Return to Assorted Documents of the Freedmen's Bureau
Report of Major General J. G.  Foster
Assistant Commissioner F. R. & A. L. Florida
to Commissioner General O. O. Howard
Annual Report
October 1866
Freedmen Bureau Records
Brevet Brigadier General, Assistant Commissioner, D. C. Major General O. O. Howard,

Commissioner, Bureau Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.

FLORIDA.

Headquarters District Of Florida, Office Assistant Commissioner of Bureau Refugees, Freedmen
and Abandoned Lands, Tallahassee, Florida, October, 1866.

General: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of the bureau in this State
during the past year:

I entered upon the duties of assistant commissioner, in conformity with assignment by Special
Orders No. 255. of the War Department, on June 11, 1866, previous to which time the duties of the
office had been performed by Brevet Colonel T. W. Osborn. I found the arrangements of Colonel
Osborn to be so judicious that I continued them in force to the present time, with such modifications
as were necessary, from time to time, to give them increased effect.

The general organization comprises the distribution throughout the State of the officers of the
bureau, each of whom has the supervision of a sub-district composed of several counties, from two
to four, according to size and accessibility, and has subordinate to him, in each county and
principal town, a civil agent to attend to detailed business, under his general direction and
supervision. Eleven of these officers at present upon this duty are of the Veteran Reserve Corps,
and seven of the army; all bear the titles of sub-assistant commissioners. Each one is required to
report monthly, or oftener if necessary, to the assistant commissioner, and to forward all appeals
from his decisions or those of the civil agents. Each commanding officer of a post is constituted,
ex
officio
, sub-assistant commissioner for the surrounding district, which arrangement unites more
completely the full benefits of the military and bureau administration.

The civil agents are either judges, justices of the peace, ex-officers of volunteers, or citizens of
character and influence who are willing to perform the duties. Generally this service is unpopular,
as it excites the prejudices of the pro-slavery citizens, and sometimes incurs insults and petty
persecutions; still, those who do serve perform their duties faithfully. They are twenty-four in
number, of whom only four are salaried; the remainder are authorized to charge parties coming
before them moderate fees for their services.

The course pursued to secure the personal welfare of the freedmen has been to require all to labor
at some employment; to observe the terms of their contracts or agreements; to comply with the
State law respecting marriages; to be industrious and economical; to provide for the education of
themselves and children; to be faithful and useful to their employers, and to strive to secure their
good opinion; to labor contentedly; to abandon migratory habits, and to save their earnings in a
safe place of deposit against a time of need.

The rates of wages and terms of contracts have, as far as possible, been left to be regulated by
the law of supply and demand, and only such interference exercised as was required to prevent
any advantage being exercised over the ignorance or trustfulness of the negroes. A fair contract in
writing, according to the terms of agreement, has always been insisted on; also the faithful
execution of its stipulations; and if that became impossible, from sickness or other cause, an
equitable settlement. About one-half of the laborers upon plantations in this State are working for a
portion of the year's products usually one-third, and sometimes, under liberal planters, one-half of
the whole crop. Those who are working for wages and were engaged early in the season, when
labor was plenty, are to receive on an average, (for field hands,) men, twelve dollars; women, nine
dollars; children, five dollars per month; in addition to which they are allowed rations, usually
consisting of one peck of meal, three pounds of meat, and one pint of syrup per week. Mill, railroad,
timber, and boat hands, and those engaged late in the season, receive from fifteen to twenty-five
dollars per month with rations.

Those who have worked for a portion of the crop will, it is believed, realize more at the end of the
year than those who have worked for wages; but the surplus remaining to either class at the end of
this year will, it is feared, prove very small. The laborers have been obliged, in many instances, to
take the orders of their employers upon stores for such necessaries as they required; which
orders, they complain, have obtained for them much less than they could have procured with the
ready money, and with the privilege of purchasing where they could buy to the best advantage.
The planters in most instances, having been much impoverished by the war, have been
necessitated to pursue this course, and to anticipate the growing crops by orders and drafts in
payment for supplies and equipment, as well as wages of hands. This evil will be partially remedied
in the next year, when more ready money will be available. A higher rate of wages will also be
necessary; and where the pay or any portion of it is to be made in orders, a corresponding
discrimination in the rate must be made. The freedmen here ought to receive at least twenty dollars
a month with a ration, in order to enable them to pay their taxes, rent, physicians' bills, and for the
clothing and education of their children.

The number of colored people in the State in 1860 was 61,745 slaves, and 932 free blacks. Total
number, 62,677. The number of whites, 77,747.

