to be looked after and punished when they go wrong. The Government will punish grown people now, and punish them severely, if they steal, lie idle, or hang around a man's place when he does not want them there, or if they are impudent. You ought to be civil to one another, and to the man you work for. Watch folks who have always been free, and you will see that the best people are the most civil.

The children have to be punished more than those who are grown up, for they are full of mischief. Fathers and mothers should punish their own children, but if they happen to be off, or if a child is caught stealing or behaving badly about the big house, the owner of the plantation must switch him, just as he should his own children.

Do not grumble if you cannot get as much pay on your place as some one else, for on one place they have more children than on others, on one place, the land is poor, on another it is rich; on one place, Sherman took everything, on another, perhaps, almost everything was left safe. One man can afford to pay more than another.

Do not grumble, either, because, the meat is gone or the salt hard to get. Make the best of everything, and if there is anything which you think is wrong, or hard to bear, try to reason it out: if you cannot, ask leave to send one man to town to see an officer. Never stop work on any account, for the whole crop must be raised and got in, or we shall starve. The old men, and the men who mean to do right, must agree to keep order on every plantation. When they see a hand getting lazy or shiftless, they must talk to him, and if talk will do no good, they must take him to the owner of the plantation.

In short, do just about as the good men among you have always done. Remember that even if you are badly off, no one can buy or sell you: remember that if you help yourselves, GOD will help you, and trust hopefully that next year and the year after will bring some new blessing to you.

[3. General Howard's Reply]
Washington D.C. June 21, 1865

Captain Your report has been received and carefully read. I doubt not the Commission is to do all you can to secure harmony and good will in society, and that you must meet many difficulties. my views are set forth in the accompanying Circulars. I do not expect to meet every difficulty arising under the new State of things. The belief on the part of old masters, that freedmen is impracticable, shows the existence of a prejudice, which time and experience alone can cure.

The sophistries of planters are often insidious and hard to refute If they cannot get slavery, they try for a despotism next to it. Equality before the law is what we must aim at. I mean a black, red, yellow or white thief should have punishment for his theft without regard to the color of his skin. The same equitable rule applies with regard to rights of property. Under the guise of a desire to secure order the planter wishes United States Officers to put into his hands absolute power, or at the best he asks us to exercise that power. Now while we show the freedmen, how freemen support themselves at the North by labor, we ought to let him taste somewhat of the freemans privileges. The masters are prejudiced and mostly ignorant of the workings of free labor. you had better therefore draw up an address to them, also explaining their duties and obligations-

I have provided in my Circular No 5. for cases in dispute not taken cognizance of by military tribunals. Punishments are not prescribed. It will be necessary to call upon the military or police force for the execution of such punishment An order No 102 of 1865 from the War Dept. will enable you to do this. Your form of contract is good. Genl Saxton is the Asst Commissioner for S.C. Please send reports to him or his Agent at Charleston,

[signed] O. O Howard

P.S. Why are wheat and rye excepted in the contract?

Sources: Capt. Charles C. Soule to Maj. Gen'l. O. O. Howard, 12 June 1865, enclosing a speech "To the Freed People of Orangeburg District," [June 1865]; Maj Gen'l. O. O Howard to Captain Charles C. Soule, 21 June 1865, all filed as S 17 1865, Letters Received, ser. 15, Washington Hdqrs., RG 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands


Document 4 Questions

  1. What kind of freedom does Charles Soule imagine for the former slaves of South Carolina? Where does he see them fitting into post-emancipation society? What kind of rights and privileges does he anticipate them enjoying? What are their responsibilities or duties, and to whom?
  2. Who is Soule talking to in his speech to the former slaves? How does your answer help us understand Soule's ideas about political power, leadership, and civic belonging?
  3. If we could ask either David Golightly Harris (Document 1) or A. T. Oliver (Document 5) to evaluate Soule's letter and address to the former slaves of Orangeburg District, on what points (and why) might they agree? On what points (and why) might they disagree?


