Inspecting Officer in the District of Northeastern Louisiana to the Headquarters of the District

Goodrich's Landing  Dist. N.E. La.  October 10th 1863.

Captain:  I have the honor to make the following report of my tour of duty up to the present time, as Inspecting Officer to enquire into the condition of the Contrabands in this District, as required by S.O. No. 14 from District Head Quarters.1

In my report I have divided the contrabands into three classes.  1st, those on plantations controlled by Government Lessees: 2nd: those on what are called Infirmary Farms, and in camps controlled by Government Agents, and 3rd: the floating population, including those in the temporary employ of Government Contractors for wood, etc,

The estimates I have made of the numbers of Contrabands on plantations & in camps the number of deaths, and the amount of crops and stock on the places may not be perfectly correct, as I had in most cases to depend on the statements of negroes and interested parties, modified by my own Judgement.  I regret to state that in no case have I found a strict compliance with the terms of their contracts on the part of Lessees of plantations, and in too many an utter disregard of even the commonest principles of humanity and the rights of individuals, in their treatment of the contrabands.  Generally the negro has been treated by those employing him, as a mere brute, from whom the greatest amount of labor should be gained at the least possible expense: and not as a free citizen with personal rights and immunities.  No schools have been established, with one or two exceptions, and those have been taught by intelligent negroes who were on the plantations and who were unfit for other labor.  Almost nothing has been done to raise the negro to a higher level, or to convince him that our Government is in earnest in its declarations that he is a free man with all a freeman's rights and privileges.  In this District during the past summer he has been in a far more servile and pitiable condition than when a slave under his master.

Some it is true have a false idea of their freedom and its responsibilities, thinking that it releases them from all restraint, and are consequently roving the country stealing and committing depredations on property:  but it has been demonstrated that the majority, if stimulated by the right kind of treatment, proper wages, and a prospect of bettering their condition, would labor faithfully and steadily: while some show a capacity for management an energy and executive ability that would do credit, to men of better education and a whiter skin.  The contrabands in the District are generally much in want of clothing, and unless it is furnished before winter they will suffer much from its want.  Many who had a supply in the spring have been robbed of it or had it burned in their quarters.  I have in my report given the condition of the contrabands on each plantation & camp.

Contrabands on “Infirmary Farms”

These are plantations on which were placed by the Government Commissioners, aged and infirm contrabands and their families, who could not be disposed of on the leased plantations.  Two of these known as the Savage and Front Raliegh plantations are situated on the river a mile & a mile and a half respectively below Goodrich's Landing:  the others known as the Richardson Blackman, Stone, Hardison and Carry plantations, are situated west of the “telegraph road” leading from Goodrich Landing to Millikens Bend.  The majority of these contrabands depend on Government for subsistence, which they draw weekly from the Commissary for Contrabands” at Goodrich Landing.

The ration issued, consists of bacon, flour, salt and rye coffee, and occasionally rice, beans and sugar.  Some of these contrabands have planted cotton, corn, potatoes and other vegitables, which have generally yeilded fine crops: but no system seems to have been adopted to compel them to support themselves, and therefore many well able to work are idle.  What crops there are, on these places, are due solely to the exertions of a few individuals.  In some cases Government has furnished mules.  The remainder of the stock on these places has been collected from the abandoned plantations in the vicinity.  A portion of the negroes are earning a good living by the sale of vegitables, by day's work, and by cutting wood.

The health on these places is generally good at present: but there has been a great deal of sickness and mortality amongst them during the past summer.  The supply of medicines has been very limited.  On the “Savage” farm, a hospital is established for Contrabands, and also a pest house for small pox cases.  The Surgeon in charge Dr H. H. Littlefield has been there but a short time: but his hospital shows evidence of great improvement in cleanliness and system.  Medical supplies and hospital stores are greatly needed.

On one farm, the “Savage,” there is a school of about twenty children taught by a lame negro, which is the only instance of any effort being made for the mental improvment of the children on these farms.

