Congressional Report History of the Bureau of Freedmen and Refugees March 10, 1868 Page 6 Congressional Records
Notes: 1. The United States Army and U. S. Treasury struggled with the labor contracts and abandoned plantations usually from the moment of reoccupying an area. In the Sea Islands in South Carolina and Georgia the Port Royal Experiment began in 1861 first with the U. S. Treasury and then with the United States army. In the Mississippi valley the U. S. Treasury department with the U. S. army controled the abandoned plantations. (See Rules and Regulations for Leasing Abandoned Plantations and Employing Freedmen.) The effort was made to secure funding for the United States government war effort and employ the freedmen. The struggle would be to maxiumize both goals. It was a learning process that would continue through the period of the Freedmen Bureau.
2. General O. O. Howard in his Circular no 5 defines the role of the bureau in labor contracts: " Negroes must be free to choose their own employers, and be paid for their labor. Agreements should be free, bona fide acts, approved by proper officers, and their inviolability enforced on both parties. The old system of overseers, tending to compulsory unpaid labor and acts of cruelty and oppression, is prohibited."
In circular no. 11 Howard says: "No assistant commissioner or agent is authorized to tolerate compulsory or unpaid labor, except for the legal punishment of crime. Suffering may result to some extent, but suffering is preferred to slavery, and is, to some degree, the necessary consequence of events.
In all actions the officer should never forget that no substitute for slavery, like apprenticeship, without proper consent, or peonage, i. e., either holding the people by debt, or confining them without consent to the land, by any system, will be tolerated."
3. See General Saxton's Circular No. 2 - "The agents of the Freedmen's bureau will aid you in making contracts to work for fair wages for your former masters or others who may desire to hire you, or will locate you on small farms of forty acres, which you can hire at an easy rent, with an opportunity to purchase at low rates any time within three years."
5 Sample Contract: form of Contracts between planters and freedmen, as substantially adopted by the Darlington meeting, revised and adopted by the mass meeting of Sumter, Kershaw and Clarendon planters, December21, 1865, and approved by Major General Saxton, of the Freedmen s Bureau:
State Of South Carolina, District. Articles of agreement between and , freed men and women, whose names are hereunto attached:
First.”The said freedmen agree to hire their time as laborers, on the plantation of, from the 1st of January, 1866, to the 1st of January, 1867; to conduct themselves faithfully, honestly, civilly and diligently; to perform all labor on said plantation or such as may be connected therewith, that may be required by the said, or his agent, and to keep no poultry, dogs or stock of any kind, except as hereinafter specified ; no firearms or deadly weapons, no ardent spirits, nor introduce or invite visitors, nor leave the premises during working hours without the written consent of the proprietor or his agent.
Second.”The said freedmen agree to perform the daily tasks hitherto usually allotted on said plantation, to wit: 125 to 150 rails ; cutting grain, three to six acres; ditching and tanking, 300 to 600 feet; hoeing cotton, 70 to 300 rows an acre long; corn, 4,000 to 7,000 mils. In all cases where tasks cannot be assigned they agree to labor diligently ten hours a dollars a day; if absent more than one day without leave, to be subject to dismissal from the plantation and forfeiture of share in the crop. All such fines and forfeitures shall inure to the benefit of the employer and employes in proportion to their relative shares.
Fourth.”Said freedmen agree to take good care of all utensils, tools and implements committed to their charge, and to pay for the same if injured or destroyed ; also, to be kind and gentle to all work animals under their charge, and to pay for any injury which they may sustain while in their hands through their carelessness or neglect; and forfeitures herein specified will be subject to the decision of the authorities having proper jurisdiction of the same.
Fifth.”They stipulate to keep their houses, lots and persons in neat condition, subject to the inspection of the employer or his agent at any time.
Sixth.”They agree to furnish from their number a nurse for the sick, also stock-minder and foreman, to be selected by the employer. They agree to be directed in their labor by the foreman, to obey his orders, and that he shall report all absences, neglects, refusal to work, or disorderly conduct, to the employer of his agent.
Seventh.Said employer agrees to treat his employes with justice and kindness; to furnish each family with quarters on his plantation, with a quarter of an aero of land for a garden, and the privilege of getting fire- wood from some portion of the premises, to be indicated by the employer, (and to divide the crop with them in the following proportions, viz: to the employes one-third of the corn, potatoes and peas, gathered and prepared for market, and one-third net proceeds of the ginned cotton, or its market value at the end of the year.) When desired, to furnish the usual bread and meat ration, to be accounted for at the market price, out of their share of tho crop. (Where "stated wages" are allowed, the pro rata of the crop will be omitted.)
Eighth.Said employer agrees to furnish animals, and to feed them; also wagons, carts, plantation implements, such as cannot be made by tho laborer on the plantation.
Ninth.All violations of the terms of this contract, or of the rules and regulations of the employer, may be punished by dismissal from the plantation, with forfeiture of his or her share of the crop or wages, as the case may be. But the employer shall pay said parties at tho rate of four dollars a month for full hands, deducting therefrom advances made.
Tenth.”The employer or his agent shall keep a book, in which shall be entered all advances made by him, and fines and forfeitures for lost time, or any cause, which book shall be received as evidence in same manner as merchants' books are now received in courts of justice, and shall have a right to deduct from the share of each laborer all his or her fines and forfeitures, also all advances made by him, subject to the decision of the authorities having jurisdiction of the same.
Eleventh.”The laborer shall not sell any agricultural product to any person whatever, without the written consent of the employer, until after the division of the crops.
Twelfth.”The laborers shall commence work at sunrise, and be allowed from one to three hours each day for their meals, according to the season of the year.
Witness our hands, &c, this .
6. Agent Ansel Kenne's (Florida, 4th District) view of non-standard contracts - Whatever may be the conditions of these contracts or the intentions of those making them, there is room for trouble in their final settlement and unless great care and supervision are exercised justice will be cheated. There is so wide a difference between employer and employee, in respect to their ability to transact ordinary business and to comprehend the force of a contract, and so great a desire rapidly to repair losses and regain fortunes, and withal so little desire on the part of employers to see the freedmen rise in any respect, that unless an enlarged benevolence is to govern in the settlement at the close of the year, little will have been accomplished for the colored man except to arouse him from a not too trusting confidence to an unpleasant and inconquerable suspicion. (See Ansel Kenne's Report to Col Thomas Osborn)
7. For another view on Floridia's response to labor contracts see Col Osborn's Circular #2
8. See Col. Osborn's Circular No. 9 for further instructions on labor contracts and the administrative appointment to Justices of Probate.
Index Terms: Labor is a man's own property, No fixed wages will be prescribed, The laws of supply and demand must govern, No substitute for slavery like forced apprenticeship or peonage will be accepted, free labor,