Welcome to the After Slavery Virtual Textbook
Unit Nine - Coercion, Paramilitary Terror & Resistance
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!
Coercion, Paramilitary Terror & Resistance
In popular memory, the Confederate surrender brought an end to military hostilities and decided the fate of four million former slaves. In reality, the end of formal hostilities left major questions about the status of the former slaves unresolved, and between 1865 and the end of Reconstruction in 1877 paramilitary violence plagued the former slave states, occasionally erupting into large-scale, lethal confrontations. Some of this was rooted in the bitterness left by the results of the War, no doubt, but it was the contest between ex-slaves and their former masters that drove paramilitary violence.
Although important demographic, political and economic differences shaped in profound ways the postwar convulsions experienced in North and South Carolina, in both states white paramilitaries built a substantial and effective presence. Ultimately, organized violence on the part of white conservatives played a crucial role in imposing limits on black freedom and, eventually, overthrowing the Republican governments in which freedpeople invested so much of their hope.
Neither black nor white Republicans were passive in the face of paramilitary violence. While they remained stationed in the South in sufficient strength, black troops played an especially important role on galvanizing besieged communities against the paramilitary threat. On a local level, effective defense against the Klan and others depended heavily on the skills and experienced leadership of Union army veterans, teachers and ministers, and Republican Party activists. Freedmen's Bureau officials could also play key roles, and although some individual agents risked their lives defending freedpeople, others seemed unmoved by the violence to which ex-slaves were subjected.
State and federal government officials were sometimes sympathetic, but on the whole proved unwilling to commit the resources or adopt the measures necessary to eradicate the threat from well-organized and determined opponents of black freedom. After the Klan's suppression in the early 1870s, conservatives turned to a more open form of military organization directly linked to the Democratic Party, and combining spectacle and public intimidation with the more familiar targeting of individual activists. By late 1876 Reconstruction had been effectively overthrown in both states.
Americans are inclined to think that the United States is immune from the kind of sustained domestic turmoil that ensured during period of Reconstruction. The experience of the Carolinas and the rest of the South in the years following emancipation suggests that, on the contrary, paramilitary violence played an extremely important role at a critical juncture in our history.
Ex-Confederate Soldiers Terrorizing Union Men and Freedpeople in North Carolina
In the months immediately following the Confederate surrender, reports emerged from across the South that gangs of demobilized rebel veterans were roaming the interior, pillaging property and harassing freedpeople and white men of Union sympathies. There are no clear patterns to this early post-surrender violence, except perhaps that they occurred most frequently out of the reach of Union garrisons, in places where such people were especially vulnerable to physical attack. The challenge of suppressing this early outbreak was complicated by the lenient policy of the Johnson administration in Washington, which turned over the running of the postwar state governments to persons of questionable loyalty, who were in most cases either hostile or completely indifferent to the newly won rights of former slaves.
The following document sheds some light on the brutality that freedpeople confronted in this early period. It attests also to the difficulty that Freedmen's Bureau agents encountered in trying to uphold the rights of former slaves in the face of obstruction from police and local authorities: in very tangible ways the Johnson-era state governments were working at cross-purposes against those federal authorities charged with introducing a new order in the South. Within a couple of years of this report, white paramilitaries would become better organized and more cohesive; freedpeople and their allies were compelled to try to match that level of organization in order to secure their rights.
[Testimony recorded February 21, 1866]
Some eight weeks ago several returned rebel soldiers, from Pitt county, went into the village of Washingtona and commenced shooting and beating Union men. Several assaults were made, and at least one Union man was publicly whipped in the streets, and some negroes were wounded. One of the party was badly wounded by a person whom they attacked. On their return they met on the public highway a negro. They first castrated him and afterwards murdered him in cold blood. These persons a short time afterwards went into the village of Washington and gave themselves up to the civil authorities... but they soon escaped by overpowering the jailer.
An order was issued by General Paine...to the police of that county to arrest them. General Paine then ordered the chief of police, of Pitt county, to be tried by military commission for neglect of duty. General Paine was soon afterwards relieved from command, to be mustered out of the service, by an order emanating, I presume, from the Secretary of War, but not connected with this matter. I think for some weeks no further action was taken in the matter.
...Meanwhile this party continued to commit outrages on freedmen and Union men. I know that several negroes were shot by them, and it is reported to me that a large number were shot and otherwise maltreated by them. On the 25th of December the father of one of these parties, an old man named Kearney, was at the store of Church Perkins, in Pactolus,b Pitt county, and left about two o'clock to go home. About that time in elderly man answering to the description of that man rode up to a plantation called the Ebon place, where two negro boys, ten and twelve years old, were playing in the yard, no other persons being at the plantation. He ordered them to go before him on the road, threatening them with his double-barrelled gun. He took them a quarter of a mile down the road and then one mile direct into a swamp, and there he shot them, killing one instantly and wounding the other. The one who was wounded soon came back, and with his father and the mother of the one who was killed went to Pactolus and reported the matter to the Lieutenant Smith. He went with them and found the body; shortly after that reports were made to the district commander at Newbern that this party was intending to "clean out"... certain northern gentlemen in that vicinity,
and a party was sent...consisting of Lieutenant Kenyon, of the twenty-eighth Michigan, and eight mounted men. They succeeded in arresting all but one of this party, but the prisoners escaped the same night. Two nights after, the soldiers returned to the house of this man, Phil Kearney, a man of considerable wealth, and, in endeavoring to make the arrests, Lieutenant Kenyon was shot. The gentleman living next to Kearney's refused to admit Kenyon into his house, although he was in a dying condition. He was brought to my room at Pactolus, and after about four days he died. A party of soldiers are [sic] now at that place attempting to arrest this man. ...
Q. How many persons do you suppose this gang was composed of?
A. About five. Of the thousand cases of murder, robbery, and maltreatment of freedmen that have come before me, and of the very many cases of similar treatment of Union citizens in North Carolina, have never yet known a single case in which the local authorities or police or citizens made any attempt or exhibited any inclination to redress any of these wrongs or to protect such persons...
Q. How did Governor Holden demean himself towards such outrages; did he make any efforts as governor of the State to punish them?
