Primary Resource

"The Richmond Freedmen," New-York Tribune (June 17, 1865)

"The Richmond Freedmen," published in the New-York Tribune on June 17, 1865, describes the meeting between five prominent African American men from Richmond and President Andrew Johnson, which took place at the White House, in Washington, D.C., on June 16, 1865. The men met with Johnson to complain about "the wrongs, as we conceive them to be, by which we are sorely oppressed."

Transcription from Original

THE RICHMOND FREEDMEN.
THEIR VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT.
THE ADDRESS AND REPLY.
DETAILS OF THE BARBARITIES COMPLAINED OF.
Opening of the Richmond Schools.
Special Dispatch to The N. Y. Tribune.
Washington, Friday, June 16, 1865.

The colored delegation, a fine-looking body of men, were received by the President at 11 o'clock to-day. Their address and accompanying documents were presented, which seemed to make a profound impression upon the mind of the Executive. He said he should make no formal speech in response to the grave complaints they had submitted, but he would assure them he should do all he could to have justice done them in their new condition. He saw by the papers that Mayor Mayo had been deposed with his Rebel police, and in that regard one cause of complaint would be removed. He inquired if they had complained to the local authorities of these abuses.

The Chairman of the delegation replied he had, and the result had been that they had been treated very much worse than before calling Gen. Patrick's attention to facts which had exasperated the subordinates to find they were complained of. They could not get an audience with Gen. Halleck, though they frequently tried so to do, and so they thought best to come to the chief head of all authority. The President said he would refer their case to Gen. Howard, with orders for him to do what was best to be done under the circumstances. In the civil administration he should look to Gov. Pierpont, but so far as the military was concerned, he would see that justice was done to all classes.

The President then inquired of Mr. Van Vleet, who had presented the delegation, whether he had called upon Gen. Halleck in relation to this matter. He said he had not; but as Gen. Patrick was Provost-Marshel and the General who was understood to have originated the persecutions complained of, he went to him and protested against the proceedings of the provost guards and the Rebel police. Gen. Patrick was rough, and insultingly said, "This whole business belonged to him to manage, and he did not wish newspaper editors or any other gentlemen to dictate to him." After leaving Gen. Patrick, Mr. Van Vleet said he presented the subject to Gov. Pierpont, who said the abuses should be reformed, and the next morning sent for Mr. Mayo and deposed him. The President said that was right. That Gov. Pierpont was there without law to guide him, and he should adapt himself to the necessities of the occasion. The chairman of the delegation said he went several times to see Gen. Halleck but could never reach him. He was not allowed a personal interview with him. The President then assured the delegation that he would do all in his power to protect them and their rights; that he would take care of the military and see they perpetrated no more wrongs upon them, while the Governor would manage the civil authorities. The delegation then retired, much pleased with the President and their interview.

Gen. Howard has ordered Commissioner Brown at Richmond to thoroughly investigate the late outrages perpetuated upon the Freedmen there, and his report is expected daily. The General will then lay before the President a full statement of the facts of the case for his action. A dispatch received from Commissioner Brown yesterday states that the odious pass system has been abolished, and that the colored schools have again been opened.

Address of Delegates to the President—Statement of Wrongs and Oppression

At a meeting of colored people held at the house of Peter Matthews, at Richmond, on June 8, for the purpose of taking some action in relation to the persecutions of the colored people by the military and police authorities. Fields Cook was appointed Chairman. After a free discussion it was resolved to appoint Fields Cook, Peter Woolfolk, Nelson Hamilton and Walter Snead a committee to hear and investigate all complaints that might be brought before them. The committee were in session for two days, and received a great variety of complaints, among which were those given below.

The committee having made their report to an adjourned meeting, a committee was appointed to lay their grievances before the President of the United States, and present the following address:

Mr. President: We have been appointed a committee by a public meeting of the colored people of Richmond, Va., to make known to your Excellency, as our best friend, the wrongs, as we conceive them to be, by which we are sorely oppressed.

