The Man and Brother: Ii
DIALOGUES Similar in nature to the following were quite frequent in the office of the Bureau Major.
“I wants to know ef I can’t hev my little gal,” explains a ragged freedwoman of an uncertain age.
“ I suppose you can, if you can prove that she is yours, and if you have not bound her out as an apprentice.”
“I ha’n’t bound her our. I let Mr. Jack Bascom, up to Walhalla, have her to stay with him awhile, an’ now I wants her back, an’ I sont to Mr. Bascom more’n a month ago to fotch her back, an’ ’pears like he ain’t gwine to fotch her.”
“ Perhaps she is very well off with Mr. Bascom ; I understand that he is a man of property. What do you want her back for ? ”
“ I wants to see her. She ’s my little gal, an’ I has a right to hev her, an’ I wants her.”
Here a citizen who was lounging in the office took part in the conversation.
“Look here, aunty, you had better leave your girl with Mr. Bascom ; he is a very kind, honorable man. Besides, he made twenty-five hundred bushels of corn this last season, and it stands to reason that she won’t suffer there, while you, probably, don’t know whether you ’ll have enough to go upon through the winter. It’s going to be a hard winter for poor folks, aunty, and you 'd better take as light a load into it as you can.”
“ I don’t keer for all that,” persists the short-sighted, affectionate creature. "Yes, I does keer. But I can’t go without seein’ my little gal any longer. I ha’n’t sot eyes on her for nigh four months, an’ I can’t stan’ it no longer. ’Pears like I don’t know how she’s gettin’ on.”
“But you must have faith,” I said, attacking her on the religious side, always an open one with the negroes. However sinful their lives may chance to be in practice, they feel bound to admit the authority of certain doctrines. “It’s your duty to have faith,” I repeat. “ If you have put your child into the hands of a decent man, well off in this world’s goods, — if you have done by her to the best of your intelligence, — you must trust that God will do the rest. You are bound to believe that he will take just as good care of her as if you were there and saw it all.”
“ Yes, that’s so ; that’s true preachin’,” responded the woman, nonplussed at discovering that preaching could be made so practical as to apply to Bureau business. “ But I don’t keer for all that. Yes, I does keer, but I wants to see my little gal.”
“Suppose you should move up to Walhalla yourself ? Then your child could keep her good place, and still you could see her.”
“ No,no, I can’t do that,” she affirmed, shaking her head with energy,
“Ah,aunty ! I see through you now,” said I. “ You have a lot of old cronies here; you love to gossip and smoke pipes with them ; you care more for them than for your girl. All you want of her is to wait on you while you sit and tattle. You just want her to go for water and to put a chunk of fire on your pipe.”
“No, no, no!” denied the aunty, but she looked dreadfully guilty, as though my charge were at least half true. The result was, that, by dint of ridicule, coaxing, and arguing, I prevailed upon her to leave her child with Mr. Jack Bascom, in whose care the pickaninny was of course far better off than she could have been with her poverty-strieken parent.
Other women wanted their children, male and female, big and little, brought back from Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas. It was useless to say, “ They have but just gone ; they have not fulfilled a quarter of their year’s contract; besides, they are earning far move than they can here.” A combination of affection, stupidity, and selfishness easily responded, “ I don’t keer for all that, an’ I wants to see ’em.” The only effective opposition which the Bureau Major could raise consisted in declaring with official firmness and coldness, “ I have no transportation for such purposes.”
A middle-aged freedwoman came to me with a complaint that her son-inlaw would do nothing for the support of his wife and children.
“ He ’s down on the railroad twentyfive miles below yere, an’ he’s git’n’ good wages, an' I can’t keep ’em no longer.”
“Won’t he have them with him?” I inquired.
“ Yes, he’s sont for ’em once or twice ; but I ain't gwine to let 'em go so fur off. Ef he wants my da’ter, he’s got to live with her, and she’s got to live with me.”
“Very well; then you may continue to support her,” was of course my decision.
Another granny pestered me by the hour for a week together to induce me to save her youngest son Andy from being deported. Andy had stolen a pig ; as a consequence he was in jail, awaiting trial; but the sheriff was willing to release him on condition that he would take a contract out of the State ; and consequently a planter who was going to Florida had hired him, paid his jail fees, and secured his liberation.
“ He must go,” said I. “ If he breaks his bargain, I ’ll have him shut up again.”
“ O, I wouldn’t keer for that,” whimpered the old creature. “’Pears like I ’d rather hev him in jail all his life than go away from me.”
Andy did break his bargain, lurked in the neighborhood a few days, and then, being pursued by the sheriff, absconded to parts unknown.
