The operations of the freedmen's Bureau in Virginia.
has just received the official report of Colonel Brown
, Assistant Commissioner
of the Freedmen's Bureau
for the State of Virginia
, relative to the operations of the system in that State.
The report is prefaced by a reference to the condition of society in the State
when he assumed charge of his office:
The problem to be solved was how to provide for the protection, elevation and government of nearly half a million of people suddenly freed from the bonds of a rigorous control, acquainted with no law but that of force, ignorant of the elementary principles of civil government and of the first duties of citizenship, without any provision for the future wants of themselves and families, and entertaining many false and extravagant notions in respect to the intentions of the Government
The citizens generally afforded no assistance in meeting these difficulties.
Stripped to a great extent of ready resources by the operations of the war, they were unable to allow these people their just dues, much less any charitable assistance.
In some sections of the State
public meetings had been held, and the citizens had entered into covenant not to pay more than five dollars ($5) per month to able-bodied men, not to rent lands to the freedmen, nor to give employment to any without a certificate from their former owners.
Many of the citizens, under the control of tradition, habit and education, only sullenly acquiesced in the freedom of their former slaves.
They regarded the colored population as necessarily and appropriately servile and unfit for freedom; and stimulated by the feeling that the late slaves were in some way responsible for the failure of their cause, they were wholly disqualified from co-operating in the work of the bureau.
Another class, numerically small, but of the best talent, culture, and influence, not only accepted the situation, but with a wise fore-sight and noble patriotism were ready to co-operate with the Government
for the speediest restoration of tranquillity and law, and to assist the bureau in its endeavor to bring the highest good to all classes out of present evils.
A third, and more numerous class, because forced to acknowledge the freedom of their former slaves, wished either to effect their entire removal from the State
or bind them by such contracts as would allow them but little more freedom than they formerly possessed.
The superintendents were further instructed to protect the negroes in their rights as freemen, to see that they were not in any way oppressed by their former masters, and to cultivate friendly relations between the two classes; to assist in the organization and maintenance of schools; to discourage as far as possible the disposition of the freedmen to remove from one locality to another, except so far as it might be necessary for uniting members of separated families, or to find profitable employment.
To urge upon them the importance of making contracts for their labor, and to fulfill the same when made; to aid them by their advice when necessary to prevent their being defrauded; but in all other cases to leave them free to make their own bargains.
To furnish rations, medicine and medical attendance for the helpless and destitute not provided for by their former owners; but not to issue rations to persons able to work, for whom employment could be found.
The late slaves have been fully protected in their rights as freedmen, and the exceptional instances where their rights were for a time denied are no longer-heard of. It is believed that there is not within the State
a person who does not understand and successfully assert his rights to freedom.
The extraordinary eagerness of the freedmen for the advantages of schools has been met as far as the resources of the bureau and the charitable zeal of its friends abroad would allow.
There are about eleven thousand five hundred pupils receiving instruction from one hundred and ninety-five teachers.
Numerous and urgent appeals come from remote and isolated localities for teachers and books, to which it has been impossible to respond for want of school-rooms and suitable quarters for teachers.
Their progress in learning is such as would warrant a much larger expenditure of money and effort.--Many citizens, adhering to the ideas and customs of the past, strongly oppose these movements, while others endorse and encourage them.
The sentiment of the community is gradually changing in favor of educating the freedmen.
The irritation existing between the whites and the freedmen immediately after the cessation of hostilities has greatly abated, and instances of personal violence are becoming rare.
Referring to the disposition of the freedmen to improve their condition, the commissioner says:
The capacity of the freedmen of Virginia
to take care of themselves, even under adverse circumstances, is best shown in the southeastern part of the State
During the war nearly seventy thousand were gathered here, on a limited territory, in extreme destitution, and yet at this time only four thousand four hundred and twelve are receiving Government aid, and about one-half of this number are of the families of soldiers.
Many have rented or purchased comfortable homes, some have saved considerable sums of money, and nearly five thousand of their children, decently clad and furnished with books of their own purchasing, are attending schools.
During the month of October 235,786 rations were issued to 11,622 persons, or 7,606 rations per day, the number of persons receiving rations being reduced from the previous month thirty per cent.
There are eight hospitals, at present occupied by 700 persons.
The commissioner represents that he has charge of 56,000 acres, held as confiscated or abandoned lands.
The rights of the freedmen in the crops and improvements on the land restored have been secured.
The result of the cultivation of these lands by the freedmen is not yet known, as the crops have not been fully harvested, but it is believed to be satisfactory.
The special courts organized for the freedmen are successfully accomplishing the ends aimed at in their establishment, and are giving general satisfaction.
By them justice has been more generally received than could have been done by any other available means.
Notwithstanding the many embarrassments under which the bureau has labored, it is believed to have succeeded in promoting the welfare of the class in whose interest it was created, and to have afforded important aid in securing good order in the State