Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 74
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
To Battle, this was so "momentous a question" that once he began to discuss
the concept he did not know when to stop. Some of his friends, previous slaveowners
like himself, not only looked askance at him because of his ideas about blacks-they
doubted his sanity. Undaunted, Battle continued to assert that he expected to see the
day a free black man should show himself a "better & more profitable laborer than he
ever was or would ever have been as a slave, and that he is capable of such moral &
intellectual improvement & shall secure this-and you may be assured that this elevation
is the only possible course for us & for him." Battle was unique in that, as a previous
slaveowner, he believed that a free labor system would succeed.10
Battle received a copy of General Gordon Granger's emancipation order of
June 19, 1865, and read it to his slaves on June 25 and 26. He quickly signed contracts
with one hundred of his former slaves "to work on as heretofore on the plantation" until
January 1, 1866, for wages. The same day, acting as an agent for other planters in need
of labor, he employed 120 other freedmen on the plantations on which they had lived
and labored since they been brought to Texas. As an executor of an estate, Battle had
also employed the twenty blacks who had formerly belonged to the deceased owner. All
continued to farm on the respective plantations where they had lived and were "doing
altogether as much work as they ever did before."11
Battle contended that he wished and hoped to employ all of them again for
1866. He asserted that "Humanity, Patriotism & my own & the negroes interest" would
be "subserved by giving him a liberal contract by teaching him the nature of a contract,
and on my part performing it with scrupulous exactness, and most of all by making him
realize that he is a free man whose wages and other goods are as much his own, and
as entirely his under protection of the laws of the land, as mine or any other mans." This
egalitarian viewpoint was certainly magnanimous on Battle's part. Unfortunately, few
others agreed that this was either practical or even possible. For the most part, black
work habits and industriousness were perceived negatively.12
Battle had two sons who fought in Lee's army of Northern Virginia.
According to their father, the two men had acquitted themselves as "good soldiers,
defending as we felt a Constitutional right." Both survived, returned home, and obtained
parole. Along with their father, they had taken the amnesty oath and accepted the
"decision against the doctrine of Secession as final & conclusive. " In a final burst of new-
found patriotism, Battle stated that all three were ready "to do what they must to restore
the state to her Constitutional relations in the Federal Government" and support "heartily
and earnestly" the "moral & intellectual elevation of the negro race." This action, they
deemed, was in the "best interest of the whole country."'13
three-quarters of a million British West Indian and four million American blacks eliminated well over half the
entire slave population of the Western Hemisphere." See Thomas C. Holt, "'An Empire over the Mind': Eman-
cipation, Race, and Ideology in the British West Indies and the American South," in J. Morgan Kousser and
James M. McPherson, eds., Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 284.
10 Battle to Hamilton, August 4, 1865.
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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/m1/6/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed June 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.