Welcome to the After Slavery Virtual Textbook

Unit Three - Land and Labor

We have provided a PDF version of this page to download and print

To turn the pages, just move your mouse over the edge of the page and click the arrow!

Unit 3:
Land & Labor

Discharge Orders

Reconstruction brought into sharp focus two related problems of political economy left over from antebellum America. In a nation founded on an ideal of agrarian self-sufficiency, ownership of land had become concentrated in too few hands, prompting complaints about a "land monopoly" from the 1840s onwards. As if this were not already enough of a problem, the Civil War emancipated roughly four million slaves, adding to the ranks of the landless. The second problem was the status of wage laborers. From the perspective of 'free labor' advocates, there was nothing inherently wrong with wage labor so long as it was a stage on the way to economic independence. But by the 1840s, if not earlier, there was clearly a growing class of Americans who could never hope to achieve economic independence and would spend their lives working for someone else, and the Civil War greatly accelerated this trend.

The nation found itself faced with the problem of how to accommodate the ideals of republicanism with this reality.

What had held these problems and contradictions at bay was free labor ideology. This ideology saw American prosperity as being based on the widespread holding of productive property as the result of hard work in a free marketplace. In some senses, before the Civil War, free labor ideology never really had to prove itself; the existence of the 'Slave Power' of the South was an obstacle that always lay in the way of the millennial unfolding of the harmonious society envisioned by the evangelists of the free labor ideology. With emancipation, however, that obstacle, and that excuse, was removed. Reconstruction was to be the proving ground to see whether free labor ideology could actually work in practice, and the key was the ability of freedpeople to become peasant proprietors within the agricultural economy of the South.

From the opposite point of view, southern planters viewed slave emancipation as a crisis in labor control. For all their self-deluding complaining about how much trouble it was to take care of their childlike slaves, planters knew that slavery, with its compulsions of the whip and the auction block, had been a most effective way to control labor.

The last thing they wanted was a South dominated by former slaves owning their own land, with no need to work on someone else's land to get by. Those who wanted freedpeople to have land of their own toyed with several approaches. Confiscation was a possibility but some thought it set a dangerous precedent and conflicted with free labor's devotion to the protection of private property. Manipulating tax policy to encourage large landholdings to be broken up and sold in small parcels was more widely implemented, and South Carolina even set up a government agency to facilitate this process. Freedpeople themselves, independent of what others were doing to help or hinder them, scrambled to acquire and hold land by any means they could: squatting, piecemeal purchases, and cooperative ventures were all tried.


Document 1:
Rufus B. Saxton Argues That Land Should Be Set Aside for Freedpeople

Freed slaves' expectations about land redistribution first became an urgent issue in the Port Royal area. Port Royal Sound, with its principal city of Beaufort, is part of a chain of barrier islands stretching southward from Charleston down the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. The fertile soils of the larger islands were favorable for growing long-staple sea island cotton, which commanded high prices on the world market. When the Union navy captured Port Royal in November 1861, local planters who had grown rich on the cotton trade fled inland in a panic, 'refugeeing' as many slaves as they could transport into the interior but, inevitably, leaving many behind. One Union officer reported from Beaufort that he found freedpeople there "wild with joy and revenge." They had been shot down "like dogs," he wrote, "because they would not go off with their masters."

Fleeing planters owed federal taxes, both the cotton tax and the direct tax, and many of the plantations were seized by the U.S. Treasury and auctioned off. Exactly how they would be sold, and to whom, was a contentious issue. Northern speculators sought to get rich while a few military officials, most notably General Rufus B. Saxton, insisted that freedpeople should have the lands to farm for themselves.

Saxton was one of the great champions of the rights of freedpeople in the South, including the right to equality with white citizens and the right to land upon which to support themselves. A native of Deerfield, Massachusetts, he was a West Point graduate and had a long career in the army both before and after the Civil War. During the war, he served in Missouri and around Harper's Ferry before being posted to South Carolina in 1862.

[December 7, 1862]
The prospect is that all the lands on these sea islands, will be bought up by speculators, and in that event, these helpless people may be placed more or less at the mercy of men devoid of principle, and their future well being jeopardized, thus defeating in a great measure the benevolent intention of the Government towards them.
To prevent this, and give the negroes a right in that soil to whose wealth they are destined in the future to contribute so largely, to save them from destitution, to enable them to take care of themselves, and prevent them from ever becoming a burden upon the country, I would most respectfully call your attention to the importance of the immediate passage of an act of Congress, empowering the President to appoint three Commissioners, whose duty it shall be to make allotments of portions of the lands forfeit to the US...to the emancipated negroes...

Source: Rufus B. Saxton to Edwin Stanton, Rufus B. and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library

Document 1 Questions

  1. Who are the "speculators" to whom Saxton refers, and why would they be interested in purchasing these lands?
  2. Why does Saxton refer to the Government as "benevolent"? What does that say about how he saw the relationship between the Government and the freedpeople?
  3. How powerful are freedpeople in this situation?
  4. What sort of people is the President likely to appoint as Commissioners, and how important is their role in the process?


Document 2:
Freedmen's Bureau Report on the Treatment of Plantation Laborers in Gates County, North Carolina

The Confederate surrender in April 1865 didn't necessarily bring immediate relief to newly freed slaves. In some places along the coast, of course, planters had lost their grip in the early period of the war and freedpeople enjoyed wide latitude in shaping the new society that would replace the Confederacy. But in rural areas, out of the path of federal troops and away from the protective shield of Union garrisons, white employers retained the upper hand, and there are reports from the interior of slaves being informed of their freedom as late as August and September 1865 - four or five months after the war's end!

