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HEADQUARTERS, BUREAU OF REFUGEES, FREEDMEN
New Orleans, La., July 1st, 1865.
MAJOR GENERAL E. R. S. CANBY,
Commanding Department of the Gulf:
GENERAL-I beg leave to respectfully present a final report of the affairs of the Bureau of Free Labor, Department of the Gulf, prior to its transfer to the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, over which Major General Q. O. Howard presides.
The Bureau commenced the year with a stupendous work before it, and without funds. Thousands of destitute freedmen came through our lines, at all points, and were forwarded by military commanders to me to be cared for and furnished with employment. I had to procure everything by purchase, medicines could not be procured of the purveyor, rations could, at one time, only be had by payment of cash for them, clothing had to be purchased, excepting some lots of deceased soldiers' clothing, turned over to me by the Quartermaster. I had to secure and stock, for the use of vagrant and helpless freedmen, four
At least thirty thousand dollars was required for that purpose. During the year there have been under the control of the Bureau four Home Colonies. These are as follows, viz:
The McHatton Home Colony, at Baton Rouge.
The Rost and McCutcheon Home Colony, Parish of St. Charles.
The Gen. Bragg Home Colony, Parish of Lafourche.
The Sparks Home Colony, Parish of Jefferson.
The following tabular statement is annexed, as showing several items
which may prove of interest:
NOTE.-By terms of contract the Government is to receive one-third of the crops of lands cultivated by freedmen. NOTE. The plantations formerly in charge of the Treasury Department are in many cases worked on shares, the Government having a fractional part of the crop. The proceeds from this source will also accrue to the benefit of the Bureau.
NOTE. The number of acres of the Sparks' place, as set forth above, alludes only to the cleared land.
NOTE.-The Government has, by the terms of agreement with Mr. Sparks, a first lien upon the property for expenses.
Much surprise may be manifested at the apparently large number of sick reported; but it must be borne in mind that the main object in view, in the establishment of these colonies, was to provide a place of refuge and a home for the aged and helpless freedmen, thrown upon the Bureau for support. The crops are in good condition, and the farms are managed as successfully as if in the hands of private parties. The Sparks Home Colony was worked by its proprietor for some months, but being unable to work it further, he turned it into my hands. This place being close to New Orleans, and well adapted to the wants of the Bureau, furnishing a ready place of refuge to the vagrants of the city, who were constantly being thrown upon my hands by the military and civil authorities, and the large numbers of helpless freedmen who were also flocking to me for help, made its acquisition very desirable. I previously held the Belleville Iron Foundry, at Algiers, as a place of asylum for these characters, but as I had no means of furnishing them with employment, the plantation of Mr. Sparks was most acceptable. I desired to impress upon the minds of all who came into my charge that work could in no case be avoided, and that if they fell upon the Government to be maintained, they must work as hard as if they were employed by contract on the plantation of any private citizen. The fact that while in my charge they must work as hard as if employed by others, and get no pay, has been instrumental in decreasing the number of vagrants who would otherwise have crowded upon me.
In these establishments labor is forced, and none can avoid it, unless they are physically unable to perform it. All contribute something to the support of themselves and their families. These colonies are well organized. Each has a superintendent, a physician, a cultivator of the land and a clerk. There is now, in good condition, at each of them, a school for instruction in the common English branches, a Sunday school for moral and religious training, and, where the parties have so desired, there are regularly organized churches. My plan has been to render them self-supporting. The crops now growing will reimburse the Government for all outlays. It has been determined not to allow the work of caring for the freedmen of the Department to be of any expense whatever to the United States, and, from the present appearance of the crops, I am quite certain I will be able to show that my hopes in this respect will be fully realized.
Considered in every way, I regard the Home Colonies as a most successful feature in the government and care of freedmen. Indeed without them the crime of vagrancy would prevail to a great extent, and go unpunished and unchecked.
At no time have I had more than four hundred persons who could be properly classed as vagrants. This number is less, by many thousands, than was generally supposed to have been supported by this Bureau. I find that the colored people are not apt to be vagrants. They have fewer vagrants
than can be found among any other class of persons, and by far the fewest beggars. The largest number in my charge are helpless persons, old men, women and small children. The class usually called "vagrants" by the police and the courts are industrious and self-supporting.
PERSECUTIONS BY THE POLICE.