A. I know of no such effort he has made...
Q. Have they not been subjects of newspaper comments?
A. Yes, sir; I have known of several instances in which outrages were committed, and in which he exerted his influence with the military authorities to have them passed over.
aWashington lies about 40 miles due north of New Bern along the Pamlico river in Pitt county. Pitt adjoins Beaufort county to its west in east-central North Carolina.
bPactolus lies nine miles east of Greenville in Pitt county.
Source: Testimony of Lt. Col. Dexter H. Clapp, 38th USCT [Freedmen's Bureau Agent, Pitt County, N. C.]; in 39th U. S. Congress, Joint Select Committee Report on Reconstruction, June 1866
Document 1 Questions
- Clapp's testimony describes a series of high-profile assaults on freedpeople and Union sympathizers, apparently motivated by resentment at the outcome of the war. Taking into consideration the series of targets and the nature of the attacks, what changes specifically do these white Southerners seem to find offensive?
- If you were to use the document to try to measure local support for federal Reconstruction of the South, what evidence would you consider find most relevant?
- What is the reaction of local and state authorities to the outrages being carried out against freedpeople and Union sympathizers? How do we explain their attitude?
- If incidents like these continue, how might they affect prospects for black freedom in the postwar period?
Early Outrages against Freedpeople in South Carolina
In some places in the South Carolina interior, whites sought to formally reestablish the 'slave patrols' that had operated before the war, and as the document below suggests, these aimed at compelling freedpeople to carry 'passes' signed by their employers when they wanted to travel the roads. But this was not all that ex-slaves had to contend with: individual employers-with their authority reinforced by organized bands of armed men-did their best to retain the prerogatives for punishment and discipline that they had exercised under slavery. Freedwomen, in particular, faced a difficult new situation: now that they no longer bore children who could be owned as property, employers tried to turn them off as unproductive laborers.
In the early months after the war this violence was supplemented by the less focused brutality of gangs of 'bushwhackers,' but in time some of the coercive functions evident in the revived patrols would become regularized
in the new, all-white state militias set up under the Benjamin F. Perry administration in South Carolina and the Holden and Worth administrations that governed the Tarheel state. Made up in large part of Confederate veterans and frequently led, on a local level, by prominent men of property, these brought the armed power of the state to bear on attempts at undermining freedpeople's claim to freedom.
These selected entries in the journal of Col. James C. Beecher, during the war a commander of a black regiment and after it an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau, give us some sense of the range of atrocities carried out by whites. All are from the summer and fall of 1865: throughout this period he was stationed in the South Carolina interior west of Charleston.
Aug 13 [freedwomen 'Silvy' and 'Pocohontas' complain that] Silvy was tied up by the thumbs on 12th from 3am to 3pm [by planter James Wiggins, St. George's Parish, Colleton county]; Pocahontas complains of the same for beating her and her young child with a stick.
Aug 17 [freedwoman Jane Cumming complains of getting 50 lashes with a switch, planter's wife beat her first, on back, face and arms.]
Aug 24 [Planter] states that Jane is an audacious creature...came in my absence to the house and insulted my wife who ordered her off and struck her. Says Col. Huntville told him to kill any man who came on the place to make trouble... Says Jane is mighty saucy and won't obey orders.
Sept 8 [Freedman] Jerry on Westley Williams place...complains that Wiggins shot at him twice, with pistol shows mark of ball on shoulder and shirt sleeve. I has wife on Wiggins place. W[iggins] sent for me by his step son. I went. W[iggins] jumped up and said he had good mind to shoot me. Set his dogs on me. I got out into road - W[iggins] got up a club. I ran. He fired twice. touched my cap and shoulder...
Sept 19 [Complaint about outrage on freed boy, Stephen] "repeatedly beaten [by planter Ben Cummings] until he left. Threatened to shoot him... All complain that Cummings gives no rations."
Sept 25 Cato. f.m. [freedman] from plantation of Capt George L. Patrick, 2 miles from Midway, 3 m from Bamberg, says P[atrick] gave notice that all freed persons must have tickets. That an armed patrol is mustered on muster ground. That the patrol rides every night. That the orders are, if any colored person [overwritten: 'man'] is found without ticket, he shall be reported twice. The third time he shall receive 75-150 lashes. Says on his plantation is revolver 2 bar. [double-barrelled] shot gun and 1 Rifle hunting.
On Mrs. Falk's place & William Patrick['s] are arms. Dr Carrie has 2 bar [double-barrelled] gun. None of the people have turned in guns. Kit fm [freedman] Mrs. Falks, Eden fm [freedman] Wm Patrick says also that the only food issued is peck of cornmeal & 2 qts. salt.
Sept 29 After crop laid by women to spin clothing - men to cut R. R. [railroad] caps. Complains that a patrol came Saturday night called the name of one Chloe & Alfred Clarissy - also Alfred and Jinny Denny. Chloe wasn't home. We answered to our names. They just took us out and said we must march to Barnwell Court house. They took us out in the road. Stripped us of our clothes and whipped us 25 lashes. Said we must clear new ground and make fence. Whipped us on bare back. Mr. Love says he didn't know anything about it. David Jimmison and David Whitston. Whole party of whites stood by to see it done.
Oct 9 Thomas Ashe f.m. [freedman] Richd Ashe plantation [near Allendale]. Says left last Tuesday came long Barnwell to look for gun, I give it to him [.] 3 Rebs had doub bar [double-barreled] guns loaded. He kicked up a row. One of these men drew gun on me. Said they would kill me. Took 2 little children from the place. Says that at B. C. H. [Barnwell Court House] no man can open his mouth. Mrs. Fogler-Walter Brooks places whipped colored people for dollars a head. I told corporal of white men having guns. He wouldn't go after them. Said negroes were not allowed to have them.
Oct 15 Frank f.m. [freedman] on Henry Huttals place. I was in the field at 12 [noon] with the others-on Monday 9th inst. breaking corn. They was just going to dinner. There was 25 white men, all had guns.
Old Whitston, Glover, Jos. Bellinger, William Patrick Jr., Old Mr. Kloy, Dr. Roach. Fellow says he was Yankee soldier named brown. Had corporals chevrons.a Men came out of the woods. mounted. I was standing with my back to the bay. didn't see them till they fired. I run. Said they would keep me til I told who had the gun Capt Gates give them &c[.] I was the only man working. They said I caught me, put me under guard. Said they hadn't begun to punish me. The guard got asleep. I got away Tuesday morning. My leg was broke last Jan. I started for Summerville. Got tired. I got into Ridgeville Wednesday. Mose, Weaver & Isham are at Ridgeville Old Christina's Kit is at Georges. Women are on the place. don't think the women had been troubled. The scouts said they could attend to the women any time. would go through the men first. Frank has ball in left arm not yet extracted.
