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Memoir of a Freedmen's Bureau officer A sturdy, middle-aged Negro called Caesar entered my office and inquired if he could not have his wife and children.

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Presentation on theme: "Memoir of a Freedmen's Bureau officer A sturdy, middle-aged Negro called Caesar entered my office and inquired if he could not have his wife and children."— Presentation transcript:

1 Memoir of a Freedmen's Bureau officer A sturdy, middle-aged Negro called Caesar entered my office and inquired if he could not have his wife and children. "Certainly," I said. "But she's got another husband and things is powerful mixed up," he said. "You see, I was sold away from here fifteen years ago into the Alabamas. Well, ever since the freedom I've been working to get back and last week I gets back and finds my wife all right and powerful glad to see me. But she thought I was dead, and so she's been married these ten year, and there's an old man living with her now. He's a dreadful old man--he can't scarcely see. She wants me, and wants him to go away, but he won't go." It was a complicated and delicate case. According to the laws of South Carolina the first marriage was binding. Freedmen's Bureau orders declared that such persons as were living in lawful wedlock at the date of emancipation were husband and wife. But looking at the hale, middle-aged man before me and remembering the blind senility of his rival, I ventured to make this a special case and decided according to the civil statute. "You can have your wife," I said. "If you have worked your way back from Alabama for her sake, you deserve her. I'll write an order to put you in possession." He asked, "And what about the children?" I said, "Why, take your own children, of course." "I means his children--the old woman's and his. She says she won't go if she can't have all her children. And when we offers to take them the old man hollers and says, 'What's to become of me?' He's such an old man, you see, he can't so much see to light his pipe." "They are your children," I decided. "All the children of the wife are the children of the husband. Tell the old man that." The result was that the wife clove to the younger husband while the elder remained in the family as a sort of poor relation.

2 We had some pretty hard times after we first married. I had to go about mighty to provide for my children and my old lady. I moved on a farm owned by old Robert Bishop and stayed on and sharecropped, giving him one-third. One day he came by my little shack in his buggy and said, "Charlie, I want your woman to come up to the big house and do some work for my wife." I said, "What woman?" He said, "Sarah, your wife, of course." I said, "I tell you, Bishop, when I married my wife I married her to wait on me and she has got all she can do right here for me and my children." He got awful mad and said, "Well, Charlie, I keep this house for people who can do what I want done. It is the custom for whoever lives here to let his wife help around the big house, and if you can't let your wife do it, I need my house." He tried to make me move right away, but I went to court and they made him let me stay on.

3 A Georgia planter to a Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Commissioner, 1866 Most of the freedwomen who have husbands are not at work, never having made any contract at all. Their husbands are at work while they are as nearly idle as it is possible for them to be, pretending to spin, knit, or something that really amounts to nothing. Now these women have always been used to working out and it would be far better for them to go to work for reasonable wages and their rations. Their labor is a very important percent of the entire labor of the South, and if not made available must affect to some extent the present crop. I have several that are working well, while other and generally younger ones who have husbands and children are idle--indeed refuse to work and say their husbands must support them. I beg you will not consider this matter lightly, for it is a very great evil, and one that the Bureau ought to correct.

4 Affidavit of a Georgia freedwoman, 1866 My husband and I lived in Florida about four months. During that time he beat and abused me. I reported it to the officer in charge of the Freedman's Bureau. He had him arrested, and he got out of the guard house and left the place, remaining away until a new officer took charge. He then came back and beat me again. I had him arrested. He knocked the officer down and ran away and came here to Savannah. Since that time he has abused me and refuses to pay for the rent of my room and has not furnished me with any money, food, or clothing. I told him that I would go to the Freedmen's Bureau. He replied, "Damn the Freedmen's Bureau--I'll cuss you before them." On Saturday night, he came to my room and took all his things. He told me he would rather keep a woman than be married because she could not carry him to law and I could. I then told him that if he wanted to leave me to get a divorce and he could go. He said, "If I can get a divorce without paying for it, I'll get it for you. If I can't I won't give it to you, you can go without it." I said, "If you want to leave me, leave me like a man!" He has no just complaint against me.

5 A Louisiana freedwoman to the state Freedmen's Bureau headquarters, 1867 I am the mother of a woman named Dinah who is now dead. My daughter Dinah had a child boy by the name of Porter. Porter is now about eleven years of age. Mr. Spears has had the little boy bound over to him; I was not informed of this fact until after the matter of binding was consummated. I do not wish to wrongfully interfere with the arrangement of those who are endeavoring to properly control us black people--I feel confident they are doing the best they can for us and our present condition. But I am the grandmother of Porter. I am not by any means satisfied with the present arrangement. Mr. Spears I have known for many years. I will say nothing of his faults, but I have the means of educating my grandchild--of doing a good part by him. His uncle who has been lately discharged from the army of the U.S. is fully able to assist me in maintaining my grandchild Porter. We want him. We do not think Mr. Spears a suitable person to control this boy. Mr. Spears is very old and infirm. He is, and has been for many years, addicted to the use of ardent spirits. This fact I do not like to mention, but truth requires me to speak. Now, is there no chance to get my little boy? The agent of this place will not listen to me, and I am required to call on you or I must let my grandchild go, which greatly grieves me. Please answer this letter and you will greatly oblige.


7 To what extent did emancipation render black families more stable? To what extent did the reformulation of labor impose the values of the “dominant culture” on freed families? – Husbands assumed to be heads of households who “owned” the labor of their wives and children? To what extent did the freedpeople themselves embraces these notions? – Did freedwomen accept subservient positions in the household? Did they have much choice? To what extent did the transition to freedom signal a relative gain for freed men over freed women?


