South Carolina Planters to an Adjutant of the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner

Charleston S.C.  14th Dec 1865–

Capt   We the undersigned Landowners on James Island on the seaboard of South Carolina have the honor to make the following report.

That Ephraim M Clark Planter appointed by Landowners on said island to represent them on the Suporvisory Board for said Island went to Capt Ketchum, Agent appointed to carry out the orders for the restoration of property held by Gen: Sherman's order of 15th Jany last,1 on 7th Dec last for the purpose of obtaining permission for himself and others to proceed to James Island and to make arrangements by which an interview could be held with the Freedmen, so that he and the others he represented, might fully and exactly comply with all the conditions required by the Freedmen's Bureau, for the restoration of these lands.  To carry out this purpose he requested the said Capt Ketchum to let him have a Guard as he had heard the Freedmen on said Island were demoralized, and that their presence there might be at the risk of personal safety.  Capt Ketchum replied that the report was wholly without foundation, that he had often heard reports of such character but had never come in contact with any one who could give him evidence sufficient to establish the correctness of such reports; that he would communicate their mission to Mr Webb the Bureau's Agent for that Island.  The day after this interview, to wit 8th Dec. John E. Rivers, an Agent of the Landowners went to Capt Ketchum and requested him to notify the said Mr Webb, that they would be on the Island on Wednesday the 13th inst and further asked that Mr Webb should request delegations of Freedmen from their different settlements to meet at McLeods House for the purpose of conference on the subject of contracts.  That the said Capt Ketchum in his presence wrote to Mr Webb–to that effect–  On Tuesday the 12th inst the said John E. Rivers called for the passed from Capt Ketchum.  Mr Rivers then in company with Dr R. Lebby went to obtain the permit of the cheif Health officer which was endorsed by the Provost Marshal so that they might be fully within the provisions of all military rule on this point

We the undersigned E. M. Clark, H. W Kinsman John E. Rivers E L Rivers J C. Minott. Robt. Bee. Robt Lebby Jr–owners and Representatives of Land on said Island attempted to visit the Island today the 13th inst. for the purpose aforesaid, and that upon arriving at the landing we were met by two armed Freedmen not in U.S. Uniform, who halted us.  We asked for Mr Webb; one of the Freedmen answered, that he had gone to Wadmalaw, the other, that he had gone to see Mr: Towles.  We then asked for the Doctor,2 the reply was. that “he was at the house”.  We then asked that the Doctor be sent for, which was complied with–but in the meantime, a number of Freedmen about (30) Thirty) assemblied on the wharf. armed with guns of various descriptions. among the Freedmen two or more in U.S. uniform, one with a noncommissioned officers badge–  About this time an answer was brought that the Doctor was not at home   Upon the reception of this information we proposed to leave the landing and return to the city, when the colored noncommissioned officer said that the boat should not leave–and a colored person not a soldier said “let us take them out any how”.  About this time it was reported that the Doctor was coming and this we presume put a stop to their hostile proceedings.  Immediately after the Doctor appeared.  The Doctor boarded our boat, and remarked “this is quite a demonstration   the Freedmen think that you have come to settle on the land at once”.  We replied that was not our object at present we have merely come to have an interview with them.  The Doctor replied “I know that Mr Webb has received a communication from Capt Ketchum on Saturday the 9th as to the object of your visit, and they have been so informed”–  We asked the Doctor for Mr Webb.  He replied that he had gone to see Mr Towles and would be back at a late hour this afternoon.  He then invited us to land and go up to the house which we declined as Mr Webb was absent and consequently the object of the visit could not be accomplished and on account of the hostile demonstration made we thought it unsafe to land during Mr Webbs absence–  Upon leaving the landing several of the Freedmen on the wharf said to our crew, (who were also Freedmen) in an angry tone “if you bring these people back here again” (alluding to us) “we will arrest you”–  They then by the command of a colored person “fall in battalion” did so form, and follow us with their guns along the shore for about a half mile to what is known as the water landing, and there drew up in line and remained until we passed upon our return to the city.  From what we saw at our attempted visit this day, we have come to the conclusion that it would be unsafe for us to visit the island again unless accompanied by a proper guard or an U.S. Officer

signed E. M. Clark John E Rivers
  H W. Kinsman J. C. Minott
  E S Rivers Robt Bee
    Robt Lebby Jr.

E. M. Clark et al. to Capt A. P. Ketchum, 14 Dec. 1865, filed as N(D)-4 1866, Letters Received Relating to Military Discipline & Control, series 22, Headquarters of the Army, Record Group 108, National Archives. This copy of the planters' petition was submitted to the headquarters of the Department of South Carolina. Filed with it is an affidavit of December 16, 1865, by R. W. Webb, the Freedmen's Bureau agent for James Island; it was sworn before John E. Rivers, a magistrate who was one of the petition's signatories. On December 15, according to the affidavit, Webb had addressed a meeting of the island's freedpeople at the McLeod plantation, conveying to them “the import of certain Orders received from the Commissioner of said Bureau contemplating the restoration of Lands on Said Isld to former Owners.” Afterward, the freedpeople “unanimously agreed . . . that while they would under no circumstances work for their former owners yet they would hire the Lands from them and that to effect such contracts the former propietors would be permitted by them to visit the said Island and talk about it.” “[I]mmediately after this decision,” Webb attested, an armed freedman “addressed the crowd, in language and manner thoroughly insurrectionary and disrespectfull” of both the commissioner's policy and the former landowners. That speech “had the desired effect and said Freedmen at once determined that neither would they Contract under any circumstances with said propietors nor should any of them visit the Island unless Genl Saxton accompanied them in person.” (General Rufus Saxton was the Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for South Carolina.) Webb concluded that “it would be highly imprudent and even positively dangerous for said propietors to attempt a landing upon the Island for any purpose whatsoever without being accompanied by a strong and reliable Guard.” An endorsement from the headquarters of the Department of South Carolina referred the petition and the affidavit to the commander of the Military District of Charleston “for investigation and report”; he in turn referred them to an aide-de-camp, whose report is printed in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 487–89.

1. The board of supervisors had been formed in accordance with orders issued on October 19, 1865, by General O. O. Howard, the Freedmen's Bureau commissioner; see Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 445–46n. Howard had put Captain Alexander P. Ketchum in charge of restoring to former owners land that General William T. Sherman had reserved for settlement by former slaves. Sherman's order was issued on January 16 (not 15), 1865.

2. C. H. Brownley, a contract surgeon employed by the Freedmen's Bureau and assigned to James Island.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 484–86.