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The Freedmen's Bureau Online

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Tennessee
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865 - 1869

National Archives Microfilm Publication M999, Roll 34
"Reports of Outrages, Riots and Murders, Jan. 15, 1866 - Aug. 12, 1868"

Bureau Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands


Chief Superintendents Office

Nashville, Tenn., Aug 28th, 1866

Bvt. Maj. Genl. C. B. Fisk
Asst Comm'r, State of Tenn.


In obedience to verbal instructions of this date, I have the honor to make the following report of the conditions & affairs in this Sub. Dist.

The monthly returns of the County Supt. giving a very meagre account of the outrages committed upon blacks by whites, they have been instructed to make a full report of all outrages committed since the first of June, those not having been received as yet. I can therefore at present only give such accounts as have come to my knowledge in the ordinary transaction of the business of the Sub. Dist. No report has been received from Bedford Co. for the last month, and there is at present no Agent of the bureau in either Chatham or Cannon Counties.

Joel B. Smith, Supt. for Coffee Co, reports Aug 1st "The Freedmen of this county are industriously engaged in their avocation of business and are undisturbed in their guaranteed rights and privileges, there are a few poor and infirm Freedmen at this place the county court has been notified of their condition and at their last regular meeting appointed suitable committees to locate a site for the building of a Poor House for the use and benefit of poor Freedmen of the County."

The Agent of Dickson Co. was relieved from further duty in June last.

John Lawrence Supt. for Davidson Co. reports Aug 1st "I shall spare no paine to test the question as to whether a southern jury will convict a white man for the murder of a Freedmen. I have hope that law will prevail over prejudice. The struggle will be severe and the utmost vigilance on the part of the Bureau is demanded.

The Freedmen are generally at work and manages to get along without government aid. I have given but one order for rations in July to Freedmen----that one to a woman who is maintaining at her own expense a man who should be a charge on the County. I doubt whether any population in the South, white or colored is so well supplied with schools as the Freedmen of Nashville.

The tone of the reconstructed press in this city at present is alarming. The Republican Banner this morning appears to justify the New Peleaus (?) Massacre and to threaten similar scenes here. I hope that the authorities will be prepared for any emergency. The Mob Spirit is certainly manifesting itself in an alarming manner in some portions of the South: but until this morning I have had no apprehensions in Nashville."

Supt. Lawrence reports a most lamentable state of feeling towards Freedmen and owing numerous other outrages committed upon them by whites in this county reports the following, Viz:

On April----Lee Nalen and Wm. McDaniel citizens of good standing in the county, without any provocation whatever shamefully beat and abused unresisted, a colored man named Alfred Gettings, and finally shot him to death-this in the presence of numerous witnesses. The coroners jury, unquestionably through sympathy with the accused, returned a verdict that they could not determine who did the killing. The accused were however arrested by the police and through the strenuous exertions of the Supt. were finally indicted by the grand jury for murder and held to bail in the sum of $5000.00 each.

On May----Neury Mullen, accompanied by James Height, both citizens of this county went to the house of John D. Gray a discharged soldier of the 12th USC Inf. in the dead of night broke open the door and fired five shots at him killing him on the spot. The civil authorities have taken no action whatever in the matter, and the Supt. through the fear and ignorance of the witnesses has not as yet succeeded in securing their arrest or indictment.

June 13----Wm. Russell a citizen of this county got into a difficulty with a colored man named Jerry Caruthers, pursued him while fleeing in fear and stabbed him to death with a knife. The coroners jury even in this plain case of murder brought in a verdict of justifiable homicide. Russell fled from the city, but on learning the favorable verdict returned and through the exertions of the Supt. was brought before the grand jury and indicted for murder and held on a bond of 4000.00 dollars.

July 25th----The Rev. P. C. Ament, a prominent citizen of the county, in broad daylight and without speaking to her or any warning whatever shot a colored woman named Sophia Conn, killing her instantly and it was only after the most strenuous and persistent efforts of the Supt. that said Ament was indicted by the Grand jury for murder and held to bail in the sum of 5000.00.

Aug 11th ----Wm. O. Hyde, a prominent citizen of the county, without any justification shot a colored man named Dick Davis, a laborer in his employ, with a carbine loaded with nails cut in half, inflicting a severe and dangerous injury. Through the effort of the Supt. he has been indicted by the Grand jury, and held to bail in the sum of $2000.00.

