Life in the South

Life in the South

Franklin Repository
Franklin County, Virginia
page 2, column 3

Source: Valley of the Shadow: Civil War Era Newspapers, University of Virginia Library

The report provides a bleak assessment of life in post-war South Carolina, particularly for union men and blacks who “are at the mercy of a set of wretches, as unprincipled as they are cruel.” The war may have brought about the destruction of the Confederacy, relates the piece, but the outcome has had little impact on everyday life; the antebellum elite continues to rule over society and the ex-slaves are virtually powerless to defend themselves from violence perpetrated by whites.

A friend who is spending the winter in South Carolina for his health, writes us as follows from Charleston, as to the condition of the Freedmen and society generally among the chivalry. It is indeed a painful chapter of human degradation, treason, brutality and misery:

You know that any code of laws suited to a system of slavery must necessarily be barbarous, suited to the 14th or 15th century, but not to the 19th. Civil law here means power to the wealthy few to do as they please, but there is no law for the “poor white,” the Union man, or the Moke. Civil law whips for theft, hangs for larceny and burglary, and as you may have seen from the papers, they have a man now in Walterboro jail sentenced to death, for highway robbery, in that, he took while in our army, and upon a foraging expedition under orders, a wagon load of bacon. He was to have been hung on Jan. 4th or 7th, but an intimation having been given from the headquarters here that most probably their amusement would be interfered with, the Governor has respited him until Feb. 1st. A report of the investigation has been forwarded to the President; what he will do, who knows? The President has disapproved Gen. Howard’s order “to establish Bureau Courts where necessary,” in accordance with the Bureau bill, and consequently there is no protection of any kind for the Freedmen; they are at the mercy of a set of wretches, as unprincipled as they are cruel. What power the President has to set aside any provision of a law passed by Congress, we don’t know; [illeg] that as Commander in Chief of the Army, he can render any law of Congress a farce, by refusing the power necessary to enforce obedience, we do know, and we know also that this is just the situation here. The only thing the U. S. forces here now are doing, is aiding a half civilized people to reduce a defenseless herd to a worse condition than slavery ever was. Should Moke object to being shot and beaten, to being robbed, plundered and cheated, and exercise the right of self defense, these cowardly wolves call at once on the military for aid, in the name of civil law, and it is given; the President has ordered it. The officers of the Bureau are now mere advisory protectors no more, and are compelled to stand powerless and see, and listen, to acts and complaints that make the blood boil.

We’ll state a few instances of what is occurring all over the State. On Christmas eve and day, four Freedmen were murdered on the streets of this city, and a number more cut and stabbed. In Edgefield, on Friday, one of these kind, gentle massas, a high-toned chivalry, chopped the head off a Freedman with an axe.

Over near Lawtonville they work the Moke under the lash, as of yore, in the cotton field and at the port, and extend to him all the other kindnesses of the old system. One high bred Southern gentleman, brim full of the milk of human kindness, boasts that he has shot eighteen niggers. That dozens of these poor creatures are murdered and left to rot in the woods, of whom nothing is known, is true. While out shooting last winter within three miles of this town, we saw where a Moke had just been found with a rifle bullet through his head. When they cannot treat them with cruelty, they cheat and plunder them in every conceivable way. Any thing meaner than a S. C. planter, is impossible to imagine. What redress has Moke? None. If he dislikes this style of thing and complains, we can only say “go to a magistrate and make a complaint.” If he does so, he must give security in $200 or $300, to prosecute, or his complaint is not heard. This is the redress he has, and the satisfaction he gets, unless the certainty of feeling that he’ll be shot the first good opportunity, can be called satisfaction, a fact we don’t see in that light. There are a few localities in which the Justices(?) have some little humanity and regard for justice, but they dare not act. Should they act, and even express a desire to do justice to a Moke, any life insurance company would be warranted in cancelling their policy instanter. Another insuperable obstacle to anything like justice being done is the extensive ramification of the family relation. Suppose the whole of Franklin Co., divided into some hundred plantations and owned in one family connection; all the Mokes and poor whites (“tresh buccra”) under the old system would have been owned by that family connection. Now supposing all the property owners, actuated first by a deadly hatred to the government, second by a hatred to the Moke because he is free, and you see at once, that all the magistrates being members of that family, Moke or “tresh buccra” would have little to show. If they let him live, and shoot and beat him now and then, he ought to be satisfied. The last dodge in North Carolina is this: No one in N. C. who has ever been whipped can vote; therefore they are arresting all Mokes, for anything or nothing,–perjury is, you know, no crime in the South–and whipping them; and have announced their determination to whip every nigger in N. C., so as to disqualify him from voting for members of that convention. The N. C. delegation forgot to mention this amiable resolve in Washington, and so we had to send it on.

