Reconstruction Period Research Forum
The Freedman's Saving and Trust Company
The Freedman's Saving and Trust Company, 1865-1874
By Agnes Kane Callum
The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company is a rare document that has a rich source of data pertaining to the ex-slave immediately following the Civil War. It had a short life span but it left a plethora of information concerning the depositors, the family, and descendants.
Congress passed an Act of Incorporation for the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company and President Lincoln signed it into law on March 3, 1865. The Savings and Trust Company was chartered by Congress for the enhancement of the newly-freed slave, to teach them to save money for the future, to be thrifty and to be productive. The objective of the Savings and Trust Company was straightforward and clear. It was suppose to be a direct path to economic stability for the Negro.
A branch of the company was opened in Baltimore and became known as Freedman's Bank. Many organizations such as societies, clubs, as well as churches became members. As early as 1870, St. Francis Xavier Church, Sinking Society Fund had an account at the bank. The banking committee was John Peed, Cornelius Thomas and Paul C. Thomas. The pastor of St. Francis Xavier called a meeting of all of the societies and suggested that they initiate a plan to enable the priest executors of the accounts, so that they could carry out different projects for the good of the colored people.
As a response, St. Francis Xavier Sanctuary Society had an oyster supper and they deposited their proceeds in the Freedman's Bank. Their banking committee members were Cecelia Lee, Mary Ann Coates and Mary A. Lacer. In 1873, St. Francis instituted a Burial Society wherein the members were charged 10 cents a month and the monies deposited in the Freedman's Bank. The banking committee was John Peed and Anna Morris.
St. Francis reached out to the community and started to feed the hungry and motherless children in the neighborhood. Some of the parishioner of St. Francis Xavier commenced an Orphan Aid Society. They, too, saved their money in the Freedman's Bank with a committee of three, Ellen Johnson, Eliza Thomas and Mary Jane Heall. This society is a forerunner of St. Elizabeth Home for Colored Children, which has its beginning in the 1870s
There is a possibility that other organizations in the church used the services of the Bank, but they are not noted in the Freedman's Bank nor in the announcement book of St. Francis Xavier 1862-1882.
The announcement book of St. Francis contained the activities of the church and its members. It consisted of news and activities of the parishioners, such as, special occasions, benefits, entertainment programs, collections, prayers for the sick and the dying, death notices and marriage bans were also recorded. Rarely were the societies mentioned except in meetings and in advertisements. The accounts with the saving bank were not listed.
Several years before the origin of the Freedman's Bank, the black soldiers of the Civil War had been saving their monies in the Saving Bank of Baltimore, which had been established in the 1818. This took place through an allotment system supervised by officers of the regiment. In the Archaic files of the saving bank of Baltimore survives correspondence which lists the names of the soldiers of the 7th Regiment United States Colored Troops and their transactions with the bank.
The Freedman's Saving Bank seemingly operated well. In 1870, the change its policy of dealing with loans and investments that created economic problems that caused a dilemma within the bank financial structure. Frederick Douglass joined the bank as its president in 1874 to boost the moral of the depositors. He soon realized that the bank was in trouble and could not survive. He recommended to Congress that the bank should close. Congress passed an act to authorize the trustees to close the bank. By June of the same year, the extinction of the Freedman's Savings Bank was complete..