Edgar Gregory, letters

Edgar M Gregory--letter to Howard, 31 January 1866

[list of letters transcribed from the Texas Assistant Commissioner]
[source: National Archives, Record Group 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 122-125]

Bu. R. F. and A. L.
State of Texas
Galveston Jany 31st 1866.

Howard, Maj Gen O. O.
Comr &c &c
Washington D.C.

I have the honor to report that Since the 10th of Dec I have visited the Lower Brazos Oyster Creek, Old Cany [?] and Colorado Districts. These lands comprise the most productive and influential cotton and Sugar Growing portions of the State. They are Bottom lands of inexhaustless [sic] fertility, and were formerly crowded with Slaves.

I found that the planters under the Stimulus of high wages were desirous of tilling their fields, and anxious to obtain the labor.

The blacks were willing to work asking only that the promises made them by the planters be enforced by the Government.

Under these conditions contracts were made freely with the freedmen and approved by the Bureau on liberal terms. There is a great variety of contracts between them and their employers and much vagueness of terms.

When money wages are paid the rates range from eight to fifteen Dollars per Month in Specie, besides for the most part including Quarters, food, fuel, Medicine and clothing.

In many instances, instead of wages a portion of the crop ranging from 1/4 to 1/2 according to the Special conditions of each case is pledged to the laborers and the instances are not infrequent where in addition to the high per centage of the expected crop, the planter boards and lodges his workmen gratis.

It is believed that the history of modern times cannot furnish a parallel to the high inducements held out to labor in this State. As a result, in the more orderly portions of the state, theft, idleness and vagrancy have almost become things of the past.

[page 123] At least [illegible word; perhaps 9/10] of the former slave population of the State are under contract for a year, and working Steadily and soberly [?] in the fields. Of the remaining portion that still holds aloof from a deep rooted want of confidence in the planter's promises, the no is daily dwindling to a handfull in the whole state and out of about 400000 freedmen, only about 67000 are now receiving Govt support.

I am pleased to note in this connection that the power and influence of that class who deny to the black man his rights and liberties, and seek to obtain his Services without Compensation, is small and growing less. The immense profits realized, at present prices for Cotton and Sugar, have caused a competition for labor which in many localities has become a scramble, and as the amount and quality of the work to be obtained from the negro depends very much upon the kind of treatment they received, the selfinterest of the land-owner combined with the higher and more humane motive of the General Govt induces fair and liberal conduct towards him.

Thus the distrust manifested by the Negro towards his former Master and the antipathy of the planter towards the former chattel are lessening and the concord between the labor and the capital growing more complete.

To the attainment of this end all my efforts are directed. From the reports of Agents and landowners, and from the statements of the Texas Press, it is evident that during the month of January Just closed there has been more agricultural labor performed, and more ample preparation made for a coming harvest, than ever before during the Same time in the state. This be it remembered happens in the first year of free labor here. The labor of the state indeed is so inadequate to the demand that from Twenty to Fifty thousand more laborers could be absorbed at once, all those who are reported in different parts of the South to be unemployed and starving could at once find Work bread and Wages in the rich bottoms [page 124] and fair uplands of Texas.

I can also report that shooting, cruel abuse, and Violent assault upon freedmen are perceptably on the decline, though still not infrequent especially in the less accessable portions of the State, for these wrongs increase just in proportion to the distance from the United States authorities. No instance of this kind coming to the to the [sic] attention of the Bureau is allowed to pass unpunished. These cases almost defy any attempt to record them and are reckoned by hundreds ranging from downright Murder, Savage Beating, Merciless whiping [sic], hunting men with trained blood Hounds, through all the lesser degrees of cruelity [sic] and crime. a great moral improvement has recently been noted in this respect, for one legal Sentence inflexibly enforced has a moral effect, felt even in the most distant neighbourhood. When the people of Texas become familiarized with the idea of law as an iresisstable [sic] power to which all must bow, and which throws just the Same amount of protection over the Meanest Black as it does over the proudest White, the first great step will have been taken in the direction of a permanent peace.

Great delays and difficulties have been met in obtaining officers from the Army and in keeping them where detailed owing to the Muster out of many Regts.

For this great state with a population or rather territory as large as New York and New England my [illegible word; perhaps duties] Corps of Assistants number but 20 [??] of whom ten [?] are Civilians. Consequently much the larger portion of this State is without any Agent or Representative of the Bureau.

With regard to the Sanitary Conditions of the Bureau, there are great deficiences. for a full statement of the case, I respectfully refer [page 125] you to the anexed [sic] Report of Dr Minitzer [sic; actually Mintzer], Surg. in Chief of the Bureau

Our schools are in a prosperous condition. Without funds or one Dollar pecuniary aid from any Source there are now in operation, Sustained by the Colored people voluntarily, Twenty-six day and evening schools with an attendance of over 1600 pupils. The particulars of the case are represented in the anexed [sic] report of E M Wheelock, Superintendant of Schools for the State.

In that part of your congressional Report where Texas Matters are presented, this Bureau is spoken of as "depending upon a small tax for the approval of Contracts for funds to defray expenses."

This is an error. I have never ordered or Sanctioned the levying of any such tax, and Not a Single Dollar has ever been paid into the treasury from this Source. The "tax" has, indeed, been levied, Considerable funds gathered, certain parties benefitted, and much consequent trouble fallen upon the Bureau as well as opprobrium. But the whole affair was done without authority or Sanction from me. In my Instructions to agents and in published Orders, I have directly forbidden my Agents from receiving any Monies or charging any fees for the approval of Contracts. I have repeatedly and publicly disavowed any Connection with this Movement, and have ordered the arrest of persons so engaged whenever found. I may say that no other occurence has caused me so much mortification and trouble.

The expenses of this Bureau have been paid thus far from fines imposed upon those who have wronged the freedmen in his person and his rights.

I append herewith a Statement of all monies, from whatever Sources, received to date into the Treasure of the Bureau during my administration in Texas.

Respectfully &c E M Gregory
Brig Gen and Asst Comm
State of Texas

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