Statement of a Mississippi Freedman

[Jackson, Miss., November 21, 1865]

Statement of William Head, (colored) made at Office Act. Ass't Comm'r FB. NDM, Nov. 21/65

Nelson Porter and William Head, (colored) rented about two hundred and fifty (250) acres of land from Mess. Porter and Christtoe.  The land is situated about seven (7) miles from Jackson, on the Gallatin road.

Sunday the 19th inst. three young men named respectively Edwards, Long and Hemphill were at Mrs. Porter's residence, and said in presence of colored people, that they had better not begin building until they were sure that they would be permitted by law, or there might be some shooting at their cabins.1

On Monday (20th) while at work, William Head found a card attached to a stake, with the words, “I think you had better leave here,” written on the back.  The card was attached to a stake marking the ground where they were proposing to build.

[Endorsement]  [Jackson, Miss., November 28? 1865]  The above is a memorandum of a statement made to me, by the above named freedman, on the 21st inst, and the card, containing the words quoted, was left in my possession.  E Bamberger 1st Lieut 58" U.S.C Infantry  A.A.A. Genl

Statement of William Head, 21 Nov. 1865, enclosed in Lt. Col. R S Donaldson to Lieut Stuart Eldridge, 28 Nov. 1865, filed as M-117 1865, Letters Received, series 15, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. In a covering letter of November 28, the Freedmen's Bureau acting assistant commissioner for the Northern District of Mississippi transmitted Head's statement to the headquarters of Colonel Samuel Thomas, assistant commissioner for the state of Mississippi, and he, by an endorsement of December 6, forwarded it to General O. O. Howard, the Freedmen's Bureau commissioner. In response, Howard's adjutant called Thomas's attention to a telegram of November 30 that had already directed him “to see that Freedmen are protected in all rights to which they are entitled as lessees.” (Col Max Woodhull to Col Saml Thomas, 16 Dec. 1865, vol. 64, p. 450, Letters Sent, series 2, Washington Headquarters, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives.) The November 30 telegram is printed in Land and Labor, 1865, p. 730.

1. At the time, the state legislature was considering several measures concerning the legal status of black people, including whether they would be allowed to rent land. A law enacted on November 25 empowered them to acquire and dispose of personal property but stipulated that the provision “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.” (An Act to Confer Civil Rights on Freedmen, and for Other Purposes, 25 Nov. 1865, 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], pp. 82–86.)

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 722–23.