9 The white landowner (“GWE Row”) pledged to "furnish the land and team and also to feed the same to Henry Slaughter, who on his part agrees to work as much land as he can possibly do in corn and oats...He [Slaughter] to work himself, grown son and two small boys...He Slaughter to do one half of the fence and GWE Row the other half..." "GWE Row agrees to furnish to the said Chas. Gibson a house for his family and for his personal services he the said Row agrees to pay him one hundred ($100.00) dollars in current money for the year beginning Jan 1st 1868...And they also further agree and covenant that for the services of Martha and Thomas children of the said Chas. Gibson. That they will be fed and clothed by the said Geo. W.E. Row. And for Louisa Gordon he (GWE Row) agrees to pay the sum of twenty [five] ($25.00) Dollars in current money. She the said Louisa Gordon to cook, wash, milk etc. as she had done this year 1867..."

10 Freedman’s Bureau officers, who were often taken from the ranks of military officials, were charged with reconstructing the plantation regime by negotiating between planters and the freedpeople Sharecropping in the U.S. The labor negotiation Freedpeople vs. planters Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands (“Freedmen’s Bureau”) The result = sharecropping

11 Sharecropping Planters Own the land Need labor but cash poor Receives as rent half of profit from sale of crop Do not need cash Retain ultimate control Their workers are invested in the outcome Freedpeople Do not own land Need money but no capital Receives as wages half of profit from sale of crop Get to live in families Get to control own time More/better work = more profit

12 Percentage of farms sharecropped (by county), 1880

13 Sharecropping began as a compromise with the planters, in which freedpeople gained a measure of independence and autonomy in exchange for laboring on the lands of others. It soon descended into a cycle of debt peonage for many, as planters exercised their control of credit and law to exploit the newly freed.



16 Agreement between Landlord and Sharecropper This agreement, made and entered into this 18th day of January, 1879, between Solid South, of the first part, and John Dawson, of the second part. Witnesseth: that said party of the first part for and in consideration of eighty-eight pounds of lint cotton to be paid to the said Solid South, as hereinafter expressed, hereby leases to said Dawson, for the year A. D. 1879, a certain tract of land, the boundaries of which are well understood by the parties hereto, and the area of which the said parties hereby agree to be fifteen acres, being a portion of the Waterford Plantation, in Madison Parish, Louisiana. The said Dawson is to cultivate said land in a proper manner, under the general superintendence of the said Solid South, or his agent or manager, and is to surrender to said lessor peaceable possession of said leased premises at the expiration of this lease without notice to quit. All ditches, turn-rows, bridges, fences, etc. on said land shall be kept in proper condition by said Dawson, or at his expense. All cotton-seed raised on said land shall be held for the exclusive use of said plantation, and no goods of any kind shall be kept for sale on any said land unless by consent of said lessor.

17 Agreement between Landlord and Sharecropper (cont.) If said Solid South shall furnish to said lessee money or necessary supplies, or stock, or material, or either or all of them during this lease, to enable him to make a crop, the amount of said advances, not to exceed $475 (of which $315 has been furnished in two mules, plows, etc.), the said Dawson agrees to pay for the supplies and advances so furnished, out of the first cotton picked and saved on said land from the crop of said year, and to deliver said cotton of the first picking to the said Solid South, in the gin on said plantation, to be by him bought or shipped at his option, the proceeds to be applied to payment of said supply bill, which is to be fully paid on or before the 1st day of January, 1880. After payment of said supply bill, the said lessee is to pay to said lessor, in the gin of said plantation, the rent cotton herein before stipulated, said rent to be fully paid on or before the 1st day of January, 1880. All cotton raised on said land is to be ginned on the gin of said lessor, on said plantation, and said lessee is to pay $4 per bale for ginning same.

18 Agreement between Landlord and Sharecropper (cont.) To secure payment of said rent and supply bill, the said Dawson grants unto said Solid South a special privilege and right of pledge on all the products raised on said land, and on all his stock, farming implements, and personal property, and hereby waives in favor of said Solid South the benefit of any and all homestead laws and exemption laws now in force, or which may be in force, in Louisiana, and agrees that all his property shall be seized and sold to pay said rent and supply bill in default of payment thereof as herein agreed. Any violation of this contract shall render the lease void.


20 An ideal sharecropping contract Freedmen's Bureau officer Martin R. Delany drew up a model contract for a sharecropping arrangement. His contract, which required payment of one-third of the crop to the laborer and offered some protection from abuses by the planter, gives a sense of some of the injustices other sharecropping arrangements imposed. No labor is to be performed by hand that can better be done by animal labor or machinery. All damage for injury or loss of property by carelessness is to be paid by fair and legal assessments. All Thanksgiving, Fast Days, "Holidays" and National Celebration Days are to be enjoyed by contractors without being regarded as a neglect of duty or violation of contract. Good conduct and good behavior of the Freedmen toward the proprietor; good treatment of animals; and good care of tools, utensils, etc; and good and kind treatment of the Proprietor to the Freedmen, will be strictly required by the Authorities. No stores will be permitted on the place and nothing sold on account except the necessaries of life such as good substantial food and working clothes. Spirituous liquors will not be permitted.

21 An ideal sharecropping contract (cont.) In all cases where an accusation is made against a person, the Proprietor or his Agent, [and] one of the Freedmen selected by themselves, and a third person chosen by the two shall be a council to investigate the accused. In all cases where a decision is to be made to dismiss or forfeit a share of the crop, the officer of the Bureau or some other Officer of the Government must preside in the trial and make the decision. When the Proprietor is prejudiced against an accused person, he must name a person to take his place in the Council.

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