Oct 28 Charity, Barnwell Dist on plantation of Mr Royal says Corp or Sergt is there to punish them because they refused to call Royal's daughter missus...[Julie Ann testifies] tied my hands behind me and hoisted me up so I could only touch my toes Don't know how long. Mr Royal now threatens he will shoot me down...has been whipping a sister of Bessy...said he was old and hadn't long to live but he would kill some of us before he died.
Nov 2 Adam testifies three white men known to him caught him going home on road, stripped him and whipped him three hours with straps; "They said they didn't allow any free niggers to pass on the road. They said Green Schouler was licked and reported and got no satisfaction and I could do the same. Says they beat the wife of Jake Wiggin and threatened his life. Says they ran off one of the colored girls from the place."
aAlmost certainly these are southern whites intentionally dressed in Union military uniform to deceive freedpeople. This occurred fairly frequently in the period immediately after the war.
Source: Col. James C. Beecher Journal, Special Collections Library, Duke University
Document 2 Questions
- Who can freedpeople look to for protection against the abuses detailed here? What evidence do we have in these entries of the attitudes of federal officers?
- Why might whites want to limit back mobility through a system of 'tickets' and 'patrols'? Is this attempt at curtailing movement compatible with the new order northerners have pledged to bring into the South? How can northern aims and southern white objectives be reconciled?
- In the entry for September 29th, Beecher details a confrontation over the terms of labor. What seems to be at the root of the differences between freedpeople and their employers?
- Imagine yourself an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau being presented with these complaints. Write a short letter to leading Bureau officials in Washington recommending a strategy for curtailing abuse.
Hostility to Freedpeople and Federal Authorities in the South Carolina Upcountry
The following report from a Freedmen's Bureau agent stationed in the South Carolina upcountry conveys, in plain language, the severe limitations that whites were able to impose on black freedom where they were unimpeded by federal intervention or by the likelihood that freedpeople might avenge the violence. In a rural area with a substantial white majority, western South Carolina would continue throughout Reconstruction to prove a refuge for white paramilitaries like the Ku Klux Klan, eventually leading President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law in the region.
[October 23, 1865]
The colored people in this section of the State are not Freedmen and Women. They are nominally such-but their conditions indeed is worse than bondage itself-and ever will be unless this Sub District is flooded with [U. S.] Cavalry-or a civil protective law is enacted at once-and the latter I fear will be no preventative of assassinations-robbery-burglary-assault and battery with intent to kill etc. Crimes are increasing daily. The freedman is safe nowhere except very near the garrison. The US soldiers and freedmen are alike threatened and despised, and a very little respected. The military authorities are seldom obeyed except when necessity compels, and their garrison is limited, hence a majority of the guilty go unpunished.
Some of the desperadoes must be encouraged in their acts of violence and screened from the hands of justice by citizens of boasted connections professing to be loyal and above implication of being in any way party to their outrages.
The determination among a certain class is to get rid of the freedmen and women now their crops are nearly gathered... There are those who delight in killing Negroes and they cherish the same old desire to butcher US Soldiers, which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that I hear to day that five Negroes have been murdered within a week or two in Greenville District also by the fact that three of my commanders have been wantonly murdered within three weeks. Humanity and the integrity of the government demands that more troops be forwarded at once. A battalion of cavalry in addition to the present force is actually needed. We do all we can do with our present force but can not do all that can be done with an ample force of mounted men.
The authorities must remember we are still among our enemies and they communicate no intelligence to us except from necessity, and the negroes are afraid to tell half they know and see.
Source: Lt. Col. C. S. Brown [Anderson Court House] to Brvt. Brig. Genl. C. H. Howards, "Outrage Reports," Records of the Assistant Commissioner for South Carolina, RG 105: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands
Document 3 Questions
- What evidence does Brown present to support his claim that freedpeople are living in conditions "worse than bondage itself"? How might the series of outrages recounted here affect freedpeople's confidence in the federal commitment to Reconstruction?
- According to the document, what is the relationship between the 'desperadoes' involved in atrocities against blacks and 'respectable' citizens among the white population? Does Brown seem to have solid grounds for suspecting elite acquiescence?
- Do military authorities have sufficient resources to suppress the violence? What should be done in these circumstances?
- Does the document present any evidence about the willingness or ability of blacks to collaborate with federal authorities in suppressing this violence?
Former Freedmen's Bureau Official Rufus B. Saxton on Freedpeople's Desire to Acquire Arms
Following the war, federal military and civilian authorities encountered bitter resentment and, at times, open resistance from white Southerners who complained of their 'meddling' in race and labor relations. The following document, transcribed less than a year after the war's end, shows that Congressional Republicans already felt compelled to respond to demands to disband the Freedmen's Bureau and withdraw troops from the region. Here the former Bureau Assistant Commissioner for South Carolina, General Rufus B. Saxton,a warns that complying with these demands would have a devastating effect on the prospects for black freedom. He calls particular attention to organized attempts by white 'Regulators' to disarm blacks, and testifies that freedpeople themselves are anxious to obtain arms.
[Testimony recorded February 21, 1866]
Q. How do you think [South Carolina whites] will manage [freedpeople] if the federal troops are withdrawn, and the Freedmen's Bureau is withdrawn?
A. I think it will be the purpose of their former masters to reduce them as near to a condition of slaves as it will be possible to do; that they would deprive them by severe legislation of most of the rights of freedmen. I think that the black codes that have passed the legislature of the State are a sufficient indication of the truth of what I say...
Q. Are you aware that the blacks have arms to any considerable extent in South Carolina?
A. I believe that a great many of them have arms, and I know it to be their earnest desire to procure them.b
Q. While you were in command there has any request been made to you to disarm the blacks?
A. I cannot say that any direct request has been made to me to disarm them; it would not be my duty to disarm them, as I was not the military commander, but I have had men come to my office and complain that the negroes had arms, and I also heard that bands of men called Regulators, consisting of those who were lately in the rebel service, were going around the country disarming negroes. I can further state that they desired me to sanction a form of [employment] contract which would deprive the colored men of their arms, which I refused to do. The subject was so important...to the welfare of the freedmen that I issued a circular on the subject...c I will further add, that I believe it to be the settled purpose of the white people of South Carolina to be armed and thoroughly organized, and to have the whole black population thoroughly disarmed and defenceless; I believe that is the settled policy.