These aged freedwemen, and many also of the aged freedmen, had the bump of locality like old cats. No place in the world would answer for them except the very place in which they had been brought up and had formed their little circle of now venerable gossips. If all their sons and grandsons went to Florida or Louisiana, they would stay with the ancients with whom they were accustomed to smoke and tattle.
And yet the negroes have a great love for children; it is one of the most marked characteristics of the race. Allowing for their desire to have somebody to wait on them, and somebody at hand over whom they can exercise authority; allowing also for their prejudice against everything which in any manner recalls their ancient burden of slavery, — they must still be credited with a large amount of natural affection. One of the strongest objections to the apprenticing of colored children lies in the fact that the relatives soon sicken of their bargain, and want to regain possession of the youngsters. If the father and mother are not alive to worry in the matter, it will be taken up by grandparents, aunts, and cousins. They coax the pickaninny to run away, and they bring horrible stories of cruel treatment to the Bureau officer. Finding, in every case which I investigated, that these tales were falsifications, I invariably refused to break the bond of apprenticeship, and instructed the applicants that their only resource was a trial for the possession of the orphan before the Judge of the District Court. I did this partly from a sense of justice to the master, partly because he was always better able to care for the apprentice than the relatives, and partly because I considered it my duty to aid in setting the civil law on its legs and preparing the community to dispense with military government. As an application for a writ of habeas corpus costs money, I never knew mother, grandmother, aunt, or cousin to make it.
One might think that apprentices thus furiously sought for would be gladly let go by their masters ; but the Southern whites are themselves noticeably fond of children, and even of negro children. I have known two small farmers to carry on a long war, involving fights, drawing of knives, suits for assault and battery, and writs of habeas corpus, for the possession of a jet black girl only seven years of age, and almost valueless except as a plaything. I have known a worthy old gentleman of the higher class to worry away time and money in endeavoring to recover a pet little octoroon from her relatives.
If the negro younglings are well loved, they are also well whipped ; the parents have no idea of sparing the rod and spoiling the child ; and when they do flog, it is in a passion and with a will. Passing a cabin, I heard a longdrawn yell of anguish from within, and then saw a little freedman rush out, rubbing his rear violently with both hands, his mouth wide open to emit a scream of the largest calibre and the longest range. In the language of a spectator, he looked “ powerful glad to git out o’ do’.”
One of the teachers of the Bureau school at my station having dismissed a girl for bad behavior, the mother appeared to remonstrate. “ What you turn her out for ? ” she demanded. “ Ef she’s naughty, why don' you whip her ?”
“ I don’t approve of whipping children,was the reply. “ It is a punishment that I don’t wish to inflict.”
“It’s your business,” screamed the mother, — “it’s your business to whip ’em. That’s what you’s sont here for.”
The most hopeful sign in the negro is his anxiety to have his children educated. The two or three hundred boys and girls whom I used to sec around the Bureau school-house — attired with a decency which had strained to the utmost the slender parental purse, ill spared from the hard labor necessary to support their families, gleeful and noisy over their luncheons of cold roasted sweet-potato — were proofs that the race has a chance in the future. Many a sorely pinched woman, a widow, or deserted by her husband, would not let her boy go out to service, “bekase I wants him to have some schoolin’.” One of the elder girls, a remarkably handsome octoroon with Grecian features and chestnut hair, attended recitations in the morning, and worked at her trade of dress-making in the afternoon. There were some grown men who came in the evening to wrestle, rather hopelessly than otherwise, with the depravities of our English spelling. One of them, a gray-headed person with round spectacles, bent on qualifying himself for the ministry, was very amusing with his stereotyped remark, when corrected of a mistake, “I specs likely you may be right, mum.”
It is a mooted point whether colored children are as quick at learning as white children. I should say not; certainly those whom I saw could not compare with the Caucasian youngster of ten or twelve, who is “tackling” French, German, and Latin ; they are inferior to him, not only in knowledge, but in the facility of acquisition. In their favor it must be remembered, that they lack the forcing elements of highly educated competition and of a refined home influence. A white lad gets much bookishness and many advanced ideas from the daily converse of his family. Moreover, ancestral intelligence, trained through generations of study, must tell, even though the rival thinking machines may be naturally of the same calibre. I am convinced that the negro as he is, no matter how educated, is not the mental equal of the European. Whether he is not a man, but merely, as “ Ariel ” and Dr. Cartwright would have us believe, “a living creature,”is quite another question, and of so little practical importance that no wonder Governor Perry has written a political letter about it. Human or not, there he is in our midst, four millions strong; and if he is not educated mentally and morally, he will make us trouble.
By way of interesting the adherents of the “living-creature” hypothesis, I offer the following letter, which I received from a negro “pundit, probably to be forwarded to his relatives: —
PITTSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, the 14 March 1867
To the freedmen Bureau in Green ville S. C.
