Primary Resource

Depositions for the Claim of William James (March 20, 1872)

In these depositions before an agent of the Southern Claims Commission, dated March 20, 1872, William James and two of his neighbors report the loss of property to Union armies during the American Civil War (1861–1865). James was a free black during the war and needed to prove to the commission both that he supported the Union and that he owned the property that was taken. His responses to certain questions refer to the commission's so-called Standing Interrogatories. James's claim was approved.

Transcription from Original

United States of America,

STATE OF VIRGINIA

No. [blank]

In the matter of the Claim of [William James (Cold)] of [Gravel Hill] in the County of [Henrico] in the State aforesaid

Before the Commissioner of Claims, under the Act of Congress of March 3d, 1871.

Be it Remembered, That on this [20th] day of [March] in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-[2] personally appeared before me, M. F. PLEASANTS, a Commissioner selected and designated by the Commissioners of Claims, appointed under the Act of Congress of March 3d, 1871, to take and record, under such instructions as I may from time to time receive from them, the testimony of such witnesses as may be named in such cases as may be referred to me, at my office at [Richmond] in the [County] of [Henrico] in the State aforesaid [Wm> James] Claimant, and [Richard Sykes & Isaac Sykes] witnesses to testify and the truth to say on the part and in behalf of the Claimant herein.

Present [William James] Claimant,

[E. M. Garnett] Counsel,

Thereupon the said [William James] being about the age of [56] years, by occupation a [Farmer] and resident of [the] County of [Henrico] in the State aforesaid, having been by me (by virtue of my office as a Commissioner duly appointed by the Circuit Court of the United States, for the District of Virginia, in the 4th Circuit, under and by virtue of the Act of congress, entitled "An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States," passed Sept. 24th, 1789, and the Acts entitled "An Act for the more convenient taking of Affidavits and bail in Civil Causes, depending in the Courts of the United States," passed February 20th, 1812, and March 1st, 1817) first cautioned and sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in the matter of the claim aforesaid, I did carefully examine the said [William James] apart from all the other witnesses named in this case, and he did thereupon depose, testify and say, as follows, viz:

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Questions as to Loyalty

To questions 1 & 2 he says I have always lived in Henrico Co & farmed there on my own place, with the exception of a few months. When the Union troops took all my property ,I could'nt [sic] live there, so I went off in August 1864 with all my family, with the troops, to City Point. I stayed there in the Quartermasters Dept until the war was over when I went home & I have lived there since.

To questions 3 & 10 inclusive he answers in the negative.

To question 11 he says I was [impressed] in 1862 to work on the Rebel Battery in Chesterfield Co. I was kept about 15 days & then I ran away & never went back.

To questions 12 & 16 inclusive he answers in the negative.

To question 17 he says never, except as stated in answer to question 11.

To questions 18, 19, & 20 he says no.

To questions 21 & 22 he says I always gave them all the information I could & I worked for them 9 months at City Point.

To questions 23 & 30 inclusive he answers in the negative.

To question 31 he says I have got papers to take my produce to Richmond but they never asked me to take any oath.

To questions 33 & 34 he says I was always a Union man. I believed if the Rebels gained their

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independence they would make slaves of all of us free colored people. I could'nt [sic] get any rights from any body but the Union. I was always ready to help the Union Cause in every way I could.

Questions as to the taking of his property he says, I was present & saw all of my property taken. It was done in August 1864 by Genl [David M.] Greggs soldiers. They were camped on my field 4 or 5 days & in that time they took everything I had. My crops, stock, fences, furniture, clothing & everything. I was obliged to quit the place & go with my wife & four children to City Point. I got work there in the quartermasters Dept & stayed 9 mos. When I got back my place was bare of everything.

[Items numbered in margin] They took one mule out of my stable. He was young & sound. I paid $150 for him before the war commenced in good money. They killed one cow. She was a full grown milch cow. They took 7 hogs. I saw only one killed. The others were driven. 3 were full grown, the others were half grown shoats. They carried away all my furniture, tables, chairs, bureaus, side board, prep, crockery ware, pots, kettles &c. They took it to their camps. They took a new cart that cost me $40, 2 plows, a drag [?], cultivator, hoes & such things. I think 100 lbs of bacon were taken. I had made it myself. They took two barrels & a half of flour. I had 10 acres of growing corn, all ripe. It was all used by the men

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& fed to the horses. It would average 30 or 35 bushels to the acre. I had 4 acres of oats, partly cut. It was all fed away or carried off. I had an acre of hay cut & stacked & about half an acre of potatoes cabbages & onions. All were taken. I had 45 bushels of shelled corn. It was taken from the corn house. I had'nt [sic] measured it, but I am sure there was at least that much. It was the last [?] corn.

I had 15 acres fenced in & one crop fence. It was all pulled down & used for firewood & to mend the roads. All of these things I saw taken & used. It was done by troops who were expecting to fight & who did have a fight right in my field. The officers told me I would get paid for what was taken, if I was loyal. But they did'nt [sic] seem to believe that I was free & used to say I was keeping the things for my master.

I never thought about asking for a receipt.

I never got a cent of pay for anything & this is the only claim I have ever made.

