Mayor and City Commissioners of Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Provisional Governor of North Carolina

Mayor's Office  Wilmington N.C.  12th July 1865

Sir:  The undersigned Mayor and Commissioners of the Town of Wilmington, respectfully represent to your Excellency, that it is very generally belived in this community that some insurrectionary movement is contemplated by the colored citizens of this Town and vicinity, aided and abetted by United States colored troops, and further encouraged by their Preachers and Teachers, who are generally denizens of the North: and we, representatives of the wishes [of] the citizens, would recommend some speedy action through your Excellency, or we fear that the purposes of those persons may be so far consummated, as to be not so easily checked, as the object of this communication is to prevent so sad an occurence–

Our own colored population are assuming a somewhat dictatorial spirit, and insolent, and claiming through a written petition to our Board by “The Union League” composed of colored persons, or rather by a committee from said “Union League” a participation in the Offices and appointments of this Board, say Policemen and Inspectors of fuel for the Town.  Their petition has been answered that this Board has no legal authority, if they were so inclined, to appoint them to any office within their gift

The proclamation of your Excellency has been read to them,1 and they still insist that they are entitled to all the social and political rights of white citizens, and they have made objections to this Board, through our Mayor, to some of the Justices appointed by your Excellency, and further insist that they should have been consulted–

And we would further represent, that notwithstanding the stringent orders of the Commanding General, our streets are continually thronged with Black Troops, many frequently in a state of intoxication, which in the present excited state of the different classes, liable at any moment to create a riot, or even something worse: besides frequent occurrences have taken place, bringing the colored Troops and citizens in contact with the whites, resulting in the indication of smothered revenge to-wards the whites.  These things, together with conversations frequently heard, and which they are not very careful to conceal, as the conversations were in a loud tone, and savoring an insurrectionary spirit–

Now, in view of these facts and the painful apprehension pervading our community, we feel it to be our duty to make known to you the situation, and circumstances by which we are surrounded, and would respectfully suggest to your Excellency, that you will urge upon the Military authorities the propriety as well as the necessity of removal of the colored Troops as we think that, would in a large measure remove the present apprehensions, and do away with the evil influence exerted upon our colored citizens–

And we would further represent that we are somewhat apprehensive that when the Municipal Government is organized and an attempt is made to assume and exercise authority not in accordance with the views of this particular class, resistance will be made, and we feel ourselves powerless, in the absence of a sufficient number of white troops to enforce our authority: as we verily believe, the colored Troops could not be controlled by their officers, and would [take sides?] with the colored citizens.

[We] would assure your Excellency that [. . .] [sugg]estion of the removal of the colored [troops?] [is] not done from prejudice against [this?] [pa]rticular class of Troops, but for [the?] [re]asons set forth in this our appeal, [and?] our anxiety to restore civil authority in our town.

Since the foregoing was written a Document, a copy of which is herewith sen[t] (was handed to the Mayor)   You will observe it is dated 3d June ult., and the reason assigned for the delay in handing it to the Mayor, is that the writter wished to leave the place before its delivery.  He left this place for home a short time since

(Signed) John Dawson  Mayor
(signed) T. D Wallace
(signed) Alfred Martin
(signed) John G. Bauman
(signed) Wm S. Anderson
(signed) J. Shackelford

John Dawson et al. to His Excellency W. W. Holden, 12 July 1865, Letters Received, series 3290, Department of NC & Army of the OH, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives. This copy of the letter is in twelve fragments, from one of which a corner is missing. The document said to have accompanied it is not filed with this copy, which was received at the office of General Thomas Ruger, commander of the Department of North Carolina. By a telegram of July 15, Ruger ordered the commander of the District of Wilmington to investigate the allegations. “If a Secret association exists among the negroes it will be Squelched and the leaders arrested,” he directed. “The black troops will be removed several miles outside of the city so soon as the civil authorities declare themselves ready to assume controle of Municipal affairs, leaving only Sufficient Guards and patrols in town to secure order and protect public property. . . . [W]hite troops will be held in readiness to repress the first signs of any insurrection. . . . The County Police of New Hanover County, if not already organized, will be organized, and will be at once armed. . . . If the fears of the Mayor and Commissioners are well founded, you will handle the matter promptly and without Gloves–” (Major Clinton A Cilley to Bvt. Brig. Genl Saml A. Duncan, 15 July 1865, vol. 43/105 VaNc, p. 153, Telegrams Sent, series 3284, Department of NC & Army of the OH, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.) The district commander's response is printed immediately below.

1. The proclamation of June 12, 1865, in which Provisional Governor William W. Holden announced procedures for reorganizing civil government in North Carolina and restoring the state to the Union. In a paragraph addressed “To the colored people of the State,” Holden warned that they should not expect to exercise political rights: “Your race has been depressed by your condition of slavery, and by the legislation of your former masters, for two hundred years. It is not to be expected that you can comprehend and appreciate as they should be comprehended and appreciated by a self-governing people, the wise provisions and limitations of Constitutions and laws; or that you can now have that knowledge of public affairs which is necessary to qualify you to discharge all the duties of the citizen. No people has ever yet bounded at once into the full enjoyment of the right of self government.” (PROCLAMATION, BY WILLIAM W. HOLDEN, PROVISIONAL GOVERNOR, TO THE PEOPLE OF NORTH-CAROLINA, 12 June 1865, William Woods Holden Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C.)