Dear freinds the deep crants of rivous ceprate ous but i hope in God for hours prasous agine and injoying the same injoyment That we did before the war begun and i am tolbile know but much trubbel in mind and i hope my truble Will not Be all Ways this Ways for which enlist the roused up energies of nation and Which Would Be followed by the most disastrous consequences but for these master spirits That reign over the scene of their troubled birth thare are no tampests in a tranquil atmosphere no maountain Waves upon a great sea no cataracts in an even stream and rarely does a man of pereminent po Wars burst upon our admiration in the ever undisturbed flow of human affairs those men Who rise to sway the opinions or control the energies of a nation to move the great master springs of human action are developed By events of infinite moment they appear in those conflicts Where pollical or religious faith of nation is agitated and Where the temporal and eternal Welfare of millions is at issue if on please to inquire for Caline then inquire for marther live at Jane Ransom and Harriett that live at doctor Gant and if you heir from tham let me know if you Plese soon Writ to Pittsburg Pa to Carpenters No 28
Robard Rosemon that lived in Andison Destrect my farther and Carline my mother i remien your refactorate SAM SAM ROSEMON.
It will be observed that Sam has tackled some large subjects, if he has not satisfactorily thrown them. I recommend to him the “living creature” hypothesis, as being perhaps worthy of his attention.
I took much pride in the Greenville colored school, for I had aided to establish it. Its real founder, the person who can boast that without him it would not have existed, is Charles Hopkins, a full-blooded black from the low country, for many years a voluntary exhorter among his people, and now an ordained preacher of the Methodist Church. His education, gathered in the chance opportunities of a bondage of fifty years, is sufficient to enable him to instruct in the lower English branches. He is a meek, amiable, judicious, virtuous, godly man, zealous for the good of the freedmen, yet so thoroughly trusted by the whites, that he was able to raise a subscription of two hundred and sixty dollars among the impoverished citizens of Greenville.
During the summer of 1866 Hopkins obtained a room in a deserted hotel which had been seized by the government, and, aided by two others of his race, gave spelling and reading lessons to sixty or seventy scholars. For this labor he eventually received a modest remuneration from the New York Freedmen’s Union Association. When I assumed command of the sub-district the school had closed for the autumn, the hotel had been restored to its owners, and a schoolroom was needed. The officer whom I relieved had much to say concerning plans of rent or purchase, and earnestly recommended Hopkins to my consideration. It was at this time that the enthusiastic old man raised his subscription. Meanwhile I wrote to the Bureau Superintendent of Education, and received assurances of help in case a school was established.
His private purse reduced to a few dollars, his remaining means pledged for the support of his assistants, Hopkins purchased a storehouse belonging to the defunct State-arsenal works, and took a three years’ lease of a lot of ground in the outskirts of the village. A mass meeting of freedmen tore the building to pieces, moved it nearly two miles, and set it up on the new site. Then came much labor of carpenters, masons, and plasterers, and much expense for new materials. By the time the school-house was completed it had cost, together with the rent of the land, five hundred and sixty dollars, or more than twice the amount of the subscription. Hopkins was substantially bankrupt, and, moreover, he was drawing no salary.
It must be understood that the Bureau had no funds for the payment of teachers ; by the act of Congress it is limited in the matter of education to the renting and repairing of schoolhouses. Teachers are supported by generous individuals or by benevolent societies at the North, which converge into various larger organizations, and these into the Bureau. For instance, a sewing - circle in Lockport raises five hundred dollars for the blacks, or a wealthy gentleman in Albany gives the same sum from his private purse, and both forward their contributions to the Freedmen’s Union Association in New York City. But each of these subscribers naturally wishes to know by whom the money will be used, or has in view a worthy person who deserves a mission of some small profit and much usefulness. The consequence is that the Freedmen’s Union and the Bureau receive few unappropriated contributions, and are not able to do much toward the payment of negro teachers.
Application on application was forwarded, but Hopkins was grievously bullied by his creditors before he received a penny of salary. For his two colored assistants I could obtain nothing, and they left, after two months of unrequited labor, indebted to Hopkins and others for their support. The spirit of the Freedmen’s Union was willing, but its purse was weak. The Bureau supplies, on the other hand, were easily obtained, the cost of land and building slipping nicely into the appropriation for “ rent and repairs,’’ and the money arriving promptly enough to save Hopkins from falling into the hands of the sheriff. Eventually, too, he secured payment for all his services at the rate of twenty-five dollars a month ; and when I last saw him he was as nearly square with the world as the majority of his white fellow-citizens.
