Commander of U.S. Forces at Columbia, Louisiana, to the Headquarters of the Western District of Louisiana, Enclosing a Labor Contract between a Freedwoman and Her Former Owner

Columbia, La,  Septbr 20th 1865.

The condition of affairs in Franklin parish is very bad.  The Lieutenant of Freedmen who is here has charge of that parish also, but he can do nothing at this distance.

The people of that parish were many of them members of “Harrison's” old command, and their treatment of the freed people is reported to me as being fully as bad, if not worse, than in slave times

The tying up of women by the thumbs, and the cruel punishment of all classes and ages of colored people is indulged in to the heart's content of these enlightened and humane whites.  Colored people command their esteem less, and awaken their humanities to a far less degree than the miserable curs which they make their pets.  If it meets with the approval of the General commanding, I will station a company at Winnsborough, which is the parish seat.  It seems to me that circumstances demand that a small force be sent there.  The people in all this country retain their old ideas with regard to the negro.

To them there seems to be no recourse, when a servant errs–except to the shot-gun or the lash.  They need different manipulation at the hands of the officers of the “Freedmens' Bureau.”

With very few exceptions the colored people in this vicinity are working for food, clothing and medical attendance.  The food and medical attention I believe they receive to a certain extent, but they are, as a general thing, clad in the cast off rags of their slave days.  I do not believe that a coat nor a pair of pantaloons has been, or will be furnished a single colored man on these plantations.  In some cases this payment for services, when made, is sufficient, but as a rule the planters can afford to give these people monthly pay.  As it is, the blacks stand just where they did three years ago as slaves, except that their clothes are more badly worn, and an officer of the government is their driver.  Their proper freedom is yet a myth.  In view of the coming year all the planters are wanting more hands.

I forward, enclosed herewith, a copy of a contract found on file in the office of the Provost Marshal of Freedmen at this post.  There are others of the same nature.  I have the honor to be, Captain, Your very ob'd't servt

A. Watson Webber



[Columbia, La., August 1, 1865]

Copy of E. W. Reitzell's Contract.

“I, the within-signed woman of color, do hereby bind myself with E. W. Reitzell as laborer on his plantation from this the 1st day of August, 1865, to the 1st day of January, 1866.  I further agree and bind myself to do all the work he may require of me, to labor diligently and be obedient to all his commands, to pay him due respect, and do all in my power to protect his property from danger, and conduct myself as when I was owned by him as a SLAVE.”

“For the services of the within-named freed woman of color, E. W. Reitzell binds himself to feed, clothe, house and furnish medical attention to her for the time above specified.  The consideration paid on the part of the employer will be of the same quality and quantity as were furnished the employee while she was the SLAVE of the employer.”

Col A. Watson Webber to Capt S. B. Ferguson, 20 Sept. 1865, enclosing contract between E. W. Reitzell and an unnamed freedwoman, 1 Aug. 1865, Letters Received, series 542, Northeastern Dist. of LA, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 3, National Archives. Webber was colonel of the 51st U.S. Colored Infantry. By an endorsement of October 9 the commander of the Western District of Louisiana referred his letter to the commander of the Northeastern District of Louisiana, but no response has been found in the records of the latter district.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 165–66.