Monday, May 28, 2012

The Condition Of The Negroes Freed By The War

The following article from the New York Independent confirms what we the other day said in regard to the negro slaves now within our lines on the southern coast, and the necessity of taking care of and preparing them for a condition of freedom:

The situation and character of the negro refugees at Port Royal furnish an important body of information upon the contraband question.  Our lines upon the Sea islands of South Carolina have constituted a city of refuge in the very heart and center of the slave region, within whose safe protection have gathered about twelve thousand souls, fleeing from the slave field labor, the pleasantest home of the plantation system.  The information respecting these fugitives was embodied in a report on the subject to Secretary Chase, by Rev. E. L. Pierce, technically a treasury agent, but in fact sent out under a legal provision which would permit him to gather the facts desired.  The result of Mr. Pierce’s investigation is briefly this.  The slaves are desirous of freedom, the most intelligent most so.  Their conduct under their new circumstances is remarkably good, the alleged thefts from their master’s premises being commonly of trifles, such as soap, dishes, etc.  They are ready and even desirous to do the regular planting work on the plantations, being satisfied with the Government pay from $8 to $12 a month.  Their own morals, though variously imperfect, are very remarkably good, considering that they have been for generations systematically educated to be unfit for freedom and self control.  They are more anxious to have themselves and their children taught to read than for any other one thing.  They have in general a faith in the good intentions toward them of the North and Northern men, notwithstanding the bad conduct of a few unprincipled whites.  Though universally and industriously taught by their masters that we were going to sell them all into Cuba, their characteristic local attachments have kept them in or brought them back to their respective homes, and no difficulty is found in keeping the forces of each plantation quiet and orderly upon it, any required freedom of movement being of course allowed.  As laborers, and especially as guides by land and pilots by water, they have done very great and faithful service to our troops.

The plan which Mr. Pierce recommends as best for the Port Royal negroes is to employ them at wages that will enable them to lay up $30 or $40 a year, on the plantations where they have been worked, under superintendents to each large plantation or to each two or three small ones.; to maintain a regulated but mild species of municipal authority over them, to afford all desired mental and religious instruction to both old and young, and to train them in every way as rapidly as possible up to the capacity of taking the whole care and charge of themselves.  Voluntary benevolence is relied upon for the necessary means, a reliance already shown to be not vain.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 15, 1862, p. 1

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