Meantime he had received ordination from the Charleston missionary branch of the Methodist Church North. With a commission as “ Professor” from the Freedmen’s Union Association, with the title of clergyman from one of the great branches of the Christian Church, with the consciousness of having founded the Greenville Elementary Freedmen’s School, he was a gratified man, and worthy of his happiness.
It must not be supposed that he is rolling in pelf. As the school keeps open only eight months in the year, as the Methodist missionary society is short of funds, and has never paid him the promised annual salary of one hundred dollars, and as the voluntary contributions of his congregation amount to perhaps seven dollars a quarter, his income is less than he could get by superintending a plantation. If any benevolent person will send a small check to the Rev. Charles Hopkins of Greenville, South Carolina, he will aid an excellent man who has not been properly remunerated for his share in the good work of this world.
Two white teachers joined the school toward the close of 1866, and the force has been gradually increased to five; Hopkins remaining in charge of the lower classes. The number of scholars on the rolls is something like three hundred. The higher classes are in geography, arithmetic, English grammar and written exercises, and declamation. Class-books of the latest issue are gratuitously supplied by a leading New York publishing-house. The discipline is admirable ; the monotony of study is relieved by gleesome singing; there is a cheerful zeal, near akin to hilarity; it is a charming spectacle. Most of the leading scholars thus far are from one family, — a dozen or so of brothers, sisters, and cousins, — all of mixed blood and mostly handsome. When I first saw those hazel or blue eyes, chestnut or flaxen heads, and clear complexions, I took it for granted that some of the white children of the village had seized this chance for a gratuitous education. I had met the same persons before in the streets, without suspecting that they were of other than pure Anglo-Saxon race.
The superior scholarship of these octoroons, by the way, is not entirely owing to their greater natural quickness of intellect, but also to the fact that before the emancipation they were petted and. encouraged by the family to which they belonged. A man’s chances go very far towards making up the actual man.
What is the negro’s social status, and what is it to be ? I was amused one Sunday morning by a little tableau which presented itself at the front door of my hotel. The Bureau Superintendent of Education having arrived on an inspecting tour, my venerable friend Hopkins had called to take him to church, and was waiting in his meek fashion under the portico, not choosing to intrude upon the august interior of the establishment. Having lately been ordained, and conceiving himself entitled to the insignia of his profession, he had put on a white neckcloth, which of course contrasted brilliantly with his black face and clothing. In the doorway stood a citizen, a respectable and kindly man, excellently well reconstructed too, and with as few of the Southern prejudices as one could have in Greenville. But he was lost in wonder at this novel spectacle ; he had a smile of mingled curiosity and amusement on his face to which I cannot do justice ; he seemed to be admitting that here was indeed a new and most comical era in human history. A nigger in regular clerical raiment was evidently a phenomenon which his imagination never could have depicted, and which fact alone — so much stranger than fiction — could have brought home to him as a possibility. Whether he believes at this day that he actually did see Hopkins in a black coat and white cravat is more than doubtful.
Not for generations will the respectable whites of the South, any more than those of the North, accept the negroes as their social equals. That pride of race which has marked all distinguished peoples, — which caused the Greeks to style even the wealthy Persians and Egyptians barbarians, — which made the Romans refuse for ages the boon of citizenship to other Italians, — which led the Semitic Jew to scorn the Hamitic Canaanite, and leads the Aryan to scorn the Jew,—that sentiment which more than anything else has created nationality and patriotism, — has among us retreated to the family, but it guards this last stronghold with jealous care. Whether the applicant for admission be the Chinaman of California or the African of Carolina, he will for long be repulsed. The acceptance of the negro as the social equal of the white in our country dates so far into the future, that, practically speaking, we may consider it as never to be, and so cease concerning ourselves about it. Barring the dregs of our population, as, for instance, the poor white trash of the South, the question interests no one now alive.
I had not been long in Greenville before I was invited to what Mr. Hopkins styled " a concert.” Repairing in the evening to the Bureau school-house, and seating myself amid an audience of freed-people, I found that the “concert ” consisted not of singing or other music, but of tableaux-vivans. At one end of the room there was a stage of chestnut boards, with a curtain of calico and an inner curtain of white gauze to assist the illusion. Presently the calico was withdrawn, and I beheld a handsome Pocahontas, her face reddened to the true Indian color as seen in colored woodcuts, a wealth of long black hair falling down her back, saving the life of a Captain John Smith with Grecian features and Caucasian complexion. Powhatan and his warriors were painted up to a proper ferocity, and attired with a respectable regard to the artistic demands of savageness. The scene was hardly uncovered before it was hidden again. I whispered to Hopkins that the spectators were not allowed a fair chance, and the consequence was a repetition. This time the curtain was kept open so long that Pocahontas, unable to bear the lengthened publicity, gave a nervous start which amazingly tickled the beholders.
