The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands
"The Freedmen's Bureau"
(Hernando and Pasco Counties)
On 04 March 1865 the United States Congress, under the direction of The American Freedman Inquiry Commission, elected to establish "The Bureau of Refugees, Freedman, and Abandoned Lands" commonly know as the "Freedmen's Bureau". The bureau was in operation until 1872 when it was disbanded. This newly formed U.S. Government Agency, like the commission, was under the direction of the U.S. War Department. The Bureau controlled confiscated lands in the former Confederate States, border states, District of Columbia and Indian Territories; these lands were given to the "freedmen" the Bureau protected. The main purpose of the "Freedmen's Bureau" was to help newly freed slaves acquire some of the things that they had been previously denied such as land, education, equality and the opportunity to learn the same trades as the whites. On 06 December 1865 the true abolishment of slavery had been finally reached through the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The previously passed acts and proclamations only freed a few thousand slaves but the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery once and for all, legally. The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified to read as follows:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
With the true abolishment of slavery the Freedman's Bureau was now assisting 4,000,000 newly freed African American, no longer slaves, with their transition from slavery into freedom. The Freedman's Bureau not only assisted the newly freed African Americans but they also assisted white farm owners who were now destitute due to the abolishment of slavery. Much of the Southern Slave Plantation estate values were based upon the value and number of slaves in that particular estate. According to the 1860 Hernando County Tax Book there were 853 slaves valued at an amazing $309,030 for such a sparsely populated area; at that time Hernando included all of present-day Pasco and Citrus Counties. In today's dollars that figure would be multiplied by 10 times equaling more than 3 million dollars in value. Throughout our area the most populated area with slaves stretched from Brooksville on the north to Dade City on the south; in 1860 there were some 151 slaves in and around the Dade City area. Other Southern States had more significant losses. After the close of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, life became very different for the African American people, they were no longer owned and could move about the country freely.
Union Major General Oliver O. Howard headed the newly formed Freedman's Bureau, which has been termed the first federal welfare agency; he helped manage the bureau's approximately 900 agents. Howard was a devout churchgoer and fervent civil rights advocate. With the bureau's newly acquired 4,000,000+ people to care and provide for there were Freedman's Bureau Offices established throughout the U.S., specifically in areas with high numbers of newly freed African Americans; which was typically in the Southern states. Local level Freedman's Bureau Offices were the most important and effective institutions every created during the U.S. Reconstruction Period. The Freedman's Bureau was the only organization every established that truly sought to better the lives of African Americans. The Bureau helped African Americans in ways that were thought to be not possible. Some of the biggest achievements reached by the Bureau were helping to establish schools, communities, jobs, homes and independence through wealth for African Americans.
Hernando County wasn't any different than any other part of the Southern United States after the abolishment of slavery; it too was affected by the formation and accomplishments of the Freedman's Bureau and it's local offices. The Freedman's Bureau opened a local office in Brooksville to assist with formation of communities, schools, homes and jobs for the newly freed African Americans in our area. Col. Thomas W. Osborn, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau in Florida, appointed Hernando County Judge Perry G. Wall agent of the Hernando County Freedmen's Bureau. Circulars were rules or laws passed by the Bureau, in Circular number 9 all probate judges had been appointed agents for the Freedmen's Bureau. According to "The Life and Career of Perry G. Wall" by Kyle VanLandingham, it was reported "the African Americans were very pleased with Perry G. Wall as their agent, especially those who had made contracts with the planters". Perry had a vested interest in the African Americans of his county since he too had previously owned 25 slaves in 1860, as recorded in the Tax Book for the same year. Later Hernando County became a part of the Tampa local office under the direction Agent Wm. G. Vance who was not just an agent but was also a member of the United States Military. This was because Perry G. Wall could not take the Bureau's oath of office, known as the "Ironclad", since he had previously supported the Confederacy; the office of Freedmen's Agent was only open to members of the Union Party and only if they had not been involved with the Confederacy. As local Bureau office were opened locally throughout Florida many of the agents were surprised and reported that much of the bureau's future work was already underway as the freedmen and plantation owners had already reached agreements to work without help from the Freedmen's Bureau. The bureau's job was made easy throughout Florida and they simply started to monitor what had already been established.
