Freedmen's Bureau Records: W. Storer How to Orlando
Brown, September 1, 1865
How submits a report on general conditions in the Sixth District, including Augusta County. He writes of the difficulties in organizing Bureau affairs, the attitudes of former slave-owners, and the efforts to provide for the poor in the region.
Bureau Refugees Freedmen & A
HdQrs Sixth District Va Col. O. Brown, Assist Comr
Sept 1st 1865
I have the honor to report that I have made a tour through the greater portion of my District, which is yet unorganized owing to my inability to procure officers, and the lack of troops in the several counties.
I have stationed civilians as Assist Superintendents at the principle points, Winchester, Staunton, and Lexington, and have thus been enabled to [unclear: convey] the impression throughout this region that the freedmen are being cared for, and that they may not be ill-treated with impunity.
The freedmen are generally at work but whether or not for their former masters cannot be determined in the absence of census returns. The feelings of the former masters are now [unclear: adverse] to the interests of the Freedmen whose newly acquired rights they are not disposed to respect although they verbally acknowledge their freedmen as "free persons of color."
If left to themselves by the withdrawal of the military, the former masters would generally resume the old mastership, and the condition of the freedmen [unclear: becomes] worse than when they were slaves.
The freedmen in this Shenandoah Valley, as a class, are superior to those of the James River region, have a brighter appearance, quicker movements, and more readily appreciate their new relations and responsibilities. Nearly all of them have gone to work, the larger number under definite contracts or agreements, which will terminate in December - "Christmas" of this year. The selection of this time for the ending of contracts appears to be owing, first, to the fact that the freedmen have been accustomed to look forward to that time as a period when work ceases, and have but rarely been able to look beyond that time, and, second, because the employers would then be able to dispense with the services of many of them, having very little work to do in the succeeding three months, coupled with a malicious desire to [unclear: throw] them on their own resources in mid Winter, or compel their friends the Yankees to support them.
It appears to me that these charitable designs may best be met by giving them, the Whites, to understand that they must support their paupers. A simple and just measure that would at once put a stop to "cabin burning", "sending 'em to the yankees" and other similar characteristic proceedings of our Southern brothers.
If some such step be not taken there will be a large number of dependents to be supported this winter. As yet there have been very few cases of helpless ones in this District but they are beginning to come in and will increase until about Christmas when a great number will be thrown out of work and home.
When our troops occupied this place, Staunton there were barrack hospitals and other buildings which would have been ample for the shelter of the destitute in this portion of the District, but they have been demolished and the lumber used or sold so that there is nothing left available for the use of the Bureau, nor is there a vacant building of any description to be obtained in or near the city
Throughout this District the same characteristics are noticeable. There are no vacant houses, no abandoned lands. The people generally remained at their homes and raised subsistence for the rebel army. The few who left speedily returning at the close of hostilities. There are no sources of [unclear: revenue] that I have been able to discover.
The collection of [unclear: b---] could not be prosecuted for want of men, - they were at work - of wagons, more could be had - of [unclear: b---], - they had been gathered; the Sheridan Mine at the lower end of the valley completely [unclear: ---ted]. Necessary funds must, then, be procured from without the District.
Rations have been issued to but a very small number of twelve (12) and no estimate can now be made of the number to be supplied, and if that number shall not be considerably increased there would seem to be no [unclear: interference] with the ordinary supplies for the troops, and no issuing officers [unclear: necessary].
No demands have as yet been made for medical attendance, but there will be frequent requests when the cold damp weather of this season in this climate shall set in and at this moment I am inclined to the employment of a local physician when suitable persons can be found, as they may be presumed to be familiar with both the patients and the diseases of the place.
The establishment of schools is ardently desired by the freedmen all over the District, and the difficulties in the procurement of School rooms, Teachers, Books, and everything else will, I hope, be speedily overcome as the time for beginning to shed light upon darkness is close at hand.
I am Colonel
Your Obedient Servant
W. Storer How, Capt & AQM
Supt Sixth Dist Va