We represent a population of more than 20,000 colored people, including Richmond and Manchester, who have ever been distinguished for their good behavior as slaves and as freemen, as well as for their high moral and Christian character; more than 6,000 of our people are members in good standing of Christian churches, and nearly our whole population constantly attend divine service. Among us there are at least 2,000 men who are worth from $200 to $500; 200 who have property valued at from $1,000 to $5,000, and a number who are worth from $5,000 to $20,000. None of our people are in the alms-house, and when we were slaves the aged and infirm who were turned away from the homes of hard masters, who had been enriched by their toil, our benevolent societies supported while they lived, and buried when they died, and comparatively few of us have found it necessary to ask for Government rations, which have been so bountifully bestowed upon the unrepentant Rebels of Richmond.

The law of Slavery severly [sic] punished those who taught us to read and write, but, notwithstanding this, 3,000 of us can read, and at least 2,000 can read and write, and a large number of us are engaged in useful and profitable employment on our own account.

During the whole of the Slaveholders' Rebellion we have been true and loyal to the United States Government; privately and collectively we have sent up our prayers to the Throne of Grace for the success of the Union cause. We have given aid and comfort to the soldiers of Freedom (for which several of our people, of both sexes, have been severely punished by stripes and imprisonment). We have been their pilots and their scouts, and have safely conducted them through many perilous adventures, while hard-fought battles and bloody fields have fully established the indomitable bravery, the loyalty and the heroic patriotism of our race.

We rejoiced with exceeding great joy at the fall of Richmond and the termination of the war, which we supposed broke the last fetter of the American slave. When the triumphant Union army entered the city of Richmond we alone gave it a cordial welcome, receiving it with hearts bursting with joy and thanksgiving: and when our late beloved and martyred President made his entreé [sic] into our city we alone hailed his advent with enthusiastic cheers of acclamation, and of all the citizens of Richmond we alone, with a few solitary exceptions, wear the exterior badge of mourning, as truthful expressions of our grief for his untimely death; and it is, therefore, with sorrowing hearts that we are compelled thus to acquaint your Excellency with our sad disappointment, for our present condition is, in many respects worse than when we were slaves, and living under slave law. Under the old system, we had the protection of our masters, who were financially interested in our physical welfare. That protection is now withdrawn, and our old masters have become our enemies, who seek not only to oppress our people, but to thwart the designs of the Federal Government and of benevolent Northern associations in our behalf. We cannot appeal to the laws of Virginia for protection, for the old negro laws still prevail, and besides, the oath of a colored man against a white man will not be received in any of our State Courts: so that we have nowhere to go for our protection and justice but to that power which made us free. We would respectfully call the attention of your Excellency to the conditions of our church affairs. By the laws of Virginia, colored churches were compelled to accept of white preachers, who, of course, were uncompromising friends of Southern institutions; and, again, our church property, which we have paid for out of the scanty earnings of years of toil, according to law, must be deeded to white trustees. Now, in the reconstruction of our church matters, we wish to employ clergyman of our own choice and faith, and to hold our own property. The obnoxious clergy we may gradually get rid of, but how to get possession of our church property passes our understanding.

In the city of Richmond, the military and police authorities will not allow us to walk the streets by day or night, in the regular pursuit of our business or on our way to church, without a pass, and passes do not in all cases protect us from arrest, insult, abuse, violence and imprisonment, against which we have thus far had no protection or redress. Men have not only been arrested in the street, but the police, in conjunction with the Provost Guards, have entered our dwellings and workshops, and have taken men from the work-bench and put them into prison because they had no pass, or because they would not recognize the pass presented as genuine or sufficient.

In numerous instances our people have been driven from their old homes, or have sought employment elsewhere, when justice to themselves and their families demanded that they should make such a change; and many of these people have been rudely arrested, thrust into prison, and hired out by military authority for the most insignificant sums. A number of men who have been employed upon plantations have visited Richmond in search of long-lost wives and children, who had been separated by the cruel usages of Slavery. Wives, too, are frequently seen in our streets, anxiously inquiring for husbands who had been sold away from them, and many of these people, who ignorantly supposed that the day of passes had passed away with the system which originated them, have been arrested, imprisoned and hired out without their advice or consent, thus preventing the reunion of long estranged and affectionate families.

