|Circular No. 9 - Col. Thomas Osborn
Judges of Probate and
Labor Contracts of Freedmen
November 15, 1865
Freedmen Bureau Records
[Circular No. 9.]
Office Assistant Commissioner, Bureau Refugees, Freedmen, And Abandoned Lands,
Tallahassee, Fla., November 15, 1865. To provide for the cultivation of the soil and the prosperity of
the manufacturing interests of the State, as well as to give proper direction and permanency to a
healthy system of labor, and to prevent suffering among all classes of the community, the following
instructions are published for such officers as shall be appointed to conduct the affairs of the bureau
within the limits of their civil jurisdiction:
I. In each county of the State, the judges of probate, or, in their absence, the clerks of the circuit court,
are hereby appointed agents for this bureau, to conduct the .affairs of the bureau within the limits of
their civil jurisdiction. In the counties of Middle Florida, the counties of Nassau, Columbia, Alachua
and Marion, of East Florida, and Jackson county, of West Florida, the probate judges are authorized
to appoint the justices of the peace as agents to assist them in their duties connected with this bureau.
The above-named officers are requested to enter upon the duties of the office immediately on receiving
a copy of this circular, or on receiving it as published in the newspapers.
II. The agents of the bureau will use their influence to induce and assist persons desiring to employ
laborers and freedmen as speedily as possible to make contracts for labor, to disabuse the minds of
freedmen of any erroneous ideas they may have acquired resulting from their new relation to the
proprietors of the soil, and also to instruct them that the only proper means to obtain a livelihood is by
honest industry, and also that the government will not support them in idleness. Agents will also guard
the interests of the freedmen by urging upon the attention of the employer that the negro is now free,
and as a free man he is entitled to a reasonable compensation for his labor, and to the right of other
persons in the protection of person and property.
1st. The agents of the bureau will see that all freedmen, women and children, who are able to work,
are provided with employment for the coming year, at the earliest possible period, either on
plantations, railroads, the business of lumbering, domestic service or other employments, or any
legitimate business of their own promising to be sufficiently lucrative for the maintenance of the parties
and their families so laboring. All freed people failing to comply with the provisions set forth in this
paragraph will be dealt with according to the provisions of paragraph III, of this circular.
2d. It is advised that contracts be made in writing, equally guarding the interests of the employer and
employee. No contracts will be permitted to be made or held to be valid which do not expire on or
before the 25th day of December. 1866. The contracts ought to provide for comfortable quarters and
sufficient food, which in no case should be less for each laborer than a peck of meal and four pounds
of bacon each week, or its full equivalent; and also to provide for medical when necessary, at the
expense of the laborer requiring such attendance.
3d. Such contracts ought to be made with heads of families, embracing the labor of all the members of
the family able to work, and under twenty-one years of age. The contract should also provide for the
support of all children unable to work, and the infirm of the family. When parents are unable to support
their children by their labor, they will be advised to apprentice them in the manner provided by law.
4th. The contracts will be made for a specified time and for specified wages, whether for a portion of
the crop, or for monthly or yearly wages, payable in part or wholly in money.
5th. Each contracting party should understand distinctly that the time of the laborer belongs to the
employer; and the employer will designate the kind of labor the laborer is to perform, but this is not to
be so construed as to subject the employee to uncalled for or unreasonable labor, or to work an
unreasonable number of hours in any one day.
6th. It is advised that all contracts be made in triplicate; each contracting party to retain one copy, and
the third copy to be retained by the agent of the bureau before whom the contract is signed, and
whose duty it shall be to see that both contracting parties fully understand all the conditions of the
7th. Freedmen should be advised to provide in the contracts where they hire themselves on large
plantations, or where schools can be established, for the education of the children in reading and
III. The usual remedies for vagrancy, breaking of contracts and other crimes, will be resorted to, the
freedmen and other persons of African descent having the same rights and privileges before military or
civil courts that white citizens have. The present State statutes for the government of white citizens will
be considered in force for all persons of African descent for the punishment of vagrancy, breaking of
contracts, or other crimes; and the same punishments which are provided for whites citizens will be
held applicable for persons of African descent, and no other method of punishment will be resorted to.
IV. 1st. Agents acting under instructions from this bureau will recognize the rights of the freedmen to
testify in the courts, and will receive their testimony on the same principle that the evidence of white
citizens is received.
2d. Stripes or other corporeal punishments will not be administered to any person over fifteen years of
age, except by authority of a court of law. In cases where parents fail to govern their children, it shall
be the duty of the employer of the parent or guardian of the child to use such modes of correction as
may be necessary. Children under fifteen years of age will tome within the meaning of the above clause.
3d. In all cases where personal violence, murder or other high crime has been committed, the guilty
party will be arrested and forwarded to the nearest military commander, or held as a prisoner subject
to the orders of the military authorities.
V. Where the parties cannot agree, planters and freedmen are directed to call upon the officers
designated in this circular to make equitable divisions of crops raised this year, (1865,) between the
planters and laborers, or between the laborers after they have received their proportion of the crops in
bulk from the planters, and the agents are hereby authorized to summon the parties interested and the
necessary witnesses before them, and to make a final order of distribution among them.
VI. Officers acting as agents for this bureau are authorized to collect such fees for their services as
were provided for in like cases and in the same courts by the statutes in force in 1861.
T. W. Osborn, Col. and Ass'l Comm'r B. R-, F., and A. L., Florida.
[The following are the response of the Military Department of Florida and the Provisional
Governor of Florida]
General Orders No. 40.
Headquarters Department Florida,
Tallahassee, November 15, 1865. In accordance with circular No. 9, issued this day by Colonel T.
W. Osborn, assistant commissioner Bureau Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands,
commanding officers of posts are hereby relieved from the duties as agents in the Freedmen's Bureau,
and as superintendents of the poor. They will transfer all moneys in their hands, pertaining to the poor
fund, to the nearest judge of the probate court, taking his receipt therefor, and transmit such receipt to
these headquarters, with full report of their action. By command of Major General J. G. Foster:
Chas. Mundee, Assistant Adjutant General.
November 1-5, 1865
I advise that the probate judges, clerks of the circuit court and justices of the peace, named in Colonel
Osborn's circular, perform the duties therein specified.
Wm Marvin, Provisional Governor.
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