Among the achievements of the Freedmen's Bureau education was the first priority for the bureau. The Bureau spent more than five million dollars on establishing schools in the Southern States. By the end of 1865 there were over 90,000 former slaves enrolled in schools throughout the south with average attendance rates between 79 and 82 percent. By 1870 there were 1,000 schools, in the South, for freedmen. J. W. Alvord, an inspector for the bureau, wrote that the freedmen "have the natural thirst for knowledge," aspire to "power and influence ... coupled with learning," and are excited by "the special study of books."
Throughout present day Pasco and Hernando County there were no Freedmen's Bureau sponsored schools however there were two schools for the freedmen in 1867, these schools were located in present day Brooksville. One of these schools was known as the Brooksville Colored School and carried and average attendance of 45 scholars according to Freedmen's Bureau reports. The Brooksville Colored School was owned by Dr. Stringer and later was owned by the freedmen of the area. The other school for the area was a special school called a Sabbath School meaning it was conducted in a church. This school held sessions every Sunday for one hour before or after church. This Sabbath School had an average attendance of 35 scholars according to reports. This school later closed on account of the teacher moving to Tampa and lack of pay. These two schools serviced freedmen from many miles away as they saw it important to retain an education.
|This photo appears in Things Remembered: An Album of African Americans in Tampa by Rowena Ferrell Brady, with the following caption: "Following the Civil War, almost all African Americans in Hillsborough County struggled to make a living, most by farming. Typically, they lived in log houses such as the one portrayed in this 1895 photograph. The names of the family members shown here are not known. [Stokes Collection, USF]" The Stokes collection is described on the USF web site as "concentrating on the Pinellas Pasco region" and taken along the Orange Belt Railway. Bill Dayton believes this picture was taken near the Pasco-Hernando border, perhaps near Trilby.|
The second biggest achievement made by the Freedmen's Bureau after education was helping the freedmen secure land. Major General Howard supported this cause and even went as far as to advise his agents to invest their own personal money to lease farms to the freedmen. Howard also advised to subdivide the farms and build homes for the freemen willing to work for wages; this paved the way for later communities. Howard created a $52,000 trust fund for the purpose of purchasing land for resale to the freedmen. One of the biggest deals the bureau made from this money was 375 acres near Washington D.C., this land was divided in 359 lots which was sold to the freedmen for $225 per lot. There were several other similar purchases across the south, which provided homes to countless former slaves.
Since the bureau was in charge of confiscated and abandoned lands they could distribute these confiscated and abandoned lands to the freedmen. By 1865 there had been 850,000 acres of land distributed to the freedmen. One type of land grant became known as "40-acres and a mule" because the freedmen were given 40-acres of land to farm and a mule to drag a plow with. This type of grant applied to the freedmen on the coasts of both South Carolina and Florida. Only a few thousand freedmen really took advantage of the 40-acres and a mule grant since they were later allowed to apply for land under the same Land Acts as the whites.
One area the Freedmen's Bureau concentrated on was in providing everyday necessities such as clothing, food, medicine and other such aid. The Bureau provided food in the form of rations to the freedmen and poor whites. The Bureau set aside $350,000 for the service of rations but only used $35,000. There were such items as pork, syrup, corn meal and rice given as rations. The rations would be shipped to the agent of a particular bureau office and he would distribute these rations to the freedmen in his district. There was also a system set up where planters could feed the freedmen they employed. The Freedmen's Bureau also provided another creative way of supplying rations through the distribution of seeds for the freedmen to plant crops on their newly acquired property, this provided some freedmen with employment and a way to eat.
Sharecropping arrangements and contracts were also made throughout Hernando County and what became present day Pasco County. These arrangements led to the formation of African American communities throughout our area. Some of these communities were formed during the time period of the Bureau and others were formed later by freedmen who worked and later bought property. Remnants of these pioneer communities are still visible today in both Hernando and Pasco Counties.
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