Land and Labor, 1866–1867
Land and Labor, 1866–1867 examines the remaking of the South's labor system in the tumultuous aftermath of emancipation. Picking up where Land and Labor, 1865 left off, it covers the period from January 1866 to the onset of Congressional Reconstruction in March 1867. It depicts the continuing struggle of unenfranchised and impoverished ex-slaves to control their own labor, establish their families as viable economic units, and secure independent possession of land and other productive resources. Among the topics it addresses are the dispossession of settlers in the Sherman reserve of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, the reordering of labor on plantation and farm, nonagricultural labor, new relations of credit and debt, long-distance labor migration, and the efforts of former slaves to rent, purchase, and homestead land. The documents – many of them in the freedpeople's own words – speak eloquently for themselves, while the editors' interpretive essays provide context and illuminate the major themes.
1,070 pp. Table of contents (pdf) | Index (pdf)
Land and Labor, 1866–1867 received the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government.
Copies of Land and Labor, 1866–1867 may be purchased from the University of North Carolina Press online, by telephone (800-848-6224; from outside the U.S., 919-966-7449), or by fax (800-272-6817; from outside the U.S., 919-962-2704).
Selected Documents from the Volume
South Carolina Planter to the Commander of the Military District of Charleston, January 6, 1866
Threatened with dispossession of land they had been assigned under General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15, freedpeople on Wadmalaw Island were on high alert when two former planters and a Freedmen's Bureau agent arrived to take a census that would begin the process.
Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the District of Mobile, Alabama, to the Headquarters of the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, January 22, 1866
A recently adopted city ordinance requiring draymen and hack and cab drivers to give a $500 bond in order to procure a license put black men at a heavy disadvantage, reported a Freedmen's Bureau agent who argued for its repeal.
- Mississippi Freedman to the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, January 25, 1866
Contrasting freedpeople's wartime loyalty to the Union with their white neighbors' treason, Merrimon Howard denounced Mississippi's oppressive laws as a travesty of freedom and an obstacle to ex-slaves' pursuit of economic independence.
- Freedmen's Bureau Acting Subassistant Commissioner for Johns, James, Wadmalaw, and Morris Islands, South Carolina, to the Headquarters of the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, January 30, 1866
On the sea islands south of Charleston, former slaves who had settled on land set apart by General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15 mobilized to resist its return to the former owners. A Freedmen's Bureau agent described the continued arrival of impoverished former slaves from the mainland and the determination of those who held forty-acre plots not to be reduced from independent producers to hired laborers.
Georgia Freedwoman to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for Georgia, February 5, 1866
Harriet Hill, a mother of seven, expected to be joined by her three working-aged children when she contracted to work for a landowner for half the crop. But their former owner forcibly prevented them from leaving his place, thereby thwarting her effort to unite her family and jeopardizing her ability to support her four younger children.
- Proceedings in a Case between an Alabama Freedwoman and Her Employer's Son, March 24, 1866
A freedwoman who was whipped by her employer's son complained to the local Freedmen's Bureau agent, who tried him for assault and battery.
Florida Black Grocers to the Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, April 5, 1866
Seven black grocers in Tallahassee, Florida, protested the burdensome taxes levied on them by the civil authorities and urged the need for black-owned businesses in order to protect freedpeople from being exploited by white merchants.
Alabama Freedman to the Headquarters of the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, April 5, 1866
Philip Smith, a freedman who was attempting to farm independently, could not obtain credit that would enable him to feed his family and livestock until the harvest. He asked the federal government to advance supplies that he would repay from his crop.
- Freedmen's Bureau Officer in Mississippi to the Headquarters of the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, April 9, 1866
Reporting on an inspection of several plantations along the Mississippi River, Lieutenant George W. Corliss described wide-ranging conflict between ex-slave laborers and their employers and overseers. Violence was commonplace and occasionally fatal, as evidenced by a deadly altercation on the plantation of Nathan B. Forrest, a former Confederate general.
- Georgia Planter to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for Georgia, April 17, 1866
When the circumstances of their households allowed, many freedwomen declined to labor for white employers, preferring to care for their children and engage in productive activities in their own households, gardens, and poultry yards. A planter in Georgia denounced the resulting reduction in the plantation labor force as detrimental to the entire Southern social order.
Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent for Princess Anne County, Virginia, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the 1st District of Virginia, April 19, 1866
In the Norfolk area, many freedpeople could support themselves by short-term work or by cultivating “wild” land that owners offered rent-free in exchange for the labor of clearing it. The availability of such options made them indisposed to enter into yearlong contracts for farm labor.
- South Carolina Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for the Western District of South Carolina, April 23, 1866; and Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon at Orangeburg and Columbia, South Carolina, to the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon-in-Chief, May 6, 1866
A committee of freedmen in Columbia, South Carolina, protested local authorities' “Shameful treatment” of black residents who had contracted smallpox, prompting an investigation by a Freedmen's Bureau medical officer.
- North Carolina Free Black Man to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the Southern District of North Carolina, April 26, 1866
For impoverished black Southerners struggling to attain economic independence, their primary resource was the labor of their families. Joe Bright rented a forty-acre farm, expecting his six working-aged children to help him cultivate it, but his expectations were dashed when their former owner had the children bound to him as apprentices.
First page of manuscript (image, 529K)
- Statement of a Tennessee Freedman, April 30, 1866; and Proceedings in a Case against the Freedman's Employer, May 2, 1866
When Andrew Cleveland threatened to have Allen Payne's wife whipped, Payne declared that he would not allow it, whereupon Cleveland threatened to kill him. Payne reported the confrontation to the local Freedmen's Bureau agent, who put Cleveland on trial.
Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner for Madison, Taylor, and Lafayette Counties, Florida, to the Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, May 1, 1866
A Freedmen's Bureau agent offered a pessimistic view of the freedpeople's prospects in his district. White residents were implacably hostile to the former slaves and defiant of federal authority, employers exploited their ex-slave workers, state laws advantaged white employers over black laborers, and the civil authorities declined to act when freedpeople were wronged or abused.
- Kentucky Freedwoman to a Daughter in Tennessee, May 13, 1866; and the Freedwoman to Another Daughter in Tennessee, May 13, 1866
In letters to her adult daughters, Aima Ship touched on family connections, her health, her work, her faith, and her aspirations in freedom. She also shared the distressing news that a granddaughter had been involuntarily apprenticed to a white master.
- Kentucky Freedman to the Secretary of War, May 14, 1866
Henry Mars, who had served as sergeant major of a black regiment during the Civil War, protested the exclusion of black people from white-owned taverns and public houses, as well as prohibitions against black people operating such businesses themselves.
- Testimony by a South Carolina Freedwoman and Her Employer, May 16, 1866
Chastised by her employer for talking loudly with visiting relatives, a domestic servant named Betty Carrion indignantly refused to be silenced – an act of defiance for which she was beaten and then discharged. In a hearing before a Freedmen's Bureau agent, Carrion and her employer each recounted the episode.
- Virginia Black Hucksters to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, May 21, 1866, Enclosing a Receipt for Rental of a Huckster Stall
Black women working as hucksters in Portsmouth, Virginia, gathered to denounce municipal regulations that hampered their own and their husbands' efforts to earn a living.
Proceedings in a Case between a Tennessee Freedwoman and Her Employer, May 24, 1866
In a trial before a Freedmen's Bureau agent, Loucy Jane Boyd, a fifteen-year-old freed girl, testified to being repeatedly raped by her employer, Larkin Willis.
- Affidavit of an Alabama Black Teacher and Clergyman, June 16, 1866
Robert Alexander, a black minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church and teacher of a freedmen's school at Auburn, Alabama, was abducted by four white men, savagely beaten, and threatened with death unless he left the area.
- Affidavit of a Tennessee Freedman, July 18, 1866
In successive workplace disputes with his employer, Archy Paine of Tennessee was beaten, subjected to malicious prosecution, and warned to leave the state.
Tennessee Freedman to the Commander of the Military Division of the Tennessee, July 18, 1866
During the war, several hundred freedpeople had established a community just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, on land abandoned by disloyal owners. Now they faced dispossession at the hands of returning ex-Confederates who were especially aggrieved because many of the community's residents had been Union soldiers.
Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent at Liberty, Virginia, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the 7th District of Virginia, July 19, 1866, Enclosing a Letter from a Virginia Former Slaveholder to the Assistant Superintendent, July 18, 1866
No longer willing to support three elderly, infirm freedmen he had previously owned, a former slaveholder renounced further responsibility and abandoned them alongside a public road, expecting the local Freedmen's Bureau agent to provide for them.
- Certificate of Deposit by a Kentucky Freedman in the Freedman's Bank, July 29, 1866
A black soldier from Kentucky who was serving in Texas deposited $10 into his account with the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, a private corporation chartered by Congress that was popularly known as the Freedman's Bank.
- Affidavit of an Arkansas Freedman, July 30, 1866
After journeying from Virginia to work on a plantation in Arkansas, Edward Smith became dissatisfied with the conditions he and his co-workers endured. When he and another freedman set out on a sixty-mile trek to the nearest Freedmen's Bureau office to enter a complaint, they were captured by armed white men with tracking dogs but later liberated by a black hunting party.
Texas Planter to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Richmond, Texas, July 30, 1866
Exasperated by ex-slave laborers who would neither comply with his orders nor display the deference he expected, a Texas planter sought the intervention of a Freedmen's Bureau agent.
- Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent at Selma, Alabama, to an Alabama Justice of the Peace, July 30, 1866
Ex-slave Charles Hardy suffered a severe blow from his employer when he objected to the employer's whipping his son.
Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent for Cumberland County, North Carolina, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the Southern District of North Carolina, July 31, 1866
A Freedmen's Bureau agent protested that state and county capitation (“poll”) taxes imposed heavy burdens on impoverished former slaves.
Statement of a Louisiana Freedman, August 18, 1866
When Green Jones attained a modicum of economic independence by renting land on his own account and hiring other ex-slaves to help him cultivate it, he and his employees were subjected to a brutal attack by white nightriders.
South Carolina Employer to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Aiken, South Carolina, September 5, 1866
When Harriet Benson, a freedwoman employed as a cook, was reprimanded by her employer, her husband forbade her to return to work because “he wasn't going to have his wife jawed at like a dog.” His refusal to relent led to the couple's dismissal without pay.
- ‣ Georgia Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, September 22, 1866
‣ Georgia Freedman to the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, September 24, 1866
Disheartened by their prospects in Georgia and determined to acquire land of their own, a group of freedmen representing 150 families looked to Arkansas, where public land was available for settlement under the recently enacted Southern Homestead Act.
Complaint of Two Alabama Freedpeople, September 24, 1866
A freedman and his wife had agreed to work for wages plus the right to tend any land they cleared in their own time, but in mid-August their employer reneged on the arrangement and forbade them to harvest the independent crop they had made.
- Mississippi Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, October 6, 1866
On behalf of 300 black families, the chairman of a mass meeting of freedpeople in Vicksburg, Mississippi, called upon the Freedmen's Bureau and the General Land Office to remove bureaucratic obstacles to taking up land under the Southern Homestead Act.
- Alabama Planter to the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, October 28, 1866
A crop failure left black laborers on the plantations of John Strain, who were working for one-fourth of the crop, in his debt for advances made over the course of the year. They were therefore unable to pay the bill of a physician they had engaged, who went after Strain for payment.
District of Columbia Freedwoman to the Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for the District of Columbia, November 17, 1866; and Affidavit of Her Husband in Virginia, November 28, 1866
James Lacey and his wife, Mary, had left rural Virginia for Washington, D.C., during or just after the war, but in 1866 shortage of work in the city prompted James to return to Virginia. When Mary refused to join him there, the couple fell into dispute over the custody of their young daughter.
- South Carolina Freedman to the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, November 21, 1866
Rather than work another year for white employers for one-third of the crop, many freedpeople in Sumter District, South Carolina, wanted to settle on public land in Florida. Few, however, possessed resources with which to support themselves while clearing the land for cultivation. Kelly Mosses, a preacher and leader of the Sumter freedpeople, proposed that the federal government supply rations that the homesteaders would repay from their future crops.
