|An important agency in the post-Civil War period with a purpose of social reform, it ultimately failed
due to racism and white supremacism.
|In Natchitoches, the Freedmen's Bureau office was located at the corner of Touline and Jefferston streets. (Henry Camie Research Center,
Northwestern Louisiana University)
Established in 1865, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands opened as a service agency in the American South. The
point of the bureau, which Southern Democrats heavily opposed, was to assist newly freed people in acclimating to a new society. Agents
and soldiers enforced the rules of a free labor economy, including ensuring that wages were paid, indentures were not abused, and that
schooling, worship and voting could take place. What the agency was not expecting is the amount of violence against African Americans
that permeated throughout the South in the period. Along the Red River, whites considered this agency to be part of the occupation force
and generally, planters saw the freedom afforded to their former slaves as illegitimate. Countless people were beaten, kidnapped, raped,
and outright murdered. The bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of violence. Joe Easely, a unionist from Hopkins County
(Texas) described in 1868 that "the reign of terror is set up in this county... the history of the darkest ages of the world does not, in my
estimation, afford a parallel." Law enforcement and other government officials, such as post masters and mayors, were comprised of Ku
Klux Klan members, making any attempts at justice impossible.
In the 1920s, renowned historian W. E. B. DuBois lauded the Bureau as an effective agency that could have brought about real social
change, but white resistance and the highly polarized Congress and Executive office ultimately led to the Freedmen's Bureau's demise.
President Andrew Johnson vetoed the renewal of the agency in 1866, which allowed the Ku Klux Klan's power to grow unchecked. General
William Tecumseh Sherman promoted land redistribution to newly freed people, but Congress instead restored ownership of abandoned
and confiscated lands to the white planters, even though they had participated in treasonous actions. The white power structure that
lorded over the South before the war fought tooth and nail to hold onto the reins after the war; this included intimidation, confiscation of
firearms, arson, re-enslavement, and other unconstitutional conduct.
Following are examples from correspondence and other records generated by and for the Freedmen's Bureau that describes some
instances of the continued brutalization of African Americans after the Civil War ended.
|From the Shreveport Bureau: "First Baptist Church, Colored
People, Shreveport La., December 3st, 69.
Requests assistance to the amount of two hundred and fifty
dollars to erect a school house and a church. Have a small
building on leased land but are liable to be ejected there from if
they do not vote to suit the corner thereof. etc etc."
|The Bureau attempted to take care of all of its charges.
From April 1868: Maj. Geo. Sharkley, Sub-Asst, Clarksville Texas.
Major: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your report of the
murder of Mr. W. H. Kirkman at Boston, Texas and am directed by the
Asst. Commissioners to request you to hold his effects until they can be
taken by the family of the deceased .Copies of the papers have been
furnished to J. T. Kirman, brother of the deceased. Accounts for
expenses incurred in his burial will be sent you by the A. A. G. M for our
From Freedmen Bureau's Reports in Texas:
Sulphur Springs, Hopkins County, Texas (1868)
- "Minerva James was taken out of the house of Mr. Herman Spencer... by five armed men, carried about one mile, and brutally
murdered. You would say it was the most horrid murder you ever heard of."
- Charles Grimes, "the old freeman who was on the Board of Registrars" was murdered June 1st.
- Ben Bikestaff recruited "16 to 18 men... armed with double barreled guns and six shooters" and stole a supply train from P. A. Turk,
the wagon Master.
- "A man by the name of Flowers" was "taken out of his house at night and killed. The next day a party of men were carrying him to the
burying ground, whey they were fired into and one man and a little boy killed, and another man dangerously wounded, receiving a
shot through the lungs. No doctor will attend the wounded man; his name is Jesse Starr."
- "A freedman" was "taken out of Buck Thomas' kitchen and carried out on the prairie and killed."
- All freedmen "Have been robbed of every thing of the least value - even taking the under dressing of freed women, their bed
clothes... and then driven into the woods."
- Everett Jackson "was shot and killed dead... as he walked out of his house."
- Luke Starr, while being held by his mother and sisters, was killed when a white mob terrorized the family. "One of the party put a
double barrel gun against him and hurled him into eternity. This makes a final disposition of the Starr family, except females."
Grayson and Fannin Counties, Texas (1866)
- Monroe White, Jim Douglass and Jack Thomas (freedmen) shot and cut to pieces - Grayson County.
