After Slavery: Educator Resources

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1. A White Piedmont Farmer Reflects on Black Freedom

The following educational document corresponds with Unit One: Giving Meaning to Freedom in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Before the Civil War, David Golightly Harris (1824-1875) had been a small slaveholder in Spartanburg District, South Carolina. According to the 1860 census, he owned ten slaves and 550 acres of land, but only 100 acres were under cultivation. Though not among the volunteers who eagerly flocked to take up arms in defense of the Confederacy (Harris served only sporadically, when conscription policies left him little alternative), Harris was a devout proponent of slavery and even as the war drew to a close, continued to conduct his farming operations in accordance with antebellum habits and practices. In these passages, drawn from his journal entries for 1865, Harris offers intriguing clues about what the Confederate defeat meant to him and his community, about the processes of emancipation and who drove them, and about the kind of social and political order Spartanburg District's residents expected to see emerge from slavery's ashes.

A White Piedmont Reflects on Black Freedom
The Journals of David Golightly Harris

April 21. Went to the village to hear the news. Lee has surrendered. Johnstone is about to surrender. The soldiers are coming home in gangs & we have gone up the Spout...I am now going to work instead of to the war. I think I will like it the best. (371)

April 27. All hands are engaged in the Buffalo Bottom. Four plowing & the other ditching, sprouting, burning brush & old logs &c. We are about half done breaking up this land. (372)

May 1. The first of May is generally looked forward to as a day of pleasure & beauty...But this has not been a day of pleasure to many in Spartanburg village because The Yankey are in the village to day. But they have done no in injury to private property, with the exception of taking every good horse & mule they could find. (373)

June 3. Looked [at] every crop & find it (the corn) doing pretty well. The plows have gone to work again. (378)

June 5. Sale day. I went to the village in the buggy...There was a good many persons in the village, but little buisiness was doing. [Maj. Gen. Quincy Adams] Gillmore (A yankey) has issued a proclamation freeing all the negroes. I do not much think it will have much effect. Began plowing in the Buffalo Bottom. (378)

June 12. Monday. Splendid weather, good season in the ground. Four plows in the Buffalo Bottom. Two hands replanting. All hands hurrying. (379)

June 14. Another find day for work...All hands hoeing sugar cane...There is much talk about the negroes being free. Some have gone to the yankeys. I have heard mine say nothing on the subject. They are hard at work as usual (except York, who has been gone some time). I expect there will be some confusion about freeing the negroes, but I do not anticipate much trouble. It is about as cheap to hire help as to work your own negroes. (379)

July 6. MY BIRTH-DAY. To day I have been as busy as a yankey, "diving and delveing" in the Buffalo Bottom. Trying to make something for us to eat the next year...This day forty-four years ago, I came into this world. How long I am permitted to remain in it, no one can tell. I have lived through this terrible war & may be permitted to remain longer, or I may be taken away immediately. No one can tell, & I suppose it is best that such can not be known to us. Be that as it may, I am still alive, & intend to live as long as I can & be as happy & young as I can, for old age will come soon enough, without runing after it. My family are all well & happy. Long may it continue!! Old Will has disappeared to day. I expect that he wants to try to enjoy the freedom that the Yankeys have promised the negroes. I am willing for him to go if he will only stay away. The weather is very warm and ry. (383)

July 8. Started all hands to cutting oats. . . . (383)

July 24....There is much talk about freeing the negroes. Some are said already to have freed them. There is much apprehension of confusion & distress arising from the emancipation of the negroes...It is said that many have already been killed in this State & it is thought that it is only the beginning. (387)

July 25. Still warm & dry... Heard that Mr J Bomar Senior was freeing some of his negroes. Corn fine, but needing rain... (387)

August 5. Finished Laying By with the hoe. All hands are rejoicing that the crop is made for the year 1865. Oweing to the wet weather and a large crop of corn, my crop has not been well worked, but still, we will make a large corn crop. (388)

August 7. Sales day. I went to the village & found a good many persons there. It looked something like old times... We had a political meeting to send delagates to the Convention to meet at Columbia to revise the Constitution... (388)

August 14. Went to the village & found the citizens in a gloomy frame of mind on account of ugly state of affairs in the political wourld. Indeed it is a most gloomy time. We are conquered and the feet of the conquars are on our necks. We must submit to all they require & have no redress. Alas! A decree has gone forth from the Yankeys, that we must say to our negroes that they are free. If they stay with us, we are to pay them, & not drive them off nor correct them. The negroes seem to receive a higher place in the yankey opinion than the white people.