Only an approximate estimate can be made of the numbers on the farms, the number of deaths, or the amount of the crops.

Below is given the estimate which I have made of the persons and crops on these farms.

Total number of Contrabands: 1057 
    "        "       of Field hands 304 
    "        "       "   Sick 95 
    "        "            Deaths 400 
No of acres of Cotton 189 
  "          "     "  Corn 245 
  "          "     "  Potatoes and Other Vegitables 52 
No. of Mules 26 
  "    "  Cattle 42 
  "    "  Hogs 15.

Contrabands on Leased Plantations.

The “Bell Plantation” leased by Cha's Hays and Co. is situated about three miles below Goodrich Landing on the river.  The Lessees have been absent from the plantation for nearly three months.  Since July 1st but little has been furnished for the comfort of the contrabands employed.  Rations have been limited, and recently the negro in charge, has purchased rations from his own means to supply the hands.  But few medicines were on the place, and the contrabands had applied to and recieved medical assistance from the army surgeons at Goodrich's Landing.  No clothing has been furnished, although the blacks are much in need of it and no school established.  The sickness of the Lessee Mr Hayes may be a partial excuse for the neglect of the colored people on the place.  The total number of contrabands, is ninety (90).  No. of field hands, sixty (60).  No. of deaths during the season, twenty three (23).  No. of acres of cotton four hundred (400).  No. of mules sixty (60): of cattle thirty (30). of hogs thirteen (13).

Since my first visit to this place the Lessees have returned, and the negroes are better provided for than before.

The plantation leased by Mr Newman, the owner, is the next below on the river.  The care of the contrabands is quite good although the full ration required has not been issued, although perhaps that lack may have been compensated for by the issue of vegetables etc, which have been furnished them.  No school has been organized for the children.  The number of contrabands on the place is one hundred & thirteen (113).  No. of field hands forty four (44).  No of sick five (5):  No. of death during the season, eleven (11).  No of acres of cotton one hundred & seventy (170): of corn fifty (50).  No. of mules thirty five (35), of cattle twelve (12).  The Lessee complains of the want of power to make the negroes work.

The plantation known as the (Back) Raliegh place is situated one and a half miles below Goodrich's Landing and the same distance back from the river.  The contrabands here are in good condition in regard to health.  The ration furnished is meal, salt and fresh meat.  A little rice, flour, sugar and coffee has been kept for issue and sale.  There is no school.  A small quantity of clothing has been furnished, and a few have recieved wages.  Medicines have been furnished in good quantities.  The number of persons on the place is about one hundred and fifty (150)   Number of field hands seventy two (72).  No of deaths during the past season fifteen (15).  No. of acres of cotton four hundred (400). of corn thirty (30).  No of mules forty (40) of cattle ten (10).  The crop of cotton is being gathered in by the field hands.  Since the first visit to the place, I find that no rations are issued to persons unfit for work.  The Henderson place, situated about half way between Goodrich Landing and Milliken's Bend, on the river, and leased by J. Williams & Co. shows the evidence of good management, and of consideration for the wants of those employed.

Rations of meal, flour, meat, molasses, grits and beans are issued: and coffee, sugar etc are kept on hand for sale at reasonable prices to the contrabands.  Money has been paid when called for in sums of from two to twenty dollars.  The Lessees intend the purchase of at Memphis or St Louis as soon as the cotton crop can be forwarded.  The number of persons on the place is two hundred and twenty (220).  No. of field hands one hundred and eighty eight (188).  No. of acres of cotton six hundred (600)   No. of bales. three hundred (300)   No. of mules thirty two (32).

