Freedmen’s Bureau Report of 1 Sep 1865

Office Assistant Commissioner

Bureau Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands

Tallahassee, FLA Nov 1st 1865

Maj. Gen. O.O.Howard

Commissioner of B.R.F and A.L



            I have the honor to report that in compliance with Special Order No. 45 Bureau R.F. & A.L.  I arrived in Florida on the first of September and as early as possible entered upon the duties of my office, I was however nearly three weeks unable to perform duty by reason of ill health.

            Upon my arrival I learned that the policy adopted and orders issued by Gen. Vogdes, Newton, and Foster who had successively been in command of the State District or Department of Florida had been most salutary and opened the field of labor for me very favorably.  The State had been traversed by Armies comparatively little.  On the Eastern Coast and partially on the Gulf Coast society had become somewhat unsettled but in nearly all of the remainder of the state both the White and Colored population were remaining quietly at their homes.  There was a slight accumulation of freedmen at Fernandina, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville and perhaps a very few at some other tours, but as a general thing they were at their homes on the plantations.

            Immediately after the surrender of Gen. Jos. E. Johnstone’s army Gen. Gilmore issued his proclamation announcing the freedom of the negroes, soon after Gen. Vodges issued an order directing the planters to make contracts with their former slaves.  By many this was done, but as no directions were given designating the sum to be paid for services the amount allowed to Freemen varied according to the disposition of the Planter to do well by freedmen or otherwise.  I once entered into contracts to give one half the entire crop, while others not a tenth part enough to furnish one suit of plantation clothing at the end of the year.  A few of the most unjust of these contracts here since been annulled while many of them remain as first made, neither party having yet made appeal to officers to have them rectified.  The first contract varied all the way from one half the crop to nothing in fact.

            On July 3rd Gen. Newton issued an order directing his officers to see that contracts were made and on July 7th in a circular letter he directed that all deal one-fourth the products of the soil should be given to the laborers, and from that date one-fourth was the standard contract.

            Gen. Newton early in his command of the State had instituted a thorough system of patrolling throughout the State for the purpose of maintaining order with all classes of people.  The system worked greatly to preserve order both with White citizens and freedmen and retain the freedmen at their homes until the disaffection naturally resulting from the sudden changes in the systems of labor but should pass away.

            The policy of Gen. Vodges in controlling the affairs of the freemen was much the same as that adopted by Gen. Newton.  I have not a file of Gen. Vodges orders but received my information from a personal interview.

            Maj. Gen. Foster in taking command of the Dept. on the first of August, approved of and adopted the provisions and regulation prescribed by Gen. Newton in behalf of the Freedmen.  He also adopted Gen. Newton’s policy of patrolling the State for the purpose of maintaining order throughout the State.  Much force was given to this arrangement by the prompt and severe punishment of a few citizens who had used violence towards the freedmen, and also in several cases the immediate punishment of freedmen for misdemeanors which were brought to the cognizance of these officers on patrolling duty.  The direct interest these General officers have taken in behalf of the right of the freedmen and their exactions to harmonize the relations which did and must continue to exist between the white population and the freedmen, have tended much to benefit both as well as to lighten my own labors.

            On the 13th Sept I issued the first Circular from this office in which I announced my concurrence in the regulations prescribed by Gen. Orders and Circulations from Hd. Qrs. Dist and Dept FLA and relating to the affairs of the Freedmen.

            Several officers had previously been detailed by order of Gen. Foster to report to Gen. Saxton  Asst Com. for S.C, Geo, and FLA, for duty.  These officers were now directed to report to me, but they were not sufficiently distributed over the State, to meet all the requirements of the Bureau.  Upon my application Gen. Foster is said Gen order No. 32, Sept 30th, in which he directed the Comdg Officers of Posts to report to me as Agents ex officers, of the Bureau, for the Districts within their military supervision.

            This system simplified the working of the Bureau much and tended to promote the welfare of all parties.  These officers have done well.  It would probably have been better to have had officers who could have given their entire attention to the work but the death of officers was very great throughout the State and this arrangement was the best that could be made under the circumstances.

            I have been informed from all sources that when the first announcement was made that the negroes were free they exhibited a strong tendency to leave their homes and wander about the country.  Unfortunatly transportation was freely given on the RailRoads, and thus many of them were taken so far from their homes, they have not returned.  This migratory spirit lasted from four to eight weeks when they began to return to their homes and remain quiet.  This unfortunatly too happened when the corn and Cotton required special care and might have been materially increased if it had had that care.  Still this disposition to wander was not universal and many, plain retained their hands on the plantation and many of them increased their cotton crops by planting largely after the surrender of Johnstone and the restriction of one acre per hand was take off.  The instances will be by no means rare in which the cotton crop of single planters will be as valuable this year as in any one year before.  I am not disposed to believe that the tendency of the negro to wander about the country was owning alone to the negro, but in a considerable degree the disposition shown by his former owner and to the unwillingness of the owner to adapt himself to the new condition of the negro.  As a general thing the freedmen have returned to the plantation within two months from the announcement of their freedom.  The planters had planted largely of Corn, which has been cared for and will be harvested and though by no means a full crop will be made which is far from a failure.  The same is true of Cotton.  Of these items I can speak more definitely in the report for November.

            On the 8th Oct I left Tallahassee in company with Gen. Foster to make a tour of inspection on the Gulf Coast.  We visited St. Marks, Apalachicola, Pensacola, Fort Jefferson, Key West, Tampa and Cedar Keys.  Of all these points I found the freedmen working well and receiving very little assistance from the Government and at no one of these places had large numbers of them congregated.  Reports to the same effect reached me from all points of Western and Southern Florida. 

