Letter from C. B. Stewart to Andrew J. Hamilton, November 27, 1865

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Letter from C. B. Stewart to Andrew J. Hamilton, November 27, 1865


Stewart, a former store keeper and trader in slaves, writes to Texas's first Reconstruction governor about fears of a "negro insurrection" near Waverly and Danville, sparked by rumors among freedpeople about a general distribution of property around Christmas. He also discusses the transition from slavery to free labor and argues that the Freedmen's Bureau has undermined the production of cotton in the region.


Papers of Texas Governor Andrew Jackson Hamilton, Texas State Library and Archives, Box 301-51, Folder 37


Published here by W. Caleb McDaniel


November 27, 1865


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Danville, Nov 27, [18]65

Govr. Hamilton

Dear Sir

Some three weeks since, I laid before you (by the uncertain channel of mail) my pet[itio]n for pardon to Pres[iden]t Johnson, at same time addressing you on the same subject, of which I have yet heard nothing, presuming it may have come safely to you and that it will receive due consideration, that is what you may deem proper. The petn was dictated to a friend, by myself, while in that emotional state of mind common, generally so, to persons turning the corner of convalescence, away from the scythe and hour glass. I have reread the copy, and still feel the truth of what I stated to the President, altho, if not accounted for by [cautioning] that it was written from the bed of prostrating sickness, it might appear fulsome. Should this Petn have come to your hands, I beg favor, if what consideration you may be pleased to afford me or it, no evidence [if relief?] is averred were deemed necessary as I felt the truth of the statement made, but if deemed essential I will readily supply them from reliable authority and the citizens of the country.

In my letter to yourself, a matter was mentioned of serious moment, to which by other sources as well as my own information, request was made me to address you. Meaning the probability (coming from varied information) almost certainly of negro insurrection at or about Christmas &c. I wish to mention what we have for our fears. For about 3 weeks, a negro blacksmith shop in Danville, of 3 hands, was mainly engaged in forging Butcher and Bowie Knives for other negroes,: the reason of this demand, so extensive, was not obtained.

A negro, employed of Ed. Tobb Esq. of Waverly, a very reliable gentleman & planter, came to him, said "if you please pay me wages as I wish to leave." This freedman was very reliable, a favored one from his trustworth. Mr. T. said, Why any complaint? None said the man, but I want to go away before Christmas, the black men are going to raise, fight the white people and I do not want to be here, or they will kill me if I do join them. Mr. T. was worried and his observation has led him to the conviction that the intent to an insurrection prevails generally.

Col. Offutt, sug. planter, who has at their request been preparing to carry his freedmen back to Louisiana, was waited on by Henry, a sort of foster brother, who said to him, we must get away before Christmas, the black men are going to make war on the whites, and we want to get away before then, so as we will not be troubled. Col. Offutt's place (rented) is 5 miles west of the town of Montgomery, dist. from Danville 20 mil, from Waverly 30 miles. Se we see similar (probably organized) intention [running] *E & West& 30 miles.

At Danville Dr. Hughes had in his employ a freedman Ben Wood a steady trusty negro. Ben came on Monday and declined taking a Sow & Pigs he had bought of the Dr. All right said the Dr, who enquired what had happened. B. responded, We are going to have the white people fighting one another Christmas, about Corn and other things. All the Corn [crops?] are to be burned and there will be no corn to be had to feed my hogs. It seems those who have made Corn have made, oweing to the negroes not working in the latter part of corn working, and late planting (impossible otherwise from spring rains) short, in cases very short crops Corn. Now these, short of corn, having to raise their own hogs now, and dependent upon obtaining negro labour or having good supplies, cannot now safely sell corn, which to the no corn makers appears very wrong & it has excited hostility. There are sir, you know, by personal knowledge, in all communities, in the times when law, order, morality & religion prevail and enforce good social conduct, as the rule, men of lawless natures, whom nothing but the strong arm of the law, and social law, prevent from outrages. This lawlessness is too often evident in [grocery?], race relation riots, and murders. These are the original "jay hawk" elements. Who now, under incident demoralization, are ready for all adventures, promising plunter & power to do as they please, and the freedmen under the different incentives laid before them, become willing instruments of the designs of the lawless. I could not point to any one hereabouts as engaged in this mischief, but if I could, it would be unsafe to life and building to bring them forward to view. We see constantly strange negroes passing about. These may be emissaries establishing concerted measures for a "day certain" for insurrection. Also Negroes having Guns, mostly Enfields, going [pretendly?] hunting, who before they were freed, knew as much of Deer hunting as many [professors?] do of the kingdom of heaven. These Enfields are arms which our soldiers, upon the "break up" threw away (improperly) at the dist stations, and the negroes have taken and traded them about among themselves. We are satisfied that a search would bring out a good many which we think are held in secret for some occassion. These Guns we think should be gathered by the county authorities and handed over to Govt.

In conversation the negroes do not deny that other negroes talk of "rising up" and dividing out but they themselves are not concerned.