Document 5:
A Planter's Vision of Freedom and Free Labor

The end of the Civil War and slave emancipation arrived in the middle of the Southern growing season. But to abandon the crops that had been planted in the spring would be to invite widespread hunger come winter, for all Southerners, black and white, especially depended on the year's yield of corn, potatoes, vegetables, and fruit for their next year's subsistence. The health of the staple crops too was of paramount importance. Southerners needed the income derived from the sale of cotton, sugar, and rice to begin the arduous process of rebuilding their lives. Thus often without any prompting from Northern authorities, farmers and planters entered into agreements that would ensure sufficient supplies of agricultural workers to see their crops through to harvest. For former slaveholders, this was an enormous step. While many white Southerners were familiar with hiring workers (they had routinely hired carpenters to build homes, coopers to make barrels, and mechanics to repair cotton gins), they had generally owned those who had labored in their fields. With freedom, planters had few choices but enter into contractual relations with those they had once called property.

Although the following contract was drawn up by an Austin County, Texas, planter landowners across the South produced similar agreements in late spring and summer of 1865.

Usually read aloud by planters in the same speeches in which they announced emancipation to their former slaves, contracts like this one used by A. T. Oliver speak volumes about the kind of social, economic, and political system that the South's planters hoped to call into being.

July 1st 1865
Copy of contract
We the following named negroes, formerly belonging to A. T. Oliver, do agree to remain as heretofore, and work as heretofore, for A. T. Oliver on his plantation; to cultivate and save his crop on said plantation from this date July 1st 1865, until the 1st of January 1866; the said Oliver agrees to furnish them, the following named negroes, their usual clothing, medicines, and attention when sick for themselves and children; and at the end of the year, he agrees to pay them what he thinks is right for each one according to his value in making, and saving said crop; the said negroes are to do good, and faithful work under the control, and direction of said A. T. Oliver or agent, and not to leave the plantation without a pass from said Oliver, and conform to all the rules of the plantation as heretofore,

Cummins, Lidia, Moses, Eli, Manda Andrew, Georgiana, Dave, Harreitt & 3 children, Bene & 1 child, Billy, Jane & 2 children, Martha Hobson, Rena, Marsh, Quince, Louisa & 4 children Jack, Mariah & 1 child, Thomas, Lucy & 1 child, Israel Frank, Mitchel, Clary & 1 child, John, Charlotte & 3 children, Dorrick, Helen & 3 children, Edmond Watson, Jane & 2 children, Paddy 7 years old, Frank Isaac, Mariah, Asaline & 5 children, Louis, Lina, & 2 children, Aggy, worthless, two boys Osca, & Virgil, Jacob Emily & 3 children, Primus, Isham, Docia & 3 children Frances, Ham, Vina, Eliza & 2 children, Crockett, Martha & 3 children, Henry (boy) Mat, Sam, Rachael, Jerry, America Taylor, Kitty, Amonette & 3 children, Stephen 2 children, Charles, Sally & 2 children In testimony whereof I hereunto sign my name, and affix my seal, using scroll for seal, this the day and date above mentioned

[signed] A. T. Oliver

Source: Contract between A. T. Oliver and Cummins et al., 1 July 1865, filed with 1st Lt Levi Jones to Col W. H. Sinclair, 26 Mar. 1866, J 1 1866, Registered Letters Received, ser. 3620, TX Asst. Comr., RG 105.

Document 5 Questions

  1. With whom is A. T. Oliver contracting?
  2. What are the terms of employment as Oliver lays them out? What does he expect Cummins, Lidia, Moses, and all the rest to do? What does he obligate himself to do?
  3. The contract stipulates that the black women and men "to remain as heretofore, and work as heretofore." Why do you think this phrase appears in the first line of the contract? What does it tell us about Oliver's expectations? How do those expectations compare to the ideas put forward by Charles Soule (Document 4)?
  4. Who signs this contract? What does that suggest about whose ideas are imbedded in it?
  5. Why would Cummins, Lidia, Moses, and all the rest decide to stay (and we know that they do)? What sort of advantages do you see accruing to them when they agree to stay on Oliver's plantation? What might be some of the costs in leaving? How do your answers help us understand at least these black women and men's ideas about and expectations for freedom?

