Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 89
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The Freedmen 's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
the right to control him, or to correct him and that he has the right to go when and where,
and do as he pleases." While John was a slave, Webb went on, he very seldom had had
to correct him. He claimed that it was ever his "habit to chastise a slave with the same
moderation" as he would with his own children, and that though he had been a slave
owner for three decades, he had "used the rod scarcely once a year, preferring to manage
by appeals to sense and pride." The provost marshal had informed Webb that he had the
right to chastise John "in moderation for any conduct deserving it," yet, Webb had
remained "anxious" to "control him by appeals to his sense and pride" and he had not
"exercised the power" of physical punishment. However, experience, he said, had
taught him that the certainty of punishing children for bad conduct was more efficacious
than threats, that when they learned that the rod would be used as soon as they
misbehaved, they would seldom do so, and that one chastisement to the boy John,
"kindly and humanely" administered, would convince him of the "power and wil/to inflict
it, and he would act as to prevent its being necessary again." Webb was convinced that
John would be lost to all restraint "without a change" if he was not punished.56
Webb had learned from newspapers that in states where white children were
allowed by laws to be bound out, black children could be indentured under the same laws.
Though Texas for many years had had a similar law, Webb reported that the orphan's
judge was not willing to act on the basis of what had appeared in a newspaper, but had
allowed that he might do so if the bureau so decreed. Knowing it would take time to have
the children indentured, and considering the case an emergency, Webb pronounced
himself ready to enter into any "just arrangement," provided that it afforded him the
power to control the children and chastise them as though they were his own. He was
not inclined to do it until instructed as to his duty.57
The Frederick Tate Case
Whether or not Raper's assumption of authority to apprentice children
angered local officials is difficult to ascertain, but another action he took led to a clash
between national and local authorities. On Christmas Day, 1865, Raper arrested, tried,
convicted, and levied a $25 fine on a citizen of Fayette County named Frederick Tate for
an "unprovoked assault upon a negro of" Columbus. The next day, Tate swore out two
warrants for the Raper's arrest, one charging him with "swindling" and the other with
"false imprisonment." The Columbus mayor, Fred Barnard, issued an order directing
Captain George H. Merrill, the post commander, to assist in arresting Raper. Merrill,
however, declined to obey. On the back of the warrant for Raper's arrest, Merrill wrote:
"I refuse to obey this warrant. I am an officer in the Army of the United States and am
responsible to my superior officers for a faithful performance of my duties, not to the
State of Texas." He signed the document and officially returned it.58
With the matter in this uneasy state, Raper wrote to headquarters for
guidance. He did not think the local authorities would drop their demand that he be
58 John T. Raper to Chauncey C. Morse (acting assistant adjutant general), December 26, 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/m1/21/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.