Virginia Black Hucksters to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, Enclosing a Receipt for Rental of a Huckster Stall

Portsmouth Va. May 21st. 1866

General:  At a meeting of the Hucksters (colored) held in this place, where I was invited to participate in their deliberations, the following ladies presided after choosing me as sec.1
President. Mrs. Sarah Nash
Vice pres     "   Nancy Hodges
Sec.                  Geo. Teamoh

The chair stated the object of the meeting in these words

“My friends we meet here to consult each other and talk our troubles over.  So much is being done against us in this city that I don't know where to begin, nor what to say.  I know we are left all alone and no one to give us any advice.  Our old rebel masters, (that use to be,) because they can't get our labor now, say our Freedom shan't do us any good.  Don't it seem like it”?  By the house, “true; Yes; Yes; Yes”[!]  President continuing. “We don't know nothing about the laws, and they make us pay all the City State and government taxes before the time has run out on what we have already paid.  We can't sell nor buy unless we pay the Clerk of the market ($25–00) twenty five dollars quarter Yearly and ten cents (10 cts) a day to sell, and all this on top of our quarter paid for in advance, which was ($6.31 cts) six dollars and thirty one cents.  “Friends” she contnued “for the last 30 odd Years, when many of You were children I have been keeping a cook shop, and now I must stop because I ain't (have not) got ($50.00) fifty dollars, to pay into the hands of the collector for one Year's taxes, and I don't make that much in two Years; and now let them break me up, put me in jail, or do what they please with me, I say I am done serving them, by the help of God and the U.S. Army.  Now You can all talk”

Mrs. Hodges stated that she “had good authority for saying, that this tax money was taken more to support the widows, orphans and invalids of the confederate army than any other purpose” which was the opinion of the whole meeting.

Mrs. Sarah Hudgins here brought to the table a bill which is a receipt from City Inspector, John H. Burroughs for Huckerstering privilege in market, which does not expire until June 30th '/66, which see.  They all hold these bills, written in Inspector Burroughs' own hand and of same date (June 30th '/66)   They are licensed to that date.  It has been said that they shall, per force comply with any, and all conditions laid upon them.

Since the late city election for Mayo and common council men, all officers, favorably disposed to the colored people have been removed, and their places filled by those whose only claims on the public are, that they have suffered while fighting under Gen R. E. Lee for the independence of the South.

We would say to Your Honor, on behalf of Your petitioners, that these people–upon whom these heavy duties must fall, have never been consulted in the first instance touching their obligations to a new levy, but are being forced on the moment, by obbitrary power, or suffer the consequences of fines and imprisonments.

Your petitioners would further say to Your Hon. that throughout all the trying scenes of a four Years' war, the government have ever found them true as steel to the country, its soldiers and sailors, collectively and individually, and have often given their little alls to comfort a Union soldier distressed, with bleeding wounds and dying groans; and that for the delierance of our Republican government, they have laid their children, some their only child upon the altar of the country.

The civil authorities have turned their husbands and children from the public, or city works, and given all such labor to the enemies of the Union.  Hackdrivers, and teamsters generally are not exceptions to these gross impositions.  And the higher the duties, the less they are disposed to pay for marketables or milege.

These oppressed people are not allowed to purchase any article but what is restricted to their own family use.  And the above grievances are partially forced upon good Union men (white) who dare not dissent from the prevailing opinion, but like the colored, must give up all business.  Add to all this higher rents by 40 and 50 per cent than has ever been paid, until the present Year, together with more of persecutions than we can, by any possibility present in detail, and Your Hon. will no doubt conclude that something should be speedily done to lift this intolerable burden from their shoulders; especially when knowing, that their husbands, though called upon to pay a head tax of ($4–00) four dollars, have no voice in making city, State or national government.

They pray Your Hon. that the measures thus forced upon them will be so modified that they may pursue their ligitimate calling, as they have done no violation to government, bringing the State in debt.

The undersigned, representing many hundreds here who huckster for a living, in great confidence through humble prayer look to You, as heretofore they have looked, and happy, amid their present troubles to say, they have never asked in vain.

They pray day and night that the Heavenly Father may so surround You by His providential care that You may be “blessed in Your basket and in Your Store,” live the life of the righteous, and live long; and when this painful life endeth, have a seat in God's Bureau in Heaven   Yours Very Truly
Nancy Hodges Sarah Bailey
Lettenice Fisher, Cath. Reed
Emma Sparrow Martha Gordon
Phillis Besse Sarah Nash
Martha Whitfield Geo. Teamoh

[In the margin]
Mrs. Sarah Nash Pres.
   "    Nancy Hodges Vice
         Geo. Teamoh Sec
P.O. Box No. 152.

 

[Enclosure]

Portsmouth Va April 1st 1866

Received of Sarah Hudgins the sum of $6.31[cts] for rent of Huckster stall No 47 for the quarter ending June 30th 1866

John H, Burroughs City Inspector

[In another handwriting] Please return this soon

Nancy Hodges et al. to Major Genl O. O. Howard, 21 May 1866, and receipt of Sarah Hudgins, 1 Apr. 1866, both enclosed in Geo. Teamoh to Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, [21 May 1866], T-173 1866, Letters Received, series 15, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. The letter and all the signatures are in Teamoh's handwriting. In a covering letter, Teamoh noted that he had left his name at the commissioner's office “last winter, about the time Hon Fred. Douglas and others of us held an interview with President Johnson.” No response has been found in the commissioner's letters-sent volumes. On January 16, 1866, the Common Council of the City of Portsmouth had levied taxes on real estate, carriages, stock in trade, and a wide range of businesses and occupations. Among the assessments were annual taxes of $25 “on stalls, selling other than fish, or corned meats,” $3 “on tray hucksters,” $1 “on negroes working on the stand,” $5 “on fish hucksters,” and $25 “on every license to a hawker or pedlar of goods, wares and merchandize.” (Norfolk Virginian, 17 Jan. 1866.)

1. The writer, George Teamoh, was born a slave and worked as a caulker in the shipyards of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, until 1853, when his wife and children were sold away and he escaped to the North. He returned to Portsmouth after the Civil War, reunited with his wife and one daughter, and resumed his trade. (George Teamoh, God Made Man, Man Made the Slave: The Autobiography of George Teamoh, ed. F. N. Boney, Richard L. Hume, and Rafia Zafar [Macon, Ga., 1990].)

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 518–20.