- Tom Dunkley hauled wood to Sherman, was shot and killed by a Guerrilla.
- Jack Web, riding in a company of a white man in the direction of Kentucky Town, was found shot and mangled very much.
- Thomas Daniels (freedman) while working on Isom Daniels land (former master), was ordered by John Dumas to do work for him.
Upon refusal, Dumas shot Thomas Daniels. "The authorities here have not taken any notice of the case."
- Jack Stone was shot by a white man "who wanted to know if he knew how to treat a white man? Why don't you raise your hat then?"
Killer said he had a gang for the purpose of "killing niggers."
- Gang in Fannin County fired into a crowd of freedmen and killed three and wounded quite a number. An effort was made to arrest
the party but failed. These men are still in the County fearless of any consequence.
- Bill William in Bonham was robbed in his house, tried to escape, was shot in the side. Has since died.
Jefferson, August 26, 1868
Hon. E. M. Pease, Austin
Last Friday night about 1 O'clock, Albert Browning (a Freedman), one of the quiet inoffensive citizens of our city, was taken out from his
bed and in the presence of his wife and little children, his hands tied behind him and after being robbed of his money and many articles of
wearing apparel, also a gun, pistol and his horse, was led a short distance from his house and shot through the head, five balls taking
effect, evidently simultaneously from different guns or pistols --- as but one report was heard. From there they proceeded to the African
church, tied their horses and entered the enclosure and commenced breaking down the door, whereupon some Freedmen who were
there guarding their church fired upon them, and they ingloriously fled, and in their confusion they dropped the gun and pistol they had
taken from Browning, and some other articles of value --- also Browning's horse was left tied to a stake. Since that time our city has been
in a blaze of excitement, not so much on account of the assassination as from the assemblage of Freedmen at their church every night for
the purpose of protecting their property, which is certainly their right, since the civil authorities fail to do it. They go to their church, enter
the enclosure, fasten their gates and remain very quiet, interrupting no one, not wishing to interfere with any one, provided they are left
On Monday night the excitement became most intense. Mounted men well armed were riding through this city swearing vengeance
against the Freedmen at the church. The citizens called a meeting and the crowd was harangued by excited orators. D. B. Culverson, I was
informed by a gentleman of undoubted veracity and who was present, attacked D. Campbell, said he had organized the Loyal League here,
and that such men were accountable for all this excitement and should be held accountable for anything that might happen, etc., etc., and
was generally very bitter against Radicals, and all this in a public harangue to a then infuriated crowd, at a time when Campbell had been
compelled to leave his house and come to town and conceal himself as best he could at night to save his life ---- night after night his
house was surrounded by armed men, attempted to decoy him out by professions of friendship, assuming the names of his friends, forced
Freedmen from their houses and ordered them to entice Campbell out and because they refused, tortured them by putting their heads
under corners of fences and keeping them until life was almost extinct. I could give you many other instances of torture for similar
purposes. ---- The civil law is a blank here, protection we must have soon or else all Union men ---- I mean loyal men will have to leave this
country. Matters are growing worse every day --- hundred of negroes are now preparing to move to Louisiana, and I believe eventually all
of them will leave this section. We need a squad of Cavalry --- say 25 or 30, for the men who are committing these deeds of horror are
mounted men and Infantry can never overtake them. Two mounted men dashed boldly into town yesterday and robbed a Freedman's horse
and was gone in a few minutes. The civil officers started on foot to arrest them but they never ---- saw them ---- Hoping we may have
I am, Very Respectfully, Your Obedt. Servt., (sgd) W. H. Johnson
From Freedmen Bureau's Reports in Arkansas:
Capt. Cole at Camden reports July 31st 1866 of Union County. "I find affairs there deplorable in the extreme. Several Freedmen have been
murdered under circumstances of great atrocity; others on the laying by of crops in which they were interested as remuneration for their
labor, have been run away from their homes and their lives threatened if they returned or made complaint of it to this office. The feeling
there against the Freedmen is most intense and bitter. In confirmation of these facts I have on file many affidavits containing testimony of
the most incontrovertible characters." Again, Sept. 30th, Capt. Cole reports: "There will in my opinion be very little chance for Freedmen
to get their first dues from planters, unless they are compelled to come to the office of the Supt. when the settlement takes place. The
people persist in trying to defraud the freedmen in every conceivable way."