Even Sir if there was no preconcerted insurrection, or one incited by "lawless persons" fears are justly to be entertained, that at Christmas, the negroes freed from the 1865 contracts, and collecting in large numbers at the Towns & Villages, will (particularly if liquor be supplied to them by persons whose desire of gain overpowers all propriety), feel the strength and momentum of numbers, first insult, then break open stores, supply themselves with liquor, and proceed to indiscriminate outrage, violence, slaughter, and burning &c &c. No one who has observed the negro closely will, or can give him credit, for higher morality or any of the virtues than the East Indian races. The docility & good conduct of either, like that of many of the white races, solely depending on the restraints & penalties which the laws enforce. Give the negroes any power either in insurrection, or otherwise, and we would have no more mercy, or less cruelty, than that practised at San Domingo, in the late revolt in the British E. Indies, or now raging in Jamaica. So if once they make head at any point, aided by white men, and can procure arms a war of races is inevitable. What has a material effect on the unenlightened negro mind, is precisely the same in its effect upon the enlightened mind of the white man, as you and I have personally experienced in ourselves, and equally witnessed in or upon others, it is this fact, an incident to our human being, and a necessary consequences to the structure, forces, and elements of our minds, to wit, that our hopes and wishes are ever operating, swerving our judgements, from the proper conclusions, which the premises legitimately demand from us, as the true ones.

Negro-gogues (permit [me] to coin a word) have been every where impressing the minds of the Negroes, that at the New Year a general distribution of farms, lands & property will be made among them. And notwithstanding Genls Gregory and Strong, backed by an imposing retinue, have most plainly every where, in print & speech, told them [no?], they return in a day or two to their own belief, founded on their hopes & wishes, that such will be the event. They say further that those who address them are not the "Great men," who are to come on after a while, and give to them what they desire. The more acute say, that mere freedom is nothing and therefore more is justly to be expected to render the freedom of any practical benefit to them---or so said in substance.

Again they believe that in the event of any struggle between the negroes and their former owners, the Federal forces will take no part against them. What is here stated is gathered in some part from themselves, both here and at Montgomery, and information from reliable gentlemen, who have visited me in my illness. I was a store keeper here some years, several years since. In my negro trading I was very particular not only to be correct but to make them see I was so in fact. Since then I have employed many to labour for me, and to a degree I have their confidence and good will, many have also been to see me in my confinement and I have questioned them generally, with answers, that leave no doubt upon our minds hereabouts, that some plan is intended of the nature of an insurrection and division of property at Christmas.

The Lectures delivered by Gen. Gregory to the freedmen, show an earnest desire on his part to bring "Capital and Labor harmoniously and productively together in the [renewed?] products of our great National Staple, now a necessary means of National Solvency. For every thought and expression the [Humanitarian?] and protector of downtrodden races crops out & discloses itself. He, Gen. G. charges the negro of his duties and obligations, but at same so emphatically informs the freedmen of his rights and freedom of volition, that the obligations he makes first known to them is largely effaced in their minds by the more agreeable impressions of freedom in every way they can understand it to please themselves. They are told that they must at once enter into engagements for employment in 1866, which is [offsetten?] again by telling them how much they ought to have, to wit be found in every thing, and take 1/4 of the crop, less than that the Bureau will not approve. So if he cannot get employment on such terms, his almost authorised not to work at all. In all we could see or hear it appears that Genl. G. falls into the error of all Philanthropic Theorists, which by the way wholly unfits them for the turst exercised, however good & true their own life conduct and motives, & measuring every thing, or human being, like P by his Iron bedstead, or Iron will, as the case may be. Genl. G. practically (disclosed by his speeches) takes up the theory that the White Southron is naturally and forever the enemy and oppressor of the black man. Conversely the Northern Man and liberator the fast friend of the negro, while the negro the downtrodden &c requires for his very life and existence the continued interposition of the Philanthropist. Under this treatment, the negro will not make Cotton, which is the life blood of the Union in its present incipient bankruptcy and possible disintegration thereby of that Union (which we the Southern people now ardently desire should continue. Are we not strangely changed Eastward & Southward?

Gen. Strong, Inspector Genl of the proceedings of the F. Bureau, spoke but little, simply enjoining and requiring the Freedman to make his contract at once for the year 1866, and keep it faithfully or if he failed he should lose all his labours and be brought to answer to the Government. Everyone knowing any thing of Negro character, or rather of his mental and corporeal nature, knows full well that no fines or penalties of the kind will enforce his labour. We cannot and do not desire to return him to his former relations of servitude to us. The "evil" is broken up and we are to be the real beneficiaries, if not all of us now living, our children will be. All that we want now of the negro is that he makes sufficient provisions, and makes cotton enough to take the Union out of insolvency and restore us freed from taxation and freed from negro institutions to our preexisting conditions of prosperity. 5 good grops of cotton in all the states will effect it, but probably under the present devasted condition of the States, the uncertainties of seasons, worms &c., it will take ten years to obtain 5 large crops or its equivalent. Texas is the state of all the South that can now make cotton, but with the Bureau on the planters shoulders, with the negro continually told that he is free, we shall make but little. The negro cannot be depended on for the continued necessary labour which alone secures the cotton crops, requiring the entire year.

We are practically subjugated. The Negro must take the same condition to which the Union man and the seceder are alike subject. He must be made to submit to it. It is a duty on his part to the Govt. in return for his freedom to make cotton for the benefit (practically) of the Government. When the Bureau is, or if it be early, removed there will be some hope for cotton, if done quickly, but we fear relief will come too late---Jany is so close at hand, to secure a crop of cotton. ...

[another page in this vein]

... I have wandered away, so "a revenir nous moutons," Can you not afford us some aid or protection against negro outrages. Louisiana is organizing her militia. We are certainly here in Texas as reliable and loyal, and many think it essentially necessary. The mere fact of such organization will go largely to prevent an insurrection. Please give the subject you good and early consideration. ...

Very respectfully, Sr,

Your servant & well wisher

C. B. Stewart

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