6. It is all too tempting to view all forms of inequality and oppression as the same. It is a tendency that often leads scholars of the post-emancipation period to see slavery lurking behind every corner, especially when they consider contracts like the one drawn up by A. T. Oliver. Yet is this a valid conclusion? Do you see in this contract an effort by Oliver to reinstate slavery on its antebellum terms? Why or why not?
7. Can you see any commonalities between the terms of this contract and the labor regulations spelled out by South Carolina lawmakers in the 1865 "Black Codes"? (See Unit 3, Document 8.)


Document 6:
Two North Carolina Freedwomen Testify Against Their Former Owner

Throughout the summer and fall of 1865, conflicts large and small punctuated day-to-day life as former slaves and former slaveholders struggled to implement their own and usually conflicting understandings about freedom. To be sure, violence and violent struggle had been a hallmark of slavery. Lashes had fallen with alarming regularity, blows had been struck, bodies scarred, and overseers mysteriously murdered. But in the wake of the Civil War, such encounters carried a far different political and social weight. With the Thirteenth Amendment before the states for ratification and Northern military and Freedmen's Bureau authorities fanning out across the South, former slaves availed themselves of swiftly changing circumstances to accelerate the revolution that had been unleashed by war by enacting their own understandings of what it meant to be a free people. When taken individually, efforts by former slaves such as the two women featured in the following document might seem trivial, even futile. Collectively, however, the impact was enormous: drawing Northerners' attention to white intransigence and making it possible for former slaves to advance their own agendas in ways unheard of in slavery.

[vicinity of Goldsboro N.C., ca. August 1865]
Case of MR. Wm Barnes of Wilson Co N.C. Charged with gross abuse to an aged woman of color.
Chanie "the abused" states as follows-

I That Mrs. Sally Barnes "wife of the accused" beat her with her hand-

II That not satisfied with this the said Mrs. Barnes beat her with a shingle.- that she "Chanie" caught hold of the shingle. when Mr. Barnes appeared and said-"Turn that shingle loose. you g-d. d- old b-h. or I'll knock you in head with this walking stick-whereupon she "Chanie" let go of the shingle and suffered Mrs. Barnes to continue beating her.

III That while Mr. Barnes and family were at breakfast she started for the town of Wilson, Watson Co. to report the case to Capt. Bullock of the Local Police for said Co.

IV That she was turned back by some person unknown to her who claimed to be a Yankee

V That soon after return home Mr. Barnes appeared and said-Oh yes you have come back G-d A-y G-d d- old b-h You went off to report me G-d A-y d- you- I'll report you after I get my dinner G-d A-y d- you I'll report your back

VI That after his dinner he appeared and said Now go out in the road G-d, d- you and strip your coat and shirt right off- I'll give you h-ll before I have done with you

VII That he beat her terribly after which he told her to go on now and spin your task of cotton or I'll give you as much more in the morning

VIII That she worked around until Sunday "This being upon Tuesday Aug 1" watching for an opportunity to escape, when she left for Goldsboro.

Mary Ann daughter of Chanie-states as follows

I That she "Mary Ann" told her mistress "Mrs. Wm Barnes" that she would not stay there and work if she "Mrs. Barnes" kept her clothes locked up-whereupon Mrs. Barnes attempted to whip her. that she guarded her blows when Mrs Barnes called Mr- Barnes-who with his grown son James, came in and between the three gave her a hundred or more blows-

II That they tied her hands and told her to get down- That she resisted when Mr. Barnes says, that won't do. Bring her out doors Let's tie her between two trees

III That they tied her feet to one tree and her hands to another, then cut her hair off.

IV That they allowed the dogs "three in number" to tear her clothes off and bite her. that James took off such clothing as the dogs left

V That Mr Barnes gave her two hundred lashes with a Paddle "A strap made purposely for whipping negroes" And said no d-d nigger should be free under him &c. &c.

