Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 84
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
Raper had many other problems to deal with as well. He declared when he
arrived in the county that labor was "rampant," meaning, presumably, that employee
turnover and movement was very high. Additionally, he noticed an acute shortage of
capital. He observed that a "great many" freedmen tenaciously clung to the notion that
land would be confiscated by the government and divided among them sometime after
Christmas, and that this false hope had led them to refuse to sign contracts for 1866.
He had immediately set about to disabuse them of this notion by speaking to them both
in public and in private. On November 26, he addressed, he claimed, a thousand
freedmen, reading them statements defining their rights and fielding questions. He
believed that they accepted what he told them and were "acting accordingly."45
Raper observed that the freedmen who had made contracts in general made
good ones and were getting along "remarkably well, considering all things." They had
almost finished their negotiations and most had made "first rate bargains." Very few had
stayed with their old owners, even though many were offered greater inducements to
stay than they were offered in the places to which they moved. Although Gregory had
furnished Raper with contract blanks, the Columbus agent found them to be "useless"
because of the unique demands of each situation and of each freedman. The contracts
that were drawn up contained a variety of terms. Some of them provided for monetary
compensation, but most specified that as compensation, the freedmen would receive a
share in the crop, the standard being one-third of the harvest. In addition, the agreements
also commonly included provisions for board, quarters, fuel, and medical attention for
the freedmen and their dependents. Raper also reported that some had tendered money
to pay for filing the contracts with the county clerk, but that he had refused all such offers
since he did not know whether the bureau intended to charge for such filings.46
Apprenticing and Indentures
Raper also had to deal with local aspects of a national social, economic, and
legal controversy that swirled around black children from the emancipation of the slaves
in Maryland in November 1864 and the final freeing of the remainder of the bondspeople
throughout the South in 1865. As soon as blacks became free, whites moved with
dispatch to apprentice black children. Through a legal arrangement, in which the white
person became the guardian and surrogate parent, they hoped to secure the labor of
these black youngsters for a period of years. This system, also known as "binding out"
or "indenturing," provoked considerable alarm in every Southern black community and
became one of the three major cornerstones of the oppressive black codes enacted by
many of the former Confederate states.47
45 Raper to Gregory, November 29, 1865.
47 Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Familyin Slaveryand Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York: Pantheon
Books, 1976), pp. 402-412; W. A. Low, "The Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights in Maryland," Journal of
Negro History, vol. 37 (July 1952), pp. 221-246; "The Freedmen's Bureau in the Border States," Richard O.
Curry, ed., Radicalism, Racism, and Party Realignment: The Border States during Reconstruction (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Press, 1969), pp. 246-250; Olds, "The Freedmen's Bureau As a Social Agency," pp. 185-187;
Clayton M. Fuller, "Governmental Action to Aid Freedmen in Maryland, 1864-1869" (M. A. thesis [Social
Work], Howard University, 1965), pp. 93-95.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995, periodical, May 1995; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151394/m1/16/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed April 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.