Even where the slaves' emancipation was formally acknowledged, embittered whites resisted making any real changes to the labor regime. The report below, from Freedmen's Bureau agents in eastern North Carolina, shows in gruesome detail the persistence of the deeply ingrained habits of management carried over from slavery. For freedpeople themselves, and for their allies attached to the federal government and the Republican party, the struggle to rid their working lives of physical brutality and degradation would be a difficult and treacherous one.

I forward to you... a report of a case which occurred in Gates county, on the northern border of the State, far away from any influence of troops, and where the military power of the government had been little felt. No doubt it illustrates others in similar localities far from garrisons and northern influences.... Reports had reached me of the way in which David Parker, of Gates county, treated his colored people, and I determined to ascertain for myself their truth. Accordingly, last Monday, August 20, accompanied by a guard of six men from this post, (Elizabeth City,) I proceeded to his residence, about forty miles distant. He is very wealthy. I ascertained, after due investigation, and after convincing his colored people that I was really their friend, that the worst reports in regard to him were true. He had twenty-three negroes on his farm, large and small. Of these fourteen were field-hands; they all bore unmistakable evidence of the way they had been worked; very much undersized, rarely exceeding, man or woman, 4 feet 6 inches -- men and women of thirty and forty years of age looking like boys and girls. It has been his habit for years to work them from sunrise to sunset, and often long after, only stopping one hour for dinner -- food always cooked for them to save time.

He had, and has had for many years, an old colored man, one-eyed and worn out in the service, for an overseer or "over-looker" as he calls himself. In addition, he has two sons at home, one of whom has made it a point to be with them all summer long -- not so much to superintend as to drive. The old colored overseer always went behind the gang with the cane and whip, and woe betide the unlucky wretch who did not continually do his part; he had been brought up to work, and had not the least pity for any one who could not work as well as he.

Mr. Parker told me that he had hired his people for the season: directly after the surrender of General Lee he called them up and told them they were free; that he was better used to them than to others, and would prefer hiring them; that he would give them board and two suits of clothing to stay with him until the 1st day of January, 1866, and one Sunday suit at the end of that time; that they consented willingly -- in fact, preferred to remain with him, &c. But from his people I learned that though he did call them up, as stated, yet when one of them demurred at the offer his son James flew at him and cuffed and kicked him; that after that they were all 'perfectly willing to stay;' they were watched night and day; that Bob, one of the men had been kept chained nights; that they were actually afraid to try to get away.

There was no complaint of the food nor much of the clothing, but they were in constant terror of the whip. Only three days before my arrival, Bob had been stripped in the field and given fifty lashes for hitting Adam, the colored over-looker, while James Parker stood by with a gun, and told him to run if he wanted to, he had a gun there. About four weeks before, four of them who went to church and returned before sunset were treated to twenty-five lashes each. Some were beaten or whipped almost every day. Having ascertained of these and other similar facts, I directed him to call them up and pay them from the first of May last up to the present time. [After investigating] I then arrested him and his two sons...intending to send them to Newberry for trial. But on account of the want of immediate transportation I concluded to release them on their giving a bond in the sum of $2,000 to [Freedmen's Bureau officials].

Source: Report of Captain James, included in Testimony of Col. E. Whittlesey, [Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for North Carolina],39th U. S. Congress, Joint Select Committee Report on Reconstruction, June 1866

Document 2 Questions

  1. Why was it important that, in undertaking his investigation, Captain James managed to convince the laborers that he was "really their friend." Why might this be difficult?
  2. Why do you suppose these conditions are more likely to prevail "far away from any influence of troops?" If this treatment became common in outlying areas, what effect might this have on population movement? On the availability of labor in rural districts?
  3. How can we explain the behavior of the colored 'over-looker' in inflicting such harsh punishment on field hands? How does his behavior challenge assumptions about black racial solidarity during this period?
  4. According to his own account, James is compelled to give up his attempt to prosecute the Parkers because of inadequate resources (inability to secure transport, in this case). If similar problems of resources continue to confront the Freedmen's Bureau, what will be the effect on its ability to protect freedpeople?


Document 3:
A Freedpeople's Colony on Roanoke Island, North Carolina

First Light of Freedom

To some extent, the experiment with free labor amongst former slaves began as a matter of military necessity in a variety of locations around the South as the Union military captured territory. They needed to provide for the newly emancipated people, but they also needed to create a system of support for the families of black men who were joining the army or otherwise supporting the Union war effort. One of the earliest beachheads the Union military established was much of the Outer Banks and part of the coast of northeastern North Carolina. In the two documents below, we see the Union army setting up a colony for freedpeople on Roanoke Island, site of the first English settlement in North America. Despite promising beginnings, the colony's land was restored to its previous owners by 1867, ending the possibility for an African American landholding community there.

New Berne, N. C., September 10, 1863.

In accordance with the views of the major-general commanding the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, Eighteenth Army Corps, are hereby transferred to Chaplain James. He will take possession of all unoccupied lands on the island, and lay them out and assign them, according to his own discretion, to the families of colored soldiers, to invalids, and other blacks in the employ of the Government, giving them full possession of the same until annulled by the Government or by due process of United States law.
The authority of Chaplain James will be respected in all matters relating to the welfare of the colony.
By command of Major-General Peck:

Assistant Adjutant-General.

