South Carolina Planters to an Adjutant of the Freedmen's Bureau Commissioner

Charleston S.C.  14th Dec 1865–

Capt   We the undersigned Landowners on James Island on the seaboard of South Carolina have the honor to make the following report.

That Ephraim M Clark Planter appointed by Landowners on said island to represent them on the Suporvisory Board for said Island went to Capt Ketchum, Agent appointed to carry out the orders for the restoration of property held by Gen: Sherman's order of 15th Jany last,1 on 7th Dec last for the purpose of obtaining permission for himself and others to proceed to James Island and to make arrangements by which an interview could be held with the Freedmen, so that he and the others he represented, might fully and exactly comply with all the conditions required by the Freedmen's Bureau, for the restoration of these lands.  To carry out this purpose he requested the said Capt Ketchum to let him have a Guard as he had heard the Freedmen on said Island were demoralized, and that their presence there might be at the risk of personal safety.  Capt Ketchum replied that the report was wholly without foundation, that he had often heard reports of such character but had never come in contact with any one who could give him evidence sufficient to establish the correctness of such reports; that he would communicate their mission to Mr Webb the Bureau's Agent for that Island.  The day after this interview, to wit 8th Dec. John E. Rivers, an Agent of the Landowners went to Capt Ketchum and requested him to notify the said Mr Webb, that they would be on the Island on Wednesday the 13th inst and further asked that Mr Webb should request delegations of Freedmen from their different settlements to meet at McLeods House for the purpose of conference on the subject of contracts.  That the said Capt Ketchum in his presence wrote to Mr Webb–to that effect–  On Tuesday the 12th inst the said John E. Rivers called for the passed from Capt Ketchum.  Mr Rivers then in company with Dr R. Lebby went to obtain the permit of the cheif Health officer which was endorsed by the Provost Marshal so that they might be fully within the provisions of all military rule on this point

We the undersigned E. M. Clark, H. W Kinsman John E. Rivers E L Rivers J C. Minott. Robt. Bee. Robt Lebby Jr–owners and Representatives of Land on said Island attempted to visit the Island today the 13th inst. for the purpose aforesaid, and that upon arriving at the landing we were met by two armed Freedmen not in U.S. Uniform, who halted us.  We asked for Mr Webb; one of the Freedmen answered, that he had gone to Wadmalaw, the other, that he had gone to see Mr: Towles.  We then asked for the Doctor,2 the reply was. that “he was at the house”.  We then asked that the Doctor be sent for, which was complied with–but in the meantime, a number of Freedmen about (30) Thirty) assemblied on the wharf. armed with guns of various descriptions. among the Freedmen two or more in U.S. uniform, one with a noncommissioned officers badge–  About this time an answer was brought that the Doctor was not at home   Upon the reception of this information we proposed to leave the landing and return to the city, when the colored noncommissioned officer said that the boat should not leave–and a colored person not a soldier said “let us take them out any how”.  About this time it was reported that the Doctor was coming and this we presume put a stop to their hostile proceedings.  Immediately after the Doctor appeared.  The Doctor boarded our boat, and remarked “this is quite a demonstration   the Freedmen think that you have come to settle on the land at once”.  We replied that was not our object at present we have merely come to have an interview with them.  The Doctor replied “I know that Mr Webb has received a communication from Capt Ketchum on Saturday the 9th as to the object of your visit, and they have been so informed”–  We asked the Doctor for Mr Webb.  He replied that he had gone to see Mr Towles and would be back at a late hour this afternoon.  He then invited us to land and go up to the house which we declined as Mr Webb was absent and consequently the object of the visit could not be accomplished and on account of the hostile demonstration made we thought it unsafe to land during Mr Webbs absence–  Upon leaving the landing several of the Freedmen on the wharf said to our crew, (who were also Freedmen) in an angry tone “if you bring these people back here again” (alluding to us) “we will arrest you”–  They then by the command of a colored person “fall in battalion” did so form, and follow us with their guns along the shore for about a half mile to what is known as the water landing, and there drew up in line and remained until we passed upon our return to the city.  From what we saw at our attempted visit this day, we have come to the conclusion that it would be unsafe for us to visit the island again unless accompanied by a proper guard or an U.S. Officer

signed E. M. Clark John E Rivers
  H W. Kinsman J. C. Minott
  E S Rivers Robt Bee
    Robt Lebby Jr.

