Land and Labor, 1866–1867
Land and Labor, 1866–1867 examines the remaking of the South's labor system in the tumultuous aftermath of emancipation. It depicts the struggle of unenfranchised and impoverished ex-slaves to control their own labor, establish their families as viable economic units, and secure independent possession of land and other productive resources. Among the topics it addresses are the dispossession of settlers in the Sherman reserve of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, the reordering of labor on plantation and farm, nonagricultural labor, new relations of credit and debt, long-distance labor migration, and the efforts of former slaves to rent, purchase, and homestead land. The documents – many of them in the freedpeople's own words – speak eloquently for themselves, while the editors' interpretive essays provide context and illuminate the major themes.
1,070 pp. Table of contents (pdf) | Index (pdf)
Land and Labor, 1866–1867 received the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government.
Copies of Land and Labor, 1866–1867 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
Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the District of Mobile, Alabama, to the Headquarters of the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, January 22, 1866
A Mobile city ordinance requiring draymen and cab drivers to give $500 bond in order to procure a business license put black men at a heavy disadvantage, explained a Freedmen's Bureau agent who argued for its repeal.
- Mississippi Freedman to the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, January 25, 1866
Contrasting freedpeople's wartime loyalty to the Union with their white neighbors' treason, Merrimon Howard denounced Mississippi's oppressive laws as a travesty of freedom and an obstacle to ex-slaves' pursuit of economic independence.
- Freedmen's Bureau Acting Subassistant Commissioner for Johns, James, Wadmalaw, and Morris Islands, South Carolina, to the Headquarters of the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, January 30, 1866
On the sea islands south of Charleston, South Carolina, former slaves who had settled on land set apart by General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15 mobilized to resist its return to the former owners. A Freedmen's Bureau agent described the continued arrival of impoverished former slaves from the mainland and the determination of those who held forty-acre plots not to be reduced from independent producers to hired laborers.
Georgia Freedwoman to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for Georgia, February 5, 1866
A mother of seven, Harriet Hill expected to have access to the labor of her three working-aged children when she contracted to work for a landowner for half the crop. But her former owner forcibly prevented them from joining her, thereby thwarting her effort to unite her family and jeopardizing her ability to support her four young children.
- Proceedings in a Case between an Alabama Freedwoman and Her Employer's Son, March 24, 1866
A freedwoman who was whipped by her employer's son for refusing to carry out an order complained to the local Freedmen's Bureau agent, who tried him for assault and battery.
Florida Black Grocers to the Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, April 5, 1866
Seven black merchants in Tallahassee, Florida, protested that the taxes levied on them by civil authorities threatened to drive them out of business.
- Freedmen's Bureau Officer in Mississippi to the Headquarters of the Mississippi Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, April 9, 1866
Reporting on an inspection of several plantations along the Mississippi River, Lieutenant George W. Corliss described wide-ranging conflict between ex-slave laborers and their employers and overseers. Violence was commonplace and sometimes fatal, as evidenced by a deadly altercation on the plantation of Nathan B. Forrest, a former Confederate general.
- Georgia Planter to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for Georgia, April 17, 1866
When the circumstances of their households allowed, many freedwomen declined to labor for white employers, preferring to care for their children and engage in productive activities in their own households, gardens, and poultry yards. A planter in Georgia denounced the resulting reduction in the plantation labor force as detrimental to the entire Southern social order.
Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent for Princess Anne County, Virginia, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the 1st District of Virginia, April 19, 1866
Freedpeople in and near Norfolk, Virginia, who could earn a living at short-term work were indisposed to enter into year-long contracts for farm labor.
- South Carolina Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for the Western District of South Carolina, April 23, 1866; and Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon at Orangeburg and Columbia, South Carolina, to the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon-in-Chief
A committee of freedmen in Columbia, South Carolina, protested local authorities' “Shameful treatment” of black residents who had contracted smallpox, prompting an investigation by a Freedmen's Bureau medical officer.
- North Carolina Free Black Man to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the Southern District of North Carolina, April 26, 1866
For impoverished black Southerners struggling to attain economic independence, their primary resource was the labor of their families. Joe Bright rented a forty-acre farm, expecting his six working-aged children to help him cultivate it, but his expectations were dashed when their former owner had the children bound to him as apprentices.