Respectable and educated strangers from distant States visiting Richmond for pleasure, business, and for benevolent objects, have, like all the rest of us, been subjected to the insults and oppressions of which we complain. In some of these cases the parties arrested have exhibited their passports with the broad seal of the State stamped upon them, but in every such instance their passports were contemptuously ignored, and the parties holding them subjected to imprisonment.

In addition to the annoyances to which we have been subjected, by the pass system, some of our people have been punished in the most cruel manner, the like of which was never heard of, even in the slave pens of Southern traders.

For the further practical working of this pass system, we respectfully refer Your Excellency to the accompanying documents, being statements made to an authorized committee by respectable colored men who have been the victims of this system. A few days ago, Gen. Gregg, whose headquarters are at Lynchburg, published an order to the Freedmen, in which he tells them that they "have all the rights at present that free people of color have heretofore had in Virginia, and no more." We were sorry to see this announcement, for we supposed that the recently freedmen were a class of persons unknown to the laws of Virginia, or to any other State, but that they were to be subjected only to special acts of Congressional enactment.

The recent reinstatement of Mayor Mayo, and his old police force is deeply regretted by us. During the whole period of the Rebellion, Mr. Mayo, as the Chief Magistrate of the city, and as a private citizen, exerted all his influence to keep alive the spirit of treason and rebellion, and to urge the people to continue the contest. The cruelties perpetrated upon sick and defenceless Union prisoners, at Libby Prison and upon Belle Isle, were openly and shamelessly approved by him. For a long series of years he has been the Mayor of Richmond, and his administration has been marked by cruelty and injustice to us, and the old Rebel police now again in power have been our greatest enemies. It was Mayor Mayo who in former days ordered us to be scourged for trifling offenses against slave laws and usages: and his present police, who are now hunting us through the streets, are the men who relentlessly applied the lash to our quivering flesh, and now they appear to take special pleasure in persecuting and oppressing us.

In justice to Gov. Pierpont, in whom we recognize a true friend, it is proper to say that the reappointment of the Rebel authorities here was not authorized by him, nor are they in power by his advice, consent or desire.

When we saw the glorious old flag again streaming over the Capitol, we thought the power of these wicked men was at an end, and however sad our hearts may be over the present state of our affairs, we have lost none of our faith in or our love for the Union, or for yourself or its Chief Magistrate, and therefore, as oppressed, obedient and loving children, we ask your protection, and upon the loyalty of our hearts and the power of our arms you may ever rely with unbounded confidence; and in conclusion, let us respectfully remind your Excellency of that sublime motto once ascribed over the portals of an Egyptian temple, "Know all ye who exercise power, that God hates injustice!"

Walter Snead.

Peter Woolfolk.

Richard Wells.

Wm. Williamson.

T. Morris Chester.

Nelson Hamilton.

Richmond, Va., June 10, 1865.

The following are the statements above referred to, being the substance of testimony given before the Committee:

CASE OF NED SCOTT—THE ACCOUNT PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED.