Q. What would be the probably effect of such an effort to disarm the blacks?
A. It would subject them to the severest oppression, and leave their condition no better than before they were emancipated, and in many respect worse than it was before.
aIt was widely believed that Saxton was removed from his position by President Andrew Johnson at the insistence of prominent South Carolina conservatives, who regarded his support for freedpeople's rights as intolerable.
bWhile none of those who testified before the Congressional committee disputed the desire of blacks to obtain arms, some disagreed with Saxton's assertion that "a great many" freedpeople had weapons in their possession. Others stressed that most of the arms owned by freedpeople were antiquated "musket[s] and fowling piece[s]" mainly used "for the destruction of vermin and game." [J. W. Alvord Testimony, p. 246].
cThe circular, which asserted the freedpeople's constitutional "right to keep and bear arms," was never issued, having failed to meet the approval of the military commander.
Source: Testimony of Rufus B. Saxton, in 39th U. S. Congress, Joint Select Committee Report on Reconstruction, June 1866
Document 4 Questions
- In Saxton's view, what do the state's 'black codes' reveal about the intentions of South Carolina whites towards the freedpeople? Is his a reasonable conclusion?
- Saxton testifies that some planters are going so far as to include provisions against blacks obtaining arms in their annual employment contracts. Is this compatible with a 'free labor' system? Why might conservatives be especially concerned to deny arms to the freed population?
- If the aim of the whites' "thorough" organization is to subject freedpeople to renewed oppression, as Saxton asserts, what are the options available to federal authorities? By what means can they ensure that freedpeople are able to freely exercise their new rights?
- Assuming that freedpeople were at least partially successful in procuring arms, what might be the reaction of the white 'Regulators' to such a development? How might you expect the federal authorities to react to widespread possession of arms among freedpeople?
North Carolina Freedmen Seek Protection from Governor Holden
As the documents above suggest, organized and lethal violence against freedpeople and their white allies in the Republican Party had commenced with the end of the war. But the passage of the Reconstruction acts and the granting of the franchise to freedmen from 1867 onwards precipitated a new phase in this hostility. White veterans of the war, often led by former Confederate officers, began to organize into more cohesive paramilitary units, and the 1868 election witnessed the emergence of a regional campaign against black freedom. Although white paramilitary violence took a variety of organizational forms, in the Carolinas (as across most of the South) the Ku Klux Klan dominated, and there is considerable evidence that by the end of the decade Klans were cooperating across the state borders of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The following letter from a group of freedmen associated with the Republican ['Radical'] Party in North Carolina is one of many that suggest the Klan chose its targets carefully.
NC Granville Co., October the 9th 1869
Sir we rite to notify you that we cant get a long with thout some protecksion it was just last night the ku kulks klan is shooting our famlys & beeting them notoriously.
We do not know what to do but to make an appeal to the authorities for potecksion in the DS [district?] of leg of rock near tally Hoa they shot one & beat a nother near death be sides cutting off the earsb of one man by the name ned malry besides take ing his wife & striping all her close of her & beeting her scandilus & we would be glad to finde some relief be fore father disturbance also in the DS of Dutchville they hav written a note leting the people the are comeing to cut off the ears of the radicals wives please relieve us if can & let us hear from you soon.
aTally Ho lies about twenty miles northeast of Durham in Granville county, which borders Virginia.
bThe 'clipping' and cutting off of ears of freedmen and women was a fairly common occurrence in Reconstruction-era outrages. Freedmen's Bureau agents in South Carolina reported, for example, that one notorious 'bushwhacker' kept a collection of ears in an envelope, and would exhibit them in public when boasting of his exploits.
Source: Moses M. Hester, Joseph Coley, Jacabo Winston to [Governor] Holden, Governor Holden Papers, North Carolina State Archives
Document 5 Questions
- Do you get any sense from the letter whether Moses Hester and his neighbors are confident of receiving aid and protection from state officials?
- What do you suppose the Klan is trying to accomplish in the vicinity of Granville? How will Holden or other North Carolina Republicans manage to win future elections if conservatives are able to carry out such intimidation with impunity?
- Imagine yourself a freedperson living in the vicinity of Dutchville. How would you respond if you receive a note threatening the kind of violence described in this document?
- How should Governor Holden respond to this request?
Governor Scott is Warned of Impending Clashes in the South Carolina Upcountry
Faced with a sustained campaign of violence and frustrated by the absence of a sense of urgency among the white Republican moderates in control of state governments
in the Carolinas, black Carolinians occasionally took matters into their own hands, organizing local self defense when the state failed to offer organized protection. Here it appears that two local officials from Unionville (possibly sheriffs or constables) are informing South Carolina Governor Robert K. Scott of an impending clash between whites and blacks. The recent incidents recounted near the end of the document help to place this development in context.
Union Vill So Ca
July 25 1868
sir I have the oppituity to inform you of the effect that your ordersa hav taken here I under stand from the Whites that ar of the opinion that you hadent gav me any such orders and I hav recev orders from Mr. James H. Goss of near the same as I recev from you and tha say that tha ar going to put it Down and tha ar holding A meeting toDay and geting men to sign and rais arms to fight us next satterday and We are looking for it to commence Evory day tha preparing and We ar redei When tha start with us We are going to try to meet them Right & all that wonst to see the Negors & Rebels fight can com up here they say that War has to start & it had gest as Well start now as any time tha say that We shell not march our men throw the strtes With Guns & We say that We Will and if you all down Thare hav any thing to say let us here it soon for We Wont have no time for chating When We get started in to this Grat Batel.
No Moer yours & True
Robert L. Martin
H W Duncan sinet
Thar is A Man in Gale here for cuting A Rebel it resulted in this Way so I under stand the Rebel attacked the colerd man in the Rod & grabbed his knife & the colerd man run & the Rebel cort him and the colerd man Drawn his knif & cut him survurly tho the Whit man is well & at Work &, the colerd mans crop is going to Destruction the nams are kemp & the colerd man samul Hill.
