Monday, January 9, 2012

Amanuensis Monday - Letters from Louisburg - Part 2

Last Monday, I shared the first of a series of letters between William A Eaton, of Franklin County, North Carolina, and officers of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (usually known as the "Freedmens' Bureau").  In his letters, Mr. Eaton is pleading for the support of the bureau in establishing a home, school, and working farm for former slaves after Emancipation.

I read and copied three of the letters in this series during a visit to the National Archives over a year ago.  At that time, I had no idea I'd be sharing them, so I must apologize for not having the exact source information, other than to say that the letters were on a reel of microfilm which held records of the Freedmens' Bureau which related to Franklin County, NC.  My purpose in reading through these records was to seek any mention of my own ancestors, most specifically my formerly-enslaved great-grandfather, Calvin Yarborough, Sr., who, in the 1870 Census was noted to be a "former teacher".

If you missed the first letter I posted, which was from Mr. Eaton to the first commissioner of the Freedmens' Bureau, General Oliver O Howard, you can read it by clicking here.  This second letter, penned by Mr. Eaton on September 2, 1865, is to Colonel Eliphalet Whittlesey, Assistant Commissioner for the North Carolina Freedmen's Bureau, 1865–1866.

Franklin County Sept 2d 1865

Col E Whittlesey

Dr Sir

Your letter 12th *itto reached me this day. I have read its contents carefully, and I am truly thankful that I can indulge a slight hope from your letter, that something may yet be done for the poor destitute colored people of this country, for I do assure you they will soon stand much in need of your assistance. I say of yours Colonel, because they have no one to look to but you, and unless you can enlist the General government, or some of the Philanthropic Societies at the North in their behalf, God only knows, what is to become of them.

The time is drawing near where the greater portion of the negroes will have give up their present homes, and I fear many thousands will be homeless and friendless. As things exist, it will follow as a natural consequence. Very many of our largest land holders are renting their grounds to White laborers, owing to their inability to pay high wages for Colored labour; And this will throw a great many women and children out of imployment. And then there are a great many persons, who would employ the negroes but they are fearfull that the negro, might leave them in working season, and they would loose their crops. And this will throw a good many out of homes: And the fearfull consequence

Pg. 2

must follow.. that a great many negroes will spend the most of their time runing about the country looking for day work: which will nothing like give them a support. And that good old adage will surely be about them, Idleness produces want & want, vice & vice misery.

I had a good deal of conversation with Col Clapp* on the subject of the home for the destitute. I think I can furnish an excellent tract of land for the home, and think with good management it could be made to support a great many indigent negroes. You ask if such a place can be had with suitable buildings. There are already a great many buildings on the place, but not enough to carry out the home according to the scale I would like to start one, say with a school attached, for improving the young, and giving the old proper religious instruction, both of which I consider very important. I should like to have a personal interview with you on the subject. The place I propose to sell for the home, is two plantations that lay together. The two tracks of land contain 2200 acres, if properly laid off into lots, say of from 30 to 60 acres each, with with a good family house on each. And then select some of the best families we can find settle them on these lots. I say best families because I would like to have a good example set at the beginning, it would induce others to do better.

There are now on the two places good family residences sufficient to accommodate the teachers to the school, and the manager of the farming opperations, I gave Col Clapp a full description, and particularly of the School house which is onto

Pg. 3

accommodate 500 pupils. I propose to make it a manual school. By settleing 50 or 60 families, which would consume about 1500 acres; and the remainder of the land to be worked by the pupils in the school; The two places can be purchased for Twentyfive thousand dollars ($25,000) I have made a calculation what it would cost to erect all the buildings necessary to make the accommodations sufficient for 500 pupils, at my figures: all the necessary buildings will cost Fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) So you will see that land & buildings will cost ($75,000). I propose to put up every thing in neat and comely style: for unless the place was made to look like home; The colored people would not like it. I refer you to Col Clapp, for a full description for the plan. I would like to see you here; that you might see the situation. I think you would like it.

