Affidavits of Three Texas Freedmen

[Bastrop, Tex., May 13, 1867]

State of Texas
County of Bastrop
Gabriel Hubbard Freedman being duly sworn deposes as follows.

I lived on the plantation of Baker and Fondren during the year 1866.  I worked for one third of the crop.  A. W. Fort was the overseer.  From May on, the rest of the year Mr. Fort cut off a part of my rations giving as a reason, that my hands did not work well.  In May on one Sunday he refused to give me any meal, at all.  The next day Monday he came over to the quarters and I asked him for meal telling him that I had none and that according to the contract I and my hands were to be furnished with meal and meat.  Mr. Fort. said “You are not agoing to get it”   I then said. “that aint right”   Mr. Fort said “If you say I dont do right I'll get my six-shooter and blow your brains out  I want the top of your head anyhow”   I made no answer and he went to the house and got his pistol came back where I was in the ox lot, rode up to me cocked his revolver levelled it at me, and said, “Now sir I want you to speak the same words you did awhile ago and I will get the top of your head”   I made no answer and he rode off in a few moments.  Sometime in June about the first or second week I was helping to kill a beef at the house when Mr. Fort sent me after an axe to cut it up with: I went and got Mr. Forts own axe because I could find no other and I said to him, “Mr Fort I could'ent find the old meat axe so I got your'n”   He said “God dam'n you who told you to get my axe  I'll blow your damn brains out.”  While saying this he picked up his revolver which was lying by his side and levelled it at me.  I put the axe down at once and then he made me take it back.

In the month of May I saw Mr. Fort beat a colored woman with his walking stick. the stick was about one inch thick.  He struck her four licks over the shoulders as hard as he could draw.  She complained of her shoulders as late as the next Christmas, saying that she still suffered from the effects of the blows.  This womans name was Mary Williams, she was in the field hoeing at the time.  In November of the same year Mr. Fort came into the field where my brother Aaron and myself were at work one afternoon.  Mr. Fort came up and said to him. “God damn you you reported me to a damned Smooth faced yankee yesterday”   Aaron replied that “I only told the Captain that you had drawn a six-shooter on me and that I wanted to leave, and the Capt. told me to go back that I shoulden't leave”   Mr. Fort took out his revolver, cocked it and pointed it at Aaron, at the same time saying “I came here this evening to take off the top of your head and I don't know how I can get satisfaction unless I do take it off”   Aaron begged him not to shoot.  Mr. Fort then rode up to Aaron with his pistol in his left hand and his cane in the right and said “I am compelled to have some satisfaction out of you”–and then struck him several licks with his cane.

Aaron went over to Bastrop the next day and complained to the officer of the Bureau and I was sent for as a witness,  For some reason of which I am ignorant the trial did not come off and we went back to the plantation   When we got back we heard that Mr. Fort had shot Milton.

I saw him point a sixshooter at Thomas Deckard, threatening to blow his brains out.  Deckard was a hand on the place.

I heard of his beating other hands on the plantation, but only saw him beat Aaron and Mary Williams.

his              
Gabriel X Hubbard
mark            

[Bastrop, Tex., May 14, 1867]

State of Texas,
County of Bastrop
Aaron Wayne freedman being duly sworn deposes as follows.–

I lived on the plantation of Baker and Fondren during the year 1866.  A. W. Fort was overseer.  Some time in March I went to town during the wet weather and stayed three days until the ground was fit to plow.  At the end of that time I returned and went to work as soon as the other hands.  Mr. Fort came up to me in the field where I was working, and asked me where I had been, and who said I could go.  I told him where I had been and that it was with the consent of my brother who was the head of our gang.  Mr. Fort said “I have a good will to take you down and give you a hundred lashes.”  I answered “that is played out you have no right to do that and no man shall do it unless he is a better man than I am.”  He replied “God damn you I will blow your brains out if you say that again,” at the same time drawing and cocking his six shooter.  I made no answer and he followed me a round or two pistol in hand while I was ploughing cursing me but finally went off.

About the middle of November he charged me with burning rails which I denied.  He then drew out his revolver saying “If you open your mouth I will blow your brains out God damn you.”  When he levelled the pistol at me I dodged behind a cotton pen and ran into the high cotton where I stayed until Mr. Fort left the field.  Next day I went over to Bastrop and complained to the officer of the Bureau who gave me a note to Mr. Fort which I got another colored man to deliver.  The next evening Mr. Fort came in the field where I was picking cotton with my brother Aaron [Gabriel] and rode up to me and said “God damn you I want to kill you. You went over to town to report me to the Bureau” at the same time leveling his pistol at me.  I begged him not to kill me.  Mr. Fort then took his pistol in his left hand and came close to me and struck me four or five heavy blows over the head and shoulders with his walking-stick   After beating me Mr. Fort said “You go over and report me to a damn smooth faced Yankee that comes down here to rule Southern men I'll show them that they cant rule me”   The next day I went over to Bastrop and complained to the officer of the Bureau who told me to go back but I was afraid and remained in town.  The next day I heard that he had killed Milton the same day that I came to town,

In the month of May I saw Mr Fort beat a colored woman named Mary Williams over the shoulders with his walking cane while she was at work in the field

his           
Aaron X Wayne
mark         

[Bastrop, Tex., May 16, 1867]

State of Texas
County of Bastrop
Thomas Deckard Freedman being duly sworn deposes as follows.

I worked on the plantation of Baker and Fondren during the year 1866.  A. W. Fort was the overseer.  Some time in the spring I do not remember the date, Mr. Fort came up to my house where my son and another boy were playing marbles (while we were having a nooning) and took my sons marbles from him.  I said to Mr. Fort. “That is not right”   He then leveled his cocked pistol on me and threatened to blow my brains out if I said that again.  I said nothing more and after cursing me a while he went off.

While we were picking cotton over the second time in the month of September Mr Fort & son rode into the field where I and other hands were at work.  As he came along he met a young man named John Beckman (living on the place) who was just coming back from town.  When John rode up close to him Mr. Fort told him to get off his horse at the same time reaching for his pistol.  Mr. Fort then told John to pull down his breeches. as he intended to whip him.  John got down and begged Mr. Fort to let him off and not to whip him.  Mr. Fort made him pull his breeches down and lie on his face and whipped him with a bull whip.  John yelled and begged all the time Mr. Fort was whipping him.  My opinion is that Mr. Fort gave him about fifty (50) lashes.  Mr Fort then let him get up and go to the house.

Mr. Fort said that he whipped him because John had ridden a horse to town without permission

his              
Thomas X Deckard
mark           

Affidavit of Gabriel Hubbard, 13 May 1867, affidavit of Aaron Wayne, 14 May 1867, and affidavit of Thomas Deckard, 16 May 1867, all enclosed in Byron Porter to Bvt. Brig. Genl. James Oakes, 16 May 1867, P-194 1867, Registered Letters Received, series 3620, TX Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. Affidavits all sworn before Captain Byron Porter, Freedmen's Bureau subassistant commissioner at Bastrop, who on May 16 forwarded them to the commander of the Post of Austin. His covering letter identified the affiants as freedmen who in 1866 had worked under A. W. Fort, who was accused of murdering a freedman named Milton Oldham. The affidavits “will be of some use as showing the manner in which Mr. Fort managed his laborers,” Captain Porter suggested, “and as throwing light on the origen and causes of the difficulty which culminated in murder.”

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 486–89.