The Rebels here say that tha hav herd that the Freedman ar coming to union from the cuntray & tak this man out of Gale thar is no sich Repot and the cuntray as I no of thar is no sich Repot.
Thar was A Woman found murded at hills plot farm yestday & We sent A trup to see about it & she Was gon befor the trups got thar & tha tracked wher she had Ben Draged A muel track & the Blood was follerd for it bout two mils tha will Bee very apt to fin out all about it today A colored Woman Nam Bety Gregra
The Demes [Democrats] gav it Barbacue out at Mr. Bob McBeth's on the 24 an had A Big fight with the Radaculs fik to kill one of the colerd Radaculs I hav not found out Right About it yet the nams Bill Bates & Ben Bates.
Writ to me soon[.]
aProbably a reference to orders relating to the upcoming fall elections. Scott later expressed concern that conservatives were organizing armed militias and importing weaponry from out-of-state to intimidate freedpeople from voting. He would briefly sanction the organization of state militias in 1870, but later disbanded them under pressure from conservatives.
Source: Robert L. Martin, H. W. Duncan [Unionville] to Governor R. K. Scott, 25 July 1868; Governor Scott Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
Document 6 Questions
- The letter, transcribed as it appears in the original, was obviously composed by someone with very basic literacy skills. Assuming that Mr. Martin has been assigned to a policing role by Governor Scott, does his illiteracy seem to prevent him from being a competent official?
- According to Martin's report, whites are preparing for a confrontation with local freedpeople. What seems to be the main basis for the whites' objections? What course of action does Martin intend to pursue? What factors may be influencing his response?
- Judging from the evidence contained in the document, what role does rumor play in intensifying antagonisms between blacks and whites?
- Is there any evidence that the pending elections are having an effect on relations between blacks and whites in the upcountry?
A. M. E. Pastor S. B. Williams Reports Atrocities to Governor Holden
Prominent white Republicans like Albion W. Tourgée played an important role in making a national audience aware of the brutality being carried out by white paramilitaries in the South. And while they were occasionally its victims, freedpeople bore the brunt of the violence during Reconstruction. Often the defense of local communities fell to grassroots black leaders-Union army veterans, ministers, Loyal League activists-with limited military experience and even less access to suitable weaponry. The following is fairly typical of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of letters sent from desperate black communities across the South to Republican officials, to whom they looked for protection and assistance.
Hillsboro NC Sept. 16th 1869
Gov. W. W. Holden
I wish to inform your Honor of the state of things in Orange County. It appears that a number of the Ku Klux has taken in hand to murder up whom they may deem improper to live
in the community.
You are no doubt acquainted with the fact that two young men of color were taken out of jail, one of shot and has since died from the effects of the wound. They also visited Chapel Hill of which your Honor is aware have been made acquainted. On last Monday night a week, they went some five miles below Hillsboro and took away a young man; on the pretense that they were a going to lodge him in jail.
Search was made for him but to no purpose. I have been creditably informed this morning that he has been found with his tung torn out of his mouth and his throat cut.
My own life has been threatened; and I must be afraid to lie down at night.
Is there no way to put a stop to such outrages[?] Can not your Honor order out a special police as your own Police force to keep the peace of the community and the protection of loyal citizens[?]
Or if not order arms to be sent to some of us that we may protect ourselves. I think the other plan the best. Yet I would like to have arms but am to poor to buy them As inteligence has reached me that my life is threatened.
S. B. Williams, Pastor of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church and
Teacher of Freedman's School
Source: S. B. Williams to Governor William W. Holden, Governor Holden Papers, North Carolina State Archives
Document 7 Questions
- Are there any reasons you can think of why Reverend Wiliams would be more likely than others from Orange County's African American community to correspond with the Governor about these matters? Why might he be a target of Klan violence?
- What is the tone of the document? Is Williams deferential towards the Governor? Demanding? What is the significance of the language he uses in seeking "protection for loyal citizens"?
- According to this document, are freedpeople willing to organize their own defense? What do they expect from the state?
- What factors will Holden consider in deciding how to respond to Williams' letter?
Albion W. Tourgée Reports on KKK Violence in North Carolina
In North Carolina racist paramilitaries had been organized in the White Brotherhood and the Constitutional Union Guard, but the Ku Klux Klan dominated from early 1868 onwards, and by 1870 was a potent enough threat to affect state politics. As was true in South Carolina, Klan violence in the Tarheel state peaked in early 1870, and was concentrated in Alamance, Caswell, Orange and Chatham counties-all white-majority counties in the center-north of the state. When in February the Klan staged a nighttime procession encircling the Graham courthouse in Alamance, the prominent black Republican policeman Wyatt Outlaw opened fire on them. A former slave, Union army veteran and president of the local Union League, Outlaw was shortly afterwards lynched in front of the same courthouse, with a note attached to his lifeless body that read "Beware! You guilty parties - both white and black."
The lynching of Wyatt Outlaw and the murder of John W. Stephen, referred to in the document below, were early episodes in what became known as the 'Kirk-Holden war'-a series of confrontations between the state militia recruited by Republican Governor Holden (and commanded by the former Unionist guerrilla leader George W. Kirk) and the Klan. Conservatives tapped into white resentment against the repression that ensued to win statewide elections in the fall of 1870 and to impeach Holden and reclaim power for white supremacy.
With Republican authority severely weakened, conservatives would spend the next five or six years clawing back the legislative gains that had been won in the early period of Reconstruction.
Albion W. Tourgée, who wrote the letter below, became as a result of his autobiographical writing one of the best-known of those northern Republicans who came south during Reconstruction. Here he offers his close friend and fellow northerner Senator (and former Union army General) Joseph Abbott a stark evaluation of the perilous state of affairs confronting freedpeople and their allies in North Carolina, and an unusually frank acknowledgment of the inadequacy of the Republican response.
Gen. Jos. C. Abbott-My Dear General:
It is my mournful duty to inform you that our friend John W. Stephens, State Senator from Caswell, is dead. He was foully murdered by the Ku-Klux in the Grand Jury room of the Court House on Saturday or Saturday night last. The circumstances attending his murder have not yet fully come to light there. So far as I can learn, I judge these to have been the circumstances: He was one of the Justices of the Peace in that township, and was accustomed to hold court in that room on Saturdays.