I am quite sure Col, that I could, after the frist year, make it a self supporting Establishment, and if you will have a proper agent, a goodly quantity of supplies may be collected from the farmers, from the growing crop for the indigent, if delivered to them, they will soon be waisted. And by the coming Spring, they will not have one pound of any thing to subsist on. And I fear, unless some eye is kept on the more ignorant persons among the colored people, many of them will be left without any portion, and then, what is to become of the women and children, unless they have some place to go to, and some person to look to for advice. Use your best endeavor to get a home erected for them. God grant us his assistance, in this. I believe a I hope I will meet with his approbation.

p. 4

I before said that provisions could be collected from the farmers. I mean that portion of the crop that belongs to the Orphans. And then we have a good many women who have large families, and no husband, and may as a class may be counted Orpans, for, I assure you these women and children will want as much looking after, as any Colored people in our land. take these two classes together, and they will give a large number of the destitute. I think if you will have a proper agent for the colored people, and establish a home for them, and have their provisions collected to gether, and have some system in the use of them a large sum will be saved to the general government.

For unless you have some place for them to collect they will all be puring into your at Raleigh by the 1st of January, and in a very short time the fuel a lone would cost as much as the home would. And at this home, they can have wood without allowance, and comfortable houses to live in, many of them made to support themselves. By strict vigilance over them, many of them who would always live in idleness if left a lone, would be induced to work where every body was at work around them. But some of them would have to be made to work or they will die in idleness

pg. 5

Let me speak a little more plainly on the subject of an agent for the colored people, and I hope you will pardon my freedom of speech on that subject.

The time will soon be here when the crop is to be gathered in, and then come the division of the crop; A great many of the white people are perfectly willing that the Negroes should have an equitable part. But on the other hand I fear there are a great many who will try to make the negroes part as little as possible. Will it not be important to have an agent for them, who is well acquainted with the customs of the country; and likewise to be able to judge under the present circumstances what part of the crop ought to be paid to the negro for his services. This agent ought to be carefully selected, and ought to be required to give his entire time and personal attention to this business, for I assure you he will find, a full amount of business for any one man to attend to. If one man can do it, after the crops are divided between the whites & Blacks, some attention will have to be bestowed on the 2d division, say among Blacks themselves. For the stronger will be sure to try to get a full share and leave the orphan out and those orphans Col, must have some one to care for them. And you will find a great many in every county. We have in our family some 6 or 8 who will be destitute in deed if you do not have them looked to be some one, and have some place to send them to, some place of safety for them

p. 6

I only cast these hints that you may think of what ought to be done in the premises.

If you can possibly come to Franklin I would be pleased to come out, for I am sure if we could see each other, we could make some arrangements for the home. If you conclude to come, give me a weeks notice. Your letter was 18 days on the road. Let me hear from you at least.

I am very Respectfully

Your most abl St

W A Eaton

*Lieutenant Col Clapp – Superintendent of the Central District of the Freedmen’s Bureau


  1. Great job in transcribing those letters! What an amazing find!

  2. Great resource for the attitudes of the era. Looking forward to reading letter 3.

  3. What a wonderful discovery! Thanks for the careful transcription. Col. Whittlesey was my great great granduncle, and I am researching his life with the intention of writing a biography combined with my own memoir about the search. It turns out he was removed from North Carolina in 1866, and then—after surviving a politically motivated court martial trial—he was made adjutant director in the Washington, D.C., headquarters, where he remained for the remainder of the bureau's existence. He was the acting administrator for the last several months prior to the end in 1872. See http://www.facebook.com/EliphaletWhittlesey.

    Daniel G. Clark
    Muscatine, Iowa

  4. Daniel, I'm glad you found my blog! Hopefully, what I have here will help you a bit in your research of your ancestor.

    I was aware of some I what you shared, but if cloudless I didn't do any in-depth research about your uncle. Best wishes to you as you continue your work!