Throughout the summer and fall of 1865, conflicts large and small punctuated day-to-day life as former slaves and former slaveholders struggled to implement their own and usually conflicting understandings about freedom. To be sure, violence and violent struggle had been a hallmark of slavery. Lashes had fallen with alarming regularity, blows had been struck, bodies scarred, and overseers mysteriously murdered. But in the wake of the Civil War, such encounters carried a far different political and social weight. With the Thirteenth Amendment before the states for ratification and Northern military and Freedmen's Bureau authorities fanning out across the South, former slaves availed themselves of swiftly changing circumstances to accelerate the revolution that had been unleashed by war by enacting their own understandings of what it meant to be a free people. When taken individually, efforts by former slaves such as the two women featured in the following document might seem trivial, even futile. Collectively, however, the impact was enormous: drawing northerners' attention to southern white intransigence and making it possible for former slaves to advance their own agendas in ways unheard of under slavery.
Two North Carolina Freedwomen Testify Against Their Former Owner
[vicinity of Goldsboro N.C., ca. August 1865]
Case of MR. Wm Barnes of Wilson Co N.C. Charged with gross abuse to an aged woman of color.
Chanie "the abused" states as follows-
I That Mrs. Sally Barnes "wife of the accused" beat her with her hand-
II That not satisfied with this the said Mrs. Barnes beat her with a shingle.—that she "Chanie" caught hold of the shingle. when Mr. Barnes appeared and said-"Turn that shingle loose. you g-d. d- old b-h. or I'll knock you in head with this walking stick—whereupon she "Chanie" let go of the shingle and suffered Mrs. Barnes to continue beating her.
III That while Mr. Barnes and family were at breakfast she started for the town of Wilson, Watson Co. to report the case to Capt. Bullock of the Local Police for said Co.
IV That she was turned back by some person unknown to her who claimed to be a Yankee
V That soon after return home Mr. Barnes appeared and said-Oh yes you have come back G-d A-y G-d d- old b-h You went off to report me G-d A-y d- you- I'll report you after I get my dinner G-d A-y d- you I'll report your back
VI That after his dinner he appeared and said Now go out in the road G-d, d- you and strip your coat and shirt right off- I'll give you h-ll before I have done with you
VII That he beat her terribly after which he told her to go on now and spin your task of cotton or I'll give you as much more in the morning
VIII That she worked around until Sunday "This being upon Tuesday Aug 1" watching for an opportunity to escape, when she left for Goldsboro.
Mary Ann daughter of Chanie-states as follows
I That she "Mary Ann" told her mistress "Mrs. Wm Barnes" that she would not stay there and work if she "Mrs. Barnes" kept her clothes locked up-whereupon Mrs. Barnes attempted to whip her. that she guarded her blows when Mrs Barnes called Mr- Barnes-who with his grown son James, came in and between the three gave her a hundred or more blows-
II That they tied her hands and told her to get down- That she resisted when Mr. Barnes says, that won't do. Bring her out doors Let's tie her between two trees
III That they tied her feet to one tree and her hands to another, then cut her hair off.
IV That they allowed the dogs "three in number" to tear her clothes off and bite her. that James took off such clothing as the dogs left
V That Mr Barnes gave her two hundred lashes with a Paddle "A strap made purposely for whipping negroes" And said no d-d nigger should be free under him &c. &c.
Source: Testimony of Chanie and Mary Ann in case of William Barnes, [ca. August 1865], Miscellaneous Records, ser. 2637, Goldsboro NC Subasst. Comr., RG 105.
Questions to Consider
1. How did the presence of northern authorities affect the relationship between Chanie and her former owners?
2. Why would Mrs. Barnes keep Mary Ann's clothes locked up? What might she hope to gain by doing that?
3. In the end, who "won" and why?
4. If you could ask him, how do you think Charles Soule (Document 4) would respond to Chanie's complaint?
5. What kind of relationship (if any) do you see between micro events of this kind and the legislation passed by the newly reorganized state governments? In other words, do you think lawmakers might have been responding to the activities and aspirations of people like Mary Ann and Chanie? If so, why?