Protest of the Freedmen of Edisto Island to General Howard, 1865

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Protest of the Freedmen of Edisto Island to General Howard  (1865) 
by Henry Brown, Ishmael Moultrie, & Yates Sampson
Letter to General O. O. Howard, Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, asking him to protect their homesteads in the Sea Islands. October 22, 1865. NARA: B-53 1865 and P-27 1865, Letters Received (series 15), Washington Headquarters, RG 105. Transcribed with response from Howard at Freedmen & Southern Society Project.

[Edisto Island, S.C., October 20 or 21, 1865]

General It Is with painfull Hearts that we the committe address you, we Have thorougholy considered the order which you wished us to Sighn, we wish we could do so but cannot feel our rights Safe If we do so,1

General we want Homestead's; we were promised Homestead's by the government,2 If It does not carry out the promises Its agents made to us, If the government Haveing concluded to befriend Its late enemies and to neglect to observe the principles of common faith between Its self and us Its allies In the war you said was over, now takes away from them all right to the soil they stand upon save such as they can get by again working for your late and thier all time ememies.–If the government does so we are left In a more unpleasant condition than our former

we are at the mercy of those who are combined to prevent us from getting land enough to lay our Fathers bones upon. We Have property In Horses, cattle, carriages, & articles of furniture, but we are landless and Homeless, from the Homes we Have lived In In the past we can only do one of three things Step Into the public road or the sea or remain on them working as In former time and subject to thire will as then. We can not resist It In any way without being driven out Homeless upon the road.

You will see this Is not the condition of really freemen

You ask us to forgive the land owners of our Island, You only lost your right arm. In war and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree & gave me 39 lashes & who stripped and flogged my mother & my sister & who will not let me stay In His empty Hut except I will do His planting & be Satisfied with His price & who combines with others to keep away land from me well knowing I would not Have any thing to do with Him If I Had land of my own.–that man, I cannot well forgive. Does It look as If He Has forgiven me, seeing How He tries to keep me In a condition of Helplessness

General, we cannot remain Here In such condition and If the government permits them to come back we ask It to Help us to reach land where we shall not be slaves nor compelled to work for those who would treat us as such

we Have not been treacherous, we Have not for selfish motives allied to us those who suffered like us from a common enemy & then Haveing gained our purpose left our allies In thier Hands There Is no rights secured to us there Is no law likely to be made which our Hands can reach. The state will make laws that we shall not be able to Hold land even If we pay for It Landless, Homeless. Voteless. we can only pray to god & Hope for His Help, your Infuence & assistance With consideration of esteem your Obt Servts In behalf of the people

Committee:

  • Henry Bram
  • Ishmael Moultrie
  • yates Sampson


Reply from General Howard

Charleston. S.C. Oct 22, 1865.

Messrs. I have just received your letter. You are right in wanting homesteads and will surely be defended in the possession of every one which you shall purchase or have already purchased. The Government does not wish to befriend its enemies and injure its friends, but considers a forgiven man in the light of a citizen restored to rights of property excepting as to slaves. The Supervisory Board must not permit what you fear.3 The old master would be very foolish to try a system of oppression as it would ruin them forever now that you are free. If the planters combine as you think, they will soon be able to get no labor. Their whipping post of which you complain is abolished forever. The duty of forgiveness is plain and simple. Forgive as we hope to be forgiven of Him who governs all things.

Congress must meet before any public lands can be had and before I can buy any for you. I will ask for your rights and try to obtain them. A contract may be by a lease as well as for wages, So that I do not think the Planters will object to leasing you land. Some can lease, some can buy and some can work for wages. I advise the sending to you of Northern men for Agents of the owners where true men can be found.

I think the people had better enter into contracts, leasing or for wages or purchase when possible for next year. If it dont work well something else may be tried afterwards. Send your petition to Congress, if you wish, and I will see that it is not passed by without proper attention. The President himself will urge something in your behalf. Very Truly Yours

O. O. Howard