Source: Testimony of Chanie and Mary Ann in case of William Barnes, [ca. August 1865], Miscellaneous Records, ser. 2637, Goldsboro NC Subasst. Comr., RG 105.


Document 6 Questions

  1. How did the presence of Northern authorities affect the relationship between Chanie and her former owners?
  2. Why would Mrs. Barnes keep Mary Ann's clothes locked up? What might she hope to gain by doing that?
  3. In the end, who "won" and why?
  4. If you could ask him, how do you think Charles Soule (Document 4) would respond to Chanie's complaint?
  5. What kind of relationship (if any) do you see between micro events of this kind and the legislation passed by the newly reorganized state governments? In other words, do you think lawmakers might have been responding to the activities and aspirations of people like Mary Ann and Chanie? If so, why?


Document 7:
A Committee of Freedmen on Edisto Island Reveal their Expectations

Former slaves were not at all reluctant to speak and act in accordance with their own visions of freedom. They had waited too long and sacrificed to much to reach this point to let other Americans determine what their future would hold. Yet, like everyone else who intervened in this lively and sometimes deadly debate, former slaves did not share a single vision or understanding of freedom. This can be seen most clearly among those who had been enslaved on the coastal plantations of the Carolinas and Georgia. Having been largely spared the family-fracturing forces of the antebellum domestic slave trade, and having developed in slavery a robust culture and community life in the relative isolation of sea island plantations, the people of the lowcountry entered into freedom with a very distinctive vision of freedom and what it should mean. The document below was produced in response to a fast-changing national policy on land redistribution (see Unit 3). Yet in protesting Andrew Johnson's policy of returning land to its former owners, black men who wrote this petition also revealed much more: about their new role as citizens, about what it meant to be a free person, and who they believed should lead a post-slavery nation.

[Edisto Island, S.C. October 20 or 21, 1865]
General It Is with painfull Hearts that we the committe address you, we Have thorougholy considered the order which you wished us to Sighn,1 we wish we could do so but cannot feel our rights Safe If we do so, General we want Homesteads; we were promised Homestead's by the government,2 If It does not carry out the promises Its agents made to us, If the government Haveing concluded to befriend Its late enemies and to neglect to observe the principles of common faith between Its self and us Its allies In the war you said was over, now takes away from them all right to the soil they stand upon save such as they can get by again working for your late and thier all time ememies. If the government does so we are left In a more unpleasant condition than our former
we are at the mercy of those who are combined to prevent us from getting land enough to lay our Fathers bones upon. We Have property In Horses, cattle, carriages, & articles of furniture, but we are landless and Homeless, from the Homes we Have lived In In the past we can only do one of three things Step Into the public road or the sea or remain on them working as In former time and subject to thier will as then. We can not resist It In any way without being driven out Homeless upon the road. You will see this Is not the condition of really freemen
You ask us to forgive the land owners of our Island, You only lost your right arm. In war and might forgive them.

The man who tied me to a tree & gave me 39 lashes & who stripped and flogged my mother & my sister & who will not let me stay In His empty Hut except I will do His planting & be Satisfied with His price & who combines with others to keep away land from me well knowing I would not Have any thing to do with Him If I Had land of my own. that man, I cannot well forgive. Does It look as If He Has forgiven me, seeing How He tries to keep me In a condition of Helplessness General, we cannot remain Here In such condition and If the government permits them to come back we ask It to Help us to reach land where we shall not be slaves nor compelled to work for those who would treat us as such
we Have not been treacherous, we Have not for selfish motives allied to us those who suffered like us from a common enemy & then Haveing gained our purpose left our allies In thier Hands There Is no rights secured to us there Is no law likely to be made which our Hands can reach. The state will make laws that we shall not be able to Hold land even If we pay for It Landless, Homeless. Voteless. we can only pray to god & Hope for His Help, your Infuence & assistance With consideration of esteem your Obt Servts In behalf of the people
Henry Bram
Committe Ishmael Moultrie
yates Sampson

Source: Henry Bram et al. to Major General O. O. Howard, [20 or 21 Oct. 1865], B 53 1865, Letters Received, ser. 15, Washington Hdqrs., RG 105.