William James his X mark

Witness M. F. Pleasants

Testimony of [I. Sykes]

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Thereupon, the said [Isaac Sykes (Cold) being about the age of [69] years, by occupation a [Farmer] and resident of [the] County of [Henrico] and State of [Virginia] having been by me (by virtue of my office aforesaid,) first cautioned and sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in the matter of the claim aforesaid, I did carefully examine the said [Isaac Sykes] apart from all the other witnesses name in this case, and he did thereupon depose, testify and say, as follows, viz:

I have known William James ever since he was a boy. He & I married sister. He owns & lives on the farm next to mine. He was born free. Like all the colored people in our neighborhood he was always on the Yankee side. He thought if the Rebels got the best of the fight all of our colored people would be made slaves of & that the Yankees were the only part that would give us our rights. He never did anything to help the rebels. When his property was taken he went off with the Union soldiers & took service with them. There is no doubt of his loyalty. Ever since the war he votes the Radical ticket.

I saw his property taken. It was done in August 1864 by Genl Greggs troops. They were camped off an on about 3 weeks in the neighborhood. They took everything James had & then he quit the place & went away with the soldiers. I heard of him at City Point working for them. [Items numbered in margin] I saw his mule taken from the stable & I saw him several times after he was taken, ridden by a bugler. The mule was young, sound, & a very fine one. I saw his cow killed in the field & carried off. She was a full grown milch cow. I saw one of his hogs killed & 6 carried away. There were 3 grown hogs & 4 shoats. I saw all his furniture taken, bedsteads, bureau, tables, pots & kettles, everything of the sort he had. They took a new cart from him,

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a plow, harrow & swept the whole place clean. I saw the soldiers using the furniture out in the fields. I saw he had bacon & that the soldiers took it, but don't know how much & I did'nt [sic] see it done. I saw two barrels of flour taken out of his house, but I cant say if they were full. I saw his standing corn cut down. IT was a good sized field, maybe 10 acres. It was all carried off. He had 3 or 4 acres of oats. The solders cut them & carried them off. He had an acre in hay. The haw was cut & stacked. He had about half an acre of a garden, potatoes cabbages & onion. Everything was dug up & carried off clean. I know he had some old corn, but I did'nt [sic] see it taken & cant say how much he had. I know he did'nt [sic] carry any away. I think he had 18 or 20 acres fenced in. The fences were all torn down & burnt for fuel. They pulled off all the weatherboarding of his house & carried it off. I heard afterwards they used it to build winter quarters. I know they carried it away. They swept the whole place clean, so that he could'nt [sic] live there. He took his family & went to City Point & stayed there till the war was over.

Isaac Sykes his X mark

Witness M. F. Pleasants

Testimony of [R. Sykes]

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Thereupon, the said [Richard Sykes (Cold) being about the age of [67] years, by occupation a [Farmer] and resident of [the] County of [Henrico] and State of [Virginia] having been by me (by virtue of my office aforesaid,) first cautioned and sworn to testify the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, in the matter of the claim aforesaid, I did carefully examine the said [Richard Sykes] apart from all the other witnesses name in this case, and he did thereupon depose, testify and say, as follows, viz:

I have known William James since he was a boy. He lives & always has for 20 or 30 years, on his farm next to mine in Henrico Co. He was born free. I knew him well all through the war. He was a good Union man. He agreed with my brother & me in our notions about the war. He believed the rebels would put him into slavery & that the Union would give him his rights. He never did anything to help the Rebels, & I have known of his giving information to the Union pickets. He was looked upon by all the colored people as a trusty Union man in the war & ever since he voted the Republican ticket.

His property was taken by Genl Greggs soldiers in August 1864. They were settled down near the place 4 or 5 days & were passing back & forth for some weeks. I will tell you only what I saw taken. [Items numbered in margin] I didn't see the mule taken, but I saw the soldiers riding him for two or three days after. A bugler ham him & carried him off. The mule was young, sound & a fine fellow. I saw the cow killed. It was a full grown, large cow. They carried off the meat. I saw two of the hogs killed & 5 driven off. I think there were 4 full grown & 3 large sized shoats but I cant be sure now. They took all his furniture to their camps. There were tables & chairs, bureaus, and a side board, pots & kettles & such

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things. They took a good cart from him, a plow, harrow hoes & other things.

I saw the soldiers take his bacon from the house. There were a good many pieces but I couldnt say how much. I know he had flour but I did'nt [sic] see it taken. They took all he had of everything. He had a good field of corn, all ripe. Maybe 6 or 7 acres. It was all cut down & carried off. He had 3 or 4 acres of oats. The soldiers cut them & carried them off. He had about an acre of hay partly cut. The soldiers used it all. He had a garden, a patch of potatoes, cabbages & onions, about an acre & a half. He had bought about 40 bushels of shelled corn. The soldiers took it & emptied it all around for their horses. He had about 15 acres of fenced in. The fences were all torn down & burnt for fuel. They took all the weatherboarding from his house & carried it out to camp on.

They swept the whole place clean. So that he couldnt live there. He took his family & went off with the soldiers to City Point & stayed there till the war was over.

Richard Sykes his X mark

Witness M. F. Pleasants