South Carolina Planter to the Commander of the Department of South Carolina

Old Turkey Hill Plantation–9 miles above
Grahamville [S.C.]. [early December, 1865]

General–  After reiterated complaints–on my part & on the part–of almost all in this section–in relation to the conduct of the freedmen in this section–complaints made to the proper officers–at different times in Grahamville–I am constrained to trouble you on this subject–  As far as I can see & learn–in the whole subdistrict–now under the jurisdiction of officers of colored troops–there is nothing but Theft. Robbery–Idleness & Vagrancy–  My negroes that did as well as any at Beech Branch–recently removed here to their old home–having contracted to come here for their portion of the crop–until 1[st?] Jany–refuse to work at all–  some want 10 cts– for each time they water a horse–  My premises like all others here–in great danger of fire–  they wont rake fence–  neighbors negroes rob me of my boards–  I can get no redress–  Some vagrants have run one family & others from their homes–  All accounts agree that the negroes are worse about here–than any where in the southern States–owing partly to the baneful influence of the colored Troops & to the impunity for crime–  I learn they have organized a Co. near here of 75– elected their Capn (Wesley Jones Colored) & other officers–and say they have authortity to do so from Hilton Head–  It is a common talk among them–I learn–that they will have land or blood–  Negroes are settling one of my places & ask no odds of me–  We are in minent danger of insurrection–  If you could spare us only a few white troops–in this section it would most probably be eventually beneficial to both races–  We can hear of no white troops nearer than Savannah–31 miles– a few at Bluffton 35 miles & Lawtonville about the same distance–or rather 25 miles– but the last are too remote & their jurisdiction does not come in 10 miles of us–  With high respect– Yr Obt Svt

Wm F Robert

But few–very few of the freedmen–have any more idea of the necessity of fulfilling a contract, than children of 5 yrs of age–

P.S. The last winter & spring were unusally wet & the woods were not burned–and the stock–having nearly all been destroyed–there is 10 ten times the dry grass in the woods I ever saw–  I have seen no fence between Grahamville & Robertville raked or pretended to be at all cleaned in any way–owing to the unconquerable indolence & improvidence of the negroe–  In case of fire in the woods–which may–I may say–is likely to happen at any moment–All the Houses. fences & provisions will most probably be destroyed–I mean from Robertville to Grahamville–21 miles–that I [h]ave just seen & I believe this to be true–wherever officers of colored troops have had jurisdiction   yr obt Svt.  W. F R.

[In the margin] Less than the 1/20th of an usual crop has been made [by] Freedmen when under negroe rule   W F R

Wm F Robert to Gen Q A Gilmore, [early Dec. 1865], enclosed in Bvt Maj Genl Thos H. Ruger to Col. Theo S Bowers, 1 Mar. 1866, filed as N(D)-4 1866, Letters Received Relating to Military Discipline & Control, series 22, Headquarters of the Army, Record Group 108, National Archives. By an endorsement of December 5, 1865, the department commander forwarded Robert's letter to Colonel J. Durell Greene, commander of the District of Port Royal, “for investigation and report.” Greene's endorsement of the following day noted that Robert “has already made a number of similar complaints” and was “in a measure an alarmist”; it also reported that a company of white soldiers, commanded by Colonel Orlando H. Moore, had already been ordered to the Grahamville area to ensure “that this part of the District enjoys good order.” As evidence that conditions in that vicinity were not as Robert described, Greene forwarded Colonel Moore's report of an inspection recently conducted in response to complaints by planters. Their charges, it concluded, were either unfounded or exaggerated. The planters could not prove that freedpeople were responsible for killing livestock, Moore wrote, and in any case “[s]uch depredations are at present less frequent and no difficulties of much importance occur.” As for the black soldiers stationed in the area, they were “well behaved,” well-officered, and enjoyed “an amicable relation” with “the citizens generally.” Among white civilians, however, Moore discerned “much dissatisfaction and some hostility [toward the freedpeople] and an evident determination in many cases to maintain as far as is possible the relation of master and slave.” Some planters had made contracts that bound freedpeople “to ‘devote thier labor to the cultivation and improvement of the plantation on the system as hitherto usual in this part of the state’” and fed them only a peck of unground corn per week. Many ex-slaves “will be left destitute when the work is done,” Moore warned, and “at a season of the year when on account of the destitution of the country they will be in a starving condition.” Food for the winter was insufficient, “and much suffering by both whites and blacks will be the consequence.” “Under such circumstances,” he predicted, “depredations will be committed in some cases to prevent starvation.” Noting that “[t]he stock ranges are generally large tracts of wilderness country where cattle can be killed or captured without discovery,” Moore recommended that proprietors “employ armed black men if necessary to herd and guard thier stock.” He dismissed two alternative measures. Stationing more troops was unnecessary, he believed, and disarming the freedpeople “would not in my opinion be a final or legitimate remedy.” Moreover, “[t]o disarm the blacks would be to deprive some of them of the means of procuring game for subsistance, which abounds in the country.” (Bvt. Lt. Col. Orlando H. Moore to Lt. J. W. Clous, 6 Dec. 1865, in the same file.) For an earlier complaint by Robert about the conduct of his former slaves at Beach Branch, South Carolina, to which place he had moved them near the end of the war, see Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 389–91.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp 590–92.