New Berne, N. C., October 2, 1863.
Asst. Adjt. General, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina:

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that I returned last evening from a tour of inspection. The fortifications at Washington and Plymouth have been pushed very rapidly during the last month.
My expectations in respect to the colony were more than realized by my visit to Roanoke Island. No better place could have been selected, and I see no permanent cause for apprehension on the score of health. The superintendent is actively engaged in laying out the streets and lots. My instructions were to make the avenues of ample width, with a view to increase the beauty and healthfulness of the island. Mules, horses, wagons, &c., have been condemned and ordered to be turned over to the colony. The success of the enterprise I regard as certain, and believe that this African colony can be made self-supporting after the first year.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Source: The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 29, Part II (Washington: GPO, 1895), pp. 166, 243-244.

Document 3 Questions

  1. What is the difference between having possession of land and having title to land?
  2. How does the goal of self-sufficiency for the Roanoke Island colony serve both military and political purposes?
  3. The idea of colonizing freed slaves in Africa had been around for decades by the time of the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln himself had been a proponent of the idea. To what extent does the Roanoke Island community continue the ideas of colonization?


Document 4:
Rufus B. Saxton's Letter to Northern Planter Edward S. Philbrick

Beaufort Slaves 1862

When Saxton expressed concerns that the sea island plantations would end up in the hands of northern "speculators and capitalists," it was men like Edward S. Philbrick he had in mind. The son of a prominent Boston abolitionist, Philbrick was a successful engineer with a family when he joined "Gideon's Band," a group of northern missionaries who came south in March 1862 to assist the liberated slaves of Port Royal and put into effect the free labor ideals that he and others had long believed would transform the South. This letter is an early example of the conflict at the heart of the Republican party, one that revolved around competing visions of the kind of society that would replace slavery, producing sharp tensions that would eventually doom Reconstruction.

On the one hand, Republicans were committed to freeing the slaves and helping them join the nation as economically and politically independent citizens, yet on the other hand, men like Philbrick were staunch supporters of the rights of property and champions of the growth of big business.

[June 15, 1864]
The immediate possession of the land without purchase is the indefeasible right of the negro, and I am less able to perceive the pertinence of allowing the withholding of it from him a fraud and wrong. Neither do I believe that a 'purely commercial basis' is the proper starting point of an enterprise designed, even ultimately, for the benefit and elevation of the negro. But I do not propose to discuss that scheme here and now, but only to notice the specification of particulars, on why you think my letter has done you injustice.

... It gives me great pleasure to say that I have now no doubt that you intend justice to the negro, and will use the lands you have obtained for what you believe to be in his best interests. At the same time, I must dissent most emphatically from your views of what justice and his best interests demand from us. Your policy being accepted as the general policy for the administration of the lands, the field of speculation will be open to all indiscriminately. What protection do you propose for the negro against white men of another character and unhonorable purposes?

What chance has he to get land out of the clutches of the human vulture, who care for him only as they can gorge themselves upon his flesh? If you had seen the hungry swarms gathered here at the land sales in February, I think your views concerning the exclusion of whites would be somewhat modified. The white man has made the negro what he is. The experience at [Port Royal] and elsewhere is far from demonstrating that white men indiscriminately are waiting to do him justice, and may be safely permitted to govern his affairs. What you call 'special privileges to the negroes to the exclusion of whites,' seems to me to be vital to the safety and hope of advancement of the negro,-the plainest justice and the wisest policy.

Source: Rufus B. Saxton to E. S. Philbrick, Rufus B. and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library

Document 4 Questions:

  1. What can you infer from the letter about Philbrick's assumptions regarding freedpeople's right to land in the Port Royal area?
  2. How did granting "special privileges to the negroes to the exclusion of the whites" contravene important aspects of Republican party values? Why is Saxton concerned about "the field of speculation being open to all indiscriminately"?
  3. Which white men does Saxton have in mind when he claims that "the white man has made the negro what he is"? What in his view is the responsibility of the federal government in relations between freedpeople and whites?
  4. Why is Saxton critical of the 'land sales'?


Document 5:
General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order No. 15

Land Title

The question of how to provide land for freedpeople became an even more pressing concern when General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived in Savannah and prepared for his invasion of South Carolina. Thousands of former slaves had followed his army as it cut through Georgia, and he could not afford the diversion of resources to provide for them as he moved into the cradle of secession. Using his authority as a field commander to dispose of captured enemy property, he made one of the most sweeping announcements of the war. The result was made even more confusing since the area encompassed the Port Royal Sound area. Freedpeople who held land under Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 15, however, never had secure title.

In the summer and fall of 1865, President Andrew Johnson pardoned a number of planters whose land was encompassed by the orders and returned their plantations to them. In September 1865, Johnson issued a policy returning the majority of the seized land to its original owners.

No. 15.
In the Field, Savannah, Ga.
January 16, 1865.

I. The islands from Charleston south, the abandoned rice-fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the Saint John's River, Fla., are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.

II. At Beaufort, Hilton Head, Savannah, Fernandina, Saint Augustine and Jacksonville the blacks may remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations; but on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves, subject only to the United States military authority and the acts of Congress.

By the laws of war and orders of the President of the United States, the negro is free, and must be dealt with as such. He cannot be subjected to conscription or forced military service, save by the written orders of the highest military authority of the Department, under such regulations as the President or Congress may prescribe; domestic servants, blacksmiths, carpenters, and other mechanics will be free to select their own work and residence, but the young and able-bodied negroes must be encouraged to enlist as soldiers in the service of the United States, to contribute their share toward maintaining their own freedom and securing their rights as citizens of the United States. Negroes so enlisted will be organized into companies, battalions, and regiments, under the orders of the United States military authorities, and will be paid, fed, and clothed according to law. The bounties paid on enlistment may, with the consent of the recruit, go to assist his family and settlement in procuring agricultural implements, seed, tools, boats, clothing, and other articles necessary for their livelihood.

