Propertied whites were taken aback by the level of militancy evident among freedpeople, which in 1867 and 1868 manifested itself in a series of chronic clashes between planters and 'free' black laborers. Here, in an excerpt from an article in the conservative Charleston Mercury, editors fret over the effects of Republican agitation in the South Carolina lowcountry. They see the hand of both Republican officials and the Union Leagues in a rash of strikes across St. Paul's Parish, south of Charleston, around harvest time in 1868. By this time the Mercury had been a newspaper noted for its defense of slavery for nearly fifty years; in the years immediately preceding the Civil War it had been the mouthpiece of the most fervent secessionists. One might therefore question its sympathy for the "deluded freedmen" who it describes here as the "abject slaves" of a local Republican official.
White Conservatives Complain that the Union Leagues are Organizing Labor Strikes South of Charleston
The comparative quiet of this Parish has been suddenly broken by a meeting held near this place on the 29th ult., which was addressed by Captain J. W. Grace and J. S. Craig. Captain Grace holds, he says, the office of Magistrate; and this added to the machinery of the League, causes the deluded freedmen to consider themselves his abject slaves. It was no surprise therefore to hear them state that they were 'ordered' to assemble...[in an] account derived from the statements of numerous freedmen... Finding upon this occasion that politics alone did not interest their audience, these orators painted for them a diabolical picture of their condition, should the Democrats succeed. Rebels would, they said, reduce them to a state worse than slavery; passes would be required to move from one point to another, permits would be necessary to sell anything, labour would be exacted and wages could not be collected, no meetings could be held and no arms were to be carried; their schools and churches would be leveled to the ground, and General Hampton was represented as stumping the State to disfranchise the coloured race. Craig stated that if the Republicans were defeated he must leave the country, or be hung to the nearest black jack. Captain Grace was more jovial, and promised a supply of whiskey at a future meeting.
As a result of these harangues, labour strikes have begun, and the lives of foremen reporting misconduct to their employers are threatened. Some of the most sensible of the freedmen seem quite relieved when informed that the Democrats are not such demons as depicted, but others of them in this vicinity are so excited that the desire is expressed openly, even amongst their own women, to 'shoot every rebel and Democrat from the face of the earth.'
Source: "Things in St. Paul's," Charleston Mercury, 10 Sept 1868
Questions to Consider