Edgar Gregory, letter to Harris

Edgar M Gregory--letter to Benjamin Harris, 25 January 1866

[list of letters transcribed from the Texas Assistant Commissioner]

[source: National Archives, RG 105, microfilm publication M821, reel 1 (Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Texas, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869, Letters Sent, Volume 1, pages 109-113)]

"I sometimes think that long after the oppressed race shall rise into rights, duties and capacities so haughtily denied the dominant class will not have overcome their contempt for the Negro. Its roots will even then exist and trouble the land."
Edgar Gregory
Bureau R. F. and A. L.
State of Texas
Galveston January 20th 1866.

Harris, Benj G Esq and
Foreman Grand Jury of
Panola [?] County Texas
Gent [?]

I have received your communication dated Carthage, Texas Dec 9th 1865 addressed to Col. Hall Sub Asst. Coms and by him referred to these Headquarters.

In your complaint the freedmen of that County are charged with violation of contract with Vagrancy, Insolence robbery, drunkeness [sic] and General vicious conduct. the appointment of a Provost Marshal is requested in order to restrain and govern said freedmen, and one of your fellow citizens is recommended for that position.

While from by far the larger part of the state we learn by the most ample testimony that the blacks are the most docile, industrious orderly, free from serious crime, and with all the substratum that goes to make the good citizen, it is but rational that those who live remote from the offices of our agents, not knowing whom to trust or what to believe, comprehending their relation but imperfectly as to their former masters but imperfect masters, will gain the knowledge of their rights and duties more slowly than those who live near the points of information and relief.

But the disorders arising from this cause are local and transient, they are fast remeding [sic] themselves. The freedmen at the most distant points are learning the duties of the hour.

The same incitements that quicken the industry of other men in free societies are felt by them.

Such [??; looks like -ic-] treatment furnishes all the incentive they need though they are not over anxious to work for nominal wages with the prospect of being defrauded even of their [sic; sc. their wages?] as has happened to thousands during the year just past.

"The poor toilers of any outlaw state, thus suddenly unchained, would have taken their rulers by the throat and carried carnage into every homestead in the South."

[page 110] In those counties where the people are well inclined [sic; sc. toward] the Negro when they comprehend that a narrow and unjust policy toward them does not pay, he is rendering faithful Services for wages and doing better work than the lash could whip out of him, the business goes bravely on. Complaints are few. Idleness and theft are unknown and the prospects of an abundant crop are so flattering that the planters having engaged all the available labor of the neighborhood are sending long distances for freedmen of other localities, and hiring them [sic; sc. for?] fair prices.

In general the Freedmen of Texas present a record which for Service and order is most commendable. Turned headlong into freedom without preparation, without premonition, by men at war with their masters, and told that they have been wronged and have a heritage of vengeance, they exhibit in their industry, docility and patience an example beyond the expectation of man. No people have ever been so tried. None ever so stood trial.

The poor toilers of any Outlaw State, thus Suddenly unchained would have taken their rulers by the throat and carried carnage into every homestead in the South. Said Gov Hamilton in his excellent address to the Freedmen of Texas, "Your conduct during the late war was such as to win the good oppinion [sic] of all the world. During that terrible struggle you remained quiet, Although you knew that your freedom or continued slavery depended on the result. You disappointed both friends and enemies by a forbearance and christian reliance upon God's providence which has elevated you in the oppinion [sic] of the civilized world. The character you have just made together with your freedom is your wealth."

The wonder is not that disorders, misconceptions, wrongs should have sometimes occured, but that they are so few and slight.

The Bureau of Freedmen is here to superintend and organize their labors, to [page 111] defend their rights and inculcate their duties, and to give them the control of themselves subject solely to the common law.

While this Bureau has jurisdiction over all matters that concern the freedman, its uniform policy is to avoid class legislation.

It cordially invites the civil authorities to take cognizance of all offences committed by or against the negro, and it interferes only when the state refuses to act, or when manifest injustice is done. In a word the Bureau leaves the freedmen as other men are left to the protection of equal law, insisting only that no distinction against one race be made in favor of the other shall be allowed [sic].

If this disorder prevail in your county, the remedy lies ready to your hand.

Apply the Vagrant and criminal laws of the state to Black and White alike, and meet [sic] out to each offender the stern disipline [sic] of justice.

You have courts, Juries, Judges and all needful officers of law. use then this machinery against all destructors of your peace, irrespective of color or caste. Special Legislation is uncalled for and unwise when every occurrance of disturbance, Violence and crimes amongst the Colored people can be met by the Civil Authorities.

If in your locality, the laborer refuses to work it may be because though slavery be dead its collateral influences still exist and Survive, and new inducements have not taken the place of the lash and the chain. It may be that the planter as well as the negro has not yet learned what free labor means.

The former still hugs the idea that he has the power to fix the wages, restrain the personal liberty, and exercise authority over the latter. Past hatreds are still fed and false ideas nurtured.

The governing class are today what the [page 112] past has made them, and they cannot cut loose at a Single blow from their past traditions, beliefs, hatreds, and hopes. after all the rough Schooling of the war they have still a lesson and a hard one to learn. it is to be just to the Black man.

I sometimes think that long after the oppressed race shall rise into rights, duties and capacities so haughtily denied the dominant class will not have overcome their contempt for the Negro. Its roots will even then exist and trouble the land.

For Years to come the crops of Texas must be raised by the black man. He has done this from the beginning. He is here on the spot and will if well treated remain. The desire to better his condition is deep in him. Appeal to this inborn desire, this deep incentive in man gave rise to civilization. Out of it spring production agriculture and wealth.

This law is as operative on the white man as the Black.

Many of the freedmen were last year defrauded of their earnings. When the crop was gathered by their toil they were turned loose upon the world without means or clothing. This machination [??] and bitter injustice has not been forgotten by the sufferers. They now hesitate to labor because they are not sure that the day's work will bring the day's wages.

Better treatment and prompt pay will correct this distrust sooner than a Brigade of "Provost Marshals".

Texas can become prosperous only through the concord of its labor with its capital. Its products, Cotton Sugar Corn must be grown. The labor is free, and is picularly [sic] adapted by nature and training as a tropical race to cultivate these products.

But to make this labor available an entire change in the old System of [page 113] of industry is needed. the Spirit that has made the great states of the Northwest must be at work in Texas, and villiages [sic] and private farms, the steam engine and water wheel, the school House and church shape its society. A generation that has never been in the school House is even now knocking at your door.

When the farmers of the West and North are in want of hands, they offer every inducement to their workmen. Besides enhanced wages, care is taken that they have pleasant homes, schools are built for their children, church are built and studious provisions made for their comfort.

This course will bring the Same Success on the banks of the Brazos, the Colorado, or the Trinity as on the Ohio.

Treat your laborers with liberality and on a basis of Justice. Give them a chance to secure themselves from fraud and inequality before the laws. Tramill [sic] them not with any attempts at serfdoms under a new form, and permitt [sic] them to run without a load the race of life.

Then your locality will settle down into its abnormal state of Peace. The Gulf between the two races will be bridged over by a vital Sympathy, and your labor unite with your capital and become productive [sic] force.

I am Gent [?]
Very Respectfully
Your Obedt Servt
E M Gregory
Brig Genl and Assist Comm

top of document | home
revised 3 Jul 02
contact Harry Ide at [email protected] with comments or questions