Officer in a Massachusetts Black Regiment to the Headquarters of the Northern District of the Department of the South

Charleston, S.C.  June 17, 1865.

Captain   I have the honor to make the following report of the results of an expedition into the Parishes of St. James Santee and St. Matthews in this state made by myself and twenty five enlisted men of my command.

June 3rd–  Left Charleston, S.C. in the U.S. Steam Transport “Augusta” and same day reached Mc.Clellansville.  The next morning visited the McClellan plantation.  Found that the freedmen on this plantation had planted some forty acres with corn of which about seventeen acres was claimed and held by the owner of the estate, he now working the same.

Sunday, June 4th.–  Visited five plantations.  On one of the largest called the “Horrietta” belonging to S. D. Doer the freedmen were working very well, but could not agree upon terms with their former owner.  Were disposed to labor under a colored man who styled himself “Overseer”.  Have had some trouble about rations.  The freedmen on the estate of Mrs. Pinckney do not show a disposition to do even a fair amount of labor.  On the Plantation conducted by Mr. Shoolbread found the freedmen disposed to work according to the terms offerred by their employer, but not accomplishing more than half their usual amount of labor.  This year's crop will not more than suffice for this years subsistence on this place.  The affairs upon the other two plantations were much the same as upon those mentioned.

Monday, June 5th.  Reached Batty. Warren on the Santee River   One the estate of S. D. Doer found a state of hostilities existing between the owner of the estate and the freedmen thereon.  Roads in vicinity blockaded and some arms found among the freedmen.  Some were disposed to allow no white men on the place, and rather than work under their old overseer they would leave the place.  They looked upon land and crops as wholly their own.  Brought away four of the most troublesome of these men, whom I still hold.

At Mill Brook plantation under control of S. D. Doer there was trouble as to who should be overseer: seemed well disposed but wanting guidance and control.

June 6th.  Moved up the Santee to the plantation of John Walley   The freedmen here doing well, performing their usual days work.  Mr. Walley was absent.  Found thirty freedmen on the place who have two acres of rice and sixty acres of corn in the ground.  They are poorly clothed and their rations are scanty, composed of the corn they grind by hand.

June 7th.  Arrived at Wright's Bluff.  Saw the freedmen on the plantations of Dr. Briggs and William Berchetts.  There seemed to be harmony here, though Mr. Berchett remarked that his people were of little use to him, and that he would not care if they left him.  Dr. Briggs reported some maraudering in Clarendon Parish, had taken a horse of his recently.

June 8th.  Arrived at Fort Mott   found the freedmen on the plantation of Dr. T. J. Goodwin working contentedly, though on my return I noticed a change, resulting, I think, from communication with my own men.

June 9th.  Visited the plantation of Mrs. Mc.C[ode]   found all going on well with the exception of a case where some twenty freedmen who had formerly been sold off the estate had returned and been refused quarters.  I directed them to occupy some vacant houses on the estate and reported the case to Genl Hartwell,1 who already had some knowledge of the affair.  On the plantation of Dr. Thompson the freedmen are doing well.

June 10th, Sunday.  Capt. Woodward with a detachment of the 55th Mass. Vols. arrived from Orangeburg.  Left Fort Mott Landing and steamed down to Wright's Bluff by sundown, remaining here until the morning of the 13th

June 13th.  Steamed down the river to Doer's Landing where I disembarked and marched about fifteen miles to a plantation called “Mill Brook,” visited on my way up.  The dispute with regard to the choice of an overseer was settled by vote.

June 14th.  Marched twelve miles to McClellansville where I reembarked on the Augusta.  Found every thing in this neighborhood quiet and orderly.

June 15th.  Steamer started for Charleston by inside route.

June 16th.  Arrived in Charleston, S.C. at noon.

 

The following questions arise in the adjustment of terms between freedmen and their employers.

1  Unwillingness with some to remain with their old masters.

2  Desire of all the members of each family to be on the same plantation.

3  Who shall be the foreman of the Plantation.

4  The number of hours composing a days work, or what shall constitute a task.

5– What distinction shall be made between those who do more and those who do less work, according to strength

6– What limit shall be put to the practise of laborers visiting friends on other plantations

7– Shall Saturday be a holiday, as is the frequent desire.

8– The distinction to be made between the willing workers and those unwilling.

9– What allowance in case of sickness.

10– What shall be the subsistence.

11– Who shall care for those disabled, lone, and friendless.

12– Mode of punishment for misconduct.

13– Time of expiration of contracts

14– Can planters eject non-producers after harvesting.

15– What consideration for the use of horses and mules.

16– What will be done where the surplus over and above this year's subsistence is not enough for the year following.

17– Who shall repair or build fences or rice trunks.

18– Who shall provide fuel.

19  Where the freedmen allow their employer (former owner perhaps) to make his own terms, and they blindly or trustingly agree thereto, shall such bargains be sustained in all cases.

20– Where a small minority hold out against terms agreed to by the majority of freedmen,–how to harmonise.

 

After due deliberation I found it would be useless for me to undertake to give complete satisfaction to both parties; neither did I feel like taking the responsibility.  Rather than make a contract that would be the cause of discord I concluded to tell the parties as well as I could the design of the General,2 and, as far as I knew, the law; thinking it would be sufficient until a complete understanding could be made.  Am convinced that the freedmen have recieved much injudicious counsel from people (frequently soldiers) of their own color, and think the presence of white soldiers rather than colored, better calculated to secure good feeling between freedmen and employers.

I advised them to be industrious, persevering and prudent, and to pay strict regard to the law, to show to the world they were fit to be free.  They were warned that idleness would not be allowed.  A very large majority of the freedmen I addressed seemed pleased at what I said, and will, no doubt cheerfully acquiesce thereto.

It was a question in my own mind what power I had to oblige parties to agree to terms.

It was the opinion of several prominent planters in the district through which I passed that upon seventeen specified plantations worked by about six hundred and forty productive hands there would be a crop of 4800 bushels of corn and 12,700 bushels of rice in place of 9800 bushels of corn and 94.000 bushels of rice, the customary product.  The number of non-productive hands, women, children & aged, is about equal to the others.

Each hand can work six acres of rice land and one acre of corn.  An average yeild to the acre is forty bushels rice or twenty five bushels corn.  Having performed the duties you committed to my charge to the best of my ability, I am Very Respectfully, Your. Obt. Svt.

Charles E Tucker

I would add to the foregoing that officers from Genl. Hartwell's command in the neighborhood of fort Mott, in the performance of duties similar to my own empowered planters, in the conduct of their business, to administer the same punishment to their employees as is administered in the army to an enlisted man.

The scanty supply of fuel for the boat interfered materially with the extent of my movements.

Most Respectfully your Obt Svt

Charles E Tucker
Capt 54' Reg Mass Vols

Cap Charles E Tucker to Captain Leonard B Perry, 17 June 1865, 54th Massachusetts Infantry, Muster Rolls of Volunteer Organizations: Civil War, series 57, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.

1. General Alfred S. Hartwell commanded a brigade attached to the Northern District of the Department of the South.

2. General John P. Hatch, commander of the Northern District of the Department of the South. For his policy on contracts, see Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 332–33.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 347–50.