It will be remembered by our readers that a notice has been published in our columns of the cutting and stabbing by a negro, on Sunday night last, of two United States soldiers, near the corner of Main and Twenty-fourth sts. The names of the soldiers are Sergeant Jerome Allen, member of Company D, 98th New-York, cut in the arm and hand, and Private Peter S. Clarke, Company A, 98th New-York, cut in the neck and shoulder. The negro's name was Ned Scott, who had previously insulted two gentlemen, and was pursued by Allen and Clarke, belonging to Colonel Kreutzer's guard, stationed on the corner of Twenty-fourth and Main sts. Being overtaken the fellow drew his knife, and, by the vigorous use of it, inflicted such wounds on his pursuers as to prevent his capture. About 8½ o'clock on Tuesday night, however, he was captured by Clarke, who had been constantly on the lookout for him, nearly opposite the military rendezvous, and committed to Libby Prison, where he remained till yesterday morning, when he was taken before Col. Krutzer. There being no doubt as to the identity of the fellow, Col. K. passed sentence that he should be bucked and paddled for an hour by a posse of negroes, then placarded with, "I stabbed two of the provost guard," and marched about the streets for a specified time, preceded by a drum and fife, playing the "Rogue's March," with a file of soldiers on each side at a charge bayonets, after which he was to be taken back to the provost-marshal's office, placed in a coffin, from which a piece large enough for his face to show was cut, and, after being securely nailed up, to be taken outside of the building and propped up, where, with his face whitened with flour, he should remain a couple of hours before being turned loose, all of which sentence was faithfully performed.

We witnessed the execution of the last clause of the sentence, and can truly say that we never saw a more ludicrous or amusing scene. With all the gravity which would accompany the preliminaries for burying a man alive he was placed in the coffin by a few soldiers, his hands folded across his breast, his face whitened with flour, then the lid pressed over him and nailed down, after which he was interrogated as to his desire for the services of a minister. At this juncture the fellow commenced begging to be spared death; but, meeting with prompt refusal, he apparently resigned himself to his fate, and solicited the attendance of the pastor of the Third Baptist Church, to which he said he belonged. The proceedings were carried to the extent of ordering a guard to go for the preacher, who, of course did not go; whereupon the coffin containing the hero of the occasion was taken into the street and set up against the building, where he remained for two hours, during which he was surrounded by hundreds of persons who enjoyed the spectacle hugely. The black rascal was then, almost half dead from fright and heat, released from confinement and informed that he could go, which privilege, it may well be supposed, he was not slow to avail himself of. There is no doubt that this fellow will know how to behave himself in future.

This is the reporter's story, and is partly true and partly false. The wife of Scott and a young man named Adams were both before the Committee—were examined separately and both told the same story. By their statement Scott and his wife, together with Adams and a young colored woman, were quietly walking down Main st., when two white men overtook them, and rudely passed between the man and woman, separating Scott and his wife, whose hands were joined, and at the same time striking Scott's wife in the breast, and knocking her into the street, and using vulgar language to her. Scott inquired why he struck his wife? The answer was a tirade of gross abuse and a blow in the face. The woman ran toward her home, pursued by the two men, who stoned her as she ran. They then (as the guards say) went to the Guard-House and told the guards that they had been insulted by that nigger, pointing to Scott, and that he had attempted to stab them, whereupon the guards without muskets, as they were not on active duty, went to Scott and roughly inquired why he had insulted white gentlemen? Scott explained the origin of the affair and was going away when the guards seized him to take him to the guard-house. Scott, supposing they were only rough soldiers, who wished to add injury to insult, resisted, using a small penknife, and after a brisk contest with both effected his escape, the two guards being slightly cut. On the Tuesday following, Scott was arrested and punished as described above. He was not discharged as above stated, but was put into Castle Thunder, and the Provost-Marshal said he intended to put him into the Naire-gang twenty or thirty days and let him go. He said the mode of punishment was prescribed by Gen. Ord.

STATEMENT OF BERNARD R. ROBERTS.

Was born in Richmond; was lately a student of Wilberforce College, Ohio; am at present keeper of a restaurant; aged 21 years.

On Wednesday, June 7, saw a white and colored man fighting; after the fight was over a white spectator observed that if the white man had not been drunk he would have whipped the colored man; I remarked that no drunken man could fight as hard as he did, whereupon, he assaulted me, and, after striking me three times, I knocked him down, and made my escape; was pursued by the Provost-Guard, who overtook and arrested me, and took me before Capt. Sneller, a provost-marshal; I stated to him the facts as here stated, adding that if I had not defended myself I would have been beaten to death; after my statement the man who assaulted me told the Provost-Marshal that he had been assaulted by two colored men, and had he not been protected by his friends, would have been severely beaten; no other witnesses were examined, and the Provost-Marshal ordered me to be tied up by my hands, in which painful position I remained for more than 20 minutes, when I was taken down and put into the guard-house, where I remained an hour and a half, when I was released.

