At the end of the Civil War, the Union army occupied the former Confederacy, supplying government for a South still in turmoil. Under the leadership of Union General O.O. Howard, the Freedmen’s Bureau was set up to open black schools, find housing and employment for former slaves, and protect civil rights of newly freed men and women.
The following letter, from the National Archives’ collection of Freedmen’s Bureau documents, is typical of correspondence received by Bureau officials. For every positive letter of a school set up, or a community adjusting to change, there seem to be ten – or even a hundred – letters received that wrote of wrenching violence, poverty, and confusion over freedmen navigating a new but still hostile world.
On September 5, 1865, John Holland wrote to General Howard’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Holland wrote from Upperville, a village about 15 miles from Lincoln. His letter explains a tragic situation and the threats of violence against himself and his property. He sounds desperate with no where else to turn. Unfortunately I have found no evidence of how this situation turned out, or if Mr. Holland received the support he needed to safely offer a home and employment to a freedman and his family. The bigger question is: what happened to that man and his family?
John Holland was no Quaker, but his letter makes it obvious that the Quaker community of Lincoln was known to be supportive of both the Union and the efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau. In particular, Holland knew of both Samuel M. Janney and Yardley Taylor. Below is John Holland’s letter followed by its transcript.
Blooming Dale Woolenfactory
Sep the 5th 1865
Gen. O.O. Howard
Sir I wish to call your attention to a mater of some moment to myself as well as others it is just this some few weeks or a month since a coloured man in my neighbourhood applied to me for a vacant room that was in my factory stating that his master had given him orders to leave but he stated to me that he did not want to leave his master until he had secured his crops I told the coloured man that I had no particular use for the room and would prefer him getting a house somewhere else but if he could not he might move in for a while at least until he could do better so after he had secured the crop of wheat he moved in to my room. On last Saturday a man came into the neighbourhood and sent me word by a neighbor woman that if I did not move that family out of my factory I would have it burned down I thought this was a hard case I have always found the coloured man to be a quiet peaceable man willing and anxious to get work even since he has been living with me I have found him employment most of the time Now Gen. as there3 has been some houses burned down about here just because the [sic] were rented to blacks and for fear that my factory might share the same fate I just moved the man in an other house for the present Now Sir I want protection in some way and I think that the coloured people ought to have protection for it seems the determined purpose of the people of these parts to oppose them and make them feel if possible that freedom is worse than slavery it is a general remark with the Secesh here (and there is very few of anything else) that the blacks may live in with the whites but the people shall not rent them houses that is a plan that they want to adopt to get shut of the old and the children and still treat them as slaves or worse I could give you an account of several cases and even this man that I hired was turned out without even a mouthful to eat and his master had not a few days since even paid him a cent for his labour although he promised him wages I have taken the advise of some friends and they advised me to write to you if I should have my factory burned it is all I have in this world to support my family I want protection I want what is right I want to see the Blacks protected in their rights as it respects my character [sic] and consistency as a Union man I refer you to G [General] Auger to Samuel M. Janny [sic] or Yardley Taylor of Loudon County
John R Holland
My address is Upperville Fauquier Co. Va