Freedmen's Bureau

Contributed by Lee Freeman, March 2004

 

 

The following articles on the Freedmen's Bureau of Lauderdale County, Alabama are taken from the Florence Journal, a newspaper published in Florence, AL. The paper was founded after the Civil War by Dr. David R. Lindsay, brother of future Alabama Governor Robert Burns Lindsay. The Journal replaced the Florence Gazette, whose office was destroyed by Union troops in 1863 or 1864. These articles cover the years 1865-1867. Every known reference to the Bureau has been abstracted here. Spelling and punctuation have not been altered from the original articles, which have been transcribed exactly as they appear in the newspaper. Surnames appear in bold.

 

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, more commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau, was created as a division of the War Department by the US Congress in 1865. Its mission was helping refugees and freed slaves after the Civil War (1861-1865) adjust to freedom; the bureau issued rations and clothing to needy freedmen, operated hospitals and relocation camps, found jobs for freedmen, established schools, and leased and supervised the working of public lands, as well as legalized slave marriages and reunited slave families separated during slavery. (The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, ed. Eakle & Cerni, pp. 581-582)

 

 

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, October 4, 1865, p.3.


Capt. C. A. Tenge, [1] of this place, Agent of the Freedmen's Bureau for Lauderdale County, deserves, as he has received, the commendation of this community, for his prompt, intelligent action in the following case. During one day last week, a negro man named John McCormick, ALIAS Terry, a barber from Athens, Ala., visited this town, and while here, took occasion to make a TALK to a portion of our negro population; telling them, among other things, that they were as good as the white folks, and that before long the Government would give them lands, horses, ploughs, and fifty rounds of ammunition, each, to defend themselves, &c.--- The intelligent and honest portion of the colored folks, indignant at the impudance and rascality of this impudent incendiary, reported the case to Capt. Tenge, assuring him that if he did not take cognisance of the case, they surely would, upon which the Captain took the hint, and had the case brought before him, and after a necessary and proper investigation, ordered the fellow--- McCormick or Terry, to leave the town. He did leave, and the colored inhabitants were satisfied. Capt. Tenge did his duty honestly---as he will do---and we trust and believe will be sustained by his superior officers.

 

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, December 27, 1865, p. 3.

An Act to Regulate Contracts with Freedmen And to Enforce the Same.

Sec. 1. Be it enacted: That all freedmen shall have the right to contract with anyone for the performance of such labor, or service, and upon such terms, stipulations and conditions as they may agree upon.
Sec. 2. That all contracts made by and with freedmen for a longer period than one month, must be in writing specifying all the terms, stipulations, and conditions agreed upon, and must be executed in duplicate, the freedmen to have one copy.-- Before it is executed, such agreement must be carefully read to such freedmen and must be signed in the presence of two white citizens, who can read or write, who must subscribe their names thereto as witnesses.
Sec. 3. That any person hiring a freedmen and entering into an agreement as above prescribed, failing or refusing to perform his part of the contract, may be sued before any Justice of the Peace of the county, and damages assessed not exceeding one hundred dollars, and if such person shall, knowingly and willfully, fail or refuse to fulfill his part of the contract, he shall be guilty of a misemeanor, and upon complaint before any Justice of the Peace of the county, may be fined in a sum not exceeding one hundred dollars, to go to the party injured or aggrived.
Sec. 4. That if any freedmen contracting as above provided for, shall fail or refuse to perform his part of said contract or shall by negligence or carelessness cause any loss, damages or injury to his employer, such freedmen may be sued before any Justice of the Peace of the county, and damages recovered not exceeding one hundred dollars, and if such freedmen shall wilfully and perversely fail or refuse to perform all the duty, labor or service, stipulated to be performed, or shall wilfully injure, damage or destroy any property of his employer, unless such offense be above the grade of misdemeanor by the laws of Alabama, such freedmen shal[l] be guilty of misemeanor, and upon complaint to any Justice of the Peace, and on conviction be fined in a sum double the value of the property so injured, damaged or destroyed, to enure to the employer.
Sec. 5. That if any freedman shall run away or abandon the labor or service he agreed to perform, without a good cause, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon complaint to any Justice of the Peace, such freedmen may be apprehended, and if convicted, shall forfeit all wages due him, and be subject to all the pains and penalties of the vagrant laws which may then be in force in this state.
Sec. 6. That if any person shall persuade or attempt to persuade, entice or cause any freedman to desert or leave the employment for which he stipulated, or shall knowingly employ any freedmad [sic] when deserting, or shall knowingly give or sell to such deserting freedmen food, rainment or other thing, the person so offending shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon complaint to any Justice of the Peace may be fined in a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars or committed to the county jail for a term not exceeding six months, at the discretion of the Justice trying the same.
Sec. 7. That the term Freedmen in this act, included all negroes, mulattoes and persons of color, and those descended from the negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one parent in each generation may have been white. Provided that those persons known as creoles specially accepted in treaties heretofore made be exempted from the operations of this act.
Sec. 8. That the Mayor, Intendent or other like officers of any incoporated town be and he is hereby invested with all power given by this act to Justice of the Peace.