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 131–33.

Commander of the District of Wilmington to the Headquarters of the Department of North Carolina

Wilmington, N.C., July 26th, 1865.

Major:  In further reply to your telegram of the 15th inst., I have the honor to report that investigations into the supposed conspiracies among the negro population have been continued:–1  I would respectfully submit the following supplimentary report–

1st– No evidence whatever can be discovered of any secret organizations among the negroes.  No such organizations are known to the civil authorities here.

2nd– There are in existence here several Equal Rights Leagues–branches of the National E.R. League established at Syracuse N.Y. in 1864.

The Constitution, By Laws & Records of these Leagues are open for inspection; members may be admitted without regard to age, sex, or color; their meetings are public; and their object is both honest and laudable,–being, as set forth in the 1st Sec. of the Constitution of the State League, “To encourage sound morality, education, temperance, frugality, industry, and promote every thing that pertains to a well-ordered & dignified life, and to obtain by appeals to the mind and conscience of the American People, or by a legal process when possible, a recognition of the rights of the colored people of the nation as American citizens–”

3d No attempt has been made by the blacks to dictate to the civil authorities as to the organization of the city government.

A petition from members of the various E.R.Ls and the colored Fire Engine Companies was presented to the Mayor, praying that one half of the Police force of the town should be selected from the colored population.  The petition was disallowed, & the petitioners acquiesced.

4th It is not true that “colored soldiers are seen drunk & unruly in the public streets,” if by this it is meant to charge that these troops are badly disciplined and disorderly.

Of course individual cases of drunkenness do arise among them–but it is the testimony of all reliable parties that the town at no time since its occupation by the Union arms has been more orderly and quiet than since the negro troops were ordered here.

5th It is true that “negroes are insolent & domineering” to a certain extent–the acts complained of, however, being in most cases failures to observe certain of the proprieties & conventionalities of social life; but it is believed that the whites are far more insolent & domineering, both in their manners and their words & actions.

So far as complaints have been made to these H'd. Q'rs. those of the whites are by far the most trivial, being too often based upon prejudice merely–

6th The Hon. Mayor assures me that he has no evidence whatever of any intended rising among the negroes, and fears nothing of the kind.  He represents, however, that at one time the citizens of Wilmington were considerably excited upon the subject–their alarm being based upon rumors, he thinks, rather than any definite knowledge.

7th– On the plantation of Mr. Thos Jarman near N.E. Station on the W&W.R.R. from 12 to 20 negroes have once or twice gone through with an imitated drill–openly & without arms–

Mr. Jarman looked upon the matter with no distrust, regarding it as a recreation merely on the part of the negroes, prompted by their power of imitation, rather than intended for harm.

This may have had some connection with rumors of companies organizing & drilling in the country.  Nothing else, bearing the semblance even, can be discovered; this, harmless as it is believed to have been, has been strictly prohibited.

In conclusion, I would say that the leading men among the colored population seem possessed of excellent sense on the questions affecting their peculiar relations; and, while they deprecate existing inequalities & disabilities, recognize fully the worse than folly of resorting to any other than legitimate means for the correction of existing abuses and unjust distinctions.

Acknowledging as they do the fact that thro' patience & forbearance lies the shortest route to the full possession of their rights, I doubt not that all their influence will be in favor of wise & prudent counsels, & that they will discountenance & repress any tendency to rash & revolutionary action–

A good understanding seems to prevail between them and the Head of the recently established City Government.

I deem the fear of a negro insurrection here utterly groundless, & absurd in the extreme–  I am, Major, Most respectfully, Your Obdt Servt

Saml A. Duncan

Bvt. Brig. Genl. Saml A. Duncan to Maj. C. A. Cilley, 26 July 1865, filed under “W,” Letters Received, series 3290, Department of NC & Army of the OH, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.

1. The telegram of July 15 is summarized in the endnote of the preceding document. The district commander's initial response had been a telegram of July 16 dismissing fears of an impending insurrection as having “no foundation save in the unwarrantable prejudices of the white population.” “The real danger is to the blacks so soon as military protection shall be withdrawn,” he declared. “The prejudices of the whites are being highly excited by inflamitory and mendacious articles in the Herald & the blacks are alarmed in an equal degree. This paper must change its course or be suppressed.” While Union Leagues (whose “object” he considered to be “loyal and laudable”) had been organized among local blacks, there was “no proof whatever of any secret organizations.” As for the black soldiers in the area, they were “far more orderly than previous garrison” and, in any case, were “already being withdrawn from the town.” “[I]n a day or two,” he added, “the Govt will be turned over to the civil authorities.” (Bvt Brig Genl Saml A Duncan to Maj C A Cilley, 16 July 1865, Telegrams Received, series 3294, Department of NC & Army of the OH, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives.)

Published in Land and Labor, 1865, pp. 133–35.