It is evident that he was set upon by some one while holding this court, or immediately after its close, and disabled by a sudden attack, otherwise there would have been a very sharp resistance, as he was a man, and always went armed to the teeth. He was stabbed five or six times, and then hanged on a hook in the Grand Jury room, where he was found on Sunday morning. Another brave, honest Republican citizen has met his fate at the hands of these fiends. Warned of his danger, and fully cognizant of the terrible risk which surrounded him, he still manfully refused to quit the field. Against the advice of his friends, against the entreaties of his family, he constantly refused to leave those who had stood by him in the day of his disgrace and peril. He was accustomed to say that 3,000 poor, ignorant, colored Republican voters in that county had stood by him and elected him, at the risk of persecution and starvation, and that he had no idea of abandoning them to the Ku-Klux. He was determined to stay with them, and either put an end to these outrages, or die with the other victims of Rebel hate and national apathy: Nearly six months ago I declared my belief that before the election in August next the Ku-Klux would have killed more men in the State than there would be members to be elected to the Legislature. A good beginning has been made toward the fulfillment of this prophecy...
These crimes have been of every character imaginable. Perhaps the most usual has been the dragging of men and women from their beds, and beating their naked bodies with hickory switches, or as witnesses in an examination the other day said, "sticks" between a "switch" and a "club." From 50 to 100 blows is the usual allowance, sometimes 200 and 300 blows are administered. Occasionally an instrument of torture is owned. Thus in one case two women, one 74 years old, were taken out, stripped naked, and beaten with a paddle, with several holes bored through it. The paddle was about 30 inches long, 3 or 4 inches wide, and 1/4 of an inch thick, of oak. Their bodies were so bruised and beaten that they were sickening to behold...
I could give other incidents of cruelty, such as hanging up a boy of nine years old until he was nearly dead, to make him tell where his father was hidden, and beating an old negress of 103 years old with garden pallings because she would not own that she was afraid of the Ku-Klux. But it is unnecessary to go into further detail. In this district I estimate their offenses as follows, in the past ten months: Twelve murders, 9 rapes, 11 arsons, 7 mutilations, ascertained and most of them on record. In some no identification could be made.
Four thousand or 5,000 houses have been broken open, and property or persons taken out. In all cases all arms are taken and destroyed. Seven hundred or 800 persons have been beaten or otherwise maltreated. These of course are partly persons living in the houses which were broken into.
And yet the Government sleeps. The poor disarmed nurses of the Republican party-those men by whose ballots the Republican party holds power-who took their lives in their hands when they cast their ballots for U.S. Grant and other officials-all of us who happen to be beyond the pale of the Governmental regard-must be sacrificed, murdered, scourged, mangled, because some contemptible party scheme might be foiled by doing us justice. I could stand it very well to fight for Uncle Sam, and was never known to refuse an invitation on such an occasion; but this lying down, tied hand and foot with the shackles of the law, to be killed by the very dregs of the rebellion, the scum of the earth, and not allowed either the consolation of fighting or the satisfaction that our "fall" will be noted by the Government, and protection given to others thereby, is somewhat too hard. I am ashamed of the nation that will let its citizens be slain by scores, and scourged by thousands, and offer no remedy or protection. I am ashamed of a State which has not sufficient strength to protect its own officers in the discharge of their duties, nor guarantee the safety of any man's domicile throughout its length and breadth.
I am ashamed of a party which, with the reins of power in its hands, has not nerve or decision enough to arm its own adherents, or to protect them from assassinations at the hands of their opponents... Unless these evils are speedily remedied, I tell you, General, the Republican party has signed its death warrant. It is a party of cowards or idiots-I don't care which alternative is chosen. The remedy is in our hands, and we are afraid or too dull to bestir ourselves and use it...
Source: Albion W. Tourgée to Senator Joseph C. Abbott, May 24, 1870, published in the New York Tribune
Document 8 Questions
- Assuming that Tourgée's description of the intensity of Klan violence is more or less accurate, how do you suppose freedpeople might respond? Would they try to flee? Stand and fight? Are they likely to abandon the Republican Party under such pressures or remain faithful to it?
- Are there any patterns to the violence outlined here which you have come across in the preceding documents? Can you make any conclusions about the motivations or purpose of Klan attacks?
- Why is Tourgée critical of the Republican Party? In his view, what would be an effective response to the ongoing campaign of violence?
Freedpeople's Testimony on the Effects of Klan Violence
Though freedpeople resisted when and where possible, on the whole white paramilitary terror was effective in undermining the grassroots activism that had supported early attempts to radically alter relations between propertied white employers and the mostly destitute, ex-slave agricultural workforce. By 1870, violence was taking its toll, in both North and South Carolina, on the willingness of freedpeople to campaign for and vote the Republican ticket. The thin layer of support they could count on from white Republicans began to evaporate as terrorized former Unionists deserted the party ranks for safety. Especially in isolated rural communities where they were in a minority, black Carolinians found it increasingly difficult to express their political opinions, either openly in the public realm or at the ballot box during election time.
The excerpts below-taken from the voluminous testimony heard by the Congressional Committee assigned to investigate the Klan-gives some sense of the difficulties that South Carolina Radicals labored under after Klan violence peaked in 1870.
[Severely disabled, Rev. Elias Hill was an influential Baptist minister in the vicinity of Clay Hill, York county, a schoolteacher and president of the local Union League. He gave the following testimony after being whipped by the Klan]:
Q: What effect did [widespread whippings] have on the colored people up there-are they alarmed?
A: Yes, sir; so alarmed that they did not sleep in the houses at night.
Q: How many people slept out?
A: I did not hear of any who did not sleep out-not at all; during last winter and spring all slept out from the effect of this excitement and fear... Men and women both. Some women would sleep out with their husbands. The woman would be so excited when their husbands left that they would go too with the children, and one stayed in a rainstorm while her husband was fleeing for his life, as they were about to kill him. There is June Moore; his wife went out with her little baby and rain every night until late in the spring, and many, many of them did the same.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 1409]
[Henry Johnson was a bricklayer and plasterer, active in the local Union League. Threatened with death by the Klan, he fled his home in Winnsboro, South Carolina, and moved to Columbia]:
Q: Do you feel at liberty to go [home] openly and publicly and address the colored people?
A: No, sir. I would not do it for the whole world.