III. Whenever three respectable negroes, heads of families, shall desire to settle on land, and shall have selected for that purpose an island, or a locality clearly defined within the limits above designated, the inspector of settlements and plantations will himself, or by such subordinate officer as he may appoint, give them a license to settle such island or district, and afford them such assistance as he can to enable them to establish a peaceable agricultural settlement.

The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel with not more than 800 feet waterfront, in the possession of which land military authorities will afford them protection until such time as they can protect themselves or until Congress shall regulate their title. The quartermaster may, on the requisition of the inspector of settlements and plantations, place at the disposal of the inspector one or more of the captured steamers to ply between the settlements and one or more of the commercial points, heretofore named in orders, to afford the settlers the opportunity to supply their necessary wants and to sell the products of their land and labor.

IV. Whenever a negro has enlisted in the military service of the United States he may locate his family in any one of the settlements at pleasure and acquire a homestead and all other rights and privileges of a settler as though present in person. In like manner negroes may settle their families and engage on board the gun-boats, or in fishing, or in the navigation of the inland waters, without losing any claim to land or other advantages derived from this system. But no one, unless an actual settler as above defined, or unless absent on Government service, will be entitled to claim any right to land or property in any settlement by virtue of these orders.

V. In order to carry out this system of settlement a general officer will be detailed as inspector of settlements and plantations, whose duty it shall be to visit the settlements, to regulate their police and general management, and who will furnish personally to each head of a family, subject to the approval of the President of the United States, a possessory title in writing, giving as near as possible the description of boundaries, and who shall adjust all claims or conflicts that may arise under the same, subject to the like approval, treating such titles altogether as possessory. The same general officer will also be charged with the enlistment and organization of the negro recruits and protecting their interests while absent from their settlements, and will be governed by the rules and regulations prescribed by the War Department for such purpose.

VI. Brig. Gen. R. Saxton is hereby appointed inspector of settlements and plantations and will at once enter on the performance of his duties. No change is intended or desired in the settlement now on Beaufort Island, nor will any rights to property heretofore acquired be affected thereby.

By order of Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman
Assistant Adjutant-General

Source: "Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 15," in The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 47, Part II (Washington: GPO, 1895), pp.60-62.

Document 5 Questions

  1. What is the nature of the lands specified in Sherman's orders? How had they been used before the war?
  2. Why might Sherman allow freedpeople to "remain in their chosen or accustomed vocations" in the towns within the reserved lands?
  3. What purpose might be accomplished by forbidding white people to come into the rural areas covered by Sherman's orders?
  4. What relation does Sherman see between military service and landholding amongst freedmen?
  5. How secure were the titles to the land granted by virtue of Sherman's special orders?


Document 6:
Freedpeople React to the Restoration of Land to their Former Masters

Freedpeople on Edisto Island

The tentative and ad hoc moves towards a free labor system based on widespread ownership of land by former slaves that had been put in place by the army during the war lurched to a halt after President Andrew Johnson took control of Reconstruction policy. His amnesty proclamation included provisions for returning land to planters, and in the autumn of 1865 this began to happen on a large scale in the Sea Islands. Nowhere was it more painful than on Edisto Island, where General O. O. Howard, Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau and one of the architects of the land distribution in Port Royal, had to explain to freedpeople that the land they thought was theirs was to be given back to their former masters.

In the report below,written within a few weeks after Howard's speech, an officer reports on unrest and resistance to the restoration of lands on Edisto. It also offers an insight into the terms planters hoped to implement in new labor contracts with their former slaves.

SUMMERVILLE, S.C., Nov. 29th 1865.
General: As I am to leave for Edisto Island in the morning I shall not probably forward Official Monthly report until after Saturday next, and hence take the liberty to represent some matters of interest connected with the islands. It seems that some of the planters whose lands had been restored under the late order. reported to Gen Sickles that they were driven off by the freedpeople. Gen S immediately orders that a Company of white troops be sent there, and the Company was ready last night. Gen Devens telegraphed to me tin P.M. to come down. yesterday which I did. He agreed with me that my troops were the ones to send if any and so I take a company with me.

I have apprehended trouble ever since the Govt determined to rescind the authority to occupy those lands. It is true the War Dept did not, in so many words, approve Gen Shermans order, but it certainly did act upon it, and there is an apparent bad faith in the matter which I am sure the freedpeople will feel. I cannot refrain from expressing grave fears of some collisions on the island, and would gladly delegate the responsibility to any one who could attend to it better. The same difficulty is affecting the Combahee plantations in some instances-- I hope to visit that section by Monday next.

Beside this--the old contracts are soon to expire, and there is considerable hitch about new ones. I had a meeting of planters today. They are well disposed, and appreciate the present Emergency. The only thing they are at fault in is the estimate of pay. They can hire no freed people--on the conditions expressed. I did not argue the matter at all, as I simply desired to get their ideas--

The following basis is suggested--

  1. Contracts to be for the year and on a money basis--
  2. Payment to be made at end of year in money or produce at market rates
  3. Average rate of pay for field hands $8 pr month for men, $4 for women and find themselves--
  4. Work to be by task in accordance with established custom
  5. Actual abandonment of the place to cause forfeiture of all claims on part of freedpersons, and alleged breaches of Contract by either party to be referred to provost or Civil court
  6. Loss of time by sickness to be charged to laborer.

