Louisiana Planters to the Commander of the Department of the Gulf

[Terrebonne Parish, La.]  Jany 14th 1862 [1863]–

General,  The undersigned, comtee, appointed by the citizens of the Parish of Terre Bonne–La– to lay before you the deplorable condition of their once florishing & happy Parish–

Respectfully reprisent–that–nine tenths of all the horses, saddles & bridles & at least two thirds of all the mules, carts, wagons & harness necessary to carry on the plantations have been seized by the U.S. (to say nothing of cattle, hogs, sheep poultry & other things necessary to support our families & negroes)   consequently many planters are not able to haul necessary supplies from the depots nor will they be able to dilever at depots & landings the Sugar & molasses now in their Sugar-Houses–neither will they be able to cultivate their crops this year–  Large quantities of corn necessary for the use of the planters their negroes & teams remain in the fields, & without carts teams & harness must so remain & be entirely lost–  That–many of the negroes led astray by designing persons, believe that the plantations & everything on them belong to them, the negroes–  They quit work, go & come when they see fit–Ride off at night the mules that have been at work all day–  Fences are pulled down   gates & bars are left open–  Cattle, & sheep hogs & poultry are killed or carried off & sold–  Negroes in numbers from one plantation to an other at all hours night & day–  They travel on the rail road–  They congregate in large numbers on deserted plantations–  All these things are done against the will & in defiance of the orders of their masters.–  In Some instances negro Soldiers partially armed have been allowed to visit the plantations from which they inlisted–  In a word we are in a State of anarchy.–  The time has come when preperations for planting & cultivating the crops of 1863 should be made.–  But without teams, & the ability to command the labour of our negroes, nothing can be done.–  Unless a full crop of corn can be grown this year Starvation Stares us in the face–  In the rear of famine march insurrection & pestilence–

General–We ask relief from our present evils & security for the future.–  To obtain these ends, we respectfully suggest–That–To each planter be restored not less than half of all the team, carts, wagons & harness, that he has heretofore used in the cultivation of his plantation, & that they be secured to him to be used in the cultivation of his plantation or plantations if he has more than one–  That no person be allowed to hire or employ in any way a negro or colored person without the written permission of his or her owner or the known agent of the owner–Which written permission the party employing or hiring a negro or colored person must be able to produce when called on in justification of himself–  Some plan should be adopted to compell negroes hired to remain & complete their contracts–  This object would be furthered by arresting & returning to their owners or employers all negroes absenting themselves without leave of their owners or employers.–  Negroes should not be allowed to enter the lines of encampment without passes from their owner or employer–  Those who do so should be promptly expelled–otherwise the foregoing suggestions will be fruitless.–  Furnishing negroes or colored persons in any way with any kind of intoxicating liquor or drink should be strictly prohibited–  On some places the negroes have refused to work on any terms–  We ask such power & authority as will enable us to preserve order & compell the negroes to work so as to make the crops necessary for the support of our families & of the negroes themselves.–

To make a crop of 1.000– Hoags of Sugar & 2000– barrels of Molasses requires the labour of 150– hands & an outlay of some $25.000– in money–Too large a sum to risk on an uncertainty–  Hence it is all important that we should have undoubted security for the future use of the labour of our negroes, our teams, carts, etc–  Without this security for at least twelve months, we fear not attempt will be made this year (1863) to grow either corn or cane in the Parish of Terre Bonne.–  Without bread the negroes must Starve, revolt & become a heavy charge on the Govt. of the U.S., while disease will decimate their ranks.–  But by a prompt & decided course, requiring obediance & work from our Slaves the Govt. may save the country & especially the poor negroes from Such dire calamities.–

W. J. Minor Andrew McCollam
T. Gibson Frs E Robertson

W. J. Minor et al. to Major Genl. Banks, 14 Jan. 1862 [1863], M-108 1863, Letters Received, series 1920, Civil Affairs, Department of the Gulf, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives. Each signature is in a different handwriting; the petition is in that of Minor. Appended are three virtually identical documents, each dated January 8, 1863, and signed by various “Citizens” of Terrebonne Parish (about 170 in all), delegating Minor, Robertson, McCollam, Gibson, and one John M. Pelton to represent “the condition of things in this Parish & indeavour to obtain some amelioration of our grievances so as to justify us in attempting to grow our usual crops, which it would be unwise in us to attempt to do, under, existing circumstances.”

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, pp. 408–10.