The last dodge in S. C. is this: A man sees a “likely nigger,” and preferring to have his services for nothing, swears out a warrant and has him arrested. Having let him lie in a S. C. jail for a few days, he goes to him, and offers to get him out, if he’ll agree to work for him six months or a year for nothing; of course Moke will do anything to get out, and we, from the moral obliquity of our vision, perhaps fail to see much difference between his former and his present condition. During the past week, the humane son of the jailor in this town, has with a club killed one and abused several freedmen in the jail. Suit will be brought against him to-morrow. High toned, honorable men, these moral church going community. Speaking of morals, you asked me what effect the female population of mixed blood was going to have on society here. I have looked somewhat into the matter since my return, from what I can learn, I believe there is hardly a young man here of Southern birth, who can afford the expense, who does not protect one of these girls, and few married men who have not two families. Miscegenation is practiced here. I know of nearly a dozen cases where the parties are married. These girls are many of them beautiful, many almost pure white, with blue eyes and light hair, of fine figures and lady-like appearance. Many of them are much whiter than the majority of pure whites, who seem to belong to the order of women known as scraggy, and are the color of a liver colored pointer, having tan colored paws and faces. But few children are born where these girls are protected by single men, while some of the old men have larger colored families. Nothing can be done to rectify this evil, as these girls will not on any account marry a man with a drop of “nigger blood” in his veins.

Thousands of the freed people here desire to quit the State. Many are going to Florida, some to Mississippi, and a large number to Texas. Northern men have purchased land in Florida, and are here now getting hands.

The people of Orangeburg rose and attempted to drive out the guard there, but the boys in blue having met Johnny before, formed, opened fire and cleared the streets in short order. There is a band there calling themselves “Dead Heads,” who have sworn to kill and drive out all freedmen from that section, and they have murdered four within a week. The cavalry, a detachment of Capt. William Brown’s Anotemicals, are after them.

That these people are slowly emerging from the darkness in which they have lived so long, is evinced by the passage of an act by the Legislature of this State, taxing all books, periodicals and papers coming from other States, twenty-five per cent. on their first cost, and by Georgia passing an act prohibiting all foreigners from holding real estate in that State—foreigners meaning all others than Georgians—which has since been reconsidered. Truly life among such a people is mere existence. Here in Charleston is the only spot where one can live with even a semblance of decency and comfort, and why? Because they know, that the troops once withdrawn, the freedmen would take this town and burn it in less than twenty-four hours. There is but one way to deal with this people, and that is the Irishman’s way with his wife. Appeal to them by the hair, expostulate with them by the shoulders, plead with them over the head. Add to this a sufficient quantity of moral suasion in the shape of bayonets and argumentative bullets, and something may be made of them in time. I would not have you understand that there is no leaven in this lump of the commonest humanity. There are among the young men, the soldiers, and to their credit be it said, they are heartily ashamed of the State, and will one and all quit it as soon as they can command the means. But the power, and the press and pulpit, are in the hands of an old, effete race, and young blood has no opportunity to make itself felt or heard.

That the colored race is doomed to extinction any observant man can see, and but few will be left to trouble the people of 1900. This fact that time will remove the cause of trouble, makes the trouble no less now. Time will cure the toothache, but it hurts at the time for all that. That the race is doomed is evident, and from these and other causes. They are incapable, or too careless to care for each other when sick. I have known them when sick of small-pox or pneumonia rise from their bed and go out into a cold, drizzling rain, yet feel it an outrage if compelled to do so. “We take care of she, we’s free as a frog, hab to take care of she, dats not bein free as a frog.” They care little for their children, and but few are being reared outside of the towns. They will leave their own sick and go any distance to nurse whites, and sit up with them night after night.

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