The above is valuable as giving the idea of perhaps thirty or more responsible planters of this vicinity.

They have no money, but they were rich once.

They have room for education--and I am confident that the question of wages will be settled on fairer basis by actual necessity. I should be satisfied with an average of $8 pr month for men--$6 for women and rations--and I believe that ultimately this will be about the figure, though how it is to be paid I am not clear.

However I work through one thing at time & hope for the best

Excuse this hasty note-- Very respectfully yr. obt Servt--
James C. Beecher

Source: James C. Beecher to Rufus Saxton, November 29, 1865, Reports of Conditions and Operations, ser. 2929, S.C. Asst. Commr., RG 105, National Archives.

Document 6 Questions

  1. Why did General Daniel Sickles order troops to be sent to assist in restoring the plantations to their original owners? Why did he specify that the troops be white?
  2. What did Beecher mean by the "apparent bad faith" of the government? Which group of people would have perceived the government's actions as being in bad faith?
  3. How fair are the contract terms proposed by the planters?
  4. Why does Beecher think the contract terms proposed by the planters will have to be modified?


Document 7:
Planter-Attorney William Whaley Wants to Exclude Blacks from the Land Board

Freedman's Bureau Parody

In the following document Rufus Saxton's brother, Samuel-also for a time employed by the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina-expresses his frustration as it becomes increasingly clear that the land redistributed to freedpeople at Port Royal was going to be returned, for the most part, to the planters from whom it had been seized. William Whaley, the planter referred to here, was a prominent attorney from Charleston who also owned Frogmore Plantation on Edisto Island, between Charleston and Port Royal. Whaley's opposition to the changes wrought by emancipation continued well after this incident.

In 1869, he successfully argued in Calhoun v. Calhoun before the South Carolina Supreme Court that debts contracted for the purchase of slaves still had to be paid, affirming the law's recognition of the legality of slavery up until the point when it had been abolished.

Tuesday, 21st Nov 1865... Whaley and some others are in [Charleston Freedmen's Bureau office] and discuss the restoration of Edisto, and other lands. Mr W declares very emphatically that he would rather his lands would sink to perdition than that a black man should compose one of the Board. In unguarded moments they frequently show their true colors, and show us who hear their professions how well fitted they are to take their place as citizens of the Republic, with rights equal with those who have always been loyal...

Source: S. Willard Saxton Journal, Rufus and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library

Document 7 Questions

  1. How might it have come about that a decision has been made to allow black men to serve on the Land Board in South Carolina, and why might such a decision offend someone from William Whaley's background?
  2. How might a Freedmen's Bureau agent like Saxton regard President Johnson's eventual decision to restore lands to men like Whaley?
  3. How might Whaley's frank expression of his opinion on this matter (showing his 'true colors') influence the way Freedmen's Bureau officials dealt with his concerns?
  4. What problems might arise if the Bureau accedes to Whaley's demands and aggress to appoint an all-white Land Board?


Document 8:
South Carolina's 'Black Code'

Florida Freedman Auctioned

When Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency, he moved quickly to restore order to the South by placing power back in the hands that had traditionally held it. Appointing provisional governors for North Carolina by the end of May 1865 and South Carolina by June, Johnson provided for reconstituted governments in the southern states that would be dominated by former Confederates. When these new governments turned their attention to how to control their former slaves, the predictable results were known as the "Black Codes." These extracts from South Carolina's Black Code, passed in December 1865, illustrate just how difficult white landholders wanted to make it for freedpeople to work on their own behalf.

An Act to establish and regulate the Domestic Relations of Persons of Colour, and to amend the law in relation to Paupers and Vagrancy.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, now met and sitting in General Assembly, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Contracts for service.

XXXV. All persons of color who make contracts for service or labor, shall be known as servants, and those with whom they contract, shall be known as masters.

XLIII. For any neglect of the duty to make a contract as herein directed, or the evasion of that duty by the repeated employment of the same persons for periods of less than one month, the party offending shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and be liable, on conviction, to pay a sum not exceeding fifty dollars, and not less than five dollars, for each person so employed. No written contract shall be required when the servant voluntarily receives no remuneration except food and clothing.

Regulations of labor on farms.

XLV. On farms or in out-door service, the hours of labor, except on Sunday, shall be from sun-rise to sun-set, with a reasonable interval for breakfast and dinner. Servants shall rise at the dawn in the morning, feed, water and care for the animals on the farm, do the usual and needful work about the premises, prepare their meals for the day, if required by the master, and begin the farm work or other work by sun-rise. The servant shall be careful of all the animals and property of his master, and especially of the animals and implements used by him, shall protect the same from injury by other persons, and shall be answerable for all property lost, destroyed or injured by his negligence, dishonesty or bad faith.

XLVI. All lost time, not caused by the act of the master, and all losses occasioned by neglect of his duties hereinbefore prescribed, may be deducted from the wages of the servant; and food, nursing and other necessaries for the servant, whilst he is absent from work on account of sickness or other cause, may also be deducted from his wages. Servants shall be quiet and orderly in their quarters, at their work, and on the premises; shall extinguish their lights and fires, and retire to rest at seasonable hours.

