[Fortress Monroe, Va.] May 9, 1863.
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Question How many of the people called contrabands, have come under your observation?
Answer Some 10,000 have come under our control, to be fed in part, and clothed in part, but I cannot speak accurately in regard to the number. This is the rendezvous. They come here from all about, from Richmond and 200 miles off in North Carolina There was one gang that started from Richmond 23 strong and only 3 got through.
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Q In your opinion, is there any communication between the refugees and the black men still in slavery?
A. Yes Sir, we have had men here who have gone back 200 miles.
Q In your opinion would a change in our policy which would cause them to be treated with fairness, their wages punctually paid and employment furnished them in the army, become known and would it have any effect upon others in slavery?
A Yes–Thousands upon Thousands. I went to Suffolk a short time ago to enquire into the state of things there–for I found I could not get any foot hold to make things work there, through the Commanding General, and I went to the Provost Marshall and all hands–and the colored people actually sent a deputation to me one morning before I was up to know if we put black men in irons and sent them off to Cuba to be sold or set them at work and put balls on their legs and whipped them, just as in slavery; because that was the story up there, and they were frightened and didn't know what to do. When I got at the feelings of these people I found they were not afraid of the slaveholders. They said there was nobody on the plantations but women and they were not afraid of them One woman came through 200 miles in Men's clothes. The most valuable information we recieved in regard to the Merrimack and the operations of the rebels came from the colored people and they got no credit for it. I found hundreds who had left their wives and families behind. I asked them “Why did you come away and leave them there?” and I found they had heard these stories, and wanted to come and see how it was. “I am going back again after my wife” some of them have said “When I have earned a little money” What as far as that?” “Yes” and I have had them come to me to borrow money, or to get their pay, if they had earned a months wages, and to get passes. “I am going for my family” they say. “Are you not afraid to risk it?” “No I know the Way” Colored men will help colored men and they will work along the by paths and get through. In that way I have known quite a number who have gone up from time to time in the neighborhood of Richmond and several have brought back their families; some I have never heard from. As I was saying they do not feel afraid now. The white people have nearly all gone, the blood hounds are not there now to hunt them and they are not afraid, before they were afraid to stir. There are hundreds of negroes at Williamsburgh with their families working for nothing. They would not get pay here and they had rather stay where they are. “We are not afraid of being carried back” a great many have told us and “if we are, we can get away again” Now that they are getting their eyes open they are coming in. Fifty came this morning from Yorktown who followed Stoneman's Cavalry when they returned from their raid. The officers reported to their Quartermaster that they had so many horses and fifty or sixty negroes. “What did you bring them for” “Why they followed us and we could not stop them.” I asked one of the men about it and he said they would leave their work in the field as soon as they found the Soldiers were Union men and follow them sometimes without hat or coat. They would take best horse they could get and every where they rode they would take fresh horses, leave the old ones and follow on and so they came in. I have questioned a great many of them and they do not feel much afraid; and there are a great many courageous fellows who have come from long distances in rebeldom. Some men who came here from North Carolina, knew all about the [Emancipation] Proclammation and they started on the belief in it; but they had heard these stories and they wanted to know how it was. Well, I gave them the evidence and I have no doubt their friends will hear of it. Within the last two or three months the rebel guards have been doubled on the line and the officers and privates of the 99th New York between Norfolk and Suffolk have caught hundreds of fugitives and got pay for them.
Q Do I understand you to say that a great many who have escaped have been sent back?
A Yes Sir, The masters will come in to Suffolk in the day time and with the help of some of the 99th carry off their fugitives and by and by smuggle them across the lines and the soldier will get his $20. or $50.
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Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 88–90, in Free at Last, pp. 107–10, and in Families and Freedom, pp. 31–33.