Fourteen per cent, of all the negroes were in this county, (Leon,) in which the ratio of the blacks to
the whites is three to one. Five other counties have an excess of blacks, but in all the remainder,
thirty-one in number, the whites are in majority.

The general course pursued to secure justice to the refugees and freedmen has been to allow the
courts of the State to decide all matters that could properly be brought before them, and to watch
the cases to see that impartial justice was rendered. But in matters specially subject to the
decisions of the officers of the bureau, such as the division of crops, arbitrations upon the
stipulations and fulfilment of contracts, sequestrations of property of refugees, &c. I have caused
the officers and agents to decide the cases at once, and thus secure prompt justice.

In all criminal cases, or offences definitely punishable by the laws of the State, to which the
freedmen are parties, the criminals have been brought before the criminal courts, which have been
in operation since April of this year. Generally, the criminal courts have given as fair decision as
could be reasonably expected, from the bitter feelings existing at the close of the war, and in a
great number of trials witnessed by officers of the bureau, impartial jus! ice has been rendered. But
there have been many exceptions to this rule, in which the prejudices against the negroes, and
animosity against the loyal whites, (called by the rebels "deserter*,") who, during the war, entered
our lines as refugees and joined our troops, have so influenced the courts, and especially the
juries, as to have produced, in some instances, verdicts manifestly inconsistent with justice. In some
cases excessive fines and penalties have been imposed upon freedmen, loyal Union men have
been uncompromisingly prosecuted, a just return of sequestrated property has been refused, and
the arrest of criminal's guilty of outrages and murderous assaults upon freedmen have been so
delayed as to permit the escape of the criminal and cause a failure of justice.

The United States district court for this district not having been in session since I entered upon the
performance of the duties of the bureau, I could not bring the delinquents before it under the
provisions of the civil rights law, and the laws establishing and continuing the bureau; but I am now
informed the court will soon meet in this place, and have prepared and forwarded to its clerk a list
of the cases that should properly be brought before it.

In the mean time my recourse has been either to the executive clemency of the governor, or, when
that was not available, to decisive action myself, under the powers conferred by the laws governing
the bureau.

In answer to my appeals, Governor Walker has always exhibited much sympathy and humanity for
the colored people, with a readiness to remit any unjust fine or penalty, and to redress the wrongs
of person and property of even' one, irrespective of color. Upon my application for a decision upon
the illegality of the law prohibiting negroes from keeping or bearing arms, the governor called upon
the attorney general of the State to give his written opinion, which, when given, was promulgated. It
declared the said law to be in violation of the State constitution, which provides that all the
inhabitants of the State " that enjoy the rights of person and property without distinction of color."
The civil officers were required to conform their action to this opinion. Since then the negroes have
been unmolested in the possession of arms, except in a few instances in the remote counties,
where, from lack of mail communication, correct information only reaches the people after long
delays.

It is only in cases where strict justice or rights could not be secured through any of the ordinary
legal channels that I have exercised, to that end, the power confided to me as assistant
commissioner. The fact has been kept in view that sooner or Inter the colored people must be left
to the control of the State authorities, and consequently that the promotion of harmony and good
feeling between them and the whites would secure the safest guarantees of future good treatment.
There are, however, a particular class of cases that I have been necessitated to act upon, or to
decide through the agency of the bureau courts. These arise from the execution of the rebel
sequestration law, by which the property of loyal refugees (who during the war took refuge within
our lines) was sequestrated and sold. These men, most of whom served in the first and second
Florida cavalry, on returning to their homes after the war, found their cattle driven off, their
movables gone, and, in many instances, their dwellings burned. Being poor, they could not incur
the expense of an uncertain litigation, especially before courts most of whose members were
directly or indirectly interested in the sequestration sales, and were, moreover, exasperated against
them for being "deserters" from the rebel cause. These cases were the most numerous in the
counties of Hillsboro, Hernando, and Manatee. I therefore directed the officers and agents in those
counties to restore all property thus sequestrated, if found, to its original owners; and when the
property could not be found to bring the parties before a bureau court, to be organized at Tampa,
to determine the amount of damages, which, when fixed, are to be collected by the commanding
officer at Tampa, who is required to enforce the decisions of the court.

