The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South
As slavery collapsed during the American Civil War, former slaves struggled to secure their liberty, reconstitute their families, and create institutions befitting a free people. But no problem loomed larger than finding a means of support. How would freedpeople feed and clothe themselves? Would they be able to obtain land, draft animals, and tools? Would they or would others benefit from their labor? What, concretely, would freedom mean? This volume of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation
examines the emergence of free labor
in the regions of the Upper South that either remained in the
Union or came under federal military control during the war:
tidewater Virginia and North Carolina, the District of Columbia,
middle and east Tennessee, northern Alabama, and the border
states of Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky. It describes the
experiences of former slaves as military laborers, as residents
of federally sponsored “contraband camps,” as wage laborers on
farms and in towns, and, in some instances, as independent
farmers and self-employed workers. It portrays the different – and often
conflicting – understandings of freedom advanced by the
many participants in the wartime evolution of free labor: former
slaveholders, Union military authorities, Northern missionaries,
and the freedpeople themselves.
The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South received the
Founders Award of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society and
the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the
Copies of The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South may be purchased from your local bookstore or ordered from Cambridge University Press, 110 Midland Avenue, Port Chester, NY 10573. Credit card orders may be placed online, by telephone (800-872-7423), or by fax (914-937-4712). 814 pp. ISBN 0-521-41742-2.
Sample Documents from the Volume
- Order by the Commander of the Department of Virginia, November 1, 1861
General John E. Wool, the Union commander at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, instituted an arrangement in which ex-slave men
employed by the army drew rations and were credited with wages–most of which were not paid to the workers but
applied to the support of ex-slave women, children, and aged or disabled men.
- Former Superintendent of the Poor in the Department of North
Carolina to the Chairman of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, May 25, 1863
Vincent Colyer, a Northern missionary who had supervised former slaves in Union-occupied North Carolina in 1862, described how they had assisted federal forces and supported themselves.
- Northern Minister to the Secretary of War, July 11, 1863
When federal authorities in Washington, D.C., were unable to obtain enough military laborers locally, they ordered the
forcible impressment of black men in coastal Virginia and North Carolina, wrenching hundreds from their homes and families.
- North Carolina Freedmen to the Commander of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, November 20, 1863
Black men who had been forcibly impressed to perform military labor for the Union army addressed an indignant petition to General Benjamin F. Butler.
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- Testimony by the Commissioner for the Organization of Black
Troops in Middle and East Tennessee before the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, November 23, 1863
Major George L. Stearns described how the Union army's widespread employment of black men as military laborers and soldiers was undermining slavery in Tennessee, despite its continued legal standing.
- Testimony by a Northern Woman, January? 1864
The wife of a Northern army chaplain recalled the fate of a settlement of black families that located with an officer's
permission near Fort Albany, in northern Virginia close to Washington, D.C., until an order from higher military
authority ousted them.
- Keeper of Sandy Point Lighthouse to a Baltimore Judge, November 6, 1864
Shortly after a new state constitution abolished slavery in Maryland, a unionist observer described the efforts of local citizens to nullify the former slaves' freedom.
- Provost Marshal of the 2nd Subdistrict of North Missouri to the
Provost Marshal General of the Department of the Missouri, January 12, 1865
Slaveholders in Missouri who expected a state constitutional convention to abolish slavery showed less interest in holding on to former slaves than in shedding responsibility for them, a Union officer informed his superior.
- Statement of a Tennessee Freedwoman, February 27, 1866
Months after the war, one of four black women whose duties in military hospitals had taken them to Georgia, Tennessee, and
Alabama recounted their travels before an official of the Freedmen's Bureau to whom they had applied for assistance in
claiming unpaid wages.
- Testimony by an Alabama Freedman before the Southern Claims
Commission, July 31, 1872
With slavery in northern Alabama unravelling during 1862, Alfred Scruggs became free in fact if not at law. In postwar testimony, Scruggs described how he and his wife had labored to acquire livestock of their own, only to lose it to federal impressment parties in 1864.