Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Arkansas
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865 - 1869
National Archives Microfilm Publication M979 Roll 52
"Miscellaneous Records 1865 - 1868"
Little Rock, Ark.
Nov. 24, 1866
Retained Copy of Report Relative to Treatment of Freedmen
Bureau Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for Arkansas and Indian Territory
Little Rock, Ark. Nov. 24th, 1866
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 22d inst. requesting information relative to the "Treatment of Freedmen in this State." In reply thereto I respectfully submit the following.
As to the treatment of Freedmen by employers relative to settlement of contracts for labor. I will give the following extract from report of Major Watson, Supt. Jacksonport, under date of August 31st, who states, relative to counties in which there is no agent of this Bureau.
"In many instances the Freedmen having worked faithfully for their employers, are now being turned away without any compensation. These instances occur in localities so far distant from any agent that it is impossible to have such claims adjusted through the agency of the Bureau, and to make their claims through the Civil Authorities would be useless."
Capt. Cole at Camden reports July 31st of Union County. "I find affairs there deplorable in the extreme. Several Freedmen have been murdered under circumstances of great atrocity; others on the laying by of crops in which they were interested as remuneration for their labor, have been run away from their homes and their lives threatened if they returned or made complaint of it to this office. The feeling there against the Freedmen is most intense and bitter. In confirmation of these facts I have on file many affidavits containing testimony of the most incontrovertible characters."
Again, Sept. 30th, Capt. Cole reports: "There will in my opinion be very little chance for Freedmen to get their first dues from planters, unless they are compelled to come to the office of the Supt. when the settlement takes place. The people persist in trying to defraud the freedmen in every conceivable way."
Lt. Mix reports from Osceola, Mississippi County, in letter dated Oct. 31, 1866. "I have released three colored persons from slavery, one of whom was a woman having been held for the last three years without any pay or agreement for pay - her life having been threatened if she left. She was badly beaten and horse whipped several times, all of which is sworn to. The other two, man and wife, were under contract at fifteen (15) cents a day with their lives threatened if they attempted to leave the plantation."
Reports are being monthly received from nearly all sections of the States showing a disposition on the part of the employers to defraud the Freedmen out of their dues. The above extracts are given as illustrations.
The following is an extract from official reports of Bvt. Maj. Genl. Sprague, late Asst. Comr. dated Oct. 18th.
"I give it as my opinion that the Freedmen of Arkansas will be defrauded the present year out of fully one third of their just dues, doubtless there can be found men in every community who would scorn such baseness, but they are too few to make their scorn felt by the community at large."
In relation to the treatment the Freedmen receive from the local civil officers throughout the state, I will say that with few exceptions, justice is not impartially administered.
The civil officers of Helena and vicinity are exceptions. Bvt. Maj. Sweeney reports October 31st "the various justices, so far as I can learn, appear to be exercising the duties of their office with impartiality and justice. Any Freedmen can obtain legal redress as readily as white persons. Some of the oldest lawyers in Helena undertake their cases."
Outrages, assaults and murders committed upon the persons of Freedmen and women are being continually reported from nearly all sections of the States and a decided want of a disposition to punish the offenders apparently exists with the local civil officers and in the minds of the people. There have been (52) fifty-two murders of freed persons by white men in this state reported to this office in the past three or four months and no reports have been received that the murderers have been imprisoned or punished.
In some parts of the State, particularly in the Southeast and Southwest, Freedmen's lives are threatened if they report their wrongs to the Agent of this Bureau, and in many instances the parties making reports are missed and never heard of afterwards. It is believed that the number of murders above reported is not half the number actually committed during the time mentioned.
I am very respectfully
Your Obt. Servt.
(name left blank)
Bvt. Major Genl. U. S. A.
Asst. Adjt. General
In absence of the General