St Louis Mo Sept 18th 1865
General, I have the honor to report that under your order of Aug. 30th I visited and made an inspection of the following Superintendencies of Refugees and Freedmen in the state of Arkansas to wit–Helena Pine Bluff and Little Rock.
At Helena Sept 2nd I found that under the management of Capt Henry Sweeney 60th USCInf. Supdt the expenses of the Government for the support of the needy had been greatly curtailed in regard to both Refugees & Freedmen. Capt Sweeney estimates that the total expense to the Govt of the people under his charge for the present month will not exceed $250.00 and that a greater sum will not be required hereafter. By diligent search among the people in the neighborhood of Helena, homes have been found for all the Refugee orphans mentioned in my last report except one or two and by affording all possible assistance to families desiring to remove to their former homes, the entire number of Refugees has been reduced to about 12 persons in all and most, if not all of these can soon be sent away
The condition of the freedmen in and about Helena, & under the more immediate charge of the Superintendent, is much the same as represented in my last report. My personal inspection of this class consisted chiefly in an examination of the growing crops, under their cultivation, and of the condition of the families as seen in their household arrangements.
Though the cotton under their cultivation generally looks well and promises a fair yield that growing on the small leases worked by colored lessees on their own account, is decidedly superior to that cultivated by them as hired hands. The former is clear of grass and weeds and shows in every respect that the utmost Care interest and diligence have been used in its cultivation; and I think it will yield 1/3 more per acre than the latter. The colored lessees whom I saw pointed to their success with apparent pride. Some of the colored lessees on the Pillow farm with previous resources and what they will make this year will have sufficient means to purchase the lands they have been farming, if it could be sold to them; and I heard more than one express a desire to buy land. These men have put up at their own expense, a ginhouse costing over $2000. and manifest enterprise in many other respects. Capt Sweeney assures me that all any white man has ever done for these freedmen, was simply to stake off their leases, and that they have been left entirely to their own resources in the management of their affairs. The condition of their household and family affairs is not satisfactory, being much the same as under the slave system; and here much can be done for their improvement and cultivation. Undue severity on the part of the male head of the family to his household, and the want of proper care and knowledge in the management of children are common. Their houses are generally comfortable and cleanly but their children are indifferently clad.
I had conversation with several persons who are employing Freedmen. The only complaint made was, that they can not get their hands to work early enough in the morning, and they say that many of them do not work so well as when they were slaves. I was informed that they will generally work for any one better than for their former masters– with all these objections the demand for Freedmen's labor is greater than the supply.
In the interior portions of Capt Sweeneys Superintendency the feeling of all classes has much improved. In July and August Capt Sweeney gave extensive circulation to all orders, circulars &c from Gen Howard & yourself, tending to explain the policy of this Bureau, which has had the good effect to restore confidence, harmony and good feeling and to remove much misunderstanding & prejudice. I am told that it is now feasible to establish schools on the plantations distant from the superintendency, and that some planters even desire that this be done.
Planters 40 & 50 miles away voluntarily come to the Superintendent to file their contracts Col Bentzoni commanding the military district has aided Capt Sweeney much in every respect.
I was at Pine Bluff Sept 7th 8th & 9th Capt Saml W. Mallory 64th U.S.C.Infty Superintendent has been on duty here for a long time. The Refugees receiving rations here number about 140 persons. and are colonized on what is known as the Fish farm, 5 miles below the town. With some assistance from Capt Mallory they have raised about 350 Acres of corn which will measurably relieve the government from subsisting them, and many will go to their former homes as soon as their corn is gathered. At the time I visited their camp I found considerable sickness generally of low fevers.
The Freedmen under the immediate care of the Superintendent, are situated on what is known as the “Cockerell home farm” adjoining the town of Pine Bluff, and in the “Johnston Colony” or the “Johnston home farm” five miles from the town
The first is the most flourishing establishment of the kind I have anywhere seen. There are 876 Freedmen on this farm. Notwithstanding they are mostly disabled men, women and children, they have produced 250 acres of cotton and 150 acres of corn, not to mention large quantities of vegetables and what has been produced in private gardens. The cotton is now being gathered and elicits the praise of every body, and old planters say it is as fine a crop as was ever produced on the farm. There is a good steam sawmill in operation and cotton gin also run by the same engine. The farm is well stocked everything belonging to the Freedmens Department except the mules and wagons.
The experiment of leasing to Freedmen has been tried here with marked success. According all due praise to Capt Mallory for his success on this farm, I think he has fallen into the error of managing and governing too much for these people so as to become to some extent a necessity to them.
