Algiers. La. Nov 7″ 1865.
Sir:– I have the honor to make the following report of the condition, status, &c, of plantations and freedmen in this district:
There are about thirty (30) plantations in the district, the greater number in the parish of Jefferson. The total number of acres under cultivation this year is about eight thousand eight hundred and fifty (8.850) the number of hands employed by contract is about six hundred (600) at present.
The largest plantation in operation is that of C. L. Millandon in the parish of Jefferson, rented by Mr C. A. Weed. on it one hundred and thirty-five (135) hands are employed, and about sixteen hundred (1600) acres are cultivated. The hands are employed under the contract prescribed by the Bureau of Free Labor.1 thee hands are well cared for in every respect, so much so, that I have never heard of a single instance of improper treatment on the place. they are well clad and fed and with few exceptions are quite contented. Their moral and social condition is however, very bad. The next plantation in order of prosperity is that of Mr Cagnollatti in the parish of Jefferson. he has four-hundred and fifty acres under crop, and employs thirty hands. on no plantation in the district have I found the hands to be so satisfied with their condition, and so profitable to their employer as on this one. the cause of this is obvious; the hands were once his slaves, and on the promulgation of the emancipation proclamation sallied forth en masse to search for freedom. failing to find it in the shape they desired, the most of them returned to their old master who was always kind to them while slaves. he immediately made a contract with them to work faithfully on the place ten hours a day and agreed to pay them twenty-five dollars a month, they to provide for their own comfort and welfare under his supervision. and so orderly, and regularly, and faithfully, have both parties complied with the contract that not a single complaint has ever to my knowledge reached this office from either master or man.
The next plantation of importance on which the condition of the hands is such as is to be desired by the Bureau is that of Mr T. L. McGee, in the parish of Orleans. he has three-hundred and eighty acres under crop and employs thirty-five hands under the government contract. the hands are very well cared for in every particular, and like those on the Millandon and Cagnollatti plantations are mostly the old slaves of the place. There are other places of minor note in both parishes where freedmen are hired under contracts mutually advantageous to themselves and the planters, and on these places I am pleased to notice that the relations of the freedmen and their employers are unencumbered and untrammelled, comparatively speaking, by prejudice or hatred on the part of the latter, however, these exceptions, for they are exceptions, are not of sufficient magnitude or consequence to take them as a criterion by which the whole may be judged. as a whole the planters are bitter opponents of the free-labor system in any phase it may assume, they being to a man, haters of our government they unhesitatingly condemn any and all of its measures that have been adopted in opposition to slavery, and many of them during the last three years have only cultivated just sufficient to provide for urgent necessity. one of these Mr Wm B. Berthoud who owns a plantation on Barataria bayou before the war had fifteen to eighteen hundred acres under cultivation he has now but about sixty. he assigns the cause of this neglect to personal bad treatment received by him from Mr Conway, late asst. Commissioner, who refused to allow supplies to be transported to his place, for some cause not known. Similar reasons have been assigned by other planters. The most of them now, however express their determination to do their utmost in bringing their plantations as near as possible to the former standard of prosperity, but they despair of success unless the bureau adopts some imperative course in compelling the freedmen to seek permanent homes on the plantations, and also compels them to a faithful observance of their contracts. these two incongruities as well as all other irregularities and disorders, or anything regarded to be such are always attributed by the carping and fault finding planters, to the remissness of the Freedmen's Bureau, while they seldom refer matters for adjudication or correction unless it be such as may result in a pecuniary advantage to them. I am disposed however to believe with the planters themselves, that the unfriendly and uncongenial spirit, with-which they claim to have been treated in general by Mr Conway, was the source of the obstinacy and I may say hostility, evinced by them to all his measures, of their indifference to their plantation affairs; and of their increasing prejudice to the welfare of the negroes. In connection with this I may add that I have not yet met a planter who is not highly pleased with the administration of General Fullerton.2
Between five and six hundred freedmen are now employed on plantations in this district, under the prescribed contract. there are probably three hundred more employed by the day or week. the former mode is the most agreeable to the planter, the latter the most agreeable to the freedman. all freedmen object to being only paid half of their wages at the end of the month or quarter, and in many cases refuse to receive it unless paid the full amount. they become dissatisfied and leave the plantation and go to the city to work on the levee, on steamboats, or at anything else where they can obtain higher wages and receive pay more frequently. On the other hand, when paid in full every Saturday evening or at the end of the month, they leave the place and go to the city or to Algiers or Gretna, and remain until their money is spent, when they may or may not return, according to circumstances. beside, ready money in their hands is too often squandered for whiskey, to which a great deal of their difficulty and trouble is to be attributed. scarcely a Saturday or Sunday passes but they fight either among themselves or with white people, and often such fights are attended with serious results, especially when between them and white people, who are ever ready to accept the slightest cause to make trouble in which the negro comes out second best invariably, and heretofore the Provost Marshal being almost the only recourse of the negro, justice seldom overtook the offenders, who could not be found when the guard was sent for them unless they were known.