Work at night, and out-door work in inclement weather, shall not be exacted, unless in case of necessity. Servants shall not be kept at home on Sunday, unless to take care of the premises, or animals thereupon, or for work of daily necessity, or on unusual occasions; and in such cases, only so many shall be kept at home as are necessary for these purposes. Sunday work shall be done by the servants in turn, except in cases of sickness or other disability, when it may be assigned to them out of their regular turn. Absentees on Sunday shall return to their homes by sun-set.

XLVII. The master may give the servant a task at work about the business of the farm which shall be reasonable. If the servant complains of the task, the District Judge, or a Magistrate, shall have power to reduce or increase it. Failure to do the task shall be deemed evidence of indolence, but a single failure shall not be conclusive. When a servant is entering into a contract, he may be required to rate himself as a full hand, three-fourths, half, or one-fourth hand, and according to this rate, inserted in the contract, shall be the task, and of course the wages.

XLVIII. Visitors or other persons shall not be invited or allowed by the servant to come or remain upon the premises of the master without his express permission.

XLIX. Servants shall not be absent from the premises without the permission of the master.

Rights of master as between himself and his servant.

L. When the servant shall depart from the service of the master without good cause, he shall forfeit the wages due to him. The servant shall obey all lawful orders of the master or his agent, and shall be honest, truthful, sober, civil and diligent in his business. The master may moderately correct servants who have made contracts, and are under eighteen years of age. He shall not be liable to pay for any additional or extraordinary services or labor of his servant, the same being necessary, unless by his express agreement.

Causes of discharge of a servant.

LI. The master may discharge his servant for willful disobedience of the lawful order of himself or his agent; habitual negligence or indolence in business; drunkenness, gross moral or legal misconduct; want of respect and civility to himself, his family, guests or agents; or for prolonged absence from the premises, or absence on two or more occasions without permission.

LII. For any acts or things herein declared to be causes for the discharge of a servant, or for any breach of contract or duty by him, instead of discharging the servant, the master may complain to the District Judge or one of the Magistrates, who shall have power, on being satisfied of the misconduct complained of, to inflict, or cause to be inflicted, on the servant, suitable corporal punishment, or impose upon him such pecuniary fine as may be though fit, and immediately to remand him to his work; which fine shall be deducted from his wages, if not otherwise paid.

LIII. If a master has made a valid contract with a servant, the district Judge or Magistrate may compel each servant to observe his contract, by ordering infliction of the punishment, or imposition of the fine hereinbefore authorized.

Mechanics, Artisans and Shop-Keepers.

LXXII. No person of color shall pursue or practice the art, trade or business of an artisan, mechanic or shop-keeper, or any other trade, employment or business (besides that of husbandry, or that of a servant under a contract for service or labor,) on his own account and for his own benefit, or in partnership with a white person, or as agent or servant of any persons, until he shall have obtained a license therefore from the Judge of the District Court; which license shall be good for one year only.

This license the Judge may grant upon petition of the applicant, and upon being satisfied of his skill and fitness, and of his good moral character, and upon payment, by the applicant to the Clerk of the District Court, of one hundred dollars, if a shop-keeper or pedlar, to be paid annually, or ten dollars if a mechanic, artisan, or to engage in any other trade, also to be paid annually. Provided, however, That upon complaint being made and being proved to the District Judge of an abuse of such license, he shall revoke the same: And provided, also, That no person of color shall practice any mechanical art or trade unless he shows that he has served an apprenticeship in such trade or art, or is now practicing such trade or art.

Vagrancy and Idleness.

XCVI. All persons who have not some fixed and known place of abode, and some lawful and respectable employment; those who have not some visible and known means of a fair, hones and reputable livelihood; all common prostitutes; those who are found wandering from place to place, vending, bartering or peddling any articles or commodities, without a license from the District Judge, or other proper authority; all common gamblers; persons who lead idle or disorderly lives, or keep or frequent disorderly or disreputable houses or places;

those who, not having sufficient means of support, are able to work and do not work; those who (whether or not they own lands, or are lessees or mechanics,) do not provide a reasonable and proper maintenance for themselves and families; those who are engaged in representing publicly or privately, for fee or reward, without license, any tragedy, interlude, comedy, farce, play, or other similar entertainment, exhibition of the circus, sleight-of-hand, waxworks, or the like; those who, for private gain, without license, give any concert or musical entertainment, of any description; fortune-tellers; sturdy beggars; common drunkards; those who hunt game of any description or fish on the land of others, or frequent the premises, contrary to the will of the occupants, shall be deemed vagrants, and be liable to the punishment hereinafter prescribed.

In the Senate House, the twenty-first day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-five.
W. D. Porter, President of Senate.
C. H. Simonton, Speaker House of Representatives.
Approved: James L. Orr

Source: Acts of the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina Passed at the Sessions of 1864-65 (Columbia: 1865), pp. 291-304.

Document 8 Questions

  1. Why was it important to legislators to insist upon the terms "master" and "servant"?
  2. How much control does this statute give white "masters" over the social lives of their black "servants"?
  3. Who was likely to have the upper hand in legal disputes between employers and their employees?
  4. Why does the section on "vagrancy and idleness" make no reference to the race of the offender?


Document 9:
A Desperate North Carolina Republican Appeals to Governor Holden for Land

Landless Whites

Freedpeople were not the only ones who needed land and felt that their loyalty to the Union entitled them to some consideration.

In this letter, an unknown "union man" from Mitchell County, North Carolina, in the mountains forty miles north of Asheville complains to Governor W. W. Holden that not only was it difficult for men like himself to acquire land of their own, but their "Rebel" landlords had evicted them for voting for the Republicans. This conflict was at its most extreme in the North Carolina mountains, where unionist sentiment had divided the population during the war and laid the groundwork for a durable Republican party afterwards, despite the relatively low numbers of African Americans in the region.

