Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 88
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
in view their best interest." These were delicate questions that would affect the future
of the Columbus black community, and Raper clearly needed guidance.52
A large number of apprenticeship cases were presented to the bureau after
the war. The William G. Webb case exemplifies a majority of them. Webb, a resident of
La Grange and a former slave owner, had a boy and a girl in his charge. He asked Gregory
several important questions that had ramifications for any apprenticeship. Did he have
the "right to keep possession" of the two children upon compliance with bureau orders?
Could he have them bound? What actions would be "necessary, proper and just to be
done" by him towards the children? Did anyone have the right to persuade them to leave
and, if they did, could he retake them, wherever found? Did he have the right to
"chastise" them as a father would his child for "absolute misconduct?"53
Webb raised these questions because of what he regarded as reprehensible
conduct by the boy, John, who was fourteen years old, and the baneful influence he had
upon his nine-year-old sister, Georgiana. During slavery, Webb had owned both the two
children and their mother. The mother, however, had died, and since Webb did not know
if the father was still alive, he considered the two youngsters orphans. According to
Webb, after the death of their mother, his wife had assumed responsibility for raising the
two black children. She brought John and Georgiana into the Webb household, where
they became, in his words, "playmates" to the Webb children, and where, since they had
been set free, members of the family had been teaching them to read and write. Webb
argued that he "felt a deep interest" in John and Georgiana, but also pointed out that
he had two sons, ages eleven and fourteen, whom he required to implicitly obey him and
earnestly follow his directions, and that he could not grant John and Georgiana privileges
and immunities that he did not allow to his own offspring.5"
Webb wrote that though his family was "much attached to" John and
Georgiana, trouble had arisen in regard to John's recent behavior. He reported that a few
of the LaGrange freedmen were "exercising bad influence upon" both John and
Georgiana by telling them that they had a right to go where they pleased and that they
could not be corporally punished. The statements of the freedmen had had a "pernicious"
influence upon John, causing him, against Webb's "positive orders," to leave the house
at night "to seek such company in town as will lead to his complete ruin" and which
already had led to "his contracting the habit of gambling." Apparently, John was not as
attached to the family as Webb believed, for finally, after tiring of Webb's badgering,
John "boldly left the household and took up residence at a freedman's house in town."55
After seeking advice from the provost marshal at Columbus, Webb took John
back. Just how he did so is not at all clear. In any case, the other servants in his home
reported to him that John was not happy. Webb wrote that he "would not be surprised
if he should leave again at any time." Although she was more easily controlled, John had
tinctured his sister with different ideas about freedom and she had become harder to
manage. Webb believed that John was now "imbued with the notion that no one has
52 Raper to Gregory, November 29, 1865.
53 William G. Webb (La Grange) to Edgar M. Gregory (assistant commissioner, Texas), November
20, 1865, Assistant Commissioner, Unregistered Letters, 1865-1866, BRFAL, RG 105, National Archives.
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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/m1/20/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed May 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.