Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 77
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The Freedmen's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
presented as his credentials that he had lived in Texas for nearly three decades, had
practiced law, had presided over the judiciary, and believed that his views and position
would allow him to provide "general satisfaction to employer and freedman." He further
claimed that he had acquired extensive contacts in the Colorado River valley centering
around Columbus, but had not made himself "obnoxious" to the authorities, and that
John Hancock, whom he identified as a distinguished Union man, endorsed his
When Jones did not immediately receive a response from Gregory, he told
the bureau chief that he might "serve the planters as well as myself in my neighborhood
by drawing their contracts for the coming year and submitting them to you for your
inspection and approval." He suggested that if agreements were negotiated early
enough, it might "have a happy effect in keeping the negroes at home and prevent the
dreaded demoralization at Christmas." To help him perform this function properly, he
requested an outline of the form the bureau required, adding that if a printed agreement
were unavailable, then a synopsis of the "leading features" embraced in the bureau's
contract policy, which encompassed a share of the crop and ensured food, clothes, and
medical attendance, would do.21
Jones raised some interesting questions that would later plague the bureau
and the state legislature where contracts were concerned. Did the father have the right
to bind his minor children and his wife to the agreement, or should all sign for them-
selves? Could a planter rent his farm to a freedman and then allow him to hire his own
laborers? If so, could the farmer make a contract with his employees similar to that he
made with the planter? Since it would take a month or more for an agent to arrive in the
Columbus vicinity, and since planters and farmers needed to proceed with business,
Jones felt that Gregory ought to answer these questions immediately.22
It is clear from Jones' letter that he envisioned the Freedmen's Bureau as
primarily a labor organization and that his perception of a free labor system allowed room
for considerable coercion of those who either refused to sign contracts or who forfeited
and violated the terms of contracts after they had been negotiated. Jones thought the
first class of violators might be confined to government work-whatever that meant-and
the second class would simply forfeit any share of the crop. Moreover, he felt that, to
protect the interest of other freedmen who had an interest in the crop, penalties for lost
time and sickness would have to be considered.23
In addition to his ideas about contracts and black laborers, Jones also
wanted to lease, rent for five years, or sell for $25,000, 1800 to 2000 acres of land,
which, he claimed he could have sold for $75,000 before the war. Jones did not specify
precisely where the land was located, but it may have been in the Eagle Lake area, as
he suggested that it was seven miles from the railroad on the Houston road. It included
20 William D. Jones (Galveston) to Edgar M. Gregory (assistant commissioner, Texas), August 5,
1865, Assistant Commissioner, Unregistered Letters, 1865-1866, M821, Reel 17. Unless otherwise noted,
all citations will be to either manuscripts or the microfilm edition of the Texas Records of the Bureau of
Regugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (hereafter BRFAL).
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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/m1/9/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed December 11, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.