Outrages, assaults and murders committed upon the persons of Freedmen and women are being continually reported from nearly all
sections of the States and a decided want of a disposition to punish the offenders apparently exists with the local civil officers and in the
minds of the people. There have been (52) fifty-two murders of freed persons by white men in this state reported to this office in the past
three or four months and no reports have been received that the murderers have been imprisoned or punished.
In some parts of the State, particularly in the Southeast and Southwest, Freedmen's lives are threatened if they report their wrongs to the
Agent of this Bureau, and in many instances the parties making reports are missed and never heard of afterwards. It is believed that the
number of murders above reported is not half the number actually committed during the time mentioned.
From Freedmen's Bureau records in Louisiana:
Synopsis of Murder &c. Committed in Parishes of Caddo and Bossier September and October 1868
Parishes of Bossier and Caddo
- Information has been received that Henry Jones, Freedman, one of the leaders on the intended riot in Bossier Parish on or about
September 20th was taken from his home and shot that he was then placed upon a brush pile which was fired and was then left by
his intended murderers who supposed him to be dead after their departure he succeeded in crawling off but not before he was
- Also under date of September 20th that Freedmen in northern part of Parishes are constantly being taken from their homes by
desperadoes and either being killed or forced to leave their homes, crops and everything they possess, that no laws of any kind are
enforced, that on Sept. 29th at Shady Grove plantation in Bossier Parish about 8 miles from Shreveport a riot occurred caused by the
lawless acts of desperadoes in which (2) two white men were shot and mortally wounded. Thirteen (13) freedmen and one (1)
freedwoman killed and (2) two freedmen wounded. Latter advices in regard to the Bossier troubles state that some 8 or 10 freedmen
more than the above reported were killed by the Arkansas Desperadoes and that after their departure the citizens of Bossier and
the friends of the two murdered white men have been in constant pursuit of all freedmen implicated in the murder of the two whites
and have killed all whom they have caught, from all the information that can be gleaned the number of freedmen killed, of which
there are various statements, will reach (100) one hundred at least. It would be a matter of impossibility to ascertain the names of
the killed or for an investigation to be made. Anyone that would attempt the task would share the fate of the rioting negroes.
- At Shreveport on October 16th a colored man named Robert Gray was shot and killed by a white man named Charles Wasson in a
store on Texas St. The body of a negro was also found floating in Red River the same day in a far advanced state of decomposition.
Near Sabine Parish (Fort Jessup)
January 25, 1868
Charles (Sam) Wilson, freedman, murdered by William Winn, Joseph Lynch, Henry Duke and the tow sons of Mr.? and a stranger from
Texas. Reported that these person lynched or executed Plaintiff for committing a rape on a white girl. Men were summoned to give
testimony, no resolution.
January 2nd, 1870
Respectfully forwarded. These people are subject to humiliating restrictions. They have in a sense, almost to go back into bondage in
order to educate their children and worship God. I hope the Commissioner can see his way clear to approve their request for the amount
asked. I will see that the proper deeds are made so as to secure the property forever for the purpose intended. Is the principal Baptist
Chruch in the County has considerable influence in this region around about - am certain assistance in the amount asked would we
wisdom. During the election Massacre last year they ordered the friends of the Conf (?) marked assistance
(sgd) James McClury, Captain U.S.A.
|African American children were sometimes kidnapped by whites to force them to work. Often, the kidnappers were the one-time slavers of the
children's parents or grandparents. This letter from the Bureau demands the return of a child, taken in Boston (Bowie Count, Texas) in 1867:
Sir, you are hereby ordered to be & appear at this office and produce the child Julia (col'd) on Monday, Nov 11 1867 at 1 pm to answer to the
compaint of Sandy Mingoe (Fm col'd) of having his grandchild Julia bound without his consent also of forceably taking the child from him.
|The Freedmen's Bureau recorded complaints of workers not receiving their wages, but attempts at collecting the money often failed. This is a
stolen wages report from the Bureau in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
|The Bureau also paid for teachers in the Freedmen's Schools. This ledger is from the Bureau in Shreveport, Louisiana.
|The Freedmen's Bureau was an important and necessary agency that existed for about twelve years after the
Civil War. Its plethora of records (most located in the National Archives and some searchable through
Familysearch.org) tell of a harsh time in American history. They serve as a reminder that social reform is a very
important function of American governance.