White Tennessean to the Freedmen's Bureau Superintendent of the Subdistrict of Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis Tenn  Oct 30th 1865

Dear Sir   Learning that you are desirous of obtaining correct information with regard to the Freedmen in their new relation to their former owners & present employers with a view of adopting such measures as shall insure peace tranquility & prosperity–throughout your District, you will permit me to respectfully submit a few facts & suggestions for your consideration–and action if you should deem it necessary.  In the neighborhood of the little village of Bellmont in the County of Fayette some twelve miles distant in a North Westerly direction from Sommerville (the County seat)–a large number of negroes have procured arms and are manifesting such a spirit of insubordination & frequently making such threats & demonstrations as are calculated to disturb the peace & tranquility of the community and which may lead to serious results if not speedily checked.  I learn through my brother-in-law Mr W. E. Stamback (who is now in charge of the plantation of my late father L P Williamson)–that this is particularly observable upon the farm of the late Dr H[ow]ell some ten miles from Sommerville upon the road leading from Sommerville to Covington–also upon the farm of Genl Jos Williams–both of which places are at present under the control of superintendents & not owners.  Upon the first mentioned place the old gentleman has recently died and the negroes seem to think they have the best right to the premises & are disposed to appropriate them to their use, and the owner of the latter place resides in this city & the negroes are consequently under scarcely any discipline or restraint.  The community is impressed with the belief that this unfortunate state of affairs has resulted chiefly from the want of means in the hands of employers of enforcing discipline & order upon the plantations (corporal punishment having been abolished) and the secret agency & influence of bad men who induce the poor ignorant blacks to believe that the annihilition of the whites will put them permanently in possession of their lands & estates.  The negro being by nature indolent & improvident–living only for to day & permitting tomorrow to take care of itself–not influenced to any extent by the hope of reward but chiefly moved by the fear of punishment and in view of the fact that corporal punishment has been prohibited we must look about for some other means by which we can exact an amount of labor sufficient to justify the employer in paying him wages and at the same time insure order & discipline upon the premises.  To accomplish these most desirable objects I would respectfully suggest Genl–  First the disarming of the freedmen in the country as has been done in this city   Second the appointment by the sub Agents in the different counties of a police guard of four or five of the most reliable negroes upon every farm, one of whom can be styled Captain   This guard not to be armed & recieving their instructions from the agent of the Bureau for the county would meet with no resistance in arresting any negro who might be creating a disturbance upon the place or failing to perform his duty and taking him before the Agt for correction.  I learn that this plan is working admirably in Phillips County Arkansas and they have none of those unfortunate & deplorable conflicts between whites & blacks which we are called upon sometimes to regret.  I would further suggest the calling of meetings of the freedmen at one or two public places in the Counties & let them be addressed by Government officials & made clearly (& thus authoritatively) to understand their true status– the relation they sustain to their former owners in point of property and the penalties annexed to any violation of the laws–especially in regard to demonstrations of an insurrectionary character.  All of which is respectfully submitted by Your obt Svt

J A Williamson

P.S. I will merely add that Mr Stamback called with me upon you during his recent visit to this city & found you absent & requested me to place this matter before you–  Respectfully &c


J A Williamson to Brig Genl N A M Dudley, 30 Oct. 1865, enclosed in Bvt. Brig. Gen. N. A. M. Dudley to Capt. Clarke, 2 Nov. 1865, D-87 1865, Registered Letters Received, series 3379, TN Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, & Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105, National Archives. The subdistrict superintendent, General Nathan A. M. Dudley, forwarded Williamson's letter to the headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau assistant commissioner for Kentucky and Tennessee, describing it in a covering letter as “one of the many com.'s of a similar character which I am daily recieving from planters & others in the country relative to the almost universal arming of the Freedmen in some of the Counties of this Sub. Dist.” Dudley asked to be informed “whether, or not it is the intention to permit the hands on plantations & others to retain in their possession Fire-arms.” No reply has been found in the assistant commissioner's letters-sent volumes.

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 833–34.