STATEMENT OF NELSON E. HAMILTON.

Two of my sons were employed in the bakery of George White, and while thus employed Police Officer Griffin arrested them because they had no pass, and denied that they were regularly employed; he would not hear me or my sons make any defense, but took them to jail; in the evening my wife and daughter carried them something to eat, but they had been removed to some other prison, and they could not find them, (June 9, 1865.)

STATEMENT OF ALBERT BROOKS.

I am an old and well-known resident of Richmond; was a slave, but bought myself, my wife and six children; have kept a livery stable for 10 years, and have now a license for running three carriages, signed by the military authorities, and which I was told was necessary to save my carriages from confiscation, and for which license I paid $37.50; I employ several colored men and pay them $35 per month; I was arrested by the police and put into the city jail, on the plea that my pass was not good.

Statement of Wm. Ferguson, Proprietor of the "Shaving Emporium" Exchange Hotel.

On the 7th inst., I saw a drunken white man assault a colored boy; for some time the boy made no resistance, but finally seized and threw the white man; a gentleman and myself separated them, and while the boy was hunting his hat, a second attack was made upon him, and they were again separated, and the colored boy retired, but soon after he was arrested and strung up by his arms in front of the Exchange Hotel; I saw him thus suspended, and made his case known to the Northern ladies, one of whom went with me to the office of the Provost-Marshal, where I stated the facts of the case and the boy was released, together with another man who was being punished in a similar manner; soon after this occurrence, I was talking in the street with the Rev. Mr. Stickney, an U. S. Army Chaplin, when several U. S. soldiers assaulted me; Mr. Stickney interfered in my behalf and caused the arrest of one of the soldiers, and he was taken before the Provost-Marshal, but whether punished or not, I cannot say.

STATEMENT OF WASHINGTON HUTCHINSON.

Born and brought up in Richmond; am a gardener and work for Mr. Fromer; have been in the habit of selling vegetables in the Richmond market for employers in the country; came into town on the 8th inst. to get a marriage licence; went to the Provost-Marshal's to get it; was told to bring up the girl; went after her, and while on the way was stopped by the guard, who demanded my pass; showed him a pass given me by Capt. Scoville; the police, who was acting in concert with the guard, then approached, and said my pass was not good, and sent me to jail by the guard; after being in jail several hours, the jailor examined my pass, said it was good and released me, together with a large number of other men who had passes.

STATEMENT OF JOHN OLIVER OF MASSACHUSETTS.

I came to Richmond from Boston a few weeks ago, on a visit, having a passport made out in due form and signed by the Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; a few days ago I was walking in Franklin st. with Mr. Hawley (also colored) of Springfield, Mass.; upon arriving at Davis's old slave pen we stopped to look at it, when I was hailed by a Provost-Guard, who, without asking for a pass, demanded to know why I was walking in the street; I told him I came to see Richmond. "Then," said he, "you will stop here with me." I asked him how long? "Longer than you think for," he replied, and continued to address me in abusive and vulgar language. I showed my protection from Massachusetts, which I told him "ought to protect me in any part of the world," but he said he did not care for that, and contemptuously spurned it; I then wrote a note to the Provost-Marshal, asking him why I was detained in the street, and sent it to his office; he sent for me; I told him my story and showed him my passport; he said it was not sufficient and gave me another. My friend Hawley also showed his passport to the guard without effect, and while he was standing in the street the officer of the day told him that he had given insolence to the guard, which Hawley denied, whereupon the officer dismounted and beat him with his fist.

It was in evidence before the Committee that irresponsible persons stopped negroes in the street, and entered their houses, demanding passports, and that citizens aided the police and military in stopping and running down colored men.

