After Slavery: Educator Resources

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6. Georgetown (S. C.) Whites Petition for the Removal of Black Troops

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Four: Freedom, Black Soldiers, and the Union Military in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

After a long and bitter war, white southerners resented the presence of the U.S. military in the region, but they expressed a special antagonism towards the presence of black troops. In a letter to President Andrew Johnson in 1865, the leading South Carolina planter and former Confederate General Wade Hampton complained of the "pouring into our country...of barbarians, your negro troops," and wrote that he considered the deployment of blacks "a direct and premeditated insult to the Southern people." The state's first postwar Governor, Benjamin F. Perry (appointed to his post by Johnson), received dozens of petitions like the one below, from outraged white citizens demanding the removal of black troops. Perry responded positively to this sentiment, beseeching federal military authorities to redeploy blacks away from the interior of the state and toward the coast, and giving his assent to the formation of all-white 'militias' that would guard against black 'depredations.'

Georgetown (S. C.) Whites Petition for the Removal of Black Troops

We the undersigned citizens of Georgetown District appeal to your Excellency to use the most prompt and earnest effort with the Federal Authorities to relieve us from the insecurity of life and property consequent upon the garrisoning of this place by colored troops. The effect upon the black population (here largely in the ascendant) is of such a character as to paralyze every effort at industry and to cause those who live isolated on the plantations to tremble for their lives. Lt. Col. Willard the Commandant has been polite and courteous and there have fortunately been but few instances of insolence on the part of the colored soldiers - but the negroes on the plantations universally refuse to work and the Col. while admitting the right of planters to their labour under the contracts approved during the past summer is himself unable to enforce the right. Indeed it is our belief that any effort to do so would lead to open mutiny on the part of his troops. An entire gang from one of the plantations came into town yesterday and on being ordered by the Colonel to disperse go back to their homes and work or they would be put in jail said with one voice that they would go to jail and it resulted in their returning to the plantation declaring that they would not work and encouraged in that determination by every Negro soldier present. On another place the Executor of the Estate...was run off and threatened with death by a mob of 30 or 40 negroes armed with rails sticks etc. On another a delegation waited upon the Overseer commanded and obtained the keys.

On another nearly the whole gang threatened to break open the barn to tie the overseer if he did not give up the keys and to burn him out at night if he did not leave the place and loss of life and property were only prevented by his extreme coolness courage and presence of mind... All these events have occurred within the past ten days and are rapidly thickening. The district has not made this year sufficient grain [?] to subsist its inhabitants. Labor cannot be enforced without action and summary measures, certainly not with the present garrison and unless the lands are prepared now no crops can be made the ensuing season. Nor is this all, not only is every effort at industry paralyzed but we are rapidly drifting to a condition of lawlessness and violence which must end in open insurrection and the extermination of our race in this section unless instant aid be afforded. Prompt action now may avoid the evil. You will use every effort and that speedily to prevent such a consummation by procuring first a strong garrison of white troops and the removal of these is the earnest petition of sir.

Signed by 49 planters to Governor Perry, November 3, 1865

Source: Governor Benjamin F. Perry Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.


Questions to Consider

  1. The petitioners remark that the Commandant in charge of the black troops has been "polite and courteous" and that there had been "but few instances" in which black troops showed "insolence," yet they insist upon being garrisoned by white troops. Why?

  2. Black soldiers seem at times unwilling to obey the direct commands of their officers in enforcing labor discipline on the plantations. How might we explain this?

  3. The laborers seem united ("with one voice") in refusing to work on the terms being offered by the planters. Why might this be so? Do the petitioners offer any explanation as to why they might refuse to labor in the fields? What kind of information might help us better understand the merits of the dispute between planters and laborers?

  4. Military commanders and Freedmen's Bureau officials were confronted by continual disputes between laborers and planters in the period after emancipation. What are the federal government's interests in resolving these, and how should the government intervene?

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