E. M. Clark et al. to Capt A. P. Ketchum, 14 Dec. 1865, filed as N(D)-4 1866, Letters Received Relating to Military Discipline & Control, series 22, Headquarters of the Army, Record Group 108, National Archives. This copy of the planters' petition was submitted to the headquarters of the Department of South Carolina. Filed with it is an affidavit of December 16, 1865, by R. W. Webb, the Freedmen's Bureau agent for James Island; it was sworn before John E. Rivers, a magistrate who was one of the petition's signatories. On December 15, according to the affidavit, Webb had addressed a meeting of the island's freedpeople at the McLeod plantation, conveying to them “the import of certain Orders received from the Commissioner of said Bureau contemplating the restoration of Lands on Said Isld to former Owners.” Afterward, the freedpeople “unanimously agreed . . . that while they would under no circumstances work for their former owners yet they would hire the Lands from them and that to effect such contracts the former propietors would be permitted by them to visit the said Island and talk about it.” “[I]mmediately after this decision,” Webb attested, an armed freedman “addressed the crowd, in language and manner thoroughly insurrectionary and disrespectfull” of both the commissioner's policy and the former landowners. That speech “had the desired effect and said Freedmen at once determined that neither would they Contract under any circumstances with said propietors nor should any of them visit the Island unless Genl Saxton accompanied them in person.” (General Rufus Saxton was the Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for South Carolina.) Webb concluded that “it would be highly imprudent and even positively dangerous for said propietors to attempt a landing upon the Island for any purpose whatsoever without being accompanied by a strong and reliable Guard.” An endorsement from the headquarters of the Department of South Carolina referred the petition and the affidavit to the commander of the Military District of Charleston “for investigation and report”; he in turn referred them to an aide-de-camp, whose report is printed immediately below.

1. The board of supervisors had been formed in accordance with orders issued on October 19, 1865, by General O. O. Howard, the Freedmen's Bureau commissioner; see Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 445–46n. Howard had put Captain Alexander P. Ketchum in charge of restoring to former owners land that General William T. Sherman had reserved for settlement by former slaves. Sherman's order was issued on January 16 (not 15), 1865.

2. C. H. Brownley, a contract surgeon employed by the Freedmen's Bureau and assigned to James Island.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 484–86.

Aide-de-Camp of the Commander of the Military District of Charleston to the District Headquarters

Charleston SC.  Dec 22nd 1865

Captain.  I have the honor to report, that, obedient to instructions, received from the Bt Maj. Genl. Comd'g. on the 21st inst, I proceeded, in company with Bt Col. Tremain, A.D.C. Capt. Ketchum Agent of Freedmen's Bureau and several citizens (former owners of Plantations on James Island) of Charleston and vicinity, to James Island.

As we came up to the landing at the McLeod place, I discovered two colored men, in U.S. Uniform, armed, who seemed to be guarding the landing, one of them had on the uniform of a non-commissioned officer; the other that of a private soldier.  I afterwards learned that neither of them were in the U.S. service. and upon inquiring of them what their duties were, they said they were there to keep persons from disturbing the wharf, and to stop all boats going towards the City, and examine them, to see that they had no Government property aboard, also that a guard had been kept, there by the authority of the Agent of the Bureau R.F.& A.L. for several months.

It was but a few moments after the Steamer came up to the landing, before fourteen or sixteen colored men came down to the wharf from the McLeod place, armed, also many colored women and children, and as soon as we made fast to the wharf, I stepped off the steamer and went to these, armed men, and asked them what they were armed for,  one of them said they were watching for their enemies,  I saw their peices were capped,  I asked them if they were loaded, they said they were.  After a little conversation with these men, I learned that they belonged to the McLeod place, or were living there, that they were the same men, who did not allow the planters who attempted to visit the Island on the 13th inst. to land.  I questioned them in reference to the affair, which occured on the 13th of Dec.  they stated that eight planters, formerly owners of lands on the Island, came up to the landing in a small boat, that one of them asked for Mr. Webb,1  they replied that he was not at home,  they then called for the Doctor2 and he was sent for, and came down,  they stated that they did'nt intend to let them land until they heard from the Agent or the Docter, that they had a right to land,  they stated that they supposed they had no right whatever to land on the Island,  this was the first time, that any of the planters former owners of the lands had attempted to visit the Island, since Genl. Shermans order, prohibiting white people to reside on the Island.3  when these planters started off, they followed along down the shore, to a fortification, from which they could see that they didnt make a landing at any other point, on the Island,  they stated that they did this to let these men know that they were watching them.