Supt. Lawrence also reports other cases of murder of Freedmen in this county of older date that are still pending in the civil courts, and the offenders having as yet escaped their just punishment. In addition to these he reports numerous cases of gross outrage and assault that have gone entirely unpunished or the perpetrators have escaped with punishment entirely inadequate to the offense. He is of the opinion that without the agency of the Bureau very few cases of outrages upon Freedmen would be properly investigated or punished.

DeKalb Co. has no agent of the bureau.

T. H. Word, Supt. for Franklin Co. was relieved from duty June 18, 1866. Since that date there have been several cases of outrage reported from that county and also threats against and interference with colored schools. Such advice and assistance has been rendered as the circumstances would admit.

In Fentress County we have no agent.

R. C. Caldwell, Supt. of Giles Co. was relieved from duty June 22nd 1866. Immediately after the ill feeling toward Freedmen previously held in check by him broke forth in all kinds of abuse and outrage and it was found necessary to extend the jurisdiction of Capt. Geo. E. Judd V.R.C. over Giles Co. and change the station to Pulaski. Giles Co. among the numerous instances of outrages committed on Freedmen in that Co. are the following: Mike Dougherty assaulted a Freedmen named King Pedan with an ax with intent to kill and inflicting a severe injury. A warrant was issued for his arrest by a Royal Magistrate but no action was had until recently. To forestall the action of the Supt. said Dougherty was brought before a Magistrate for the offence and fined five dollars and costs.

On or about June 28th _____ Lane shot a colored man in his employ without any provocation, inflicting a severe wound in the arm. The Magistrate issued a warrant but no further action was taken in the matter.

July 7th John Sullivan, Jack Kieth, Powhaten Hardeman and James Russell and a man named Walls, at night and on the public highway and without any provocation, shot a colored man named Dudley Kimble so that he died. A warrant for their arrest was issued by a Magistrate and placed in the hands of the Sheriff, P. H. Pender who has made no effort to arrest the accused nor has any further action been taken by the civil authorities. A statement and affidavits were forwarded Aug 25th recommending their arrest by the military authorities.

July 15th The home of Amos Kimble (col'd) was attacked by parties supposed to be those above named, the door broken down and himself and family fired upon repeatedly, probably with intent to destroy the evidence against the guilty parties in the preceding case. The assailants were finally driven off by Kimble & friends who came to his assistance.

There are numerous instances of unjust arrest and imprisonment reported in this county and the close attention of the Supt. will be requisite to prevent undeserved imprisonment and punishment.

I have no Agent nor reports from Grundy Co.

L. Gossett, Supt. for Humphries Co. reports Aug 11th "The Freedmen are getting along well at present, the citizens are desirous that the colored people should do well, and they give me their assistance in advising them for their own good and to make them believe that they can do well if they will try. The people are in favor of the Freedmen's Bureau in this County-for they say the could not get along without it."

"The Freedmen are industrious and working well except a few about town who are reckless and at times disturbs the peace. I believe the colored people can have a fair trial in this County with any assistance &c&c."

J. N. Puckett Supt. for Hickman Co. reports Aug 21st "The feeling seems to have made a favorable change for the better" there has been no mistreatment of the blacks since the 1st of June-the Freedmen are doing well generally and I have been unable to hear of any thefts committed by blacks this year. The employers seem very willing to discharge their obligations to Freedmen as per contracts for this year but there is an utter abhorrence to pay the Freedmen for work done last year, and I feel sure that it will be difficult to collect wages due Freedmen for 1865."

No report has been recd from the Supt for Jackson Co. From private sources I have recd information of more or less abuse of Freedmen.

From Lewis Co. and Lawrence Co. my information has been very meagre as we have no Agent in either county.

Alfred Bearden Supt. for Lincoln Co. reports July 31st---"Everything is moving on quietly as far as I know. Aug 14 reports that a man named Webb shot a colored man named Smithey with (illegible) shot. A warrant was issued without hesitation but he has not been arrested. It affords me pleasure to report to you that I have not heard of a single instance in my county of application being made by colored people to the proper officers for warrants either State or Civil but what their requests have been cheerfully complied with &c."

Joshua Cobb Supt for Mongtomery Co. reports only cases of slight difficulty and a generally improved state of feeling.

Jas. H. Graying, Supt. Maury Co. makes no report of the state of feeling.

