South Carolina Employer to the Freedmen's Bureau Subassistant Commissioner at Aiken, South Carolina

Mt. Vintage S.C  Sep. 5″ 1866

Dr Sir   Yr communication of the 4″ just recieved.1  I have refused to settle with Richard Benson for the following reasons:  On the 23rd inst of last month Harriet Benson (his wife) who was employed as Cook, was reprimanded by Capt. Clements for neglect of work, and on the following morning her husband refused to allow her to come in the house to attend to her cooking–leaving us without a cook.

This coming to my ears–I sent for Dick and told him that “as he had ordered his wife not to go to work–he should now order her to go to work.”  He said that “he'd be G–d–d––d if he would, as he wasn't going to have his wife jawed at like a dog”–

I repeated the order, giving him time (10 minutes) to tell her–or half an hour to leave the place in–, and finally on his becoming terribly impudent to me– I ordered him off instanter–and made him go.

He and his wife were hired by the month at $15 and $10 respectively, and he has received either the cash or an account with the Store nearly to the full amt of wages due him–some months being greatly in debt to us–  I send herewith a statement of his Acct.  Out of the sum due him by us there is to be deducted the amt of a Bill which I also enclose for work done for him by a neighbor of ours, and his debts to our hands and to those of neighbors far overbalances his dues.  But leaving all this aside–Mrs Smith was just become a mother two days before this affair, and Harriet's presence and work was trebly necessary, to us. and his refusal to allow her to work was a loss to us of more than double both their wages for two or three months, and under the circumstances I should have refused to pay him, were the amt one cent or fifty dollars–  He, as well as others took advantage of such a time to be as troublesome as possible–and I wish if you have time you would reply to this, and advise me how to treat their cases–

They neglect their work–they refuse to work when they see fit–they threaten us if we make stoppages for lost time–and I particularly desire to know how to act in such cases–what to do with them. and I may add that I have a few hands on the place from whom I expect serious trouble before long–  I would discharge them only I have not the money to pay them off, just yet.

In the acct. furnished you will find “Leer's a/c”–Mr Leers is our storekeeper–and I enclose his reciept from us for the Amts set down.  A small patch of cotton Dick had, I have put into hands to be taken care of for the benefit of other hands– according to an order from Commissioner Scott2

Hoping I have made a clear case I remain Very Respctf'y Yr obd't Servt

Beaton Smith

Beaton Smith to Lt. McDougall, 5 Sept. 1866, Letters Received, series 3053, Aiken SC Subassistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. Enclosed is a statement of account headed “Richard Benson & Wife In a/c with B. Smith & Co.,” which showed a balance of $6.71 due to the two freedpeople. The account credited Benson $168.33 “By services self & wife from Feby 1st 1866 to August 23d 1866 six months and 23 days @ $2500 per month.” Entries in the debit column, which were dated between February 28 and August 23, 1866, included $143.02 in merchandise, $17 in cash, and $1.60 for lost time, for a total of $161.62. Also enclosed is a receipt of August 20, 1866, from “A. Leers” acknowledging payment of $116.42 by “Messrs Clements and Smith” for “Merchandize sold and delivered to Richard Benson on Your orders from April 15th 1866 to August 17th 1866.” A final enclosure, dated September 3, 1866, is almost entirely illegible but appears to be a bill for $5 addressed to Clements; it is presumably the bill Smith described as pertaining to work performed for Richard Benson by a neighbor. No response to Smith's letter has been found in the subassistant commissioner's letters-sent volume.

1. The subassistant commissioner had written to the employer as follows: “Richard Benson reports that he was driven from your place By capt Clements without pay for the time which he worked with you  Capt please send me a written statement of the facts or settle with Richard I am not Particular which.” (Liut G P McDougall to Capt Smith, 4 Sept. 1866, vol. 214, p. 77, Letters & Endorsements Sent, series 3051, Aiken SC Subassistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.)

2. Although it was not in fact precisely applicable, the writer probably had in mind a provision in the model contract that General Robert K. Scott, Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for South Carolina, had distributed in a circular of February 5, 1866. It specified that a plantation laborer dismissed for an unexcused absence of more than three days was to forfeit his or her share of the crop, with “such forfeiture to inure to the benefit of the employer and employees in proportion to their relative shares of the crop.” (The dismissed laborer was to receive $5 per month for the time he or she had worked, with deductions for any advances in cash or provisions.) The circular is printed in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 110–12.

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 619–21.