Contract between an Alabama Planter and Alabama Freedpeople

State of Alabama  Autauga County  [June 1, 1865]

The following contract was made and entered into between W C Penick and the negroes whoes names are signed to the said contract to wit:–  1st– That the said negroes are to have the one fourth part of the present crop of wheat, after paying the necessary expenses of threshing the same.–they performing all the necessary work in threshing & cleaning the said wheat–

2nd– That the said negroes are to remain on the said Penicks plantation & occupy the houses as heretofore until the end of the present year–and that they are to complete the working of the said Penick's crop–saving his fodder–gathering his corn and potatoes, and making the syrup from the cane, now growing–  3rd. That the said negroes are to behave themselves well and be willing to be controlled by the said Penick in the management of making & saving his crop–  That they are to work faithfully, doing good work ten (10) hours each day–except Saturday evening, and the Sabbath–and even then, if any emergency should arise requiring their services in saving the crop or any part of it–  4th– That the said negroes are to have the corn & fodder raised on that part of the plantation lying between the present potatoe patch of the said Penick and the fence of L P Saxon & between the Boisseau field and the woods on the west, and containing about sixty five or seventy acres, more or less,–also one fourth part of the sweet potatoes and syrup raised & saved on the plantation; the said negroes remaining & saving their own part as well as the part of the said Penick–  By the corn, fodder, potatoes, sugar cane-syrup, wheat &c are meant & intended that of the present year only.

5th– That after the crop of the said Penick & the undersigned negroes is made, the male part of the said negroes are to repair the fences on the plantation of said Penick; also to do and perform any and all such work on the farm of the said Penick, until the 25th day of December 1865, which is customary to be done on farms & which he may direct–also any and all such work off & away from his farm as he may direct & which may be necessary for the support & welfare of his & their families.–  But this is not to apply to the females who are, [&] will be required to make clothing–by spinning & weaving until enough is made for that purpose for his & their families.

6th– That after the said negroes part of the crop is worked over, as now begun the crop of the said Penick is to be worked over again, if he requires it–as well as their own part–and the crops of both parties are to be worked alike–

7th– That as soon as the females can be spared from the crop,–the said females are to spin, weave & make up clothing for their own respective families–  Cotton, now on the plantation, will be supplied them for that purpose–but they are not to waste the same–

8th– That the said Penick, formerly for many years a Physician, will give the said negroes whose names are signed to this contract and to each of their families–when sick, his own individual medical attention–without charge.  He is not bound to employ or pay for any physician to attend on them or their families while sick–  The said negroes are to pay for the medicines and [pay] the said Penick in his treatment of them while they are sick

9th– That as there is not enough provisions on the plantation to support them or their families–the males are to work out & the females also, if necessary, to get provisions, when and wherever the said Penick may direct–  10th– That the said negroes are not to take any thing belonging to the said Penick for their own use, or trade off the same, or for any other purpose without his consent, but will carefully preserve his property–and if any theft be committed on the plantation or on the property of the said Penick by any person & should it be known to them or either of them, that they are to make it known to the said Penick immediately.  11th– That the said negroes are at all times to attend to the stock of the said Penick–well and faithfully–and two of the males are to stay at home on Sunday to attend to them as usual, and the said negroes or such of them as may be required are to cook, wash & iron, milk the cows and do any and all such customary duties as may in the opinion of the said Penick be necessary, about the house & farm until the 25th of December 1865–  They are also to take good care of the farming utensils and blacksmith tools of the said Penick

12th– This contract was written under the supposition that all the hands who labored on the plantation of the said Penick from the first of January 1865 up to this date should sign the same–  But if any of the said hands, should refuse to sign–then those so refusing, are and shall be excluded entirely from the benefits thereof–  And should the said Penick procure other hands to work the crop–arising from the refusal of any of the hands, who labored from the 1st of January 1865 to this date to sign this contract & should the hands so procured, work the crop, and carry out in all respects the provisions the of this contract, they are to have an equal share with the ballance of the hands working the crop, of that part of the crop which was intended by this contract as compensation for their labor.

In testimony whereof we have hereunto set our hands this the 1st day of June 1865–

W C Penick   Rebecca  X  
His      His 
Asbury  X       Randal  X  
mark     mark
His      His 
York  X       Robin  X  
mark     mark
His      Her 
Bunk  X       Etta  X  
mark     mark
    patsey  X 

Contract between W C Penick and Asbury et al., 1 June 1865, enclosed in The State of Alabama vs. Asberry Penick, 28 Sept. 1865, filed under “P,” Unregistered Letters Received, series 9, AL Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. Witnessed by three men, two of whom bore the surname Penick. According to other documents in the same file, the contract was made in conformity with labor regulations issued by Thomas W. Conway, general superintendent of freedmen in Alabama, Mississippi, and the Department of the Gulf (for which see Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 333–36) and approved by Charles W. Buckley, one of his subordinates. On September 28, 1865, Asbury Penick, one of the freedmen who signed the contract, was tried on vagrancy charges by a justice of the peace in Wetumpka, Alabama. W. C. Penick, the employer, testified that on or about September 16 the freedman had “abandoned said contract & left the premises of the said Penick without any real or pretended excuse.” After leaving the plantation, he had evidently sought out Charles Buckley, who had become the Freedmen's Bureau assistant superintendent at Montgomery, Alabama, and on September 21 Buckley had given him written permission to change employers. The justice of the peace refused, however, to honor Buckley's directive, ruling that it had either been issued in ignorance of the contract or represented an improper voiding of the agreement “upon a exparte statement of the defendant without notice to the employer.” He found Asbury Penick guilty of vagrancy and sentenced him “to labor thirty days upon the public streets in the city of Wetumpka.” The freedman appealed his conviction to the Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for Alabama, but the outcome is not known; no response has been found in the assistant commissioner's letters-sent volumes.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, p. 341–43.