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, January 3, 1866, p. 3.

For the benefit of all concerned, we mention that, to sell a Negro a drink of whiskey or other spiritous liquor, imposes a penalty of Five Hundred Dollars fine. "A word to the wise is sufficient," or ought to be.

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, January 31, 1866, p. 2.

EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT.

Montgomery, Ala., Jan. 18, 1866.
TO THE SENATE.

The sixteenth section of the fiftieth article of the Constitution of Alabama, provides that every bill which passes the two Houses of the Legislature shall be presented to the Governor for his approval or disapproval. It is made the duty of the Governor, if he disapproves a bill to return it, with his objection, to the House in which it originated. Under this clause of the Constitution, I am constrained to return to the Senate, without my approval, the bill "to extend the criminal laws of this State, applicable to free persons of color, to freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes."

This bill proposes to apply to the freedmen, a system of laws enacted for the government of free negroes residing in a community where slavery existed. I have carefully examined the laws, which, under this bill would be applied to freedmen, and I think a mere recital of some of their provisions will show the impolicy and injustice of enforcing them upon the negroes in this new condition.

Section 1032, of the Code; imprisons in the penitentiary for two years, every free negro who comes into the State; and if he does not leave the State when released, he is to be imprisoned for five years.
Section 1035 provides for the punishment of free negroes for being present at assemblages of slaves. This offense, of course, cannot now be committed, as there are no slaves in the State.
Section 1036 provides that for retailing spiritous liquor, free negroes will be punished with stripes.
Section 1040 prescribes that every free negro of the State, who may be confined in the penitentiary, shall leave the State upon his release, or be liable to another sentence of confinement for twenty-five years.
Section 1044 prescribes punishment for every free negro who preaches to free negroes, except in the presence of five slaveholders.
Section 3287 punishes every person who employs a free negro in "drawing or selling liquor."
Section 320 prohibits any one from employing free negroes to sample cotton.

Should this become a law, all of these statutes would be made applicable to the colored poulation [sic] of the State. While slavery existed those laws were necessary and proper, but I think the necessity for such statutes ceased with the extinction of the institution. It is well known to us that during the last four years a large number of negroes left the State. Many of them are returning and seeking employment with their former owners, and they should be encouraged to return, rather than be punished for it. But if this bill were passed into a law, and section one thousand and thirty three [Does he mean 1032?] of the code enforced, every returning freedman would be liable to confinement in the penitentiary for two years, and expulsion from the State when released.

For such reasons as these, I deem it a duty to withhold my approval from this bill.

R. M. PATTON.

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, May 2, 1866, p. 2.

Trial.

A hearing was had before Esquire Karsner on Friday last the 27th ult, touching on the difficulty that occurred some days ago between Capt. James Key and some Freedmen, employees on the plantation of Wm. H.Key, Esq.[.]  Alexander McAlexander, Esq., Solicitor for the State, and Messrs. Irvine & O'Neal for Capt. Key, and after a long and patient hearing of the evidence in the premise, Esquire Karsner bound Capt. Keyover in the sum One Thousand Dollars to appear before the next term of the Circuit Court. Col. Callis[,] Chief of the Freedmen's Bureau, whose headquarters are at Huntsville, was present, and we note with pleasure his dignified bearing both as an Officer of the Government and a gentleman. We forbore mention in our last issue of the unfortunate episode in our local history, because the rumours were vague in the extreme. Under such circumstances we deem it the wiser course for papers to omit till full and reliable developments are obtained.--- Our Tuscumbia contemporary is at fault in its statement of the circumstances. The cause of the difficulty may be thus briefly stated---Capt. Key in remonstrating with four freedmen for the carelessness with which they handled barrels of meal which they were unloading from a wagon, was met by language which he deemed grossly insulting, upon which the Capt. fired upon Mason Carter, inflicting a slight flesh wound on his right side. As we state above, the Esquire bound the Capt. over for an assault. We would only add that Capt. Tenge the Agent of the Freedmen's Bureau for this county, did his duty promptly and faithfully.

 

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, May 16, 1866, p. 2.