November the 30th [18]68
No. Carolina Mitchell County
Honorable govener W. W Holden in your Excellency I take the opportunity of writing you a few lines concerning the condition of our Republican party I have the opinion that our party will go down unless there is some way found for the landless population to have homes the Rebels holds the most of the land property in our Country and a large majarity of poor union men is destitute of land and is tenants on this Rebel property and is all the chances for a home they have for homes those tenats as soon as they voted the Republican ticket these Rebel notified them that they must hunt them new homes for no Radical could turn a turf on there land now if there is not some way provided for these people to have homes they will have to leave the State or turn and vote with the Rebels untill it is bound to break down our party in this State

the loyal people was oppress and every thing they had taken from them by the Rebels then the state legislator anacted such laws to prohibit them from maken any collections for there proper and abuse that they received the poor union man that lost all had in this war and it is all fell in to hand of these leading Rebels it looks hard for the poor union man who was oppress and ground down by there unhumane and tyranical oppressions for four long years to still remain under their oppressions

Source: Governor William W. Holden Papers, North Carolina Office of Archives and History

Document 9 Questions

  1. How did the agricultural economy in the North Carolina mountains differ from other parts of the state?
  2. How might the "Rebels" have acquired property from "poor union men" during the war?
  3. Would the author of this letter have the same reasons for voting for the Republicans as a former slave in the plantation districts of eastern North Carolina? What obstacles might there be to their political cooperation?


Document 10:
White Confederate Veterans Appeal to South Carolina's Land Commission

Children Picking Cotton

Of all the former Confederate states, only South Carolina actually established a state government body responsible for providing farms for the landless. The South Carolina Land Commission was built into the Constitution of 1868 and got off the ground in 1869. Its goal was to buy up large plantations from owners who could no longer afford to work them profitably or keep up with the taxes on them now that land was taxed at its full value and break them up into farms that could support a family. The farms were sold on easy terms to both black and white citizens. Until it was finally shut down in 1890, the Land Commission sold more than 110,000 acres across the state, but it was also plagued by corruption and inefficiency.

The Land Commission's policies and practices embodied the most hopeful vision of the Republican party for what the South could be with the large plantations replaced by small farms, and this made it the special target of Democratic critics. In this remarkable pair of letters, however, a group of white Confederate veterans from Greenville County, in South Carolina's upcountry, ask whether they are to be included in the Land Commission's work as well, and C. P. Leslie, the first Land Commissioner writes a frank reply emphasizing reconciliation, along with a none too subtle dig at Confederate planters.

Greenville, S.C., May 17, 1869
Hon. C. P. Leslie, Land Commissioner --
Dear Sir: We respectfully beg leave to submit for your consideration a plain statement, founded upon facts, and with an honesty of purpose ask the attention it merits. In fighting the battles of the South, we thought we were in the right path of duty, and as her sons were needed at the front, did not hesitate to place ourselves firmly in ranks. Consequently, we are now without an arm, a leg, or otherwise maimed for life, have our wives, little ones and widowed mothers to support in our feeble way, and us a Democratic, moneyless, landless set of men, we appeal to you to know if in the distribution of lands in this State, under your supervision, we are to be remembered.

If favored with a reply, it will ever be considered a kind favor and acknowledged with the sincerest respect, by Yours truly,
Jordan Batson
Joseph Brookshire
J. F. Bramlett
Lefus Vaughan
Ervine Batson

Charleston, S.C., June, 1869
GENTLEMEN: Your letter addressed to me at Blackville reached me, after considerable delay, at Charleston.
You say you fought bravely as Confederate soldiers, and thought you were in the path of duty. I doubt not you acted honestly, as I certainly did in contending against you, and I respect you for your courage and your frankness. You say: "Consequently, we are now without an arm, a leg, or otherwise maimed for life, have our wives, little ones and widowed mothers to support in our feeble way, and are a Democratic, moneyless, landless set of men." I sincerely regret this, and I must express surprise that at the close of the war the Confederate owners in your county of large tracts of land, the half of which they never cultivate, did not promptly provide land for each of their soldiers. You were maimed in a cause they called precious, to which you were urged by them with glowing promises of lasting honor and large reward; a cause in which you perilled life in place of them or their sons.

The least that honor, or gratitude suggests to me would be a free gift of a small tract of land to every poor, at least to every disabled, Confederate soldier. But perhaps it is useless to ask or hope for even this easy, proper and cheap recognition of valor in "the lost cause."
And then you say you are "Democratic, landless men." Do you remember that when the bill to provide for the distribution of lands was before the Legislature, every Democrat seeming to scout the idea of helping the common people to lands and homes, voted squarely against the bill at every stage. Surely, as Democrats, neither they nor you can claim anything.
But in general legislation, the Republican party considers not Confederate soldiers, not Democrats, not Republicans, but citizens. In elections we contend for our men and our principles:--the election over, we act in public measures according to our principles--for all the people. The homestead law, the law relating to mechanics' liens, and the law relating to lands were passed for the benefit of all, and particular the workingmen.
Meeting you in this broad Republican spirit, I am ready to consider you not as Democrats nor as Confederate soldiers, but as "landless moneyless men," sincerely desiring to avail yourself of the opportunities now for the first time presented in this State. I am ready to do the best I can for you and for all who are anxious to go upon a little farm, make it their home, and to labor and economize to pay for it. In seeking for such men I shall not be restricted by "race, color, nativity or previous condition."