We all then went up to the McLeod place; these same planters who attempted to visit the Island on the 13th inst, being with us, one of them says to me, “this is the same party who resisted our landing the other day”   I learned that this party all lived on the McLeod place.  We found Mr. Webb, the Agent, at the McLeod place,  Capt Ketchum requested him to assemble the freedmen together, that we might make a few remarks to them and find out their ideas in reference to the making of contracts, &c. &c. with the former owners of the lands,  they seemed to be rather reluctant, about comming together,  a few however collected and remarks were made to them,  they seemed very much opposed to have any thing to do, with making contracts with these planters,  their idea seems to be to hire the lands and work by themselves,  Capt. Ketchum, in the course of his remarks, stated in substance, to the Freedmen that they must respect all passes comming from Genl. Saxtons Head Quarters and the Military Head Quarters, and that they should treat white men comming on to this Island with these passes with courtesey and they might expect the same from them.

Mr. Webb stated that he had'nt received Capt. Ketchums letter instructing him that these planters would visit the Island on the 13th inst, but he also stated that the Freedmen had got the report that some day soon they would visit the Island, and that it took but a few hours for that report to fly over the Island, that they were expecting them, but not on this particular day the 13th inst.  One of the planters (all of whom were wishing to visit their places and talk with the Freedmen living on them) asked Mr. Webb if it would be safe for him or any of them to go over the Island, without a U.S. officer with him.  Mr. Webbs reply was, “I would not take the responsibility of saying that it would, or would not”   The question was asked why this colored man, wore the uniform of a Sergeant, his reply was, in substance that “he had been in the army, that he had charge of getting rations &c, from the wharf to the place, and of the guard &c, that it was thought that it would do no harm to wear it, only giving authority to him.  These Planters desiring us to accompany them over the Island, and talk with the Freedmen, we did so,  the Freedmen were respectfull, but the same feeling existed at the different plantations, in reference to making contracts, &c, that was shown at McLeods place.  Some of the Planters expressed themselves, pleased with the result of their visit, stating that they thought the result would be of benefit to all the parties concerned.  I noticed two places on the Island, where wood was piled up, cut, and ready to ship to Charleston,  I asked the Freedmen where they were going to send the wood, they said “to the City”   they said they were cutting the wood and selling it for themselves, that a good deal was being sent over to the City from John's & James Island.

In speaking with the Doctor at the McLeod place in reference to the affair of the 13th inst, he stated, that as soon as he was informed of the planters being at the landing, he went down, and found these Freedmen armed, they were very much excited,  he did'nt know that their guns were loaded,  he went into the boat, and talked with the planters, and invited them to go ashore, but they said they would'nt do so, there was such a demonstration, that they did'nt think it would be safe,  he stated to them that he thought it would be safe,  he got ashore and went up to the house, and the planters, started for the City,  he heard the Freedmen make no threatening remarks whatever.

From the conversation I had with the Freedmen, I should judge that the actions of the 13th inst, were occassioned partly from a misunderstanding on the part of the Freedmen,  they seemed to have fully beleived that no white man, not some way connected with the U.S. Government, had any right whatever to land on the Island.  Very Respectfully Your Obdt. Servt,

