After Slavery: Educator Resources

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4. A Destitute Local Union League President Seeks Aid from the Governor of North Carolina

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Two: Freed Slaves Mobilize in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

As the previous document makes clear, grassroots organizing on behalf of the Republican Party was hardly a lucrative endeavor in the post-emancipation South. Generally speaking, those who undertook it did so out of genuine commitment to freedpeople, and to the broader goal of building a new society in the South—frequently at considerable risk to their own lives. This was even more true at the local grassroots level than it was among those dispatched south from Washington D.C. by the national party. In the Carolinas, as elsewhere, the party's main constituency was among the laboring poor—overwhelmingly ex-slaves in South Carolina, but also a substantial influence among poor and middling whites in North Carolina. The following letter to Governor Holden from the president of a local Loyal League in Pasquotank County, in eastern North Carolina, sheds some light on the desperate straits that prominent local leaders confronted in trying to hold the Republican grassroots together.

A Destitute Local Union League President Seeks Aid from the Governor of North Carolina

Pasqot.a Co. N. C.
Novr. 6th 1868

Dr. Sir,

I take my pen to state you a few facts, hopeing that you will give the matter a moments attention.

Abought one year ago I became President of the loyal league in this place in which capacity I have been acting ever since to the best of my ability-I am a poor man have a wife and five little children. for two years I have failed in my crop and have not raisd this year to exceed 4 Bbls. [barrels] corn meel [?] and without and but for the kindness of a neighbor M. W. Buffkinb who loaned me corn my sufferings would have been much greater,--He is now calling upon me, he was the only man who would relieve me, and it is very humiliating to me to have to refuse him. When I took charge of the league I was promised remuneration from the government-up to the present I have not received a single dollar.

If there is any chance for me to bee hope [helped?] a little it would bee very thankfully received besides it would stop the hunger of my wife and little ones-If it is in the rotine of things for me to have any thing for my servises, please let me hear from you on the receipt of this and very much oblige.

Your obt. servant
James A. Jonesc

P. S. Please direct to South Mills Camden Co. N. C.

aPasquotank County, bordering Camden County along eastern North Carolina's border with Virginia.

bBuffkin is listed in the 1860 U. S. Federal Census as a 26 year old farmer owning some $12,105 in real and personal property, placing him among the more substantial men in the County, though by no means the wealthiest. See 1860 U. S. Federal Census: North Carolina-Pasqoutank County, p. 145.

cJones, by contrast, is listed in the same census as an illiterate farmer with a wife and three children under the age of 4, owning just $100 in property. He would have been 43 at the time he wrote this letter; Buffkin was then 34. See 1860 U. S. Federal Census: North Carolina-Pasqoutank County, p. 148.

Source: Governor William W. Holden Papers, North Carolina Department of Archives and History


Questions to Consider 

  1. If, as conservatives frequently asserted, their own ranks included the "wealth and intelligence" of the South, and the Republican constituency was made up overwhelmingly of former slaves and non-elite whites, what problems might this present in relation to building and sustaining party organization?

  2. Older historical literature suggested that freedpeople were often the unwitting victims of manipulation by white 'carpetbaggers' and 'scalawags'. How does this document inform our assessment of that generalization?

  3. Let's assume that Mr. Jones's appeal for financial support goes unheeded by the Governor's office: what are his likely options in the circumstances in which he finds himself?

  4. Jones is a white Loyal League President living in a district with a substantial black population, though his correspondence makes no reference to race. What are the challenges to building a bi-racial organization in post-emancipation North Carolina, and to what extent do Jones and his African American neighbors share common grievances and aspirations? Where might their interests diverge?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Two