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.
Contract between an Alabama Planter and Alabama Freedpeople, [June 1, 1865]
The contract between W. C. Penick and his former slaves set forth their work obligations in exhaustive detail.
- 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.
Officer in a Massachusetts Black Regiment to the Headquarters of the Northern District of the Department of the South, June 17, 1865
Charged with arranging labor contracts between rice planters and former slaves – many of whom had been occupying the plantations on their own during their former owners' wartime absence – a Union officer enumerated the many issues in dispute between landowners and laborers.
South Carolina Planters to the Commander of the Northern District of the Department of the South, June 20, 1865
Hoping to resume cultivation of estates they had abandoned during the war and in many cases left in possession of former slaves, planters near Charleston, South Carolina, asked a Union commander to define their rights as property owners and employers.
Contract between a Georgia Planter and Georgia Freedpeople, July 8, 1865
The contract between McQueen McIntosh and the freedpeople on his plantation not only enumerated the workers' labor obligations, but also prescribed their personal comportment, instituted fines for damaged or stolen tools, and charged the medical care of nonworking freedpeople against the laborers' wages.
Mayor and City Commissioners of Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Provisional Governor of North Carolina, July 12, 1865; and Commander of the District of Wilmington to the Headquarters of the Department of North Carolina, July 26, 1865
Anxious municipal authorities in Wilmington regarded a newfound public assertiveness among the city's black residents and the presence of black soldiers in its Union garrison as portents of an insurrection. The military commander in the city, however, dismissed such fears.
Ordinance by the Board of Police of Opelousas, Louisiana, as Printed in a New Orleans Newspaper, July 15, 1865
Municipal authorities in Opelousas, Louisiana, responded to the end of slavery by imposing harsh restrictions on the rights of all black people, forbidding them to rent a house, possess a gun, assemble in public, or even enter the town without an employer's permission.
Statement of Alabama Freedpeople, [July 24, 1865]
Thirteen freedpeople signed a statement declaring their willingness to work for their former owner until Christmas Day, 1865, receiving no compensation beyond food and clothing and laboring “faithfully as heretofore.”
- 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.
Maryland Labor Broker to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, September 4, 1865; and Affidavit of a Former Employee of the Labor Broker, September 25, 1865
Emancipation meant business opportunity for labor brokers such as Oliver Wood of Baltimore, who recruited freedpeople in areas where work was hard to come by and, for a fee, supplied them to short-handed employers elsewhere. In a letter to the Freedmen's Bureau commissioner, Wood complained that unscrupulous persons were hiring laborers he had procured without paying his commission, but numerous observers – including a former employee – affirmed that Wood, too, engaged in shady dealing.
Freedmen's Bureau Inspector General for Missouri and Arkansas to the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for Missouri and Arkansas, September 18, 1865
Reporting on a wide-ranging inspection tour of eastern Arkansas, Colonel Dennis H. Williams lauded the successes of former slaves who were cultivating land independently on plantations leased from the federal government near Helena and in a “colony” near Pine Bluff inhabited mainly by women, children, and disabled men.
- 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.
Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent at Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for Kentucky and Tennessee, October 6, 1865
In a white-majority area of Tennessee where former slaveholders had begun to rent land to ex-slaves, poor whites mobilized against the freedpeople, intent on driving them away.
- 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.
Arkansas Planter to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent at Memphis, Tennessee, October 25, 1865
On a plantation in Arkansas, a dispute that began with a freedman cursing the overseer escalated into a confrontation in which most of the workers threatened to quit.
- 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.
Provost Marshal of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes (Right Bank), Louisiana, to the Headquarters of the Louisiana Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, November 7, 1865
In the sugar-growing parishes near New Orleans, where plantations had been cultivated by ex-slave laborers under federal auspices during the war, emancipation was a well-established fact by 1865. But as a military officer observed, the transition from slavery to free labor in the countryside was uneven, complicated by former Confederates' resistance to the new order and by proximity to a major city.
- 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.
South Carolina Planters to an Adjutant of the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, December 14, 1865
On James Island, South Carolina, former slaves had for several years lived free on plantations abandoned by their former owners during the war. Believing themselves entitled to the land they had worked on their own, they took up arms to block a visit from planters who hoped to retake possession of their estates.
- 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.
White Floridians to the Provisional Governor of Florida, December 23, 1865, and Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent of Education to the Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, December 26, 1865
Alarmed by vague rumors of “immense” numbers of freedpeople planning to assemble on Christmas Day with evil intent, white Floridians called for military intervention. A Freedmen's Bureau official sent to learn the meeting's purpose reported on his investigation.
South Carolina Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, January 17, 1866
During hard-fought negotiations over plantation labor contracts for 1866, a group of freedmen in coastal South Carolina disputed employers' assertion that former slaves were unwilling to work. What they were not willing to do, they insisted, was work under the oppressive terms employers were offering.
South Carolina Freedwoman to an Unidentified Military Officer, November 18, 1866
Lavinah Malby and her co-workers were promised a share of the crop as compensation for their labor in 1865, but having still received nothing by late 1866 she sought assistance from federal authorities.
North Carolina Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent of the Subdistrict of Weldon, North Carolina, May 16, 1867
Nearly twenty months after his wife and two teenaged sons had been evicted without pay from the farm on which they had worked in 1865, Wilson Maggett sought assistance from the Freedmen's Bureau in recovering the compensation they were due.