Then came the Goddess of Liberty, a charming girl of seventeen, with wavy chestnut hair, rosy cheeks, and laughing eyes, quite imposingly draped in stars and stripes. Next followed a French family scene : one black face here as servant, and one or two mulatto ones as old folks ; but the grandeur and grace of the scene represented by blue eyes, auburn hair, and blond complexions. I was puzzled by this free mingling of the African and Caucasian races, and repaired to Hopkins for an explanation. He informed me that the “ concert ” had been got up by the octoroon family which I have heretofore mentioned, and that its members had furnished nearly all of the performers.
Great is color, and patrician is race. I have heard a mulatto candidate for the Convention declare to an assemblage of negroes: " I never ought to have been a slave, for my father was a gentleman.” I have heard him declaim: “ If ever there is a nigger government — an unmixed nigger government — established in South Carolina, I shall move.”
It may well be supposed that the pure blacks do not listen to such assumptions with satisfaction. Although this speaker was the most notable colored man in his district, although he was (for his opportunities) a person of remarkable intellect, information, and high character, he ran behind all the white candidates on his ticket.
In Greenville there was deep and increasing jealousy between the blacks and mulattoes. To some extent they formed distinct cliques of society, and crystallized into separate churches. When the mulattoes arranged a series of tableaux-vivans for the benefit of their religious establishment, the far more numerous blacks kept at a distance, and made the show a pecuniary failure. When the mulattoes asked that they might hold a fair in the Bureau school-house for the above-mentioned purpose, some of the blacks intrigued against the request, and were annoyed at my granting it.
This fair, by the way, was a pleasing sight. As Bureau officers and guardian of the freedmen, I of course went; so did all the dignitaries of the United States District Court then sitting in Greenville ; so also did three or four of the wiser and kindlier white citizens. The room was crowded, for the blacks had been unable to resist the temptations of a spectacle, and had forgotten temporarily their jealousy of the mixed race. As usual on such occasions, the handsomest and brightest girls sat behind the counters, and were extortionate in their prices. Wishing to make a gay present to my friend Hopkins, I was a little astonished at being called upon to pay five dollars for a frosted cake, and at learning that another, of extra size and grandeur, had been sold for twelve dollars. There were ice-creams and oysters and solider viands ; there were fans, perfumeries, and jim-crackeries for the ladies ; there were candies and toys for the children, slippers for the lords of creation. What the proceeds of the entertainment were I do not know ; but the treasurer of the occasion had a roll of greenbacks which excited my envy.
One incident was comical in its results. Standing with the Hon. Mr. Blank, a benevolent and liberal-minded Southerner, near one of the prettiest of the octoroon sisters, I called his attention to her Greek purity of profile. He replied that the circumstance was noways singular, and that one of the most notedly beautiful women in the State had been of that mixed race. A little colored tailor, who was at our elbows, half understood this statement, applied it to the girl behind the counter, and reported through the assemblage that the Hon. Mr. Blank had called Jenny W—the handsomest girl in South Carolina. A certain wicked young gentleman got hold of the story, and spread it all over town in the following outrageous fashion. Whatsoever belle of the Anglo-Saxon race he might encounter, he would say to her, “ Well,— hum, — you are very pretty, — but you are not as pretty as Miss Jenny W—.”
“ Who is Miss Jenny W—? ” would be the benighted and curious response.
Then would this intolerable young gentleman maliciously tell his tale, and go on his way laughing. The result was high excitement among the belles of the Anglo-Saxon race, and much feminine chaffing of the Hon. Mr. Blank. What made the matter worse was, that on the day of the fair he had accepted an invitation to a young ladies’ reading-society, and then had withdrawn it, because of the invitation from the humble race which held festivity at the Bureau school-house.
“ What! going to disappoint us for those people! ” a fair patrician had said to him. “We ought to cut your acquaintance.”
“ My dear, I can’t disappoint them,” he had replied, very wisely and nobly. “ When people whom God has placed so far beneath me ask for my presence, I must give it. It is like an invitation from the queen. It is a command.”
That had been comprehended and pardoned; but to call Jenny W— handsomer than them all! The Hon. Mr. Blank was bullied into making explanations.
But this gossip was matter of laughter, without a shade of serious umbrage or jealousy, so secure is the AngloSaxon race in its social pre-eminence. Between the mulattoes and negroes the question is far different; the former are already anxious to distinguish themselves from the pure Africans; the latter are already sore under the superiority thus asserted. Were the two breeds more equally divided in numbers, there would be such hostility between them as has been known in Hayti and Jamaica. The mixed race in our country is, however, so small, and its power of self-perpetuation so slight, that it will probably be absorbed in the other. Meantime it holds more than its share of intelligence, and of those qualities which go to the acquisition of property.