HOMESTEAD LAW.
The provisions of the homestead law, passed at the last session of Congress, is being largely
availed of by the colored people of this State; already 32,000 acres of public lands have been
entered by them since the opening of the land office, August 25, 1866, and their interest in the
subject seems to be on the increase. Large settlements will be made this winter in the vicinity of
New Smyrna, on the Atlantic coast; upon the Upper St. John's river, on the Suwannee river, and
upon the Manatee river and its tributaries. I have not yet been required to aid the freedmen in their
enterprises, beyond furnishing them information concerning the lands, and transportation to a few
of them, who go first to examine and select them. The people of some sections are much opposed
to the settlement of negroes in their neighborhood, and some threats have been made; but upon a
proper representation of the futility of any such illegal course, and of the consequences that must,
surely follow, their opposition has been reduced, and there is now little probability of any serious
resistance being made to the location and settlement of the negroes in any part of the State. I am
having prepared a detailed report of the lands in the State open to location and settlement, which
will contain much valuable information of the nature of the soils, climate, productions, accessibility,
&c, in each county in the State. Its preparation has been much delayed by the necessity of
answering correspondence requiring information as to lands desired for entry. I, however, enclose
a sub report, which is intended to be preliminary to the above, and is prepared in haste to
accompany this report. From this it will appear that there are now open for settlement in this State
nineteen millions of acres of public lands, nearly equally distributed in the east, west, middle, and
southern parts of the State. The lands in the first three have been in the market for many years,
and are comparatively of little value. Those in southern Florida are more valuable, are newer, and
some of them are very rich. Much attention has been directed to the lands bordering the St. John's,
where the orange culture is an object of interest, and to that lying in its vicinity, extending towards
New Smyrna on one side, and the chain of lakes on the other. Many private owners of large tracts
anticipating a considerable immigration this winter are preparing to place in the market large and
desirable tracts selected in past years for their value. Extensive orange groves on the St. John's
are also offered to purchasers, and generally the best people of the State encourage immigration
from the north, and are willing to meet it in a liberal spirit. The country to the south, and especially
the section bordering both the Atlantic and the Gulf, although the borders of the latter have more
settlements, contain much valuable land for the cultivation of cotton, sisal, hemp, corn, potatoes,
indigo, rice, and the tropical productions and fruits; while the waters of the bays and inlets of the
Gulf teem with myriads of line fish. The unhealthiness of the climate in consequence of the malaria,
which produces enfeebling and sometimes fatal fevers, has been regarded as a great obstacle to
the settlement of this country. It is not so, however, to those who become acclimated, and to those
who have not the eastern coast offers healthy locations; the malarial infections rarely extend to the
residents within the influence of the salt water and air.

PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR FREEDMEN.
The legislature of the State at its last session passed a law providing for the establishments of
schools for the education of the colored children, for the appointment of a State superintendent,
payment of teachers, &c. The Rev E. B. Duncan received the appointment, and has worked with
zeal and judgment to carry out the object of the law. In order to further his efforts and preserve
unity between the State enterprise and the aid furnished by the government through the bureau, I
appointed Mr. Duncan superintendent of Freedmen's schools in the State. This uniting of interests
and duties has been productive of favorable results to the freed people, who thus derive the fullest
advantage from the efforts made to educate their children.

Mr. Duncan reports twenty-nine day schools with an average attendance of 1,288 pupils; twenty
eight night schools, and seventy-five Sunday schools. His absence on a tour of duty through the
State prevents me from enclosing a report from him, which will be forwarded upon his return. I have
no doubt that Mr. Duncan will, if continued in his present duties with encouragement, within the
coming year, succeed in establishing colored schools throughout the State, in every town and
hamlet, and upon most of the larger plantations.

HOSPITAL FOR THE DESTITUTE REFUGEES AND FREEDMEN.
This institution was established at
Magnolia, twenty miles above Jacksonville, on the St. John's
river, in March of this year, by Colonel Osborn, and now contains forty-one destitutes, who are
utterly incapacitated by age, infirmities, or insanity from obtaining any means of subsistence. None
are admitted whose friends are able to afford assistance or support. The hospital is wholly
supported by the bureau, and is under the charge of Dr. J. W Applegate, surgeon of volunteers.
The State of Florida has no asylum of the kind.

THE ORPHAN ASYLUM FOR COLORED CHILDREN.
This asylum was originally located at Fernandina, and occupied the house formerly belonging to
General Finnegan But upon the surrender of that house to its former owner in June, 1866, I moved
the asylum to
Magnolia, where the buildings, which formerly constituted a watering-place hotel, are
sufficiently extensive to accommodate both asylums, with the superintendent and teachers. This
asylum, which now contains thirty-three orphans, is also supported by the bureau, with the
exception of the teachers, who are paid by the National Freedmen's Relief Association.

The orphan asylum is under the immediate direction of Miss Chloe Merrick, assisted by Miss
Farnham, but this asylum is also under the general superintendence of Dr. Applegate.