The injustice inflicted upon the freedmen at the hands of the New Orleans police, can hardly find its equal in the history of any city in Christendom.
It has been the practice here to arrest as vagrants all, colored laborers who were found on the streets in their working garments, and not employed just at the moment when the police saw them. These men may have had as honest employment as their persecutors; they may have worked all day long in the burning sun, loading or unloading ships or boats; they may have been in the employ of the Quartermaster's Department, or some other Department of the Government; they may have their cotton hooks hanging to their belts, showing that they have proper employment; but still they have been arrested, locked up in jail and arraigned before the courts charged with the crime of vagrancy. Not a day passes without dozens of men being sent to me as vagrants, many of whom I release immediately upon ascertaining that they have been arrested unjustly. Those who are found to be vagrants are readily and effectively corrected at our colonies, where they are made to labor and contribute to the support of the helpless of their race. The troubles inflicted by the police, when reported to the Department Commander, were promptly checked.
THE SYSTEM OF LABOR.
Allow me to give you a statement of the condition of the country since February 1st, when the contract year commenced.
At that time the question of labor was the one which was the most generally discussed by planters and merchants. The failure of the crops last year, by the ravages of the army worm, was lost sight of when men talked about labor. The alleged idleness and insubordination of the negroes were always quoted as the cause of the failure. Newspapers and newspaper letter writers quoted the failure as proof positive that free labor was a failure. The gross crop was compared with that of other years, and the conclusion generally drawn was, that the present system of labor was a failure. This conclusion was heralded far and wide, and many thoughtless men were found ready to admit the force of the statement. It was not difficult to show, that at no time in the history of Louisiana had the planters so bright a prospect of large and profitable benefits from their investments as in 1864.
Great as was the supposed failure of the labor plan, it has produced a crop on about one thousand plantations, of all sizes, worth at least thirty millions of dollars. Considering that the rebels had driven the best laborers from the territory formerly within the lines of our military occupation into Texas, and that the United States, by a series of harsh and sweeping conscriptions, had taken into the army nearly all who remained who were of proper age and
condition; and considering, too, that most of the planters entered upon the work faithless and doubtful, and that the laborers were the poorest of their class, the crop produced showed a triumph of the free labor system. It exceeded the expectations of all reasonable men, and showed the freedmen to be not idlers but industrious.
A crop worth twenty or thirty millions could not have been destroyed by the worm had it not been produced by the laborers. This is conclusive enough, and the best planters of the State have estimated the loss as even greater than that which I state.
Nevertheless it was agreed that the plan was a failure, and in order to secure a better, meetings were called, and held by various persons and at various times. The agents of the Treasury Department made their arrangements for the government of plantations. These arrangements were discussed by the planters and generally disliked.
THE MEETINGS OF THE PLANTERS.
Pursuant to a call from Hon. B. F. Flanders, Supervising Special Agent of the Treasury Department, Third Agency, a meeting of planters and others interested in planting assembled at the rooms of the Chamber of Commerce, on the evening of Monday, the 21st November, 1864, of which Judge Joshua Baker, of Terrebonne Parish, was elected chairman. A committee of two gentlemen from each parish was appointed to draw up rules and regulations for the better administration of the plantations of Louisiana, and the management, payment and feeding of the freed laborers, and to suggest such changes in the regulations presented by the Secretary of the Treasury, under date of July 29, 1864, as they deemed of vital importance to the agriculture of the State."
A copy of these rules and suggestions was to be presented to an adjourned meeting, on Tuesday evening, the 22d November. The rules and suggestions were submitted, accepted by the planters, and their adoption urged. Any of these, if approved and enforced, as desired, would have brought the freedmen again into bondage, in fact, if not in name. It was surprising to behold men, of considerable intelligence, urge measures upon the attention of the authorities, which if allowed, would be in direct violation of the Proclamation of President Lincoln, giving liberty to the enslaved, and in open conflict with the ruling spirit of the Government.
They urged that for insolence, disobedience, improper behavior. or contempt of superiors, freedmen be punished by their employers, "as formerly." This last expression was so frequently used, that it was easily seen how devotedly they adhered to the old system of slavery. The better judgment of the former slaveholders of the State has at last gained the ascendancy, and now, as a general rule, the death of slavery is more widely acknowledged.
The following" suggestions" proposed at the meeting of the planters in this city, will illustrate the sentiment, which they entertained, at that time.