Q: Could you do it with safety?
A: No, sir.
Q: What is the general feeling among the colored people?
A: I do not believe a meeting could be gotten up. They fear being killed, because some have been shot.
Q: Apart from the meetings, what is the sense of personal security by colored people in their own homes-do they feel safe?
A: No, sir. They keep moving away from up there, because they keep whipping and slashing them at night.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 318]
[Jack Johnson was a stonemason from lower Laurens county, South Carolina. The only freedman in his vicinity to own a mule, he was active in travelling the district speaking to Republican meetings, a role that made him a target for conservatives]:
Q: How is it there in regard to the other colored people? Do they feel at liberty to vote as they please, or has this system intimidation been carried on to any extent?
A: Well, they are down up there now, for all the Republican men that have been the leaders, speaking in going about through there, has left there-has come out and left them. My wife come from there about four weeks ago. She is just as well brought up as a white child. Her old master and mistress had no children, only her to take care of, and she was respected; and she said they refused to speak to her there, and told her she had better go away from there to Columbia, for that was a bad place for negroes, it was a harbor for negroes; nobody there seem to have no use for us-no old friends.
Q: What you know about the liberty of the colored people there to speak or do as they please? How was it at the election?
A: All voted that could vote, only they were persuaded to vote the other way... there were lots of threats. You could hear rumors of threats all through the settlement.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 1168]
[Alfred Wright was a lieutenant in the North Pacolet militia in Union county, South Carolina, before being visited and run off by the Klan; he was refugeed in Columbia at the time of his testimony]:
Q: How do the colored people up there feel about their safety?
A: Well, there is a heap of them run off in the-when they commenced what they did. They have left and gone to the West ["to Arkansas and Mississippi and Alabama" and Columbia]; even the captain of the North Pacolet [militia] company... They called for the captain [Fincher Foster] and he went. They called for him as they did for me...
Q: What makes you all come to Columbia?
A: I reckon they thought it was the safest place, and the most people here, and they make for the same place.
Q: Would not Charleston be a safer place, for the same reason?
A: They thought if they went further, they might strike a place where it was not so healthy as here. They wanted to be as near as they could to my people.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 1174-1175]
[Sam Nuckles described himself as a 'hard-down slave' before emancipation. Self-taught and barely literate, he was elected to the state legislature in 1868, and shortly afterwards threatened by the Klan, seeking refuge in Columbia]:
Q: Have many colored people left that county?
A: A great many.
Q: Where did they go to?
A: There are a great many refugees here and in Fairfield county, and in Chester too, and a good many at York; a great many have come here [Columbia]-a great many...do not feel safe in going back...unless something is done.
Q: What has become of the republican party up there?
A: The republican party, I may say, is scattered and beaten and run out. And just like scattered sheep everywhere. They have no leaders up there-no leaders... If there are, they are afraid to come out and declare themselves leaders-colored men or white men.
Q: What is to become of you up there?
A: I give it up. Here's a gentleman named Mr. Burke Williams, professed to be a thoroughgoing republican with us. He is there, but I suppose he has gone back.
I don't know what keeps him there; I suppose he has, maybe, agreed to sniff anything they say or do. That is the report that has been sent to us several times: if we come back and submit and resign being republicans and vote the democratic ticket, and take sides with them, we can stay there; but we do not propose to do that.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 1161]
[Harriet Hernandez and her husband were whipped by the Klan near Cowpens, Spartanburg county, in South Carolina. Local whites apparently became outraged when, after he rented some land, Harriett withdrew from domestic labor. Here she recounts being compelled to 'lie out' in the woods at night to avoid further violence]:
Q: Had he been afraid for any length of time?
A: He has been afraid ever since last October. He has been lying out. He has not laid in the house ten nights since October. [note: testimony July 10th]
Q: Is that the situation of the colored people down they are to any extent?
A: That is the way they all have to -men and women both.
Q: Were they afraid of?
A: Of being killed or whipped to death.
Q: What has made them afraid?
A: Because men that voted radical tickets they took the spite out on the women when they could get at them.
Q: How many colored people have been whipped in that neighborhood?
A: It is all of them, mighty near. I could not name them all... They have no satisfaction to live like humans, no how. It appears to me like all summer I have been working and it is impossible for me to enjoy it.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 586]
[Alberry Bonner was active in a Union League outside of Spartanburg, South Carolina]:
Q: That League is kept up yet?
A: No, sir; it is broken up.
Q: What broke it up?
A: The Ku-Klux got into such a way that they could not meet. They got to riding so that we just had to stop it. We were not safe at all.
[KKK Hearings, SC: 444-445]
Source: Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States [South Carolina], Washington, D. C., 1872
Document 9 Questions
- How did white paramilitary violence affect the ability of the Republican Party to operate? What specific evidence can you find in the above excerpts?
- In the increasingly polarized context after 1870, how might moderate Republicans respond to freedpeople's demands for fundamental changes in land and labor relations in the South?
- What, if anything, do these targets of Klan violence seem to have in common? Is there a method to the Klan's campaign?
- What demographic changes does the paramilitary campaign seem to be producing? How do the personal decisions that individuals make in response to violence affect larger political changes?
A Spartanburg Republican Offers President Grant Advice on How to Suppress Paramilitary Violence
Although in some ways the federal government's intervention in South Carolina was more effective than anywhere else in the former Confederacy, critics at the time asserted that President Ulysses S. Grant fell far short in his efforts to extinguish the Ku Klux Klan. After a much-publicized series of trials in 1871 and 1872, violence faded for a while but revived sharply as the 1874 election approached.
News from Louisiana and elsewhere in the South brought renewed confidence to whites seeking the overthrow of Reconstruction, and by the summer of 1874, as the following communication suggests, white conservatives were on the march again and looking for a fight. This letter, from Dr. John Winnsmith, a planter-physician and a moderate white Republican from the South Carolina upcountry, offers an important critique of the policy pursued by Grant, and suggests that even at this late date there were possibilities for thwarting the revival of white supremacy.
Spartanburg, So. Ca.
Oct. 5, 1874...
When I addressed you on the 4th of February last, I desired that you would give me an appointment to office. I do not now desire any civil appointment from the General Government. The State of South Carolina is now passing through a bloody ordeal, and as a citizen and as a Republican, I cannot think of absenting myself from my post of duty.
