South Carolina Freedmen to the Freedmen's Bureau Acting Assistant Commissioner for the Western District of South Carolina; and Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon at Orangeburg and Columbia, South Carolina, to the South Carolina Freedmen's Bureau Surgeon-in-Chief

Columbia [S.C.]  April 23rd 1866

To Genl Ely.  We beg to appeal to you as the head of the Beareau in this district.  We would ask if there is no help or Relief for the Shameful treatment that our people are now receiving at the Small Pox Hospital, in this City.  We beg to make a few Statements for your information.  There was at one time nineteen men, Six woman & four children Sick in one room with Small Pox, there was also one white man, who had a room to himself while all of the 29 persons of Color, was in one room, with no person to nurse or cook for them, thay had to cook for themselves.  No tea or other noureshments for them. with the Exception of Sour meal.  We appeal to you as the representative of the Goverment and beg you to foward this our petition on to Genl Howard1 and See if Something cannot be done for our Suffering people–  In this our distressd hour, will you not interpose in our behalf untell we can appeal to the Commissioner Genl Howard at Washington and the Great head of the Goverment to assist us in this the hour of our distress, which is Great just at this time;  on Saturday last Harry Bryan, one of our oldest Cityzens was draged from his house which is on the Subberbs of the City.  his wife had bin nurseing him for ten days and he was getting better   he was taken to the Black hole of Calcutta, whare he died in a few hours after being taken there,  his wife went to See him on Sunday Morning and he was dead and Burried his family knowing nothing of his death   our people are draged from their homes to die in filth and dirt, while others are permited to remain in their Comfortable homes in the Verry heart of the City.

W B Nash J. B. Holmes
N E Edwards E. P. Anderson
James Davis Isaac Black
J. T. Baker L. Wimbush
  Jas Kennaday


Hospital for Refugees & Freedmen
Columbia S.C.  May 6, 1866.

Doctor,  I have the honor to report that I have examined into the treatment of citizens having small pox in this city and find that the complaint of W. B. Nash, N. E. Edwards and others was attended to by Brevet Brigadier General R. Ely as soon as it was made.  The “pest house” was crowded some weeks ago except one large room of it which was only occupied by a soldier of the 25th Ohio V. Vols. the last one of nine soldiers to whom the room had been allotted when small pox was not prevalent among colored people.  On the 1st of April I inspected the pest house and found it in good order; the soldier was to leave shortly after that day.  Convalescents were nursing the sick under the direction of the keeper of the premises, a white man appointed by the city.

The treatment of patients by the physicians hired by the city has been faithful and good; the diet has been improved by an arrival of brandy although the allowance of food in a hospital is always less than pleases a majority of patients.

Regarding forcible seizure of colored small pox cases while white ones were not molested I believe that the complaint is just.  I believe that the city police acted brutally in this matter and that the death of Harry Bryan a highly respected colored citizen was hastened by their conduct.  Bvt. Brig. Genl. Ely, however, addressed the mayor on the subject and the evil is believed to be corrected.

The first and second signers of the petition to Genl. Ely express themselves satisfied with the present arrangements for the sick; the other signers are not present.  Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant

Henry Root

W B Nash et al. to Genl Ely, 23 Apr. 1866, and Surgeon Henry Root to Surgeon W. R. De Witt, 6 May 1866, both filed as N-11 1866, Registered Letters Received, series 2922, SC Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. In the freedmen's letter, each of the signatures appears to be in a different handwriting, none of which clearly matches that of the letter itself; marks following many words that do not appear to serve as punctuation have been omitted, as have dashes used to fill lines to the right margin. Surgeon Root signed his letter as a member of the 54th New York Veteran Volunteers. By an endorsement of April 27, General Ralph Ely, to whom the freedmen's letter was addressed, forwarded it to the headquarters of the bureau's assistant commissioner for South Carolina. “The matter has been brought to the knowledge of the Mayor who promised to give it his personal attention,” Ely noted. Subsequent endorsements referred the letter to the bureau's surgeon-in-chief for the state and thence to Surgeon Root “for personal investigation and report.” Other endorsements returned it, together with Root's report, to the surgeon-in-chief and then to the assistant commissioner.

1. General O. O. Howard, commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau.

Published in Land and Labor, 1866–1867, pp. 754–55.