Camp Hoyt Terre Bonne [La.] April 5th /63.
Sir We the undersigned Negroes residing on Major Potts Plantation Parish Terre Bonne La. respectfully submit to you the following statement;
Captain Goodrich Provost Marshal at Thibodeaux told us to go on and cultivate the land on the Plantation, and do something for ourselves, until the Government could do something for us and gave orders for all the Stray Mules belonging to the plantation to be brought in, so that we could work the land, and we understood that we were to be protected in our labor– We have about 60 Arpents1 of land broken up a large portion of which is already planted, and the balance ready for planting. Now a Mr Wright comes on the plantation with Authority from the Government to work it and claims the result of our labor– We have had a hard struggle to get along and we feel it hard now that we have succeeded in making ourselves in a measure independent, to have to [turn] it all over to someone else.
We have at present on the place about 14 men, 23 women 10 of whom are old and with Children, 24 Small Children & Babies. Under the circumstances we think it but just that we should be allowed to work the land already broken up and planted on equal shares with the Government.
We therefore ask your aid and assistance in having secured to us what was promised us by Provost Marshal Cap't Goodrich–and the posession of the property we [have?] and land acquired by our labor.
|Henry Norvall||Littleton Saunders,|
|Claiborn Thomas,||Thos Essex,|
|Thornton Boller,||Phil Sergeant,|
|Thos Mathews,||Parker Williams,|
|Jefferson Rounds,||Nelson McClenny,|
Terre Bonne Louisiana April 5 1863,
At the request of some of the contrabands on the plantation of Major Potts I have visited the plantation & certify to the following facts.
1. They appear to be of unusual respectability & bear a good character, giving all the evidences of neat, thrifty & industrious laborers,
2. They have broken up & partially planted with corn as nearly as I can compute about sixty arpents of land and have acquired some corn & cotton seed sufficient I should judge for planting this ground.
3 From what I can learn they have thus far received no aid from the government but have supported themselves creditably by their own exertions & labor–although a very large proportion are aged men, women & young children.
Charles C Nott.
Henry Norvall et al. to Brig. Gen'l Bowen, 5 Apr. 1863, enclosed in statement of Col. Charles C. Nott, 5 Apr. 1863, N-13 1863, Letters Received, series 1920, Civil Affairs, Department of the Gulf, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives. The freedpeople evidently remained in control of the plantation during 1863. In August of that year, an agent of the Treasury Department reported that the Potts estate “has been Cultivated by the negroes without the assistance of any white man; they have made sufficient Corn for their own use and some to sell; Cane sufficient for Forty or Fifty Hhds may be ground and there is sufficient wood at the sugar House for one hundred Hhds.” “The Negroes,” he continued, “are contented and happy and larger returns will be found from the management of this place than any one I have seen managed by inexperienced Govm't agents or Soldiers; no supplies are furnished them and they are better clothed than any I have seen on other plantations.” “Their confidence in the Government is very limited,” the agent noted, “and they are in constant fear of the rebels.” He concluded with a categorization of the sixty residents of the estate: nineteen men (sixteen ranked “No. 1,” one “No 2,” and two nonworkers); twenty-six women (nineteen “No 1,” four “No 2,” three nonworkers); and fifteen children. (H. Stiles, “Report ‘Potts Plantation,’” 18 Aug. 1863, vol. 71, pp. 54–55, Reports of Inspectors of Plantations, 3rd Agency, Civil War Special Agencies of the Treasury Department, Record Group 366, National Archives.)
1. Approximately 50 acres. (An arpent is an old French unit of measurement equal to .85 acre.)
Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 438–40, and in Free at Last, pp. 257–59.