Negroes are permitted to do & say what they please and the white man has but little favours shown them. (389)

August 15. To day I told my negroes they were all free and requested all to go. Ann has gone off, & the others have gone to work. Some are cutting wood to make molasses with... Elifus has gone to mill. I fear much trouble and annoyance before we can get settled again. (389)

August 16. Freed the Negroes. Yesterday the people in this neighborhood did generally discharge their negroes, & told them that they were free. Two of mine had ran away before. Ann left yesterday when I told her she could go, but the others wisely concluded they would remain until New years day. I am glad Ann is gone and I would feel releived if the others would go. For the negroes now, with the yankeys to back them in their meanness, are worse than nothing. (389)

September 4. Went to the village, it being Sale-day and election-day for the Convention. There was some dozen or 15 yankeys at the village, regulating matters between the negroes & the whites, & administering the oath of allegiance to the United States. I did not take the oath & will not until circomstances compel me. (391)

September 16. Gwinn & I went to the village in haste and came home in haste without any reason for so doing. Yesterday the free negroes had a picnic at the village & seem to be enjoying their freedom to the utmost. The most of them are not disposed to work & the white men seem to be disposed to let them do just as they please & dare not to open their mouths to oppose them.

I have much work that I need done, but find it a hard matter to hire. Weather very warm for the time of the year. (391)

September 17. Sunday... Family well, Horses well, Cattle well, Hogs well & everything else are well so far as I know, if it was not for the free negroes. On their account everything is turned upside down. So much so that we do not know what to do with our land, nor who to hire if we want it worked. I am trying to find some honest men to rent mine to, but such as I want are hard to get. We are in the midst of troublesome times & do not know what will turn up. (391-92)

October 26. HAULING CORN from the Buffalo Bottom. All hands are at it. Even old Judy makes a good hand unloading the wagon. (395)

November 24. Finished sowing Wheat. We have been a long time putting in a little... To day rented to Mr. M Brewten the Camp Place. Fowler tends one half of it. In this district several negroes have been badly whipped & several have been hung by some unknown persons. This has a tendency to keep them in the proper bounds & make them more humble... (397)

December 19. Tuesday... This morning we Killed four Hogs weighting 176, 150, 176, 150, making 652 lbs averageing 162 [163] lbs. This aded to the other killing (480) makes me 1132 pounds, and leves me five of the best hogs to kill yet. We will have no bacon to bragg upon but there will be enough to do us & may be a little to sell. As my negro[es] will all be free after Christmas, if they leave me (as I suppose they will) I will not have so many to feed.

I do wish the negroes would all go to the Yankeys & stay with them until they all got their satisfaction. Between the negro & yankey, we are certainly in an humble and awkward situation, & what makes it much worse, there is no hope of a situation that will be more pleasant. The yankey Congress has refused to admit our members to a seat with them & so we are to have no representation at all. (399)

December 25. Christmas morning... The negroes leave to day to hunt themselves a new home while we will be left to wait upon ourselves. It may be a hardship; but I hardly think it will. I do think that we can do without them as well as we have with them.... (400)

December 31. Sunday. Christmas is gone. Wet, sloppy, & disagreeable, but we have had several egg-noggs & no insurrection amongst the negroes. Everything is quiet, though no one knows what to do. (400)

Source: David G. Harris, Piedmont Farmer: The Journals of David Golightly Harris, 1855-1870. Edited with an introduction by Philip N. Racine (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990)


Questions to Consider

  1. Can you discern any relationship between work on the farm, political developments, and slave emancipation? How does the sequence of events help us understand Harris's expectations about freedom and the future social, political, and productive relations between black and white southerners?

  2. Harris complains at several points about the presence of Union authorities. But given other information he provides in these passages as well as what you know about Andrew Johnson's proclamations (Document 2 and Document 3) and the South Carolina black codes (Unit 3, Document 8), just how heavily was the "conqueror's" foot resting on former Confederates' necks?

  3. We learn much about Harris in reading his diary entries, but he also reveals significant information about the African Americans who worked for him too. What were these African Americans doing (and when) in these tumultuous months? How do their actions help us understand their ideas about freedom and its meanings?

  4. On what kind of note does Harris end the first year of freedom? How does this help us think forward into 1866?


Return to Exhibition: Unit One