Land and Labor, 1865
Land and Labor, 1865 examines the transition from slavery to free labor during the tumultuous first months after the Civil War. Letters and testimony by former slaves, former slaveholders, Freedmen's Bureau agents, and others reveal the connection between developments in workplaces across the South and an intensifying political contest over the meaning of freedom and the terms of national reunification.
In the tense and often violent aftermath of emancipation, former slaves seeking to ground their liberty in economic independence came into conflict with former owners determined to keep them dependent and subordinate. Overseeing that conflict were Northern officials with their own notions of freedom, labor, and social order. This volume of Freedom depicts the dramatic events that ensued – the eradication of bondage and the contest over restoring land to ex-Confederates; the introduction of labor contracts and the day-to-day struggles that engulfed the region's plantations, farms, and other workplaces; the achievements of those freedpeople who attained a measure of independence; and rumors of a year-end insurrection in which ex-slaves would seize the land they had been denied and exact revenge for past oppression.
1,073 pp. Table of contents (pdf)
Copies of Land and Labor, 1865 may be purchased from the University of North Carolina Press online, by telephone (800-848-6224; from outside the U.S., 919-966-7449), or by fax (800-272-6817; from outside the U.S., 919-962-2704).
Sample Documents from the Volume
- Resolutions Adopted by a Meeting of Virginia Employers, May 31, 1865
Hoping to dictate uniform terms under which former slaves would be employed, landowners in one Virginia neighborhood proposed to fix wages at subsistence levels and restrict the freedpeople's ability to move about without their former owners' permission.
- Chaplain of a South Carolina Black Regiment to the Aide-de-Camp of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, June 7, 1865, Enclosing Affidavits of Three Georgia Freedmen
After safely reaching Savannah from the interior of Georgia, three freedmen recounted their harrowing escapes from former owners determined to keep them and other former slaves locked in bondage.
- Chairman of the Orangeburg, South Carolina, Commission on Contracts to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, June 12, 1865, Enclosing a Speech to the Freedpeople, [June 1865]; and the Commissioner's Reply, June 21, 1865
Captain Charles Soule, a young Northern officer, described his efforts to instruct ex-slaves in South Carolina about what he considered their rights and responsibilities.
- Tennessee Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for Kentucky, Tennessee, and Northern Alabama, July 27, 1865
Convinced that their newfound liberty was imperiled by hostile former slaveholders and restrictive slave-era laws, a group of freedmen sought the appointment of a local Freedmen's Bureau agent and asserted their right to equality before the law.
- Northern Teacher to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, August 4, 1865
A Northern observer transmitted resolutions adopted by freedpeople in northern Virginia that explained the importance of land to their future welfare.
- Committee of North Carolina Freedmen to the North Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, August 7, 1865, and the Latter's Reply
Freedmen in eastern North Carolina organized themselves into a “Joint Stock” company to raise money with which to purchase land.
- Cases Adjudicated by the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent at Gordonsville, Virginia, August 16–September 13, 1865
A register kept by Captain T. Franklin P. Crandon described the cases brought before him and the actions he took.
- Statement of a Virginia Freedman, August 24, 1865
Jacob Thomas twice attempted to visit relatives still held as slaves, only to be forcibly driven away both times.
- Testimony by Two North Carolina Freedwomen against Their Former Owner, [August 1865?]
A former slave and her daughter recounted the brutality they had experienced at the hands of former owners bent on denying their freedom.
- Commander of U.S. Forces at Columbia, Louisiana, to the
Headquarters of the Western District of Louisiana, September 20, 1865, Enclosing a Labor Contract, [August 1, 1865]
A U.S. military commander in Louisiana believed that, in terms of material welfare and the conditions of labor, the freedpeople near his post were faring as badly or worse than they had as slaves.
- Committee of Freedmen on Edisto Island, South Carolina, to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner [October 20 or 21, 1865]; the Commissioner's Reply; and the Committee to the President
In two eloquent petitions, freedpeople voiced outrage at news that the land they had been promised was to be restored to its former owners.
- Tennessee Freedwoman to the Commander of the Department of the Tennessee, October 24, 1865
After benefiting from decades of Mary Gillespy's labor in slavery, her former owner refused to support her in freedom. Elderly, infirm, and with nowhere else to turn, she appealed to federal authorities for assistance.
- White Tennessean to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the Subdistrict of Memphis, Tennessee, October 30, 1865
Fearing that armed and unruly freedpeople were planning to forcibly seize the property of white landowners, a resident of west Tennesssee implored federal authorities to take preventive measures.
- Statement of a Mississippi Freedman, November 21, 1865
Two freedmen preparing to cultivate land they had rented were warned by white neighbors that their presence was not welcome.
- Georgia Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Savannah, Georgia, November 28, 1865
Amid hard-fought negotiations over labor contracts for the coming year, ex-slaves in coastal Georgia indignantly rejected offers that failed to provide for nonworking members of the laborers' families.
- Mississippi Freedpeople to the Governor of Mississippi, December 3, 1865
Avowing their willingness to labor and denying any intention of rising in insurrection, freedpeople wrote the governor of Mississippi to protest the repressive laws recently enacted by the state legislature.
- Mississippi Freedman to His Wife in Virginia, December 4, 1865
Having agreed to work a parcel of his former owner's land on shares, Moses Scott hoped to cultivate it with the assistance of his wife and children, from whom he had been separated.
- South Carolina Freedman to the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, December 8, 1865
When planters on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina, attempted to reclaim estates that were being cultivated by former slaves, the freedpeople resisted. If the owners would not sell them the land, Shadrack Seabrook declared, they preferred to leave the state rather than remain as hired laborers.
- Broadside by the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent at Shreveport, Louisiana, December 16, 1865
Dismissing rumors that freedpeople would receive land from the federal government at the end of the year, a Freedmen's Bureau agent warned those who had not yet entered into contract for 1866 to do so immediately.