Moses C. West, Supt. for Marshall Co. reports Aug 3rd "The colored persons are generally performing their contracts faithfully. I know of but four in the county that have abandoned their contracts. The whites are generally liberal & charitable towards them. There are however some few that need watching that I fear am disposed to take advantage of the colored man-they are few."

"I have in the last two weeks been over about half of the county and am much gratified to see the kindness and sympathy between the whites and colored people."

Gilbra Sugrend Supt. of Macon Co. reports "In regard to the state of feeling towards the Bureau I have to say that there is a good deal of prejudice still existing among a good portion of the people."

No report received from Putnam Co.

D. D. Holman Supt. for Robertson Co. reports that there is so much prejudice against the colored people that with all means at his power he has been unable to prevent abuses or forfeitures of contracts, and that should it continue by the end of the year no contracts can be made. That there are at present a number of women and children who are scarce of supplies and poorly clad and as the winter is fast approaching, must necessarily suffer "without help." We have no vagrant laws to enforce and our court seems little inclined to make any appropriation for the wants and necessities of the dependent."

Capt. Jas. M. Tracy, Supt. Rutherford Co. reports Aug 1st, "The civil authorities listen patiently to all complaints made by the colored people and promptly administer justice in all cases when the complaints have been well founded and justice was demanded. The only difficulty is that in all instances where suit is to be brought by colored people, the costs are required in advance and few colored men have the money to pay costs, but where they think their case just, they borrow the money and manage in that way to get a hearing."

"There has been one case reported to me of an aggravated character, and a few complaints by both black & white of violation of contracts." I am not satisfied with Capt. Tracy's reports as various complaints have been made to this office by Freedmen of Rutherford Co. among them the following:

Peter F. Hagar and Thomas Farmer residents of that county went to the house of a colored man named Alexander Hudson Aug 25th and without provocation cut and stabbed a colored man named Charles Hicks injuring him seriously, this at Smyrna, na Rutherford Co. It is also reported that James Skimmerman a resident of Smyrna shot and killed a colored man named William Crutchfield on or about the 15th of this month, on the railroad between Smyrna & Murfreesboro. These have been reported to Capt. Tracy with instructions to thoroughly investigate them and also several complaints of abuse and breach of contract.

Jas. M. Shoemake, Supt. for Smith Co. reports Aug 4th "The citizens of this county are quite peaceable, no disturbance whatever between whites and blacks. Some think the Bureau a necessary and useful institution whilst others think it entirely unnecessary and could be safely dispensed with.

Geo. M. Stewart Supt. Stewart Co. reports Aug 1st "Everything is working well and the Freedmen contented." Aug 3rd he reports the abduction of two freed colored children by their former owners, parties from Trigg Co., Ky. The name of children Ellen and Lewis Woods and of the parties who carried them off by force Thos. And John Preenwoode who lives two miles from Roaring Spring, Trigg Co., Ky. The matter was referred to the Asst. Comr of Ky. And Richard Woods the father of the children directed to apply to the Bureau Agent of Trigg Co.

Thos. C. Trimble, Supt. for Sumner Co. reports Aug 14th "some five complaints have recently been made by employees against their employers for injustice. Some persons are mean enough to take any and every advantage of the Freedmen. Acts of this kind have taken place with those parties none particularly who employed Freedmen and who are to give them a part of the crop, they do many acts to annoy and discourage the Freedmen in order that they may have an excuse to drive them away and thereby appropriate the entire crop." Among all his cases of outrage reported from Sumner Co. are the following:

April----John Purth and Wallace Webb went to the plantation of H. P. Duvall in the night and compelled a Negro man named Jim Duvall to pilot them to the house of James Warren (col'd) whom they took into the woods about a mile from his house and shot him to death. They then returned to the house of the murdered man and attempted to commit a rape on his wife. The civil authorities have taken no action in the matter to arrest and punish the murderers. Loyal men say they dare not act for fear of assassination. Measures will be taken to arrest these parties under Civil Order 44.

Aug 10th Samuel Doxey, living on the Gallatin Pike ten miles from Gallatin shot and badly wounded a Freedmen named Joseph W. Steward, a quiet and ineffusive colored man. The Supt. when he reported the case had procured a warrant for his arrest.