From some unknown cause the freedmen in Hernando Co. are doing but little work.  This is the only marked exception I have heard of.  Making allowances for the wonderful revolution the negro has passed through the present year in passing from Slavery to Freedom and being by ignorance and surrounding circumstances entirely unprepared for such a change and also if we conclude which I do not that doctrine universally believed here, that the negro is more indolent than the White race.  I think the Freedmen have done well, they have succeeded in raising some Cotton and Considerable corn.  The whites have by their own manual labor done comparativly nothing.

            The remoteness of many of the military Posts and the great lack of mail and other facilities for communication throughout the State, have prevented me from obtaining so accurate information on all points as I could have wished.  It has also prevented me from making the regular reports as required at the B.R.F & A.L.  I have and will endeavor to meet the requirements of the Bureau so far as lies within my control.

            I have adopted the policy of locating no freedmen on lands, as provided for by the Act of Congress approved March 3rd 1865 and there have been no such settlement made under my supervision If there were any made before my arrival here I have no official information of them.

            Considerable property in Apalachicola was turned over in October to the Bureau by Nobles Treasury Agent at that place, but I have been unable to get a definite description of it yet.  It will be immediately returned to the original owners in compliance with Special Field Order No 5 Bureau R.F & A.L date of Oct 30th no other property in this State has been received by the Bureau.  The only sources of revenue to the Bureau is from the property at Apalachicola, but no funds have yet reached this office from there.  We shall immediatly be deprived of this one source of revenue.


The liabilities of this Bureau now are

            S.M Kingston               citizen employee                       $87.00

            H.A. Corley                 do                 do                       $25.00

            For Garden Seeds for distribution                                 $50.00

            Ex. Company 2 Boxes from B.R.F &                            $17.00

            Postage Stamps                                                            $5.00

            Teacher, Female- Pensacola -bill not in-           




Chaplain Moore, Supt Instruction for the State is actually engaged in organizing his work and with a good prospect of success.  But my own late arrival in the State has put this work back to an unfortunate extent.

            There are thirteen schools of which I am informed, in the State, organized and taught by colored teachers and thirteen teachers sent from the North now teaching, these schools are self supporting.  The attendance of these schools is large.  The school interests are now only taking form.

            The Orphan Asylum at Fernandina, organized and conducted by Miss. C. Merrick has sixty five inmates and is a most admirable institution.  Miss Merrick has exhibited great energy and fine executive ability in the management of the Asylum from its organization to the present time.  It is a perfect success and a model institution.

            The average number of rations issued per month in September and October, I have procured reports to about 18.000

            The rumor that the lands of the plantation are to be divided among the freedmen is quite prevalent all through the State and by reason of it there is on the part of the Freedmen a reluctance to make contracts for labor until after Christmas when they say the lands are to be distributed.  This rumor appears to have been published first By Gen. McCook’s Calvary when this portion of the State was first occupied and also currency has been given to it by the colored Troops who have garrisoned the State and had formerly served on the South Carolina Coast where the freedmen were allowed to settle upon abandoned plantations.  I think very little serious ill will result from it and yet at present it is annoying to the Planters.

            In this State there is comparatively little crime being committed.  There have been three or four cases of murder or manslaughter a very few cases of citizens shooting negroes.  But taking it all in I think no more than the people have always been accustomed to.

            The moral code of the State has improved rapidly for the last few weeks, under military rule.

            Since my arrival in the State I have been greatly annoyed for assistant officers and clerks and at times I have been entirely alone.  This has arisen from various causes.  The rapid mustering out of those once detailed, the scarcity of officers in the State from which details could be made, and the failure of officers to report who had been ordered by the War Dept. to do so.  Your own details which were made on the 30th subject to the approval of the War Dept. will place me quite at ease in conducting my labors.

            I think I have had so far as was consistent with surrounding circumstances the assistance of Gen. Foster and Gen. Newton.  Gov. Mann has also taken a lively interest in the affairs of the Bureau, and takes as deep interest in the welfare of the Freedmen.

            Thus far in my labors, I see good cause to be confident of the future success of our labors in Florida.  The freedmen show a disposition to be industrious.  The most sanguine could hardly have hoped for more from them.  Wherever they are treated well they are working well.  The disposition of the planters as a general thing is to treat the freedmen well and to make a fair trial of free labor.  The planters are naturally feeling disappointed in the termination of the late struggle and in the loss of property which they had invested in Slaves.  It is seldom they show a disposition to ill treat the freedmen and cases of personal violence are of rare occurrence.

            The high price of Cotton is of great advantage to the laborer in making it an object of the planter to employ him and also pay him good wages.

            I am hopeful of the Future.

I have the honor to be General

Very Respectfully

Your obs sevt.

TW Osborn

Col Asst. Gen. B.R.F. & A.L.


** This was a report that was submitted to Washington D.C. by Thomas Osborn who was the Agent in charge of the Florida District.  Since the Bureau was ran by the War Dept. all agents were also military officers.  This is one of the first reports submitted on the progress of the Freedmen in the State in fact this report was submitted just after the close of the Civil War.  Thomas Osborn had just taken his post here in Florida and toured the state to inspect his district.  He makes note of many different things the Bureau was assisting the Freedmen with.  He makes special note that many of the Freedmen throughout the state have already made arrangements and contract to work however a set wage had not been established until the Bureau arranged that one fourth of all crops would go to laborers.  The only exception in the State was Hernando County, it is not exactly clear as to the difference between Hernando and the other parts of the State since several things were discussed in the mentioning.  This report shows some of the work and progress of the Freedmen’s Bureau not only in the state but right here in our area.