Northern Plantation Manager to the Commander of the Department of the Gulf

Raceland Plantation [Lafourche Parish, La.]  Jan. 5 1863

Sir–  As manager of this Plantation I desire to mak complaint against Capt. Carter, Lieut. Watson, & Trask, of Co. C. 2nd Reg. La. N.G. for interfering with work on this place

Having come to this Country as guid to Gen Weitzels Brigade and then by the Generals advice and concent I have undertaken to save if possible a part of the Sugar crop that was spoiling in the field.  After making satisfactory arangements with the owners of the place I employed hands at $15 per month for good men and others in proportion to what they could do   On the 10th of last Nov. I commenced with every prospect of success all the hands working well and seemed Satisfied and contented   Capt Carter was Camped on the Rail Road near my place   his men was allowed to go upon the place as they pleased   some eight or ten Hhds of Sugar was taken from the place   Theas Soldiers was so much with my hands that very little work could be done   I asked the Officers repeatedly to keep their men away that the work might go on   they promised to do so but have since acknowledged themselves unable to controul their men   I was arrested taken to the Camp where they threatened to shoot me and then let me go wieth no punishment nor did they charge me with any crime; and I do not know what the arrest was made for.  I suppose it was to show the hands that they the Soldiers was masters and, that obediance was due them, and not me. They tell my hands that there is no necesity of their doing any work that the Government will feed and care for them whether they work or not; and language to this effect is repeated to them every day   They try every means to excite the hands to insubordination by telling them that I am a Rebel and calling me other names to profane or obscean to be repeated here,  Thay have threatened my life four or five times cocking and caping their muskets pointing them at my head and declairing with an oath that thay would blow out my brains, and when I go to the Camp to complain to the Officer the threats are repeated   Many shoots have been fired at me in the night   I saw the flash of their guns and heared the balls whisel   theas Soldiers were about here with their muskets a short time befoe the fireing and I suppose it was them that did it

I believe thay intend to take my life when thay can do it and eccape punishment   Many of my hands (the wimen) spend most of the day time in the Camps and return with a gang of Soldiers at evening to carous the night away.  Thay have so demorlized the hands that I was obliged to stop the Mill at a lose of not less than two thousund Dollars in spoiled Cane and Lost fuel.  I have now been under arrest for two days by orders of Lieut. Watson for Assault & Battery   I have asked for a tryal but have not had it nor do I expect it soon as Lieut Watson has gon to New Orleans   I have not been informend where or when the aleged crime was commited.  I do not know that I have given them cause for offence unless my desire to be let alone is one and they have never asked a favor of me that I have not granted if it was in my power to do so   I cannot go ahead with the work on this place unless I can controul the labor I pay for

Sir As a Loyal Citizen of the State of Illinois I respectfully clame that protection due the Subjects of the United States   Respectfully yours Truly

J. A. Pickens

P.S.  Gen. Butler, Gen. Weitzel, Col. Thomas of the 8th Vt. Reg. Lieut. Col. Kinsman of Gen, Butlers Staff know me to be a Loyal man   J A Pickens

J. A. Pickens to Major General Banks, 5 Jan. 1863, inexplicably filed in Letters Received, 6th USCI, Regimental Books & Papers USCT, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Endorsement. All three officers cited by Pickens–Captain Hannibal Carter, Lieutentant Frank L. Trask, and Lieutenant George F. Watson–were free men of color who held commissions in the 2nd Louisiana Native Guard. (The Black Military Experience, p. 310n.) Captain Carter, to whom Pickens's letter was referred, gave a very different account of events on Raceland plantation. Before Pickens even arrived on the scene, Carter had himself induced “a number” of slaves to remain at work, had placed a guard on the plantation at the owner's request (after an overseer had been “threatened by some of the hands”), and had ordered the slaves to return sugar and household furniture that they had appropriated for their own use. Captain Carter acknowledged that soldiers of his company had made unauthorized visits to the plantation, but insisted that the offenders had been punished, as had the soldiers who threatened Pickens. Carter denied having advised plantation hands not to work; to the contrary, he and his fellow officers had “endeavored to impress upon their minds the neccessity of labor.” He also disputed Pickens's charge that the black soldiers had caused the “demoralization” of the work force. The sugar mill had indeed been shut down, but the cause was “lack of hands”: “numbers [had] left on account of cruel treatment,” and “sickness [had] so thinned [Pickens's] forces that it was not possible to continue.” The cause of Pickens's arrest, Carter explained, was his abuse of women workers on the plantation; among other misdeeds, he had evicted “a woman with her suckling babe only because she was a soldiers wife.” (Capt. Hannibal Carter to Col. N. W. Daniels, 8 Feb. 1863, inexplicably filed in Letters Received, 6th USCI, Regimental Books & Papers USCT, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.)

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 405–7, and in Free at Last, pp. 255–57.