Mississippi Freedpeople to the Governor of Mississippi

[Port Gibson, Miss.]  Dec 3th 1865

To the govener of Mississippi   We the Colored people of Mississippi petition To your honor for jestice   Mississippi has abolished–Slavery   does She mean it or is it a pollicy for The present   we fear from the late acts of the Legeslature that she will not treate us as free.1  we are not To rent or lease lands not even a tenement but we can buye lands   the Legislature is well a ware that not one of us out of a thousand is not able to buye a quarter of an acre of land, and if they will allow us to rent in towns we hav to get a certificate from the Mayor.2  All freedmen Negroes and molattoes is specifyed in the acts   why [not?] colord vagrants that are a n[uisance?] and will not worke for a living be compelde by a law to worke in fields Set a part for that purpoes[?]3  our faults are dayley published by Editors, not a statement will you ever see in our favour   thair is Shureley Some a mong us that is honest, trutheful, and indestrious, and Some of us are working and making our superiours comferttable who finde so much fault of our freedom   if evry one of us [Colord] people were removed from the state of Mississippi our superiors woulde soon finde out who were the supporterers   we the laberors hav inriched them and it is as much imposible for them to live with out us as it is for we to be removed from them.  your honor is it just that wee all shoulde come under the stringent Laws the legeslature has past.  we are to holde no contract   it is left intireley to our imployer   he [holds?] the writing and one of his white [neighbo]rs holde the duplicate and if we shoulde leave from eny cruel treatement we are to be caught and brought by force to our employer and the niger-runner is to hav a fee of five dollars or ten cents a mill to be paide out of our wages.4  we are to well acquainted with the yelping of bloodhounds and the tareing of our fellow servents To pisces when we were slaves and now we are free we donot want to be hunted by negro-runners and thair hounds unless we are guilty of a crimnal crime   we are willing to worke for our former masters or eny Stranger that will treate us well and pay us what we earn   all we ask is justice and to be treated like humane beings   the men who has made these laws no meny of us has stood by our owners in thair troubles and thair is some of us who woulde die by them but the worde freedom is sweet to us all and greate will be the day when we [are?] assured of our freedom.  thair was kinde just masters in mississippi and such masters will make good and honest Employers but such is not the majority and those who forced good masters to do means acts are now the ones to keep contentions   if a good master new that one of us was not guilty of a charge that was brought against us he dare not say so for he woulde insult the majoirity and be put down as a negro-spoiler and of cours to save him self we had to take th punishment what ever it might be and we think if just men were the majority in the legeslature we woulde get just laws   knowing we woulde fall short of what was granted us, we hope your honor will not lay us a side but take us in Concideration.  we pray you do not believe the falshood our enimies has got up for some purpose that we intend an insurrection.  we hav [no] [s]uch thought   now we are free what [would?] we rise for   we no that we hav good white friends and we depend on them by the help of god to see us righted and we do not want our rights by murdering   we owe to much To meny of our white friends that has shown us mercy in bygon dayes To harm thair wicked neighbours   Some of us wish Mr Jeff Davis to be Seet at liberty for we no worse masters Than he was   altho he tried hard to keep us all slaves we forgive him   Some of us well know of meny kindenes he shown his slaves on his plantation   to your honor govner of mississippi

we the Colorde people

we the Colorde people to the govener of Mississippi, 3 Dec. 1865, filed as F-41 1865, Registered Letters Received, series 2052, MS Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. Indecipherable vertical marks used to terminate several sentences have been transcribed as periods. A corner of each page of the document is torn, necessitating inferential or conjectural readings of several words. File notations indicate that the petition originated from Port Gibson, Mississippi, and identify the petitioners as “Freedmen of Claiborne County.” It is not known whether the petition ever reached its intended recipient, Governor Benjamin G. Humphreys; it was received at the headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau acting assistant commissioner for the southern district of Mississippi on December 8 and thence, by an endorsement of December 11, was forwarded to the bureau's assistant commissioner for the state, among whose records it is filed.

1. In late November, the state legislature had adopted several laws that instituted restrictive and racially discriminatory measures respecting vagrancy, labor, land ownership and rental, testimony in judicial proceedings, apprenticeship, the right to own and bear arms, freedom of speech and assembly, and other matters. (Laws of the State of Mississippi, Passed at a Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature, Held in the City of Jackson, October, November and December, 1865 [Jackson, Miss., 1866].)

2. An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, and for Other Purposes, approved on November 25, 1865, empowered “freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes” to acquire and dispose of personal property in the same manner as white persons, but conferred upon them no similar power to own real property. It stipulated, moreover, that “the provisions of this section shall not be so construed as to allow any freedman, free negro or mulatto, to rent or lease any lands or tenements, except in incorporated towns or cities in which places the corporate authorities shall control the same.” (Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1865, pp. 82–86.)

3. Newly enacted legislation amending Mississippi's vagrancy laws set forth a detailed definition of vagrancy that was applicable to all residents of the state, and also created new categories that applied exclusively to “freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes” and to white persons who associated with them “on terms of equality.” It defined as vagrants all black people over the age of eighteen who were “found on the second Monday in January, 1866, or thereafter, with no lawful employment or business, or found unlawfully assembling themselves together either in the day or night time.” Black men and women convicted under these provisions were subject to fines of up to $50 and imprisonment for up to ten days; white offenders could be fined up to $200 and imprisoned for as long as six months. Black vagrants who failed to pay their fines within five days were to be hired out “to any person who will, for the shortest period of service, pay said fine.” Also deemed vagrants were black people between the ages of eighteen and sixty who failed to pay a county capitation tax instituted by the same law; they were to be hired out “to any one who will pay the said tax, with accruing costs.” (An Act to Amend the Vagrant Laws of the State, 24 Nov. 1865, Laws of the State of Mississippi, 1865, pp. 90–93.)

4. The Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen (cited above, in note 2) required that labor contracts for longer than one month be written in duplicate and attested by a civil official or by “two disinterested white persons of the county in which the labor is to be performed”; “each party” was to retain a copy. The same law also provided that “every civil officer shall, and every person may arrest and carry back to his or her legal employer” any black laborer “who shall have quit the service of his or her employer before the expiration of his or her term of service without good cause”; the prescribed fee for the return was $5 plus ten cents per mile from the place of arrest, to be paid by the employer “and held as a set-off . . . against the wages of said deserting employee.”

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 856–58.