After Slavery: Educator Resources

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5. A South Carolina Agitator Falls Foul of Military Authorities

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Ten: Freedpeople and the Republican Party in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Freedpeople were well aware that their emancipation had been in large part secured through the actions of the Union military, and particularly in the early period after the end of the War, many of them looked upon the "blue coats" as their protectors. But their faith in Union troops took a battering, as black men and women too frequently found themselves on the receiving end of racist brutality. They also felt compelled under military order to yield lands that the government had promised to them earlier, particularly as the federal protection they so desperately needed failed to materialize. The document below attests to the tensions that frequently arose between freedmen and federal authorities as former slaves tested the boundaries of the new order.

A South Carolina Agitator Falls Foul of Military Authorities

Riotous Conduct of Freedmen
Wednesday last, registration, by previous announcement, was commenced in the Parish of St. Thomas, at the Brick Church, under the superintendence of Messrs. L. P. Smith (a Northern gentlemen lately located here), Jeremiah Yates and Aaron Logan, a freedman... About a thousand colored men were present, a fifth of whom were armed with guns or muskets, and when the books were opened, [Smith made a brief address], when some of the crowd requested his opinion as to the rights of the planters with whom they had contracted for labor to deduct from their wages for the time during which they were absent for work for the purpose of being registered.

Mr. Smith made the proper response, but was interrupted by his colleague, the colored man Aaron Logan, who proceeded to harangue the crowd, and in inflammatory language to declaim against the right of white men to prevent the carrying of arms by freedmen. He said, also, that the planters should not interfere with the colored people registering, nor deduct from their wages, and that there was nothing in the law, nor in General Sickles' orders to prevent them from exercising their rights to the fullest extent. That now was the time when the freedmen should show that they possessed rights which they meant to maintain, and that when election took place they ought to vote for white radicals if they could be found, or else to fill the offices by men of their own color. That the native whites of his State were not to be trusted, and if permitted, they would enact laws operating against the black man, and, therefore, black men should be elected to make laws for themselves. [Smith intervenes, adjourns the session till Monday meeting at Mt. Pleasant Poll, in Christ's Church Parish].

...three hundred freedmen were on the ground, a considerable proportion of whom were supplied it with muskets, guns, and bludgeons. Mr. Smith again made a brief address, similar to the one delivered at the Poll in St. Thomas, and was again interrupted by Logan, who was if possible more violent in his language, and seemingly more disposed to engender strife. He was...requested to desist, but declined so to do; and Mr. Smith...closed the poll, came to the city, and reported the facts to General Clitz, the Commandant of this Post. On the same boat, came Logan, who also waited on the General to present a statement of the case.

When General Clitz had been apprised of all the circumstances, he promptly ordered the arrest of Logan and his incarceration in Castle Pinckney, on a charge of impeding Registration.
[Smith returns to Mt. Pleasant, with Provost Marshal]. The poll was reopened and the freedmen invited to come forward and register, but they declined to do so unless...a black man sitting on the Board, and demanded the release of Logan. Seeing that a number of them were armed as on the day before, Major O'Brien explained to them that they were violating the express orders of General Sickles, and commanded them to surrender their weapons. They paid no attention whatever to his orders, and as he was not supported by a force sufficient to ensure obedience, he retired, unwilling to provoke a disturbance which he was not in a position to quell, and returning to the city, reported the condition of affairs to General Clitz. The freedmen afterwards dispersed, but not without threats that they would burn the village if they were not permitted to exercise such rights as Logan had declared they were entitled to enjoy. We understand that General Clitz will go to Mt. Pleasant this morning, with a sufficient force to suppress any disorderly conduct which may occur amongst the freedmen, who doubtless will again assemble, and to arrest all who appear armed on the scene. It is devoutly to be hoped that no difficulty will occur

Charleston, S. C., November 21, 1867
NO. 126

I. Before a Military Commission convened at the Citadel...was arraigned and tried:
Aaron Logan. colored, citizen.
CHARGE 1st.-"Misconduct in office."

Specification 3d-"In this, that he, Aaron Logan, colored, citizen of Berkeley District, S. C., a member of the Board of a lawful meeting of said Board, when the people had collected for the purpose of being registered, did make a violent speech to said people, and informed the freedmen there assembled that they had a right to come every day to the polls if they pleased, and their employers could not deduct from their wages for such absence; and that when Lawrence P. Smith, a member of said Board, made an attempt to correct this statement, the said Logan became greatly excited, and did create confusion for more than an hour, thereby during the said hour preventing the registration of voters. This at the Muster-house Poll, Saint Thomas Parish, S. C., on or about the 21st day of August, 1867."

Specification 4th-"In this, that [Logan] did interfere with the process of registration by making a speech, notwithstanding the people assembled had declared themselves satisfied with the explanation of said Smith; and said Logan, by his said speech and violence, did create confusion and disturbance, so much so as to prevent Alexander Knox and many others from registering; and the books of such registration had to be closed, and said Board, by reason of said interruption, were compelled to...adjourn, being unable to perform their duties.. This on or about the 27th day of August, 1867."

Specification 5th-"In this, that [Logan], against the protests of a majority of said Board, when the people and said Board had lawfully assembled for the purpose of registration, did make a violent speech, and did tell said people that they had a right to carry their arms whenever and wherever they pleased; and did continue his said speech in a violent and incendiary manner, creating great confusion and tending to a breach of the peace. This at the Muster-house Poll in St. Thomas Parish, S. C., on or about the 21st day of August, 1867."

Of the third, fourth and fifth specifications of the charge, "Not Guilty"

Actg. Asst. Adjt. Genl.

[Note: Logan was found guilty on other charges related to his role in the nighttime 'arrest' of one J. S. Frazer of Christ Church Parish, and sentenced "to be confined at hard labor" for two years. The sentence was later mitigated to six months; Logan was sent under guard to Fort Macon, North Carolina. By 1870 he was again active in an official capacity, as a trial justice under the Scott administration.]

Sources: Charleston Daily Courier, August 29, 1867; M869: General Orders No. 126, RG 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands


Questions to Consider

  1. What are the differences between Smith's and Logan's speeches to the assembled freedmen on the Wednesday and the Monday in question? In what ways did Logan create "disturbance and confusion"?

  2. Why might the freedmen be inclined to support Logan? What action do they undertake to support him? Is it effective?

  3. The Courier reports that freedmen "refused" to register at Mt. Pleasant; the military authorities suggest that Logan "prevented" them from doing so. Is the difference significant? How might we account for the discrepancy?

  4. How might Logan's imprisonment in this incident affect freedpeople's attitudes towards the military authorities?

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