Texas Freedmen's Bureau Inspector to the Headquarters of the Texas Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, November 30, 1866
A Freedmen's Bureau official itemized the issues that had caused conflict between laborers and employers in 1866 and advised greater specificity in contracts for the coming year.
- Alabama Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Huntsville, Alabama, December 6, 1866
Richmond Body and his twenty-eight-person family had agreed to work for a white farmer for half of the crops they produced and to furnish nearly all of their own food and livestock feed. At year's end, their employer had their share of the crop seized to satisfy a debt he claimed they owed him, leaving them with nothing.
Two Letters from the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Subassistant Commissioner at Griffin, Georgia, to the Headquarters of the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, December 17, 1866, and January 4, 1867
A Freedmen's Bureau agent described the bleak conditions confronting former slaves in a drought-ravaged section of Georgia. Driven away without pay or informed that their debts to their employers exceeded what they had earned, they wanted to move elsewhere but lacked the means to do so.
Freedmen's Bureau Agent at Walthourville, Georgia, to the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, December 20, 1866; and Reply from the Assistant Commissioner's Headquarters, December 21, 1866
Struggling to support not only his disabled wife and three small children, but also a hundred-year-old brother, seventy-six-year-old Stephen Baker sought assistance from the Freedmen's Bureau.
- Report of a Speech by a Virginia Freedman, late December, 1866
Hundreds of former slaves in tidewater Virginia resided on land that had come under federal control during the Civil War but was being reclaimed by ex-Confederate owners. After Freedmen's Bureau officials announced that the freedpeople must relinquish the plots they regarded as rightfully theirs, Bayley Wyat delivered an impassioned speech decrying their impending dispossession.
- Alabama Freedwoman to Her Father in Virginia, January 18, 1867; and Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent for Alexandria and Fairfax Counties, Virginia, to the Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for the District of Columbia, March 12, 1867
Struggling to support herself and two children after being abandoned by her husband, Elizabeth Weden of Alabama hoped to rejoin her father and brother in Virginia, from whom she had been sold away more than twenty years earlier. Unable to afford the passage, she sought help first from members of her church and then from her father, who applied to the Freedmen's Bureau for assistance.
- Army Officer at Gallatin, Tennessee, to the Headquarters of the Department of the Tennessee, January 29, 1867, Enclosing an Anonymous Broadside
A notice distributed by white regulators in middle Tennessee set forth rules for black laborers and threatened violators with whipping or death.
Alabama Black Teacher to the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of Education, February 5, 1867; and Headquarters of the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner to the Government Relief Agent at Wetumpka, Alabama, February 7, 1867
Writing from a region threatened by widespread famine, a black teacher protested that rations furnished by the federal government were being distributed to white widows of Confederate soldiers but denied to black people who had been the Union's staunch supporters.
- North Carolina Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, February 9, 1867
Facing eviction when the land they had occupied was restored to its prewar owners, freedpeople in the Trent River settlement near New Bern protested to the head of the Freedmen's Bureau.
Freedmen's Bureau Agent for Taylor County, Georgia, to the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, February 12, 1867
A Freedmen's Bureau agent decided that the yearlong contract a freedwoman had signed before her marriage took precedence over her new husband's claim on her and her labor.
- Freedmen's Bureau Special Agent for Jackson County, Florida, to the Headquarters of the Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, February 28, 1867
A Freedmen's Bureau agent surveyed labor relations after a contracting season in which many freedpeople had negotiated more favorable terms of employment and some had engaged to rent land. Other former slaves, however, had not been paid for their previous year's work, while credit arrangements with employers and merchants threatened to ensnare laborers in debt.
Anonymous Warning to Two Kentucky Freedmen, [late February, 1867]
When two freedmen undertook to farm on their own rather than work for their former owners, vigilantes threatened personal violence and arson unless they left the state.
Affidavits of Three Texas Freedmen, May 13, 14, and 16, 1867
During an investigation into the murder of a freedman by a plantation overseer, three freedmen recounted the brutal treatment they and their co-workers had endured at the overseer's hands.