The Harris' places leased by John Dunham, adjoins the Henderson place below.  The contrabands on this place I found badly cared for and discontented.  Meal and a little salt pork is issued to them and they are allowed the privilege of killing cattle and hogs on the plantations and in the woods.  There are on the places two hundred, and eleven persons unfit for work, old, infirm, or maimed or children, who have to be supported, and only seventy (70) field hands,  The number of deaths has been, during the past season, sixty three (63),  No. of acres of cotton four hundred (400).  No of bales of cotton three hundred (300).  There is no school on the place, & the place has evidently been badly managed,  The negroes are allowed to prowl around nights and steal mules, hogs and cattle, from the neighboring plantations.

The Harding place, three miles back from Millikens Bend has been abandoned since this Lessee Mr Walker was taken prisoner by the rebels in June last.  A few contrabands, about thirty in number, have returned there and have commenced picking the cotton, of which it is estimated there will be two hundred bales.  No attention has been paid to these negroes by any one.  They have been living on fresh meat killed in the woods, and on the corn obtained on the place–  It is reported that the cotton crop is claimed by Mr Dunham Lessee of the Harris places.

The “Compromise” and “Parham” places leased by Farmer and Dunlap: the “Orkney & Buckner places leased by J. W. Green lying back from Millikens Bend have been neglected by the Lessees during the summer: but they have returned within a few days to secure what crops there are on the places.  I could not learn that any rations had been issued to the negroes since the fore part of summer.  The negroes have subsisted mainly on the corn and meat obtained from the country around.

The “Outpost” plantation a part of which is leased by Duke & Hotchkiss is situated two miles back from Goodrich Landing.  The treatment of the negro in the main seems to be good.  The ration issued is mainly salt meat, meal & molasses,  Sugar, flour and Tobacco are kept for sale to the hands at reasonable prices, though at an advance on first cost.  The crops are small.  The cotton may average one half bale per acre–

The portion of the place leased by Sancho, Humphrey, and Jackson, seems to be quite well managed.  About sixty (60) persons are in thier employ, thirty (30) of whom are field hands   They are well fed, and most of them have a supply of vegitables raised on the place.  No wages have been paid by either of the lessees, on this plantation.  The negroes have depended for medical attendance, on the army surgeons   A school has been established, taught by a black man, in which the children seem to make good progress in reading.  The number of deaths on the whole place during the season has been about forty (40).  The colored Lessees will make about two hundred bales of cotton, and have eighty (80) acres of corn.

The plantations leased in the name of R. V. Montague, & Montague and Clary, known as the Wilton, Buckner, Albion, Steam boat, Mound and Keene Richards places, I found, with the exception of the two latter in an entirely neglected condition.  The Lessees had paid but little attention to them since the raid made by the rebels on the 28th day of June last.  At that time all the quarters and gins on the places were burned with the exception of those on the Wilton place, and the negroes captured or driven from the plantations and scattered.  Many of them came to Goodrich Landing and were there furnished with rations from the Government.  At the time of visiting the plantations I found on the Wilton place about one hundred contrabands who had returned, and on the Buckner Albion and Steam boat places fifty more, all in a most neglected condition.  The quarters were very filthy and there was much consequent sickness.  The exposure of these people after being driven from their quarters, caused a great deal of sickness and death.  But five barrels of meat had been furnished since last June, no other rations.  No wages have been paid and no clothing furnished.  Nothing even has been paid for the labor done in gathering in the old crop of cotton which was picked last spring.

