Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 94
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
obscure." In the antebellum era, women were "high in the market if they had children,"
but now it seemed that employers had a dislike for black children. Miller wondered what
would become of these "poor wretches." He did not provide an answer, however, such
situations may have been rarer than he supposed, for in Texas, the black community
often took care of its own. The bureau never issued many rations.75
Miller also pointed out that black households were experiencing some
upheaval because of the advent of freedom. Some men had left their former wives "with
3-4-6 children and taken young women who are able to work." When such women called
on Miller for assistance, he told Gregory, "I am out." He had no means to assist them,
and the "best of advice" did not "benefit their condition." Thus, Miller claimed, he had
persuaded several men with helpless families to rent land, even if the prospect was "not
altogether favorable." He thought that after a year's experience, blacks would be better
able to fend for themselves. After he reiterated that he expected no pay, Miller appealed
to Gregory for expenses for paper, postage, and advertising accruing from the office.76
Blacks, Miller observed, rented most often from Germans and "Bohemians"
because they had less chance to be defrauded if they did so. Miller only accepted
contracts made "in good faith" and instructed the parties that a final settlement must
be made before the bureau. Attempting to avoid this process, some planters verbally
contracted with their field hands. Others used written contracts with relatives as
witnesses. Nevertheless, Miller reported that farming operations were proceeding
smoothly, that all blacks were employed, and that bureau business amounted to
attempting to rectify the few instances in which laborers had not been paid for work done
in 1865. In trying to procure payment for their services, they had met with "insulting
language and threats" from "none but the incorrigible."77
Miller became deeply involved in contract approval and told Gregory that
since he began laboring for the bureau he had been careful not to approve agreements
that were "in the least unfavorable to the colored population." In his region, the freedmen
received either one-third, one-fourth, or one-half of the crop, "according to circum-
stances." The heads of households had mostly contracted for one-half. Where families
"were destitute of all means" and had many "helpless children" to support, however,
Miller, while simultaneously attempting to persuade the employer to furnish clothing,
provisions, and other necessities, had been willing to accept an agreement that promised
only a one-fourth share.78
Miller thought the section was "getting along pretty well." Black labor was
sought after daily and almost all workers in the vicinity were employed. Black women,
children, and pregnant women were at first very much neglected, he reported, but Miller
now knew of none without a home. If he had to hire them "at times for lower than
common rates," Miller sought Gregory's absolution from blame. With the exception of
but three instances, Miller had succeeded in procuring payment for the men and women
77 Fred Miller to Edgar M. Gregory (assistant commissioner, Texas), February 21, 1866, Assistant
Commissioner, Unregistered Letters, 1865-1866, M821, Reel 17.
78 Fred Miller to Edgar M. Gregory (assistant commissioner, Texas), n. d., Assistant Commissioner,
Unregistered Letters, 1865-1866, M821, Reel 17.
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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/m1/26/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed April 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.