With a Bureau officer who was stationed in the lowlands of South Carolina, I compared impressions as to the political qualifications and future of the negro. “ In my district,” he said, “ the election was a farce. Very few of the freedmen had any idea of what they were doing, or even of how they ought to do it. They would vote into the post-office, or any hole they could find. Some of them carried home their ballots, greatly smitten with the red lettering and the head of Lincoln, or supposing that they could use them as warrants for land. Others would give them to the first white man who offered to take care of them. One old fellow said to me, ‘ Lord, marsr ! do for Lord’s sake tell me what dis yere’s all about.’ I explained to him that the election was to put the State back into the Union, and make it stay there in peace. ‘ Lord bless you, marsr ! I ’se might glad to un’erstan’ it,’ he answered. 'I ’se the only nigger in this yere districk now that knows what he’s up ter.’ ”
In my own district things were better. A region of small farmers mainly, the negroes had lived nearer to the whites than on the great plantations of the low country, and were proportionately intelligent. The election in Greenville was at least the soberest and most orderly that had ever been known there. Obedient to the instructions of their judicious managers, the freedmen voted quietly, and went immediately home, without the reproach of a fight or a drunkard, and without even a hurrah of triumph. Their little band of music turned out in the evening to serenade a favorite candidate, but a word from him sent them home with silent trumpets, and the night was remarkable for tranquillity. Even the youngsters who sometimes rowdied in the streets seemed to be sensible of the propriety of unusual peace, and went to bed early. Judging from what I saw that day, I should have halcyon hopes for the political future of the negro.
My impression is, although I cannot make decisive averment in the matter, that a majority of the Greenville freedmen had a sufficiently intelligent sense of the purport of the election. The stupidest of them understood that he was acting “ agin de rebs,” and "for de freedom.” None of them voted into the post-office or into hollow trees.
But more delicate and complicated questions will some day arise man a simple choice between slaveholding rebellion and emancipating loyalty. How then ? It is an unveiled future ; shooting Niagara — and after? I defy any one to prophesy with certainty whether more good or harm will come of this sudden enfranchisement of ignorant millions. for the present it works well, by contrast with what might have been ; we had but a choice of evils, and we have unquestionably taken the least. If it is not satisfactory to have manumitted ignoramuses voting on amendments to the Constitution, it is better than to leave the South in the hands of unreconstructed rebels, led by traitorous old rats of politicians. But every good is purchased at the expense of attendant evils, and this may demand more than we can conveniently pay for it.
There was a tragedy in my satrapy during the autumn of 1867. A meeting of Union-Leaguers, composed chiefly of negroes, but presided over by a white man, was held one evening in an inconsiderable hamlet near the southern border of Pickens District. According to an absurd and illegal fashion too common with such convocations, armed sentinels were posted around the building, with orders to prevent the approach of uninitiated persons. In a school-house not far distant the whites of the neighborhood had met in a debating-society.
A low-down white named Smith approached the League rendezvous, — as the sentinels declared, with threats of forcing an entrance ; as he stated, by mistake. Either by him or by one of the negroes a pistol was fired ; and then arose a cry that a “ reb ” was coming to break up the meeting. A voice within, said by some to be that of the president, Bryce, ordered, " Bring that man a prisoner, dead or alive.”
The negroes rushed out; Smith fled, hotly pursued, to the school-house; the members of the debating-club broke up in a panic, and endeavored to escape ; a second pistol was fired, and a boy of fourteen, named Hunnicutt, the son of a respectable citizen, fell dead. The ball entered the back of his head, showing that, when it struck him, he was flying.
Then ensued an extraordinary drama. The negroes, unaware apparently that they had done anything wrong, believing, on the contrary, that they were reestablishing public order and enforcing justice, commenced patrolling the neighborhood, entering every house, and arresting numbers of citizens. They marched in double file, pistol in belt and gun at the shoulder, keeping step to the “hup, hup ! ” of a fellow called Lame Sam, who acted as drill-sergeant and commander. By noon of the next day they had the country for miles around in their power, and a majority of the male whites under guard. What they meant to do is uncertain ; probably they did not know themselves. Their subsequent statement was that they wanted to find the disturber of their meeting, Smith, and also the murderer of Hunnicutt, whom they asserted to be a “reb.”
On the arrival of a detachment from the United States garrison at Anderson the whites were liberated, and the freedmen handed over to the civil authorities for trial before the next District Court. The Leaguers exhibited such a misguided loyalty to their order and each other, that it was impossible to fix a charge for murder on any one person, or to establish grounds for an indictment of any sort against Bryce. Eighteen were found guilty of riot, and sentenced to imprisonment; eight of homicide in the first degree, and sentenced to death.
