Testimony of an Arkansas Freedman before the Southern Claims Commission

[Helena, Ark.]  6– day of June 1873

I was borne a Slave in Buckinham Co– Va.–  I was brought to Memphis Tenn. at the beginning of the war by a negro trader named A M Boyd with 40 or 50 other slaves–  From here Mr Boyd sent me with the others to Chico Co– Ark– to work on his Plantation–  This was in the winter of 1861–before the fireing on Fort Sumpter.–  Then I was put to work on Mr Boyds Plantation with the others makeing corn.–  After a time the Yankees took Memphis and the Gun & other Boats were passing up & down the river.–  the Confederate Authorities made a requizition on Boyd my Master for a large number of Slaves to work in breast works.–  Boyds Father in Law–in charge would send only one–then went to Lake Village and made a Speech against the order saying it was death to put the negroes to work in the swamps

The requisition was repeated and demand for all his slaves when Mr Hedspeth–in charge told all of us Slaves to put out to the woods and he would send us provissions till we could get to the Yankees–and he had to leave the country–  We stayed in the woods about three weeks then made our way to the Miss– river and got taken on [the Union] Marine Fleet and hired to work at $60. per Month.–for two Months.  A few days before the two months were up I was taken with the small Pox–when I was put off on Island 76–  There were a good many here cutting wood.  When I got able to work I was seperated from the others–and told by one seeming to have control to go by myself on the other side of a Slew and I might have all the wood I could cut & sell.  I then built me a Shanty on that ground & went on cutting as I was able.–  I remained here for a long time or till I cut & hawled out–to the river 150 cords–intending when I made enough to go to farming.  When this much cut and put up then came the Federal Steam Boat South Western and took all of us men and wood here to Helena and swore us into the Army service–  This steamer took this lot of wood at different times as she was forageing up & down the river.–  When called upon I went into the Union Service very willingly, having by this time learnt something of the principles & object of the war.  From my first information of the war my actions feelings and Sympathies have all the time been for the Success and maintainance of the Union Cause & all the time willing and desireous to fight or do any thing else in my power, in that behalf–  I never done any thing to my knowledge to aid, assist or countenence the rebellion and could never be induced to go in that direction.

The way I got at the quantity of wood taken was this–  When cut I ranked it all up and measured with a four foot stick except 25 cords or about that laying as it was cut which I do not charge for–  There was 125 cords so put up and this steamer South Western got all of it   also sent teams in the woods & took the 25 cords Scattered.–  At this time Steam Boats were paying for this kind of wood $350 per cord for wood:–& I consider this worth that much   I asked the officer for pay when they commenced takeing it–  It was Lieut– Hadlock–  He consulted with other officers–then come back and said part would be paid when we get to Helena. and asked how much I expected for it   I told him $350 the same as others got.–  then he gave me a receipt for it,  At Helena he said I must wait for the Pay Master to come–  Then when I enlisted, he was not permitted to pay–must wait till mustered out & take it with Bounty money–  After I was mustered out I made unsuccessful attempts for pay till finally the receipt was worne out and lost

Testimony of Robert Houston, 6 June 1873, claim of Robert Houston, Phillips Co. AR case files, Approved Claims, series 732, Southern Claims Commission, 3rd Auditor, U.S. General Accounting Office, Record Group 217, National Archives. Sworn before a special commissioner of the Southern Claims Commission. According to other documents in the same file, Houston had worked as a woodcutter for at least three months before the seizure of his wood in late December 1863 or early January 1864. He submitted a claim for $562.50, the value of 125 cords of wood, but the commissioners rejected as “improbable” his assertion that he had been entitled “to have & own all the wood he could cut,” maintaining that he had “[d]oubtless” been a wage laborer who “was to have pay for his work.” They estimated Houston's “interest” in the property to be “about $1.00 per cord” and awarded him $125. (Testimony of Mingo Scott, 6 June 1873; summary report, [Dec.? 1875].)

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 737–39, and in Free at Last, pp. 210–11.