This year I hope to put a considerable number of families on lands of the State. But this is simply a beginning. Next year, I hope to put a larger number, and the year succeeding a number still larger, and so on until by this means and by other means, every frugal and industrious man, white or colored, in the States, who wants a home enough to work diligently and faithfully for it, has one;--until the Palmetto State is dotted with small, productive farms, her waste places built up, and her cities and villages teem with a busy and thriving population.
In this hope and with this earnest purpose, I am, gentlemen, respectfully and sincerely yours,
C. P. Leslie
Land Commissioner

Source: Greenville (S.C.) Enterprise, May 19, June 23, 1869.

Document 10 Questions

  1. On what basis do the writers of the first letter believe they are entitled to land?
  2. What is the significance of the writers of the first letter describing themselves as "Democratic"?
  3. Who does C. P. Leslie think should have provided farms for the writers of the first letter?
  4. What is the homestead law and the law relating to mechanics' liens?
  5. Does Leslie appear to be appealing to the writers of the first letter to support the Republican party? Do you think they are likely to do so?


Document 11:
A Freedpeople's 'Co-operative' in Colleton County, South Carolina

Slave Family

By the mid-1870s, it was becoming clear that there would be no large scale transfer of land to those who had not owned it before the war. The wartime measures had been turned back by President Andrew Johnson, and such a revolutionary act as breaking up and redistributing plantations could probably only have succeeded in the fast-paced world of military control. The more measured actions of the South Carolina Land Commission ran into a number of problems: corruption, not enough good quality land for sale, and buyers who simply lacked the resources to hang onto land once they did buy it as the economy went sour and the price of cotton dropped. A rare but potentially useful alternative was the sort of cooperative arrangement described here in 1873 in Colleton County, a center of rice production between Charleston and Beaufort.


Some of the largest plantations in Colleton County, South Carolina, are now owned and successfully conducted by colored people, who have united their resources and combine in their labor. Their manner of operation is thus described by a South Carolina paper: "A number of them, in some cases as many as fifty, form themselves into a society, elect their officers, and adopt by-laws. They have regular meetings, at which the officers report, and a specified amount is paid into the treasury by each member. When sufficient is accumulated in the treasury a suitable plantation is selected and the purchase made; usually the payments are in one, two, or three years, a good portion being paid at the time of the purchase. The land is equally distributed by the officers elected for that purpose among the members of the society, or so much as they may wish to cultivate. Each is free to work as suits him, and each can dispose of his crop as he deems proper. The only thing required is honesty and a prompt payment of all dues, which are usually very light. Any one willfully failing to meet his dues, or convicted of dishonesty, has all amounts previously paid by him for the purchase of the place refunded, and is required to move off the plantation, all his rights and claims having been forfeited.

If, however, any one desires to leave the society, he is paid for all amounts paid by him toward the purchase and for all permanent improvements erected by him. No new member is admitted except by the consent of the whole society. All sick are cared for by the society if unable to care for themselves, officers being elected to look after such cases and report their wants to the society at its weekly meetings or at special meetings, if the exigency of the case requires it. All disputes arising between members are brought before the society, certain of the officers being designated to hear and endeavor to amicably arrange all dissensions, and it is very seldom, if ever, they fail. Petty litigation, that is the great bane of the colored people in many sections, is in this way avoided. These societies are principally formed from people who work for hire, fifty cents per day being the sum generally paid; the plantation is usually bought as soon as sufficient funds are in the treasury to make the first payment; but few, if any, own any animals in that time, their small resources being expended in the purchase-money and erection of houses. Still they have, in all cases where an exorbitant price was not paid for the land, proved successful, failures for a time occasionally arising where incompetent or unfaithful officers have been selected; but with their usual shrewdness these incompetent officers were soon detected, and others more capable were elected in their places. Upon those that have been in operation three or four years the land has been paid for, and the members have acquired considerable personal property and are generally prosperous.

A sort of rivalry seems to spring up between them, which is productive of economy and thrift. These societies are located in the low country east of the Savannah and Charleston Railroad. We do not presume to say that only the colored people who have formed themselves into these societies show thrift and the accumulation of property, for a number who, six or seven years ago, were not worth a dollar now carry on successfully large rice and cotton plantations, and are becoming heavy tax-payers. But in the particular section in which these societies are formed, more property exists among their members than among those who are now fighting the battle of life and death on their own account, while from the formation of these societies they are enabled to purchase more valuable property and secure greater privileges than they could if each laid his money out in a separate purchase, in which case ten or twenty acres of poor land would be all he would be able to buy, as no planter would consent to cut off and sell small tracts of his best land and retain himself the poorer portion. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons of their success, as on nearly all the plantations in this section a large proportion of the land is almost valueless.

By securing the whole plantation they obtain sufficient good land for their purposes, while he who purchases for himself generally gets such land that it is impossible to make more than a poor subsistence from.

Source: "Negro Co-operation," New York Times, August 17, 1873

Document 11 Questions

  1. Colleton County was home to many large rice plantations both before and after the war. Is it likely that the black farmers discussed in this document were raising rice? Why or why not?
  2. What advantages would the system of self-government for the cooperative plantations have for its members?
  3. Why was "petty litigation . . . the great bane of the colored people in many sections"?
  4. Why might the cooperative purchase of a large plantation be more successful than individual purchases of smaller farms?


This ends Unit Three.


Click here to continue to

Unit Four: Freedom, Black Soliders and the Union Military