M. N. Rice

1st Lt. M. N. Rice to Capt T. D. Hodges, 22 Dec. 1865, filed with N(D)-4 1866, Letters Received Relating to Military Discipline & Control, series 22, Headquarters of the Army, Record Group 108, National Archives. Rice signed as an officer in the 35th U.S. Colored Infantry as well as aide-de-camp. In an endorsement of December 24 forwarding Rice's report to the headquarters of the Department of South Carolina, the district commander, General Charles Devens, Jr., noted that he was sending a detachment of soldiers from the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry to McLeod's plantation “to assist Mr. Webb the Agent of Freedmens Bureau in maintaining order in place of the irregular police which seems to have been permitted or established there.” The detachment had not arrived by December 30, when six former landowners returned to James Island “for the purpose of again offering terms of agreement to the Freedmen resident thereon.” Once again, they informed General Daniel E. Sickles, the department commander, “said Freedmen rejected all terms offered them by us.” “[W]e were met at one of the settlements,” the planters complained, “by a number of Freedmen. who treated us, with great disrespect and indignity threatening violence towards us, one with an axe and others with guns, saying that Genl Saxton had given them orders not to allow any Rebels to come on the Island.” Later, at McLeod's plantation, “a large crowd of Freedmen and women surrounded the house and used violent and threatening language towards us, such as. ‘let us take them out of the house’ ‘let us take away their papers’ ‘let us shoot into the house’–and they were actually firing off their guns around the house during our stay over there–and then finally threatened to force our crew to leave us on the Island all night–  The Agent Mr R W Webb and Doctor Brownley did everything in their power to command order–but were unable to do so.” Upon leaving the house, the former proprietors were confronted by “a body of armed Freedmen, who sa[id] that they had orders from Gen Saxton no[t] to allow any white person to be upon the Island after 4 oclock in the afternoon–” Warned by Dr. Brownley “to be careful how they acted as we were over there, by permission of Genl Saxt[on],” the freedpeople permitted them to pass but followed them to the wharf, firing “several guns” after their boat departed. Believing it “positively unsafe for us again to visit the Island until it is properly garrisoned,” the planters asked that steps be taken to “place the Island in a conditi[on] to be visited both by ourselves and others int[er]ested thereon.” They also asked General Sickles to halt the ex-slaves' shipment of wood from the island, complaining that “[l]arge boat and even flat loads of wood are daily brough[t] to the city for sale by them.” “We respectfully claim that these people have no right to remove the wood for market,” the former proprietors wrote, “and therefore earnestly request that such measures be adopted as will effectually put a stop to the destruction of this portion of our property.” General Sickles took immediate action, instructing General Devens to send to the island “a sufficient detachment . . . to preserve order and afford ample protection to those having occasion to visit.” Its commanding officer, he ordered, “should be instructed to prevent depredations and waste by trepasses,” no “disorderly person” should be allowed to have arms, “and the parties guilty of these assaults. should be arrested and brought to trial.” In accordance with Sickles's instructions, Captain Edward S. Daniels and his company of the 35th U.S. Colored Infantry were ordered to James Island, whence Daniels informed his superiors on January 13, 1866, that “the reports of the disorderly conduct of the Freedmen . . . have been some what exagerated.” “It is true,” he wrote, “that on the 30″ of Dec 1865, men did make their appearance with guns, but no violence was used.” The “ringleaders” could not be arrested because Dr. Brownley could not identify them. Daniels found no evidence of “any organized bands or band of Freedmen on the Island,” although “[m]ost of them own a shotgun and it is a common occurrence to meet them on the road with one in their possession.” The wood being cut and shipped to the city came not from James Island, he believed, but from nearby Johns Island. “The Govmt have ceased to issue Rations to the Freedpersons and the sale of this wood is the only visible means they have to obtain a living at the present time.” Daniels reported that he had stationed guards “with instructions not to allow any more wood to be taken from the Island.” He had also “obtained the names of two of the most notorious persons on the Island and if there is any trouble I shall make an examble of them.” (E. M. Clark et al. to Maj: Gen: D. E. Sickles, 1 Jan. 1866, with endorsement by W. L. M. Burger, 5 Jan. 1866, and Capt E S Daniels to Capt George S. Burger, 13 Jan. 1866, both filed as S-120 1865, Letters Received, series 4109, Department of SC, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.)

1. R. W. Webb, the Freedmen's Bureau agent on James Island.

2. C. H. Brownley, a contract surgeon employed by the Freedmen's Bureau and assigned to James Island.

3. Special Field Order 15, issued by General William T. Sherman in January 1865, had reserved land in coastal South Carolina and Georgia for settlement by former slaves; one of its provisions prohibited the presence of any white people other than Union military personnel.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 487–90.