The contrabands have evidently been totally neglected, and the terms of the contract disregarded by the Lessees.  About four thousand acres of cotton were planted on these places, which will yield probably from three to five hundred bales.  Two places originally leased by R. V. Montague and Clary, the Mound & Keene Richards places, have been subleased by a Mr Campbell, who now has charge of them.  The contrabands on these places seem much better cared for than on the others, are all at work and quite well supplied with rations.  The number of contrabands on these places is one hundred and seventeen (117) of field hands ninety seven (97).  No school is established, and no medicines furnished.  About three hundred and fifty acres of cotton are being gathered.  The number of mules on the place is twenty (20): of cattle twenty (20).  The plantations leased by H. B. Tibbetts & L. Dent, Lewis Dent, and Ledbetter and Dent, known as the “Benjamin,” “Concord” “Bodine,” and “Benton” places, situated near and above Transylvania Landing, suffered much by the raids made upon them last summer by the rebels: but I found that many of the negroes who then left had returned, and were living in temporary quarters, prepared for them; the quarters on most of the places having been burnt down.  The hands are kept employed, were paid one months wages in the spring, and are now paid one dollar per hundred pounds for picking cotton.  Shoes and a few other articles of clothing have been furnished them during the season.  A good supply of rations is furnished and the negroes seem contented, and are humanely treated.  There are nearly four hundred (400) persons on these places: one hundred and sixty (160) of whom are field hands.  Quite a number are sick from exposure and diseases contracted during the summer while they were driven from their quarters.  Between three and four hundred bales of cotton will be made on these places, this season.  The corn crop will be very light.

The plantations leased by [Deweese?], Alexander & Smith known as the “Noland” Bledsoe, Nutt & Neely places are situated near the Omega Landing above Milliken's Bend.  On these places are about one hundred and eighty contrabands.  The ration issued to them is mainly meal and salt meat:  occasionally molasses is issued.  The rice, beans and hominy required by contract is but rarely furnished.  No food of a better kind for the use of the sick is issued or even kept for sale: and but little medicine is furnished.  A little clothing has been furnshed them at exorbitant prices.  From eight hundred to one thousand bales of cotton will be made on these places, an amount which would fully justify the Lesses in a liberal and humane treatment of those employed.  The contrabands are much in need of clothing & unless it is furnished soon, they will suffer for the want of it.

Some other plantations, the “Dr Noland–” & “Holly Grove” places, have been entirely abandoned, and have no crops worth gathering.

Julian E. Bryant

[Endorsement]  Hd Qrs Dist. N.E. La  Goodrichs Landing  Oct. 14, 1863   Respectfully forwarded to Dept Hd Qrs with the recommendation that the report be forwarded to Washington for the information of the Secy of War.  The report does not half show the hardships and ill treatment the free negroes are subjected to and if better policy for them cannot be introduced, and humanity, is a matter of consideration we had better call back their former masters and let them take charge of them.  If a proper policy is adopted they will become good industrious Citizens, but the present treatment will make vagabonds of them and is doing it just the same as it would make of white people.  If the vacant lands here can be divided into farms of from 80 to 200 acres and the farmers of the north invited down to farm for one year every farmer would make a moderate fortune the first season and the labor of the negro be in the market and in demand for what it is worth and the competition would insure his proper treatment.  As it is now and will be under the system of large leases a monopoly controls the labor and treatment,  any one who has seen the emigration to California to dig for gold can know how the people of the west would flock here to cultivate for one year,  the banks of the Miss. River would be thickly populated in three months with a loyal people and the profits to them would be greater than ever realized from the California or Pikes Peak gold mines   John P. Hawkins  Brig. Genl. Comdg.

Major Julian E. Bryant to Captain, 10 Oct. 1863, filed as T-9 1863, Letters Received by Adjutant General L. Thomas, series 363, Colored Troops Division, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Other endorsements.

1. The order, issued on September 16, 1863, by General John P. Hawkins, commander of the District of Northeastern Louisiana, had designated Major Julian E. Bryant, 1st Mississippi Infantry A.D., a temporary “Inspecting Officer” and directed him “to inquire into the Condition of the Contrabands in this Dist. including those under the care of Government Agents. the floating population & those in the employment of Government Lessees.” (Special Orders No. 14, Hd. Qrs. Dist. N.E. Louisiana, 16 Sept. 1863, vol. 208/432 DG, p. 21, Special Orders, series 2019, District of Northeastern LA, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 2 No. 109, National Archives.

Published inThe Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 728–35, and in Free at Last, pp. 269–77.