STATEMENT OF THOS. J. HAYES.

On the 8th inst., I was on the steamboat wharf at Rockets, and saw Thos. M. Chester, late army correspondent for The Philadelphia Press, come off the steamer, where he had been to leave his dispatches for the North, assaulted by one of the Provost guards; he called to a Lieutenant of the 20th N. Y. V., who was there on duty, for protection, but the Lieutenant told the guard to strike Chester with the butt of his musket. During the difficulty, a Second Lieutenant of the same regiment came up, to whom Chester stated the origin of the affair; the truth of Chester was denied by a citizen, when Chester reaffirmed the correctness of his statement, whereupon the Second Lieutenant, assuming a threatening attitude, said, Chester must not contradict a white man in his presence.

During the whole affair, Chester offered no resistance. The pass he exhibited was the usual pass given to correspondents following the army. Mr. Chester is an educated, cultivated and refined gentleman, and sails for Europe in a few days.

STATEMENT OF STEPHEN JONES.

I am a huckster in one of the Richmond markets; on the 8th inst. I was in the shoe shop of Joseph Gilpin, when police officer Perry came in and asked one of the men at work for his pass; the man said he had no pass; Gilpin told the officer the man was in his employ, but notwithstanding this, Perry took the man off his seat and carried him to jail.

STATEMENT OF EDWARD DAVENPORT.

Was employed in the Rebel war office, and now keeps a boarding-house, and is otherwise engaged in business; was arrested by the police, who demanded my pass; exhibited my license to carry passengers, signed by Gen. Patrick, in whose office I had been employed, upon the recommendation of Gen. Lee, who sent a letter to Gen. Patrick, asking employment for me; I was well known by the police to be a respectable man, but they disregarded my papers, and I was obliged to submit to arrest.

STATEMENT OF LEWIS HARRIS.

Was born a slave, and remained in Slavery until three years ago, when I went into the service of the United States as teamster; am now a market man, engaged in selling vegetables; live in Henrico, 10 miles from Richmond; was this day arrested (June 9) by the Police for not having a pass; I showed the papers given me at the Union Headquarters, upon which I have traveled and worked up to this time; I came in town to-day with a load of vegetables, and being imprisoned, lost my day's work and my vegetables; was released through the agency of my sister.

STATEMENT OF WELLINGTON BOOKER,

late messenger in the Rebel War Department. Was this day arrested by the Police and put in jail; after some hours confinement was released, my pass being deemed sufficient; a number of others similarly situated were also released.

STATEMENT OF ALBERT WILLIAMS.

Am a citizen of Petersburg, and while on my way to Alexandria to establish myself in business stopped in Richmond to get some tools I had left there; with my arms full of tools I was arrested by the police, who demanded my pass; told the officer I was not a slave, and that the day of passes was at an end; he said it was Yankee freedom now, which he had always told the niggers would be worse than Southern Slavery; told him I had no pass, but showed the following letter:

"To all whom it may concern—This is to certify that I have known Albert Williams (colored) for twelve years—has worked for me as a carpenter for two or three years at a time. He formerly belonged to R. Ragland, of Petersburg. Any one who will give him work, or any jobs for himself will find him worthy of trust.

W. H. Mitchell & Brothers.

Builders, Richmond. Va."

The officer took me to jail, and I was afterward sent to Chimborazo Hospital and confined, and during the night was robbed by the soldiers on duty there. I am now here without the means of going to my family or to Alexandria.

Harry P. Jones, sent as a Teacher from the City of New-York, and who was eleven months teacher in the 1st Regiment United States Colored Troops, while on his way to the boat, bound on an excursion to Dutch Gap, was arrested for not having a pass, marched through the streets for an hour, and then, with other prisoners, placed in one of the houses in the burned district; there was no roof to this house, and no protection from the burning rays of the sun. He remained here for several hours, and was finally released by the interposition of Lient. Baldwin, Vice-President of the Richmond Union League.