Document 7 Questions

  1. What were Henry Bram, Ishmael Moultrie, and Yates Sampson hoping to achieve by writing to General Oliver Otis Howard, the commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau?
  2. On what grounds do they rest their right to petition?
  3. What does it mean to these men to be "really freemen"? What kind of rights, privileges, and obligations attach to being "really freemen"?
  4. What does it mean that only men signed the petition? What do we learn about the gendered dimension of their version of freedom?
  5. What is the relationship between the authors' past experiences and their expectations for the future? How do your answers help you think about the larger debate over freedom and its meanings?
  6. If David Golightly Harris (Document 1) had read this petition, how do you think he would have responded, and why?


Document 8:
Former Slaves Describe Conditions on a Georgia Plantation

Former slaveholders groused endlessly about the unwillingness of black women and men to work hard in freedom. For many, such contentions became the rationale for demanding back their whips and other implements by which planters had driven black workers in slavery. Others demanded - and in South Carolina passed - legislation that allowed employers to use state power to discipline and drive free workers. But statements from former slaves suggest that the problem was not that freedpeople refused to work, but that they refused to work in ways dictated by their erstwhile masters. In the document below, three freedmen from low country Georgia write about their experiences as workers since emancipation, offering what amounts to a rebuttal of white Southerners' claims about lazy and indolent ex-slaves.

Medway church Liberty county [Ga.] Nov 28th 1865

Dear Sir We the People of Liberty county & State of georgia Set Free from the oppression of Slavery, Desire through our Delegates, Messrs, Toney, Golden; Gabriel, Andrews; & Toney Axom; To appeal to you asking aid and counsel in this our Distressed condition; We Learned, from the Address of general Howard that we were to Return to the Plantation and Work for our Former owners at a Reasonable contract as Freemen;

and find, a Home and Labour, Provided We can agree1 But these owners of Plantation out here Says they only Will Hire or Take the Prime Hands and our old and Infirm Mothers, and Farthers and our children will not Be Provided for; and this you will See Sir Put us in confusion; yet there are some that have Become free are op[un] Plantations, that Do not know of their Freedom and we Dare not Mention that they are free: We cannot Labour for the Land owners and know that our Infirm and children are Not Provided for; and not Allowed to educate or Learn More than they were permitted in Slavery; our School that was established in the county are Broken up, and We are Destitute of Religious Worship, having No Home or Place to Live when we leave the Plantations Returned to our Former owners; we are A Working class of People and We are Willing and are Desirous to worke for A Fair compensation; But to return to work opon the Terms, that are at Present offered to us, Would Be we Think going Backe into the State of Slavery that we have Just to some extent Been Delivered from; We Appeal to you Sir and through you to the Rulers of the country in our Distressed state, and Declare that We feel, unsettled as Sheep Without A Shepard, and Beg you Advice and Assistance, and Believe Sir that this is an Earnest Appeal from, A Pour But Loyal Earnest People Most Respectfully Submitted for your consideration In Behalf of the People of Liberty county By
William, Toney Golden
Gabriel Andrews
Toney Axom

Source: William, Toney Golden et al. to Col, H. F, Sickles, 28 Nov. 1865, Unregistered Letters Received, ser. 1013, Savannah GA Subasst. Comr., RG 105: Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands

Document 8 Questions

  1. What kind of problems have the authors of this letter encountered since emancipation? What kind of problems or issues do they not talk about?
  2. What is that they want to do, and what (or who) stands in their way?
  3. On what terms are the authors of this letter willing to work? Who has the right to determine what those terms ought to be?
  4. How do the ideas about freedom that emerge in this document compare to those put forward by the committee who wrote General Howard from Edisto Island? (See Document 7) Do they want or value the same things in freedom? Why or why not?
  5. How might the ideas and expectations outlined in this letter shape political debates between freedmen after enfranchisement? To put it differently, what kind of policies might they be inclined support?
  6. How do you imagine William Barnes (Document 6), A. T. Oliver (Document 5), or Andrew Johnson (Documents 2 and 3) responding to this letter? On what points might they differ? On what points might they agree?