First page of manuscript (image, 529K)
- Statement of a Tennessee Freedman, April 30, 1866, and Proceedings in a Case against the Freedman's Employer, May 2, 1866
When Andrew Cleveland threatened to have Allen Payne's wife whipped, Payne declared that he would not allow it, whereupon Cleveland threatened to kill him. Payne reported the confrontation to the local Freedmen's Bureau agent, who put Cleveland on trial.
- Kentucky Freedwoman to a Daughter in Tennessee, May 13, 1866, and the Freedwoman to Another Daughter in Tennessee, May 13, 1866
In letters to her adult daughters, Aima Ship touched on family connections, her health, her work, her faith, and her aspirations in freedom. She also shared the distressing news that a granddaughter had been apprenticed to a white master.
- Kentucky Freedman to the Secretary of War, May 14, 1866
Henry Mars, who had served as sergeant major of a black regiment during the Civil War, protested the exclusion of black people from white-owned taverns and public houses, as well as prohibitions against black people operating such businesses themselves.
- Testimony by a South Carolina Freedwoman and Her Employer, May 16, 1866
Chastised by her employer for talking loudly with visiting relatives, a domestic servant named Betty Carrion indignantly refused to be silenced – an act of defiance that prompted a beating, followed by dismissal. In a hearing before a Freedmen's Bureau agent, Carrion and her employer each recounted the episode.
- Virginia Black Hucksters to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, May 21, 1866, Enclosing a Receipt for Rental of a Huckster Stall
Black women working as hucksters in Portsmouth, Virginia, gathered to denounce municipal regulations that hampered their own and their husbands' efforts to earn a living.
Proceedings in a Case between a Tennessee Freedwoman and Her Employer, May 24, 1866
In a trial before a Freedmen's Bureau agent, Loucy Jane Boyd, a fifteen-year-old freed girl, testified to being repeatedly raped by her employer, Larkin Willis.
- Affidavit of a Tennessee Freedman, July 18, 1866
In successive workplace disputes with his employer, Archy Paine was beaten, subjected to malicious prosecution, and warned to leave the state.
Tennessee Freedman to the Commander of the Military Division of the Tennessee, July 18, 1866
On behalf of himself and other freedpeople who had settled on federally controlled land outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, a freedman worried that the return of the land to ex-Confederate owners would mean their dispossession.
Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent at Liberty, Virginia, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the 7th District of Virginia, July 19, 1866, Enclosing a Letter from a Virginia Former Slaveholder to the Assistant Superintendent, July 18, 1866
No longer willing to support three elderly freedmen he had previously owned, a former slaveholder turned them over to the local Freedmen's Bureau agent.
- Certificate of Deposit by a Kentucky Freedman in the Freedman's Bank, July 29, 1866
A black soldier from Kentucky who was serving in Texas deposited $10 into his account with the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, a private corporation chartered by Congress that was popularly known as the Freedman's Bank.
- Affidavit of an Arkansas Freedman, July 30, 1866
After journeying from Virginia to work on a plantation in Arkansas, Edward Smith became dissatisfied with the conditions he and his co-workers endured. While making a sixty-mile trek to the nearest Freedmen's Bureau office to enter a complaint, he and another freedman were first captured by a party of armed white men with tracking dogs, then liberated by a party of armed black men.
Texas Planter to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Richmond, Texas, July 30, 1866
Exasperated by ex-slave laborers who he claimed would neither work industriously nor accord him due respect, a Texas planter sought the intervention of a Freedmen's Bureau agent.
Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Superintendent for Cumberland County, North Carolina, to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the Southern District of North Carolina, July 31, 1866
A Freedmen's Bureau agent explained how the burden of capitation or “poll” taxes, which were levied by the state and county governments on persons rather than on property, fell especially heavily on impoverished former slaves.
Statement of a Louisiana Freedman, August 18, 1866
After Green Jones attained a modicum of economic independence by renting land on his own account and hiring other ex-slaves to help him cultivate it, he and his employees were subjected to a brutal attack by white nightriders.
- Georgia Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, September 22, 1866, and the Freedman to the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, September 24, 1866
Disheartened by their prospects in Georgia and determined to acquire land of their own, a group of freedmen representing 150 families looked to Arkansas, where public land was available for settlement under the recently enacted Southern Homestead Act.
Complaint of Two Alabama Freedpeople, September 24, 1866
A freedman and his wife agreed to work for wages plus the right to tend any land they cleared, but were driven off the place by their employer before they could harvest the crops they had cultivated.
