After Slavery: Educator Resources

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2. Early Outrages against Freedpeople in South Carolina

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Nine: Coercion, Paramilitary Terror, and Resistance in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

In some places in the South Carolina interior, whites sought to formally reestablish the 'slave patrols' that had operated before the war. As the document below suggests, these efforts included compelling freedpeople to carry 'passes' signed by their employers when they wanted to travel the roads. But this was not all that ex-slaves had to contend with: individual employers—with their authority reinforced by organized bands of armed men—did their best to retain the prerogatives for punishment and discipline that they had exercised under slavery. Freedwomen, in particular, faced a difficult new situation: now that they no longer bore children who could be owned as property, employers tried to turn them off as unproductive laborers.

In the early months after the war this violence was supplemented by the less focused brutality of gangs of 'bushwhackers,' but in time some of the coercive functions evident in the revived patrols would become regularized in the new, all-white state militias set up under the Benjamin F. Perry administration in South Carolina and the Holden and Worth administrations that governed North Carolina. Made up in large part of Confederate veterans and frequently led, on a local level, by prominent men of property, these efforts brought the armed power of the state to bear on attempts at undermining freedpeople's claim to freedom.

These selected entries from the journal of Col. James C. Beecher —who during the war was a commander of a black regiment and after it an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau— give us some sense of the range of atrocities carried out by whites. All are from the summer and fall of 1865. Throughout this period, Beecher was stationed in the South Carolina interior west of Charleston.

Early Outrages against Freedpeople in South Carolina

Aug 13 [freedwomen 'Silvy' and 'Pocohontas' complain that] Silvy was tied up by the thumbs on 12th from 3am to 3pm [by planter James Wiggins, St. George's Parish, Colleton county]; Pocahontas complains of the same for beating her and her young child with a stick.

Aug 17 [freedwoman Jane Cumming complains of getting 50 lashes with a switch, planter's wife beat her first, on back, face and arms.]

Aug 24 [Planter] states that Jane is an audacious creature...came in my absence to the house and insulted my wife who ordered her off and struck her. Says Col. Huntville told him to kill any man who came on the place to make trouble... Says Jane is mighty saucy and won't obey orders.

Sept 8 [Freedman] Jerry on Westley Williams place...complains that Wiggins shot at him twice, with pistol shows mark of ball on shoulder and shirt sleeve. I has wife on Wiggins place. W[iggins] sent for me by his step son. I went. W[iggins] jumped up and said he had good mind to shoot me. Set his dogs on me. I got out into road - W[iggins] got up a club. I ran. He fired twice. touched my cap and shoulder...

Sept 19 [Complaint about outrage on freed boy, Stephen] "repeatedly beaten [by planter Ben Cummings] until he left. Threatened to shoot him... All complain that Cummings gives no rations."

Sept 25 Cato. f.m. [freedman] from plantation of Capt George L. Patrick, 2 miles from Midway, 3 m from Bamberg, says P[atrick] gave notice that all freed persons must have tickets. That an armed patrol is mustered on muster ground. That the patrol rides every night. That the orders are, if any colored person [overwritten: 'man'] is found without ticket, he shall be reported twice. The third time he shall receive 75-150 lashes. Says on his plantation is revolver 2 bar. [double-barrelled] shot gun and 1 Rifle hunting.
On Mrs. Falk's place & William Patrick['s] are arms. Dr Carrie has 2 bar [double-barrelled] gun. None of the people have turned in guns. Kit fm [freedman] Mrs. Falks, Eden fm [freedman] Wm Patrick says also that the only food issued is peck of cornmeal & 2 qts. salt.

Sept 29 After crop laid by women to spin clothing - men to cut R. R. [railroad] caps. Complains that a patrol came Saturday night called the name of one Chloe & Alfred Clarissy - also Alfred and Jinny Denny. Chloe wasn't home. We answered to our names. They just took us out and said we must march to Barnwell Court house. They took us out in the road. Stripped us of our clothes and whipped us 25 lashes. Said we must clear new ground and make fence. Whipped us on bare back. Mr. Love says he didn't know anything about it. David Jimmison and David Whitston. Whole party of whites stood by to see it done.

Oct 9 Thomas Ashe f.m. [freedman] Richd Ashe plantation [near Allendale]. Says left last Tuesday came long Barnwell to look for gun, I give it to him [.] 3 Rebs had doub bar [double-barreled] guns loaded. He kicked up a row. One of these men drew gun on me. Said they would kill me. Took 2 little children from the place. Says that at B. C. H. [Barnwell Court House] no man can open his mouth. Mrs. Fogler-Walter Brooks places whipped colored people for dollars a head. I told corporal of white men having guns. He wouldn't go after them. Said negroes were not allowed to have them.

Oct 15 Frank f.m. [freedman] on Henry Huttals place. I was in the field at 12 [noon] with the others-on Monday 9th inst. breaking corn. They was just going to dinner. There was 25 white men, all had guns. Old Whitston, Glover, Jos. Bellinger, William Patrick Jr., Old Mr. Kloy, Dr. Roach. Fellow says he was Yankee soldier named brown. Had corporals chevrons.a Men came out of the woods. mounted. I was standing with my back to the bay. didn't see them till they fired. I run. Said they would keep me til I told who had the gun Capt Gates give them &c[.] I was the only man working. They said I caught me, put me under guard. Said they hadn't begun to punish me. The guard got asleep. I got away Tuesday morning. My leg was broke last Jan. I started for Summerville. Got tired. I got into Ridgeville Wednesday. Mose, Weaver & Isham are at Ridgeville Old Christina's Kit is at Georges. Women are on the place. don't think the women had been troubled. The scouts said they could attend to the women any time. would go through the men first. Frank has ball in left arm not yet extracted

Oct 28 Charity, Barnwell Dist on plantation of Mr Royal says Corp or Sergt is there to punish them because they refused to call Royal's daughter missus...[Julie Ann testifies] tied my hands behind me and hoisted me up so I could only touch my toes Don't know how long. Mr Royal now threatens he will shoot me down...has been whipping a sister of Bessy...said he was old and hadn't long to live but he would kill some of us before he died.

Nov 2 Adam testifies three white men known to him caught him going home on road, stripped him and whipped him three hours with straps; "They said they didn't allow any free niggers to pass on the road. They said Green Schouler was licked and reported and got no satisfaction and I could do the same. Says they beat the wife of Jake Wiggin and threatened his life. Says they ran off one of the colored girls from the place."

aAlmost certainly these are southern whites intentionally dressed in Union military uniform to deceive freedpeople. This occurred fairly frequently in the period immediately after the war.

Source: Col. James C. Beecher Journal, Special Collections Library, Duke University


Questions to Consider

  1. Who can freedpeople look to for protection against the abuses detailed here? What evidence do we have in these entries of the attitudes of federal officers?

  2. Why might whites want to limit black mobility through a system of 'tickets' and 'patrols'? Is this attempt at curtailing movement compatible with the new order northerners have pledged to bring into the South? How can northern aims and southern white objectives be reconciled?

  3. In the entry for September 29th, Beecher details a confrontation over the terms of labor. What seems to be at the root of the differences between freedpeople and their employers?

  4. Imagine yourself as an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau being presented with these complaints. Write a short letter to leading Bureau officials in Washington D.C. recommending a strategy for curtailing abuse.

Return to Exhibition: Unit Nine