Harriet Jacobs Describes Her Relief Work Among Liberated Former Slaves Near Savannah in 1866 WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH

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Pat Young

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Featured Book Reviewer
Jan 7, 2013
Long Island, NY
freedpeople charleston.JPG

Freedpeople in Charleston from Frank Leslie's April 25, 1865.

Harriet Jacobs is today a well-known author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In 1866 she was providing relief to freedpeople in Coastal Carolina and Georgia. Here is one of her letters describing the situation in which she worked:

SAVANNAH, Jan. 19th, 1866. From Harriet Jacobs.

We have a great deal to do here. In every direction the colored people are being turned from the plantations when unwilling to comply with the hard proposals of the planters. The contracts proposed are sometimes very severe and unjust. The freedmen are not allowed to hire land or work it on shares, but must work under their former overseers. They cannot own a horse, cow, pigs, or poultry, nor keep a boat; and they cannot leave the plantation without permission. If a friend calls to see them a fine is imposed of one dollar, and a second offence breaks the contract. They work for ten dollars and rations. They are very unwilling to be placed under the overseers who formerly treated them with cruelty. I have this week visited several plantations on both the Georgia and Carolina sides of the river. In these places the people are expecting the return of their old masters. Poor things! some are excited; others so dispirited that they cannot work. They say, “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, for tinking of de hard time coming on me again; my heart ’pears to be all de time quiverin’; I knows ’tis trouble.” I wrote in another letter of the poor people who are daily landing at the wharf to be scattered as they can find homes. The Bureau only assists them in making contracts.

A few days since I found a company on Ham Island in a starving condition. The children were crying for bread. I had thirteen dollars belonging to the Society, six dollars of which I spent at the Commissary to relieve their pressing needs. There were fifty women, fifty-six children, and twelve men. Among these I divided forty-six lbs. of salt pork and beef, twenty-five loaves of bread, and some salt. One old woman, too decrepid to walk, crawled to me to beg for food. The larger portion of the men were in the city, seeking work. The case must be presented to Colonel Sickles.

From: Reconstruction: Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality (LOA #303) (The Library of America) . Library of America. Kindle Edition.
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