Texas Freedmen's Bureau Inspector to the Headquarters of the Texas Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner

Galveston Tex. Nov. 30th, 1866

I have the honor to report that in compliance with paragraph 1 Special Orders No. 139 from these Hd. Qurs. dated Nov. 19th, 1866 I proceeded to inspect the posts of Clinton and Victoria.1

. . . .

Contracts for the new year are beginng to come in to the agents for approval but they have so far declined to take any action awating instructions from General Kiddoo as to form and requirements.2  Such instructions should be issued as soon as practicable as within the next 30 days all contracts will be made for the ensuing year=  The great fault this year in the making of contracts has been the indefinite manner in which they are gotten up= too many things which should be in are left out–said to be “understood” but this gives rise to trouble as Employer and laberer understand them differently and trouble always will arise where this is the case=

Agents cannot be too careful in having the contracts fully understood by the freedpeople and its conditions plainly and fully stated before being signed–

The following are some of the points which require to be inserted in the contract and I suggest them to aid you in getting up instructions in regard to contracts= Should the matter be entered into as much in detail as this would require=

1st, The contract should plainly state whether the freedpeople are to work saturdays or not and if they are whether all or half the day

2nd, When the contract terminates–whether at the end of the year or when the crop is gathered=  Sometimes the planter wants them to leave when the crop is in and they think they should remain until the end of the year and vice versa–  This has been the source of a great deal of trouble this fall=

3rd, Corn should be divided as soon as gathered and cribbed seperately=  Planters feed from the whole crop until the division and then are not willing to allow for this in the settlement=

4 Contracts should plainly specify whether the fences are to be kept in repair and what fences and if rails will be required the probable number to be split=

5th, Whether medical attendance is to be furnished or not and what kind= whether a physician or medicines kept in the house and the planter treat the sick as was common in times of slavery=

6th, Whether they are to have an overseer or not and by whom he is to be selected and also whether he shall be black or white

7th, Whether when the freedpeople are working for a portion of the crop or rent the land and the stock and tools are furnished by the owner of the land if animals die or tools are broken who is to stand the loss–The owner or the freedpeople?  Such cases arise in which the planter alleges it is through carelessness or other unnecessary cause and the other says it was not=  “Except ordinary wear and tear” is too indefinite

8th, In regard to rations and quarters and the quantity and quality of each=

9th, Whether time lost by laziness or other unnecessary causes is to be deducted from time of service or not=  many of the freedpeople idle away their time which results very disastrously sometimes to the planter=  Something should be done to induce them to work faithfully and perhaps the knowledge that they got no pay would help the matter somewhat.

10th, The number of hours for labor should be fully prescribed=

11th, Whether women and children are to work or not and if not at whose expense the are to be fed and clothed.

12th, How wages are to be paid and whether in specie or currency=  I do not think it will be easy to contract with the freedpeople for anything but specie–  Also what proportion retained if any.

13th, When working for a portion of the crop–what the proportion is– by whom it is to be divided– when it is to be divided and who shall dispose of it=  Shall the whole crop be sold and the proceeds divided or not–  who shall furnish rope and bagging=  Who do the ginning.

A great deal of trouble arises in regard to the sale of the crop.  I am satisfied many freedpeople authorize their employer to sell their share and then complain of him for trying to swindle them and get the cotton stopped–many times when the planter has done no intentional wrong and has no idea of swindling them.  By far the best way is to give them their share of the crop and let them dispose of it as they choose   It is the easiest way for the planter and best for the freedpeople.

14 Where clothing is to be furnished the Kind and quality.  I am Very Resp. Your Obt Servt

Wm H Sinclair

Excerpts from Wm H Sinclair to Brvt. Lieut. Col. Ellis, 30 Nov. 1866, Unregistered Letters Received, series 3621, TX Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. Approximately five pages of a nine-page report, the omitted portion of which concerned bureau operations at Victoria and Clinton, the planned withdrawal of troops from the latter place, the administration of justice by civil authorities, insect damage to the cotton crop, and a school for freedpeople in Victoria. On December 21, 1866, the assistant commissioner, General Joseph B. Kiddoo, issued a circular deploring the difficulties caused by “vague and indefinite” contracts and urging greater specificity in contracts for the coming year. As examples of topics that should be addressed, the circular listed virtually all of those suggested in Sinclair's report. (Circular No 25, Headquarters Bureau R,F and AL, State of Texas, 21 Dec. 1866, vol. 9, pp. 335–37, General & Special Orders & Circulars Issued, series 3622, TX Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.)

1. The order directed the inspector, “late Brvt. Col. U.S. Vols,” to “proceed without delay” to Victoria and Clinton “for the purpose of inspecting the condition of affairs pertaining to this Bureau at these points” and to submit a written report upon his return. (Special Orders, No. 139, Headquarters, Bureau R.F.&A.L. State of Texas, 19 Nov. 1866, vol. 9, p. 115, General & Special Orders & Circulars Issued, series 3622, TX Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.)

2. General Joseph B. Kiddoo was the assistant commissioner.

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 451–53.