The location of Magnolia offers many advantages for these asylums, being directly upon the banks
of the river, within three-fourths of a mile of a fine sulphur spring, called "Silver Springs," with ample
accommodations of all kinds, including a chapel and five hundred acres of woodland. Steamers
plying upon the St. John can deliver passengers or supplies upon the wharf directly in front of the
house.

CHATTAHOOCHEE ARSENAL.
Upon your notice that this arsenal had been turned over to the bureau, I caused Major Denniston,
the disbursing officer of the bureau, to receive it from the agent sent here for the purpose, and in
September he gave the proper receipts and received possession. It is situated at the junction of the
Chattahoochee and 'he Flint rivers, upon a high elevation, and consists of extensive buildings and
shops, erected during the Florida war at a cost of nearly half a million dollars. With the exception of
the small hamlet called Chattahoochee, close by, there are but few settlements near, and the
country around is thinly inhabited. The communication is by the river or by wagon road twenty-two
miles to Quincy, the present terminus of the Pensacola and Georgia railroad. Owing to its isolated
position and the difficulty of conveying supplies to it from our depots at Jacksonville, I have not
removed the asylum from Magnolia to it, and propose not to do so until a short time before the
termination of the existence of the bureau by law. I have recommended, in a separate report, that
at that time the arsenal be turned over to the State, to be used as an asylum for the destitute and
orphans, for a penitentiary, and for a State normal school for colored teachers, for which three
purposes the buildings are sufficiently extensive.

EXPENDITURES.

The expenditures of the bureau in this State during the past year have been very small, owing to
the rigid economy practiced.

The total amount of funds received is $18, 949.07

The total amount of expenditures is 15, 589.62

Amount of funds on hand November, 1866    3,359 45

In conclusion, I desire to state that I regard the condition of the freed people in this State as being
very promising for their future advancement and moral elevation. They are generally industrious
and faithful. Upon plantations they do not perhaps work as hard as in the days of slavery, when the
greatest amount of labor was enforced by the lash, but the most of them give general satisfaction
to their employers, and when working for themselves they exhibit much industry They show by their
anxiety to learn, to educate their children, to provide homes for their families, to become land
owners, to erect schoolhouses and churches, and to accumulate their savings, a strong
determination to improve their condition as a people and to elevate their race. This settled
determination and general understanding among them to effect the above objects must in time, with
their ability and willingness to work, produce its natural result of comparative independence.

I believe when the time arrives for the termination of the labors of this bureau, the colored people of
this State will have made a fair advancement towards becoming able to provide for themselves, and
to protect all their interests, other than political.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. G. FOSTER, Brevet Major General, Assistant Commissioner.

Major General 0. 0. Howard,
Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, Washington, D. C

Notes:
1. John Gray Foster
(May 27, 1823 - September 2, 1874) was born in  Whitefield, New
Hampshire. When he was ten, his family moved to Nashua, Foster attended school in Nashua, then
studied at the Hancock (NH) academy. He then "prepped" for admission to West Point, at Crosby's
Nashua Literary Institute. He was appointed to West Point by U.S. Representative Charles G.
Atherton. He graduated from West Point in 1846, fourth in his class of 59 cadets. After graduation
Foster was breveted a Second Lieutenant of Engineers and assigned to Washington, D.C. A few
months later the War With Mexico began. Foster was attached to a company of sappers, miners,
and pontoon builders in Mexico, 1847 - 1848. He was ordered to Mexico with General Scott, as a
Lieutenant in a company of sappers and miners, and was in all the engagements from "Vera Cruz"
to "Molino del Rey.  After the war he was assigned to the Coastal Survey. He taught at West Point
as an assistant Professor of Engineering. He commanded Fort Moultrie at the beginning of the War
of the Rebellion removing to Fort Sumter. He fought in the battle of Roanoke Island. He became
commander the Department of North Carolina (July 1, 1862-July 13, 1863); later he became head
of the Department of Ohio (December 12, 1863 - February 9, 1864) and finally head of the
Department of the South (May 26, 1864 - Feb 11, 1865). After Gillmore returned to the command
of the Department of the South Foster was given command under him of the Department of Florida.
He was appointed Assistant Commissioner of the R. F & A. L as the replacement for Col Osborn.
After the Freedmen's Bureau he went back into engineering for the Army. He died in New
Hampshire on September 2, 1874

2. This is a serious growth in the organization from Osborn to Foster. It started with 5 districts that
were controlled by agents.
General John G. Foster
Assistant Commissioner Bureau R.F. & A. L
Florida
General O. O. Howard
Commissioner Bureau R. F. & A. L.
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Governor David Shelby Walker
December 20, 1865 to July 4, 1868
Chloe Merrick