Reconstruction Revisited: Why? What If?
Suzanne Johnson & Michael Schroeder
Documents related to the economy:
RECONSTRUCTION TOBACCO. An advertisement for a postwar southern
probably financed by northern investors.
Source: Tobacco Label Collection, Library of Congress
We has a right to the land where we are located. For why? I tell you.
Our wives, our children, our husbands, have been sold over and over again
to purchase the lands we now locate upon; for that reason we have a divine
right to the land.... And then didn't we clear the land and raise the
crops of corn, of cotton, of tobacco, of rice, of sugar, of everything?
And then didn't... large cities in the North grow up on the cotton and the
sugars and the rice that we made!... I say they have grown rich, and my
people are poor.
-- BAYLEY WYAT, an ex-slave protesting eviction of blacks from
plantations in Virginia, 1866
Seems like we do all the work and [only] get a part. There ain't going to
be no more master and mistress, Miss Emma. All is equal. I done hear it
from the courthouse steps. All the land belongs to the Yankees now, and
they're going to divide it out among the colored people. Besides, the
kitchen of the big house ts my share. I helped build it.
--CYRUS, a freedman, to his former mistress, Emma Mordecai, ever
of Ritchmond, April 1865
Our place is to work; take hold and persevere; get labor of some kind; get
possession of the place; stick to it: oust the negroes and their ideas of
proprietorship [land ownership]; secure armed protection close at hand on
our exposed River, present a united and determined front; and make as much
rice as we can.... Our plantations will have to be assimilated
[integrated] to the industrial establishment of other parts if the world,
where the [capitalist] owner is protected by labor tallies, time tables,
checks of all kind, and constant watchfulness. Every operator [worker]
will steal time and everything else.
--Georgia rice planter ALLEN S. IZARD in a letter to Mrs. William
Smith, September 15, 1865
[Land confiscation] is a question not of humanity, not of loyalty, but of
fundamental relation of industry to capital; and sooner or later, if begun
at the South, it will find its way into the cities of the North....
An attempt to justify the confiscation of Southern land under the pretense
of doing justice to the freedmen, strikes at the root of property rights
in both sections. It concerns Massachusetts as much as Mississippi.
--New York Times, July 9, 1867
... [T]hey broke into our well furnished residences on each plantadon and
stole or destroyed everything therein. Nor was there a solitary instance
in either plantation of any one of our Negroes presenting for us a single
thing whatever.... A negro woman [Peggy] seized as part of the spoils my
wife's large and handsome mahogany bedstead and mattress and arranged it
in her own Negro house on which she slept for some time.
Frederick [the driver] was the ringleader [at the Marshland
plantation].... He encouraged all the Negroes to believe that the Farm,
and every thing on it, now since emancipation, belonged solely to them,
and that their former owners had now no rights or control there
--South Carolina planter CHARLES MANIGAULT, 1865
Now I look around me and notice a man, barefooted, covered with rags and
dirt. Now I ask what is that man doing, for whom is he working. I hear
that he works for that and that farmer, "for 30 cents a day." I tell you
that must not be. That would be slavery over again. I will not have it,
the Government will not have it and the Government shall hear about it. I
will tell the Government. I tell you slavery is over, and shall never
return again. We have now 200,000 of our men well drilled in arms and used
to warfare and I tell you it is with you and them, that slavery shall not
come back again, and if you are determined it will not return again.
--MAJOR MARTIN R. DELANY, military officer and agent of the
Freedmen's Bureau, in an address to 600 ex-slaves on Saint Helena Island,
I went yesterday to [Mr. Nat Heyward's] plantation, called the people
together and carefully instructed them In their rights and duties.
They said that they had been assured by certain parties that Mr. Heyward
would be obliged to lease land to them, and that they would not work for
him at any price. They were perfectly good natured about it but firm. I
then announced Mr. Heyward's offer: That they were to retain their houses
and gardens, with the privilege of raising hogs, poultry, etc. That he
would pay for the full hands men $12, women $8 per month....
I am satisfied that no higher wages will be offered this year. Therefore I
told the people they could take it or leave it, and that if they declined
to work the plantation the houses must be vacated. I proceeded to call the
role of all the able bodied men and women, each of whom responded "no." I
then notified them that every house must be vacated on or before the
18th.... I propose to remain and see everyone outside the plantation lines
on that date.
Today, I have pursued the same course on another large plantation, with
the same results. Of course I anticipated this. It could not be otherwise
considering the instructions which people have received. I do not blame
them in the slightest degree, and so long as they show no violence, shall
treat them with all possible kindness. But it is better to stop the error
they are laboring under at once.
--letter to Major General Saxton from GENERAL BEECHER, January 9,
We the undersigned, believing that we are unfairly dealt with, are led to
lay before you … our grievances... [and] our petition...
Mr. Edward Philbrick (a northern man) has bought up all of our former
masters' lands under false pretenses.
Before buying he promised to sell us again any amount of the land at one
dollar per acre we wished to purchase. Said sale was to be made whenever
the government sold the balance of its land [property abandoned by
ex-masters] to people [ex-slaves] residing thereon….
We have gone to Mr. Philbrick and asked him to sell us our land. .. [He]
will not sell us one foot, and if he does sell to anyone he will charge
$10 per acre. We have worked for Mr. Philbrick the whole year faithfully,
and have received nothing comparatively, not enough to sustain life if we
depended entirely upon our wages. He has stores charging us fearful prices
for every necessary of life, and at last the people have become
discouraged, almost heartbroken.
He will not pay us [in the form of] land [nor] pay us [enough] to work for
him. And if we wish to work for others where we might make something, he
turns us out of our houses. He says we will not live on his plantations
unless we work for him.
-Excerpt from a petition to President Abraham Lincoln signed by
NINETEEN FREEDPEOPLE FROM
SAINT HELENA ISLAND ,
March l, 1864
"The Freedman's Bureau!" A Racist Democratic broadside during the
1866 election campaign.
I take the liberty of writing to you a few facts that have come under my
observation respecting the freedmen. … The enemy of emancipation cries
that negroes will not work, that the government will have to support them,
or they will become pests to the country… Any one who has been where he
can observe the working of emancipation can see the fallacy of such cant
[false, insincere language]. Through the parishes where I have been I
think I never saw the [black] laboring class more industrious. Many seem
to vie one with each other in making a living, and saving something for a
future day…. Those who feel so badly because the Government feeds a few
negroes should be with me on ration day and see their white brethren and
sisters, those who for the last four years have been trying to destroy the
nation, come for their food that the Government has to give to save them
-- CORPORAL RICHARD T. HENRY writing from Donaldson, Louisiana,
Documents page 1
Documents page 2
Objectives, NYS Standards, Assessment
Activity: Hypotheses and "Historical
Activity: Reassembling the South: A Socratic
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