There are at least thirty-five hundred negroes including men women and children, in both parishes, unemployed on plantations. a great number of these may be classed as vagrants, they live in the swamps, and in shanties in the vicinity of Algiers and Gretna. many plantations are encumbered with them, nor can they be induced to go to work. many outrages are committed by them, such as thefts, &c. complaints are made at this office weekly and oftener of the killing of cattle in the neighborhood of the swamps by them, and thefts on plantations are very frequent. the police are afraid to attempt to arrest them during the night without a guard and during the day they cant be found. some instances have occurred where my guard met with armed resistance from them. The kindred vice of concubinage may be added to stealing and drunkenness so prevalent among them, the former is of so frequent occurrence that on an average it has been before me twice a week during the past summer. The condition of the freedmen as a whole in this district, is bad, endeavors to effect an improvement in it are unavailing. the unrestricted priviledge of leaving their work at any time and going to the city, and the advantages offered by freedmen living in Gretna and Algiers as a rendevous for all who arrive has a bad effect on plantation hands, while the readiness with which they can obtain intoxicating liquor induces theft for that purpose, to say nothing of the increasing vice of drunkenness. in this condition it is natural to suppose that their amicable relations with the white population is often disturbed in an aggravating manner. In speaking of whites reference is had exclusively to the laboring class, and those who furnish temporary employment to negroes. cases of imposition on poor negroes are (have been) of daily occurrence, and disagreements with pettit employers frequently results in violence being visited on the freedmen. I am of opinion that the moral effect of the presence of an armed guard will be necessary for some time for the preservation of the priviledges accorded the negro by virtue of his emancipation. The orders and decisions of the Bureau are being explained to the freedmen, with the obligations they incur, and the immunities they acquire thereby; as fast as it can be done diligently. I am Sir, Very Respectfully Your obd't serv't
Wm E Dougherty
1″ Lieut. Wm E Dougherty to Lieut. D. G. Fenno, 7 Nov. 1865, D-68 1865, Letters Received, series 1303, LA Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. Dougherty signed as an officer in the 1st U.S. Infantry, and the heading of his report indicated that, in addition to his duties as provost marshal, he had charge of the 2nd District of the Freedmen's Bureau. He addressed the report to “Bureau of Free Labor, State of La.,” a wartime entity that had been merged into the Freedmen's Bureau.
1. The Bureau of Free Labor had been established in southern Louisiana during the Civil War. The contract in question had presumably been made in conformity with General Order 23, Department of the Gulf, which governed plantation labor for 1865; it was issued on March 11, 1865, and declared applicable to agreements made before that date. (The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 591–94.)
2. General Joseph S. Fullerton, an officer on the staff of General O. O. Howard, the Freedmen's Bureau commissioner, had been dispatched to Louisiana to relieve Thomas W. Conway from duty as assistant commissioner and to serve in that capacity until the arrival of Conway's successor. Reaching New Orleans on October 15, 1865, Fullerton announced himself as assistant commissioner “pro tempore” the following day. Although his duty in Louisiana lasted less than a month, Fullerton acted forcefully to revise policies that, in his view, had created enmity between blacks and whites and “held out to the freedmen that they were a privileged people, to be pampered and petted by the government.” He authorized the arrest of freedpeople who were “without any means of support,” broke up “colonies” of ex-slaves on plantations that were expected to be restored to their former owners, ordered that black children being cared for in two New Orleans orphanages be bound out as apprentices, issued a general order requiring the apprenticeship of all black orphans in the state, and suspended collection of a tax that had been instituted in 1864 to fund schools for black children. He abolished judicial proceedings conducted by Freedmen's Bureau agents, turning over to the civil authorities all cases involving freedpeople. He eliminated wage standards and other regulation of labor contracts and instead “left the whole matter subject only to the simple laws of supply and demand.” In one of his earliest actions, he issued “An Address to the Freedmen of Louisiana” in “plain and forcible language” designed “to undeceive the freedmen, and encourage them to make contracts for work for the next year.” It warned that the federal government “would not furnish them assistance that was not furnished to the white man, and would not support them in idleness and vagrancy, and that no class of persons would be allowed to live as vagrants in a country where there is a great demand for laborers.” (Brevet Brigadier General J. S. Fullerton to Major General O. O. Howard, 2 Dec. 1865, House Executive Documents, 39th Cong., 1st sess., No. 70, serial 1256, pp. 393–403.) For a more detailed description of the address, see Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 843–44n.
Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 576–79.