Office Bureau of
Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned
Lands, District of huntsville [sic], Ala.
Hunstville, Ala., May 11, 1866.
Office Ass't Com. State of Ala., Bureau
Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 
Montgomery, Alabama, May 7, 1866.
[Copy of Circular No. 2]

In pursuance of a request from the Chief Quarter Master's Department of Alabama, it is decreed that all officers and agents of the Bureau in this State prepare and forward to this office without delay, a list of all Union Soldiers interred within the limits of their respective jurisdiction. Date of decease, name, rank, company and Regiment must be given, when it is possible, with information as to conditon of graves, upon whose property located, and any propositions the owner may wish to make as to his land used therefor [sic].
By order of Brevet Maj. Gen. Wager Swayne.
(Signed) O. D. KINSMAN, Ass't Adjutant General.
Official: JNO. B. CALLIS, L't Col. V. R. C. Brevet. Col. U.S. Vols.
and Sup't B. H.? F. & A. L.? Dist. Northern Ala.
May 10, 1866, -3w.

From the Florence Journal, Wednesday, May 16, 1866, p. 3.

Captain Tenge the industrious and efficient head of the Freedmen's Bureau for this County, publishes in this week's Journal an order received from Col. Callis, Superintendent District of Northern Ala., to which we direct attention, and would mention in connection, that Capt. Tenge would take it as a great favor if those of Lauderdale county who have any knowledge of the graves of Union Soldiers would report to him the facts as required by order of Gen. Swayne.

From the Florence Journal, Thursday, July 11, 1867, p. 3. 

A change has been adopted in the distribution of rations from the Freedmen's bureau here. Now, parties seeking aid, must not only come to town for the supplies to be given out, but before receiving will be required to make oath that they are really in destitute circumstances. The head of a family alone can draw, and he or she as the case may be, for the family represented. In other words, no one can draw except for the family immediately represented.


From the Florence Journal, Thursday, July 11, 1867, p. 3.

Indignation Meeting.

At a meeting of the citizens of Florence at the court house on the 6th of April [2], Dr. James W. Stewart was called to the chair, and James B. Irvine appointed Secretary.

The chairman explained the object of the meeting to be, to take action in regard to the outrage committed upon the flag of our country on the previous night.

On motion a committee of eight was appointed to draft resolutions expressive of the feelings of the community on the subject.

The committee which consisted of the following named gentlemenn, S. C. Posey, T. L. Chisholm, J. A. Thompson, Jno. H. Rapier, Col. [Josiah] Patterson, Rob't. McFarland, B. F. Karsner, Jas. Hancock and Thomas Simpson, reported as follows:

Resolved, 1st. That we have heard with deep regret and indignation that the Federal Flag was taken down last night from the office of the Agent of the Freedmen's Bureau in this town, by some reckless and disloyal persons, and that we indignantly denounce this great crime and its perpetrators.

2nd. That we will use all possible efforts to detect and bring to merited punishment those who are so lost to the best interests of the country, and to that respect which every American citizen which should feel for the flag of his country, as to commit so great an outrage.

3rd. That we, the citizens here assembled, pledge ourselves by all lawful and appropriate action to defend and maintain the authority and dignity of the Flag of the United States.

On motion, the resolutions as presented were unanimously adopted.

On motion, a committee was appointed to procure a flag of the United States, and raise it at the place from which the other was taken down.--- 

The following names were suggested and the parties appointed by the chair as said committee.

S. C. Posey

Sidney Depriest [c]

Rob't. McFarla

Abraham Streeter [Streiter] [c]

Harrison Wood [c]

Jno. H. Rapier

T. L. Chisholm

J. A. Thompson

Jas. B. Irvine

Jas. W. Stewart

B. F. Karsner

J. W. McAlexander

J. B. Patton

Alex McAlexander

T. A. Jones

G. W. Karsner

A. J. Rice

Hon. W. B. Wood

J. O. Jones

Wm. Simpson


Resolved, That whereas the Board of Alderman of the corporation of Florence have offered a reward of One Hundred Dollars for the apprehension of the person or persons who committed the offense, of taking down the Flag. Therefore it is

Resolved, That this meeting approve the action of the Board and thank them for their prompt action:

Moved that a copy of the proceedings of this meeting be furnished the Editor of the Florence Journal for publication. On motion the meeting adjourned.

JAS. W. STEWART, Char.
JAS. B. IRVINE, Secretary.

[Note: The date of April 6th seems to be a misprint. July 6th was probably the date intended. Known black citizens are indicated with a [c], the usual way of designating blacks in old newspapers.]

According to his July 22, 1869 Florence Journal obituary, Capt. Charles A. Tenge (c. 1809-1869), was a native of Hanover, Germany, who settled in Tuscumbia, AL, in 1832, where he resided until 1851, at which time he moved to Florence. He worked as a carriage upholsterer and harness maker, owning his own shops in Tuscumbia and Florence. After the Civil War Capt. Tenge was appointed agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Lauderdale County. His wife’s name was Eliza. After his death, she remarried and continued his carriage upholstery and harness-making business.  [back]