Still no confessions ; the convicted men would not believe that they would be punished ; they were sure that the Yankees would save them, or that the Leaguers would rescue them; they refused to point out either the instigator or the perpetrator of the murder. It was not until the United States marshal of South Carolina assured them of the fallacy of their hopes that they dismissed them. Admissions were then made; nearly all coincided in fixing the fatal pistol - shot upon one; and that one was hung.
This affair is mainly important as showing how easily the negroes can be led into folly and crime. Themselves a peaceful race, not disposed to rioting and murder, they were brought without trouble to both by the counsels of the ignorant and pugnacious whites who became their leaders in the Loyal Leagues. Not three days after the Hunnicutt tragedy, a farmer from Pickens District called on me to obtain a permit for an armed meeting of Union men, and seemed quite dumbfoundered when I not only refused the permit, but assured him that, if he attempted to hold such a meeting, I would have him arrested. In justice to the Union men and the negroes, however, it must be remembered that they have been governed by the mailed hand ; and that, in seeking to enforce their political ideas by steel and gunpowder, they are but following the example of the high-toned gentlemen who formerly swayed the South. On the whole, we must admit that, although they have committed more follies and crimes than were at all desirable, they have committed fewer than might reasonably have been expected, considering the nature of their political education. In their rule thus far there has been less of the vigilance committee than in that which preceded it.
At least one of the political privileges of the negroes is already a heavy burden to them. Every day or two some ragged fellow stepped into my office with the inquiry, "I wants to know ef I've got to pay my taxes.”
“Certainly,” I was bound to reply, for the general commanding had declared that the civil laws were in force, and moreover I knew that the State was tottering for lack of money.
“But the sheriff, he’s put it up to eight dollars now, an’ when he first named it to me he said it was three, an’ when I went to see him about it arterward he said it was five. ’Pears like I can't git at the rights of the thing nohow, an’ they’s jes tryin’ to leave me without anything to go upon.”
“ My dear fellow, you should have paid up when you were first warned. The additions since then are charges for collection. The longer you put it off, the more it will cost you. You had better settle with the sheriff without any further delay, or you may be sold out.”
“ Wal, ’pears like it’s mighty hard on us, an’ we jes a startin’. I was turned off year befo’ las’ without a grain o’ corn, an’ no lan'. Boss, is they comin’ on us every year for these yere taxes ?”
“I suppose so. How else are the laws to be kept up, and the poor old negroes to be supported ?”
Exit freedman in a state of profound discouragement, looking as if he wished there were no laws and no poor old negroes.
The taxes were indeed heavy on labor, especially as compared with wages. Eight dollars a month, with rations and lodging, was all that the best field hand could earn in Greenville District; and those freedmen who took land on shares generally managed, by dint of unintelligent cultivation and of laziness, to obtain even less. I knew of able-bodied women who were working for nothing but their shelter, food, and two suits of cheap cotton clothing per annum.
As a result of this wretched remuneration there was an exodus. During the fall of 1866 probably a thousand freed-people left my two districts of Pickens and Greenville to settle in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Only a few had the enterprise or capital to go by themselves; the great majority were carried off by planters and emigration agents. Those who went to Florida contracted for twelve dollars a month, a cabin, a gardenpatch, fuel, and weekly rations consisting of one peck of meal, two pounds of bacon, and one pint of molasses ; but on reaching their destination, and seeing the richness of the land, they sometimes flew from their bargains and secured a new one, giving them one third of the crop in place of wages, and increasing the quantity and quality of their rations. The emigrants to Louisiana and Arkansas went on the basis of fifteen dollars a month, lodgings, patch, fuel, and food ; and then kept their contracts if they pleased, or violated them under the temptation of thirty, forty, and even fifty dollars a month. The negroes having never been taught the value of honesty by experience, nor much of its beauty by precept, are frequently slippery. The planters, pressingly in need of labor, were generally obliged to accede to their demands.
On the other hand, the emigration agents were accused of some sharp practice, and particularly of leaving their emigrants at points whither they had not agreed to go. A freedman who had contracted to work at Memphis might be landed at Franklin in Louisiana without knowing the difference. In short, the matter went on more or less smoothly, with some good results and some evil. Labor was transferred in considerable masses from where it was not wanted to where it was. The beneficent effects of the migration were of course much diminished by the accidental circumstances of the overflows in Louisiana, and the fall in the value of the cotton crop everywhere. Moreover, these negroes of the mountains suffered nearly as much from lowland fevers as if they were white men from our Northern frontiers.