Document 9:
A Charleston Freedwoman Opens A Bank Account

Melon Market in Charleston

In March 1865, Congress incorporated the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company for the benefit of the nation's former slaves. Between 1865 and 1870, branch banks could be found in every one of the former Confederate states as well as Washington D. C., Philadelphia, and New York City. They were exceedingly popular institutions. Before the bank failed due to egregious mismanagement in 1874, tens of thousands of black women and men flocked to nearby branches, eager to deposit the fruits of their hard-earned labor, to make deposits in the name of their children or other close kin, and to open accounts in the name of churches, burial societies, clubs, associations, and organizations.

The five branches that opened in the Carolinas were among some of the busiest: we can see this in the surviving ledgers in which bank clerks at Raleigh, New Bern, and Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, registered trnsactions with tens of thousands of former slaves.

Many of the depositors had been free before the war and jumped at the opportunity to use funds accumulated during slavery to open accounts in freedom. Others were artisans who had accumulated money in trades as varied as tailoring, coopering, and shoemaking. A smaller number of account holders were professionals: teachers, preachers, grocers, and later, with the extension of full political rights to the South's black men, legislators and elected officials. The overwhelming majority of those who opened accounts were unskilled urban and agricultural workers. That this last group often had to travel long distances to reach the nearest bank, suggests the importance former slaves attached to earning their own money and putting it away for their own or their children's future. But that's not all historians can learn from the bank's ledgers - volumes known as "signature books." Because the banks operated long before the advent of social security numbers and other mechanisms designed to identify account holders, clerks recorded considerable information about each depositor: soliciting names, ages, places of birth, current occupations and residences, the names and disposition of family members, and in early editions, the names of former owners. Not every clerk recorded answers for every query.

Perhaps they never bothered to ask. Perhaps they asked and the applicant could not or would not answer. Yet as incomplete as many of the entries are, they open up new understandings of the recently emancipated, their pasts, and the futures of which they dreamed. Reproduced below is one of those incomplete entries, made when Louisa Durant opened an account at the Charleston, South Carolina, branch of the Freedmen's and Savings Trust Company.

Record for Louisa Durant Depositor No 2
1. Name of Depositor. Louisa Durant
2. Birthplace. Virginia
3. Age.
4. Complexion. light Brown
. . . .
7. Residence. Charleston
8. Married or single. married
9. Name of husband or wife.
10. Residence of husband or wife.
11. Names and ages of their children. Ellen Durant
12. Residences of their children.
13. Name of the father of depositor.
14. Name of mother of depositor.
15. Names of brothers and sisters of depositor.
. . . .
21. Name of last master of depositor. Mr & Mrs Wittpen
22. Old title of depositor. Louisa Durant
23. Last residence of depositor while a slave. Charleston SC
24. Time when depositor came within Union lines.
25. What depositor has since been doing, where lived and who worked for. Market Woman

Source: Entry of Louisa Durant, 29 Dec. 1865, no. 2, Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, 1865-1874, Records of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, National Archives, Record Group 101, microcopy 816, reel 21

Document 9 Questions

  1. As is the case with many of the bank's ledgers, not every inquiry is followed by an answer. Yet working with the information that the clerk did records, what can we learn about Louisa's personal history? Who was she?
  2. What kind of roles (civic, social, political, economic) did she see herself playing in the new post-slavery nation?
  3. How do Louisa's ideas about what she ought to be and do as a free black woman compare to the kinds of freedoms articulated by Charles Soule (Document 4) or to Chanie and her daughter (Document 6)? On what points did they differ? On what points do they agree? And how do your answers help you understand the unfolding debate about freedom and its meanings?

This ends Unit One.


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Unit Two: Freed Slaves Mobilize