The “Johnston Colony” is not doing so well. The number of Freedmen here is 300.–35 being men. They were brought from Presidents Island [Tennessee] last spring, and had been much demoralized from having been long in the miserable “corrals” of north Mississippi and west Tennessee, which followed the first breaking up of slavery. They are difficult to manage and have produced this year only 130 acres of Corn & 20 acres of Cotton. The large number of rations issued in Capt Mallory's Superintendency is a very unsatisfactory feature, and although the proceeds of his farms, will be sufficient to reimburse the Government, yet while the Freedmen draw rations, they do not seem so independent of aid as is desirable. I think in future a different course will be feasible.
There are several planters, mostly northern men, in this neighborhood cultivating cotton. and are paying first class Freedmen 20 dollars per month with board. They all think they will make money at these prices. I heard no complaint of the Freedmen as a laborer, but the Contrary. To show better just how they work I would state that Messrs. Kelsoe & Clayton informed me that they had raised ten acres of Cotton to the hand. Dr W. H. Jenkins has raised 250 acres of cotton and 120 acres of corn with 34 hands. Mr. W. W. Benjamin with 51 hands has raised 400 acres cotton and 100 acres corn.
The state of feeling at a distance from Pine Bluff especially to the Southward is not very favorable but improving. Before quitting this portion of my report, I cannot forbear mentioning the fact–as an example for imitation–that Gen Yell a prominent mover in the convention that led this state into rebellion, is excercizing a valuable influence in reference to our work. He urges the people to give the Freedmen a fair trial at least–to treat them fairly and kindly–that their fine plantations are not worth a farthing without his labor. With an honest and earnest effort he says at the present rates of cotton (if the Freedmen even work two thirds as well as formerly) they will reimburse their employers for every slave liberated by the war.
I arrived at Little Rock on the 11th Sept and remained there 'till the 13th. Lieut J. H. Raines 63rd US.C.Infty Superintendent here reports 316 Refugees, of which but seven are well men some of these are in a camp near town & are entirely dependent, the remainder are in a colony some 16 miles away and are partly selfsupporting. By proper management their number can be reduced to the absolutely helpless (say 60 persons) in a short time.
The Refugee Hospital here, Dr Flinn in Charge, is the most miserable thing of the kind I have seen.
Under the immediate charge of the Supdt. there are 421 Freedmen,–53 being men,–on the Freedmen's farm near the city. They are cultivating 80 acres of Cotton, which looks very well, some corn and garden vegetables. The number is kept large by arrivals from Texas, but can be reduced.
The Freedmen's Department here is badly off for buildings.– Churches have heretofore been used for schoolhouses, but these will soon be returned to the former congregation. The building used for a hospital is very unsuitable and unhealthily located. These can however be replaced by government buildings which will not be required by the military after the present and expected reduction of troops.
During my journey in Arkansas I learned that much unfriendly feeling exists in the S.W portions of the state. But of this I presume you have official information in the report of the Genl Superintendent.
The establishment of a superintendency in every county is urged by Maj Genl Reynolds,1 but he informed me that he could not furnish the necessary officers as Supdts, and he thinks the civil officers can not yet be relied on especially in S.W. Arkansas where Supdts are most needed.
Officers who have travelled extensively in South West Arkansas, and citizens who live there, informed me that the planters in that section are generally resolved not to employ the Freedmen after this year, whilst others refuse to recognize the legality of his emancipation. I submit that a just. and wholesome check to the action of the first class would be the occupation of sufficient Land in each neighborhood to support, and furnish employment for the Freedmen that might be thrown out of employment: thus presenting those, who on account of enmity, combine to throw the Freedmen on the support of the Government, by refusing him employment, with the alternative of having him as a prosperous neighbor.
I have heard nothing so frequently and confidently asserted, as that cotton cannot be produced by free labor. It will be remembered that this is one of the premises by which, some formerly sought to prove slave labor essential to civilization, and therefore right; And so infatuated are some of these people that notwithstanding they can see men making fortunes all around them by using this very labor, they continue to make the assertion. When they have sufficiently overcome their prejudices, to permit them to admit the truth when it is in the Freedmen's favor, and when they have learned the kind of treatment due him as a free-laborer, as well as they knew how to manage him as a slave, this old argument in favor of slavery will be effectually exploded Very Respectfully Your Obt Servt
D. H. Williams
Lt. Col. D. H. Williams to General [John W. Sprague], 18 Sept. 1865, filed as M-4 1865, Letters Received, series 15, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.
1. Joseph J. Reynolds, commander of the Department of Arkansas.
Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 709–13.