Aug 14th George Martin and Leroy Gowan citizens of Sumner Co. went to the house of a colored man named Nathan Roney, near Mitchelville Station, Sumner Co. in the night and calling him from his bed shot him through the right wrist, ruining the arm for life, even if it do not cause its loss. The case has been referred to Supt. Trimble with instructions to do what he can to bring the parties to justice.

There is reported to be no safety for Union men or Freedmen, especially discharged colored soldiers in the Northern part of Sumner Co., there being a gang of cutthroats and villains, who under the lead of Harper rob and murder without let or hindrance.

J. L. Fowler Supt. for Wayne Co. reports July 31st "Feeling toward Freedmen by the citizens not so favorable as heretofore."

Capt. Geo. E. Judd, V. R. C. Supt. Williamson Co. reports Aug 11th "The citizens of Williamson Co. are not disposed to do the Freedmen any more justice than they are obliged to. The civil officers will attend to complaints of Freedmen if there is some one to attend to them if they refuse, but not otherwise. I think this is the case all over this part of the state. I do not think the best citizens are opposed to the Bureau but unfortunately most of the planters of Williamson Co. could not be classed as the best citizens. They are mostly rough and overbearing-hard to get along with even by men who are much better educated than the Negroes.

The system of slavery has brutalized the people until they feel as if they must kill the Negro if he dares to speak in opposition to them. And in fact they act as if they would like to kill any man who hints that the Negro has the same rights that they have."

Capt. Judd reports that immediately after his removal from Williamson Co. to Pulaski he is informed the civil officers refused to issue warrants for colored persons and recommends the appointment of a local agent at Franklin.

I have unofficial information that a colored man and his wife living in Williamson Co. were shot while in bed in their own house on the eve of Aug 15th. I have taken measures to investigate the case.

Wm. Lowry Supt. Warren Co. reports Aug 16th "Freedmen are generally working well. No complaints as to their wages. There has been no difficulty of any kind between the whites and colored population which has come to my knowledge."

Richard Simpson Supt. White Co. reports July 14th "Two colored women were whipped by their employers" who applied to him for redress and were referred to the civil authorities. Aug 6th reports "No disturbance among the Freedmen or with the colored and whites for the last month, all appears to move harmoniously."

Aug 11th reports that the colored women who were whipped are Phoebe Snodgrass who was whipped by Thos. Pope Esq. (said Thos. Pope is chairman (or Judge) of the County Court) and Martha Young, whipped by Joseph W. Taylor. In both cases he reports that he has been unable to get a warrant issued, and will therefore bring the case before the Grand Jury at the next term of the Circuit Court. He says "I have no idea that the colored people can obtain justice before the Civil Courts of this County. They lack information and have no means to fee counsel and is of the opinion that they have no help except in the Bureau."

S. B. F. C. Barr Supt. for Wilson Co. has made no report. There are several unofficial reports of outrages in that county among others the case reported by Col. Palmer of Stephen Ligon ( a discharged col'd soldier) who was shot and instantly killed on the 2nd of June by R. S. Ligon Jr. and Jayless Ligon, simply because he had gone to the Supt. to complain of his son being abused. These men are now under $2000.00 bail, and the attorney who was employed to prosecute the accused reports to me that he does not think they will be convicted although it is a most aggravated case of murder as you will see by the reference to Col. Palmers inspection report of Wilson Co. dated June 23rd, 1866. It is important that an Agent be appointed in this county as the health of Mr. Barr will not permit him to perform the duty.

I need only say in conclusion that I believe very little justice can be obtained for the colored people of this Sub District except by the agency of active and efficient Bureau Agents. I believe that experience has demonstrated the impropriety of appointing old residents of the counties as Superintendents. Strangers who have no friends to reward or enemies to punish but who will act simply in obedience to orders and with perfect impartiality are required in very many of the counties of this Sub. Dist. To obtain such a liberal policy is required. Much may be done perhaps by sending a competent officer to investigate each serious case that may be reported and at once secure the action of the civil authorities, or make the arrest by military authority. For this purpose I would recommend that an officer be detailed to report for duty to this office. For current business of the Supt. of Counties I have the honor to refer you to my consolidated report transmitted Aug 21st 1866. Measures are taken as far as possible to carry out the provisions of Genl Order No. 44.

I am General
Very Respectfully
Your Obdt. Servant
J. R. Lewis
D. V. R. & Supt.
Nashville Sub. Dist.