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Reconstruction Period Research Forum

South Carolina Land Issue - Background

1865
In January, the Confederate army was shrinking and not in the best of spirits. The end was near. Sherman issued his Special Field Order 15.

February's highlight was Sherman's famous March to the Sea.

In April, Lee surrendered at Appomattox and the president was assassinated.

In May, President Andrew Johnson issued his Amnesty Proclamation, granting amnesty and restoration of property to former confederates.

It was in this light that a committee of freedmen (Henry Bram, Ishmael Moultrie, and Yates Sampson) wrote the following letter to General O. O. Howard:

Letter from the Freedmen of Edisto Island to the Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau
"General it is with painful Hearts that we the Committe address you, we Have thoroughly considered the order which you wished us to sign, we wish we could do so but cannot feel our rights Safe if we do so.

General we want Homesteads, we were promised Homesteads by the government; If It does not carry out the promises Its agents made to us, If the government Having 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 their all time enemies... If the government does so we are left in a more unpleasant condition than our former ...

You will see this is not the condition of really freemen.

You ask us to forgive the landowners of our land. You only lost your right arm in the war and might forgive them. The man who tied me to a tree and gave me 39 lashes and who stripped and flogged my mother and my sister and who will not let me stay in His empty Hut except I will do His planting and be Satisfied with His price and who combines with others to keep land from me well-knowing I would not have anything 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.

[Prophetic]
We have not been treacherous; we have not for selfish motives allied to us those who suffered like us from a common enemy and then Having gained our purpose left our allies in their 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 and Hope for His Help, [and] your Influence and assistance[.] With consideration of esteem Your Obt Servts
[signed]
Henry Bram,
Ishmael Moultrie, and
Yates Sampson.¹

As a further insult, Land restoration was put under the control of the military command, which gave the newly freed the non-choice of either entering into labor contracts with former slaveowners or leaving the islands altogether. There was no room for compromise. The ruling class had decided; the south was "reconstructed" and on its way to restoration of states rights, 'white rule' and 'black codes'.

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¹ Henry Bram et al. to Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard, [Oct. 28?, 1865], and Henry Bram et al. to the President of these United States, Oct. 28, 1865, B-53 1865 and P-27 1865, Letters Received (series 15), Washington Headquarters, RG 105, NARA.

Messages In This Thread

South Carolina Land Issue - Background
Ishmael Moultrie
Re: South Carolina Land Issue - Background

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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