During the reign of terror here under the Ku Klux rule, I thought proper to communicate to your Excellency the extent and power of that infamous organization; and I even went so far as to respectfully suggest to you the propriety of sending General Sheridan to South Carolina to crush the hideous monster-Ku Kluxism. You, however, did not think proper to send him. The result has been [an ineffective campaign to suppress the Klan]; a few trials and convictions in the U. S. Courts; and then the pardoning of the criminals. I believed then, as I believe now, that if you had sent Genl. Sheridan here, under your proclamation of martial law, and directed him to try the Chiefs of the Ku Klux Klans by military commission, and if found guilty, to forthwith execute them, the world would not have heard of a third rebellion [in] La. and S. C. It was necessary not only to cut off, but to sear, the hydra head of Secession, Rebellion and Murder...
A third rebellion now raises its hideous front before us in the upper and eastern [sic] counties of S. C. The pardoned Ku Klux, and the murderers, who for a while fled the State, have returned. Now it is a "war of races" they are inaugurating... [T]here are men in all [these] counties...who are engaged solely in preparing for another butchery of the white and colored Republicans: They have organized white leagues, rifle clubs, and a secret police, not only in the towns but also in country places. There is a fixed determination, on the part of these bad men, never to acknowledge the results of the war. You are aware, Mr. President, that the negroes were held in the Southern States, by a tenure of force, and that it required force to make them free. I will here add: it will yet require force to secure their rights to them.
... In the 8 counties composing the 4th [Congressional] Dist.a...there is a clear Republican majority of 2,500 voters. This majority will be easily overcome, unless some proper precaution is adopted, as the Ku Klux is organized to murder, and the Republicans are not... There is no doubt but on the 3d day of Novr-Election day-Georgians and North Carolinians, will be passed over the Air Line R. R. and together with the rifle clubs and white leagues, take possession of the polling places.
aGreenville, Spartanburg, Union, York, Chester, Lancaster, Fairfield and Kershaw counties.
Source: J. C. Winnsmith [Spartanburg] to President U. S. Grant, in Letters Received by the Attorney General, South Carolina; Reel 24.
Document 10 Questions
- According to the Winnsmith, President Grant declined his earlier advice to adopt a firmer policy in regard to the Klan. Why might Grant have reasoned that it was best to pursue a more conciliatory policy toward paramilitaries? Have developments since then proven the President wrong?
- What were/are the risks involved in proceeding along the lines suggested by Winnsmith? Do you think such an approach would be more effective?
- What is Winnsmith's assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Republicans and the white Conservatives? Is there any grounds for optimism?
- How free are freedpeople in South Carolina in 1874, nine years after the end of the war? What will need to be done to ensure their freedom?
Martin W. Gary's Plan for the Conservative Campaign of 1876
Winnsmith's assessment that white conservatives were regaining the upper hand and seemed anxious to bring on a 'war of races' was not far off. White paramilitary organization in South Carolina took on new forms in the post-1874 period. The conspiratorial methods of the Ku Klux Klan gave way to an overt military plan, closely and quite openly linked to the Democratic Party (sometimes called the 'Conservatives'). In the runup to the critical 1876 elections, white Carolinians drew the lessons from the experience of the White LEagues in Louisiana and the 'shotgun plan' by which white Mississippians had overthrown Reconstruction just a year earlier, embarking on a spectacular campaign of pubic intimidation. In the summer of 1876 conservatives nominated the state's wealthiest planter, former Confederate General Wade Hampton, as their candidate for Governor. Everywhere he went, Hampton was accompanied by armed, mounted bands of 'Red Shirts'-many of them former Klansmen, now united with others in their determination to 'redeem' the state for white supremacy.
In their (successful) effort at overcoming South Carolina's substantial black majority, the Red Shirts played a critical role, disrupting Republican mass meetings and intimidating freedpeople from voting the Republican ticket. Major armed clashes developed at Hamburg and Ellenton in the interior and at Cainhoy, along the coast. The following excerpt, from prominent conservative Martin W. Gary's 'Plan of the Campaign of 1876,' provides rare evidence of the lengths
to which the 'Redeemers' were willing to go to regain state power and bring Reconstruction to an end.
12. Every Democratic must feel honor bound to control the vote of at least one Negro, by intimidation, purchase, keeping him away or as each individual may determine, how he may best accomplish it.
13. We must attend every Radical meeting that we hear of whether they meet at night or in the day time. Democrats must go in as large numbers as they can get together, and well armed, behave at first with great courtesy and assure the ignorant Negroes that you mean them no harm and so soon as their leaders or speakers begin to speak and make false statements of facts, tell them then and there to their faces, that they are liars, thieves and rascals, and are only trying to mislead the ignorant Negroes and if you get a chance get upon the platform and address the Negroes.
14. In speeches to Negroes you must remember that argument has no effect upon them: they can only be influenced by their fears, superstitions and cupidity... Prove to them that we can carry the election without them and if they co-operate with us, it will benefit them more than it will us. Treat them so as to show them...that their natural position is that of subordination to the white man.
21. In the month of September we ought to begin to organize Negro clubs, or pretend that we have organized them and write letters from different parts of the County giving the facts of organization [but] from prudential reasons, the names of the Negroes are to be withheld.
Those who join us are to be taken on probation and are not to be taken into full fellowship, until they have proven their sincerity by voting our ticket... [marked 'omit']
28. In all processions the clubs must parade with banners, mottoes, etc. and keep together so as to make an imposing spectacle.
Source: S. C. Democratic Candidate Martin W. Gary's 'Plan of the Campaign of 1876,' in Frances Butler Simkins and Robert H. Woody, South Carolina During Reconstruction, Appendix, pp. 564-569.
Document 11 Questions
- What are the racial assumptions that Gary brings to the conservative effort to intimidate black voters?
- What is the purpose of organizing 'Negro clubs' across the state? After reading Gary's plan, how do you think historians should consider newspaper evidence about the existence of such clubs during the 1876 campaign?
- What do leading Democrats mean when they express the need to present an 'imposing spectacle' in their public processions?
- Imagine yourself a freedman who has voted the Republican ticket in previous elections. What factors might dissuade you from doing the same in the coming election? Which way will you vote?
This ends Unit Nine.
Click here to continue to
Unit Ten: Freedpeople and the Republican Party