Two Letters from the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Subassistant Commissioner at Griffin, Georgia, to the Headquarters of the Georgia Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner

Griffin Ga  Dec 17[th] 1866

Capt   I have the honor to report that a number of inteligent freedmen have reported to me that there are about two hundred (200) destitute freedpeople in Thomaston Upson Co Ga who are without even the necessaries of life & who desire to go west   these freedmen represent that all these freedpersons have been driven away from thiere homes & if settlements have been made the freedpersons were always brought in debt to the employer–  I am also informed that the major part of freedperson residing in that county desire to leave as there is no Justice & protection for them in upson–  a detail of two enlisted men whom I sent to upson co to protect Anthony Trice [a] freedmen in moving away from that county have just returned & report that they were mobed by the citizens of Thomaston the freedmen Trice taken from them & locked up in Jail–but–released the following day when informed by private Kelly 16″ Infanty that a company of men would arrive in Thomaston that day to liberate him   Threats were made to these Soldiers that thier lives would be taken   none of the threats made were carried into execution & the freedmen & his family were brought to this place.  I–would respectfully request instruction as to what shall be done with the destitute freedpeople in Upson Co–also information as to wether there is an agent of the Bureau at that point as I am informed one “Green” claims to be such–but certainly does not protect the freedpeople in thier right   I am Captain very Respectfuly Your obt Sert

(Signed)  E M L Ehlers

Griffin Ga.  Jan 4[th] 1867

Capt   I have the honor to report that in obedience to S.O. 187 of Dec 26th 1866 from your office I visited Upson Co & investigated the condition of the freedpeople of that County–  I– saw & conversed with a number of the most intelligent & even these have failed to make a support or at least they are now in debt to–the employer (according to his account) & they assure me that a year hence, would see them in no better condition, for in the event of thier earning a little beyond the nescessaries of life– it could not as in the present year be obtained from the employer as his account against them was sure to be larger than thiers against him & that in upson Justice was intended only for the white man–  At Thomaston I saw about one hundred & fifty freed persons, many of them women & children who have congregated at that place for the purpose of going west.  All these are in a truely deplorable condition.  I conversed with every family & asked them why they did not make contracts for another year & received this reply from them all “that they never would get out of debt in Upson & that they wanted to go where Justice would be given them”.  These people are now living in four (4) small buildings belonging to a Mr Thompson, who is feeding them as well as he can and came to him to be sent west having heard that the Government would transport them to good homes.  of the two hundred freedpeople I talked with only five (5) had received a fair compensation for thier labor.  meny of the abler hands of these families have already gone west, those now remaing will not be taken by parties hiring hands to go west, as it does not pay to transport so many children & if aid is not extended to them thier suffering will be intense.  The Bureau Agent at this place with whom I had a long conversation says neither parties (white & black) have made anything this year as the drought ruined the crops.  this sounds very well yet he tells me that his advice to the freedpeople is that instead of working for part of the crop they take standing wages the present year–  now to be consistent if the drought ruined the crops last year does it follow that such will be the case this year!  then why advise standing wages if setlements giving Justice to both white & black have been made when a portion of the crop pays better than wages.  I saw none who had worked for a part of the crop–that had contracted for less then a third–yet I know a gentlemen who last year only gave his freedpeople a fifth   he made half a crop.  his people are not in debt to him but on the contrary have something over–& this on no better land than is found in Upson.  I am convinced not only from what I saw & heard in that county but also from the complants made to me before going there by freedpeople who came to me that Justice might be done them that it is not considered a crime to cheat & defraud the poor ignorent negro–  I am Capt very Respectfuly Your obt Sert

E M L Ehlers

Bvt Col E M L Ehlers to Capt Eugene Pickett, 17 Dec. 1866, vol. 267, pp. 87–88, Letters Sent, series 887, Griffin GA Subassistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives; Bvt Col E M L Ehlers to Capt Eugene Pickett, 4 Jan. 1867, Unregistered Letters Received, series 632, GA Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. According to a notation cross-written over Colonel Ehlers's first letter (a letterbook copy), the assistant commissioner's office returned it with an endorsement directing him “to proceed to upson Co & make a personal investigation of this matter & report by letter to Asst Comr.” On January 10, 1867, the assistant commissioner's adjutant responded to Ehlers's January 4 report in a letter delivered by a McIntosh County planter who “wishes to employ a large number of hands.” “[W]ith a view of releiving the suffering of the freedmen, and placing them at points where they can obtain a support,” the adjutant explained, “arrangement have been made to bring such of them as may wish to come, to the coast where they will be well paid and kindly treated.” Ehlers was to obtain “a sufficient force” from the commanding officer at Griffin and accompany the planter to Thomaston, giving him “all the assistance in your power in obtaining laborers and in bringing them to some point on the Rail Road.” (Capt Eugene Pickett to Bvt Col E M L Ehlers, 10 Jan. 1867, vol. 265, pp. 28–29, Letters Received, series 889, Griffin GA Subassistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.)

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 854–55.