District of Columbia Freedwoman to the Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for the District of Columbia, November 17, 1866, and Affidavit of Her Husband in Virginia, November 28, 1866
James Lacey and his wife, Mary, had moved from rural Virginia to Washington, D.C. at some point before 1866, when shortage of work in the crowded city prompted James to return to Virginia. After Mary refused to join him, the couple fell into a dispute over the custody of their young daughter.
Texas Freedmen's Bureau Inspector to the Headquarters of the Texas Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, November 30, 1866
With the 1866 harvest ending and contracting for 1867 under way, a Freedmen's Bureau official detailed the many issues over which ex-slave workers had clashed with white employers.
- Alabama Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Huntsville, Alabama, December 6, 1866
Richmond Body and his twenty-eight person family agreed to work for a white farmer for a one-half share of the crops they produced, furnishing nearly all of their own food and livestock feed. At the year's end, their employer had their crop seized to satisfy a debt he claimed they owed him, leaving them with nothing for their year's work.
Two Letters from the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Subassistant Commissioner at Griffin, Georgia, to the Headquarters of the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, December 17, 1866, and January 4, 1867
A Freedmen's Bureau agent described the bleak conditions confronting former slaves in a drought-ravaged section of Georgia. Unable to get out of debt and oppressed by local planters, many freedpeople accepted offers of employment at higher wages in the southwestern states, and others hoped to join them but lacked the means to relocate.
Freedmen's Bureau Agent at Walthourville, Georgia, to the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, December 20, 1866; and Reply from the Assistant Commissioner's Headquarters, December 21, 1866
Barely able to provide for his disabled wife and three small children, seventy-six-year-old Stephen Baker sought the assistance of the Freedmen's Bureau in supporting another relative=-his hundred-year-old brother.
- Report of a Speech by a Virginia Freedman, late December, 1866
Hundreds of former slaves in tidewater Virginia resided on land that had come under Union control during the Civil War but was being reclaimed by ex-Confederate owners. After Freedmen's Bureau officials announced that the freedpeople must relinquish the plots they regarded as rightfully theirs, Bayley Wyat delivered an impassioned speech decrying their impending dispossession.
- Alabama Freedwoman to Her Father in Virginia, January 18, 1867; and Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent for Alexandria and Fairfax Counties, Virginia, to the Headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner for the District of Columbia, March 12, 1867
Struggling to support herself and two children after being abandoned by her husband, Elizabeth Weden of Alabama hoped to rejoin her father and brother in Virginia, from whom she had been sold away more than twenty years earlier. Unable to afford the passage herself, she sought help first from members of her church and then from her father, who in turn asked the Freedmen's Bureau for assistance.
- Army Officer at Gallatin, Tennessee, to the Headquarters of the Department of the Tennessee, January 29, 1867, Enclosing an Anonymous Broadside
A notice distributed by a band of white regulators in middle Tennessee set forth rules for black laborers and threatened violators with death.
Alabama Black Teacher to the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of Education, February 5, 1867; and Headquarters of the Alabama Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner to the Government Relief Agent at Wetumpka, Alabama, February 7, 1867
Writing from a region threatened by widespread famine, a black teacher protested that rations furnished by the federal government were being distributed to white widows of Confederate soldiers while being denied to black people who had been the Union's staunch supporters.
- North Carolina Freedman to the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner, February 9, 1867
Facing eviction when the land they had occupied was restored to its prewar owners, freedpeople living in the Trent River settlement near New Bern, North Carolina, protested to the commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau.
Freedmen's Bureau Agent for Taylor County, Georgia, to the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, February 12, 1867
A Freedmen's Bureau agent was asked to decide who was entitled to the labor of a recently married freedwoman: her husband or the employer with whom she had contracted before her marriage?
- Freedmen's Bureau Special Agent for Jackson County, Florida, to the Headquarters of the Florida Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, February 28, 1867
After a labor-contracting season in which many freedpeople had negotiated more advantageous terms of employment and some had risen from wage workers to renters, a Freedmen's Bureau agent offered a wide-ranging report on labor relations in his jurisdiction.
Anonymous Warning to Two Kentucky Freedmen, [late February, 1867]
When two freedmen undertook to farm on their own rather than work for white landowners, vigilantes threatened them with death unless they left the state.
Affidavits of Three Texas Freedmen, May 13, 14, and 16, 1867
During an investigation into the murder of a freedman by a plantation overseer, three freedmen recounted the threats and assaults they and their co-workers had endured at the overseer's hands.