Will the freedmen acquire property and assume position among the managers of our national industry ? Already a division is taking place among them : there are some who have clearly benefited by emancipation, and others who have not; the former are becoming what the Southerners term “decent niggers,” and the latter are turning into poor black trash. The low-down negro will of course follow the low-down white into sure and deserved oblivion. His more virtuous and vital brother will struggle longer with the law of natural selection ; and he may eventfully hold a portion of this continent against the vigorous and terrible Caucasian race; that portion being probably those lowlands where the white cannot or will not labor. Meantime the negro’s acquisition of property, and of those qualities which command the industry of others, will be slow. What better could be expected of a serf so lately manumitted ?
When I first took post in Greenville, I used to tell the citizens that soon their finest houses would be in possession of blacks ; but long before I left there I had changed my opinion. Although land in profusion was knocked down for a song on every monthly sale day, not more than three freedmen had purchased any, and they not more than an acre apiece. What little money they earned they seemed to be incapable of applying to solid and lasting purpose ; they spent it for new clothes and other luxuries, or in supporting each other’s idleness ; they remained penniless, where an Irishman or German would thrive. Encumbered with debt as are many of the whites of Greenville, deficient as they may be in business faculty and industry, they need not fear that black faces will smile out of their parlor windows. The barbarian and serf does not so easily rise to be the employer and landlord of his late master.
What is to become of the African in our country as a race ? Will he commingle with the Caucasian, and so disappear ? It is true that there are a few marriages, and a few cases of illegal cohabitation, between negro men and the lowest class of white women. For example, a full-blooded black walked twenty miles to ask me if he could have a white wife, assuring me that there was a girl down in his “settlement” who was “ a teasin’ every day about it.”
He had opened his business with hesitation, and he talked of it in a tremulous undertone, glancing around for fear of listeners. I might have told him that, as it was not leap year, the woman had no right to propose to him ; but I treated the matter seriously. Bearing in mind that she must be a disreputable creature, who would make him a wretched helpmeet, I first informed him that the marriage would be legal, and that the civil and military authorities would be bound to protect him in it, and then advised him against it, on the ground that it would expose him to a series of underhanded persecutions which could not easily be prevented. He went away evidently but half convinced, and I presume that his Delilah had her will with him, although I heard no more of this odd love affair. But such cases are as yet rare, and furthermore the low-downers are a transient race. Free labor and immigration from the North or Europe will extirpate or elevate them within half a century.
Miscegenation between white men and negresses has diminished under the new order of things. Emancipation has broken up the close family contact in which slavery held the two races, and, moreover, young gentlemen do not want mulatto children sworn to them at a cost of three hundred dollars apiece. In short, the new relations of the two stocks tend to separation rather than to fusion. Consequently there will be no amalgamation, no merging and disappearance of the black in the white, except at a period so distant that it is not worth while now to speculate upon it. So far as we and our children and grandchildren are concerned, the negro will remain a negro, and must be prophesied about as a negro.
But will he remain a negro, and not rather become a ghost ? It is almost ludicrous to find the “ woman question ” intruding itself into the future of a being whom we have been accustomed to hear of as a "nigger,” and whom a ponderous wise man of the East persists in abusing as “ Quashee.” There is a growing disinclination to marriage among the young freedmen, because the girls are learning to shirk out-of-door work, to demand nice dresses and furniture, and, in short, to be fine ladies. The youths have, of course no objection to the adornment itself; indeed, they are, like white beaux, disposed to follow the game which wears the finest feathers ; but they are getting clever enough to know that such game is expensive, and to content themselves with looking at it. Where the prettiest colored girls in Greenville were to find husbands was more than I could imagine.
There are other reasons why the blacks will not increase as rapidly as before the emancipation. The young men have more amusements and a more varied life than formerly. Instead of being shut up on the plantation, they can spend the nights in frolicking about the streets or at drinking-places ; instead of the monotony of a single neighborhood, they can wander from village to village and from South Carolina to Texas. The master is no longer there to urge matrimony, and perhaps other methods of increasing population. Negroes, as well as whites, can now be forced by law to support their illegitimate offspring, and are consequently more cautious than formerly how they have such offspring.
In short, the higher civilization of the Caucasian is gripping the race in many ways, and bringing it to sharp trial before its time. This new, varied, costly life of freedom, this struggle to be at once like a race which has passed through a two thousand years’ growth in civilization, will unquestionably diminish the productiveness of the negro, and will terribly test his vitality.
It is doubtless well for his chances of existence that his color keeps him a plebeian, so that, like the European peasant held down by caste, he is less tempted to destroy himself in the struggle to become a patrician.
What judgment shall we pass upon abrupt emancipation, considered merely with reference to the negro? It is a mighty experiment, fraught with as much menace as hope.
To the white race alone it is a certain and precious boon.