Return to Port Royal Experiment
Letter from Mr. Reuben Tomlinson
To J. M. McKim, Corresponding Secretary of the Pennsylvania
Freedmen's Relief
April 10, 1864

2nd Annual Report of New England Freedmen's Relief
Government Superintendent of the Freedmen in St. Helena and Ladies' Island, to J. M. McKini, Esq., Corresponding
Secretary of the Pennsylvania
Freedmen's Relief Association. {
Philadelphia Press, April 21, 1864.)
St. Helena, S. C, April 10, 1864.

Dear Mr. McKim.—I have yours of the 2d inst., requesting a statement of facts, bearing upon the progress of the
Freedmen in this department. You say that the question is constantly asked, both at home and abroad, " What are the
evidences of the progress of the Freed men ? "To us, who are living in the midst of these evidences, the question
seems superfluous. Yet I suppose it ought to be and must be answered.

The first fact to which I would call attention is this: In August, 1862, when I first came into the department, nearly the
whole colored population was drawing rations from the government; at this time I think not more than five hundred
persons draw rations from month to month. I include in this estimate refugees and those that would be paupers under
any circumstances. This number is constantly diminishing, and by the end of the season there will be none entitled to
rations except the destitute old and infirm persons, and we hope to have established, before that time, a system of
taxation that will insure the support of the poor and infirm without any aid from government.

Last year four plantations were purchased and worked by the Freedmen for themselves. The " Reynolds " place
produced over four thousand dollars worth of cotton, besides a plentiful provision crop. After paying all their
expenses, the people on this place have a very handsome balance to commence the year with. The "James Tripp"
place did proportionately as well, but I cannot trust my memory to give exact figures, and cannot get them in time for
the steamer. I know that no one person on the place received less than fifty dollars as his share, while most of the
shares ran over one hundred dollars, and some as high as two hundred dollars. This, also, besides a large provision
crop.

The " Inlet" place, owned and worked by Harry McMillan, produced thirteen hundred and fifty-eight dollars worth of
ginned cotton. The bulk of this cotton was raised by the labor of Harry, his wife, and two daughters, with the
aid of a mule and plough. Harry pays for his plantation, buys necessary stock, including cotton gins, &c, and has left a
handsome balance to [resume] the year with. The " Edgerly " place, on Port Royal Island, did fully as well as either
of the above. The people on that place not only raised a crop of cotton, which paid them all a large dividend, but in
addition to this they raised on their own land twelve hundred pounds of ginned cotton for the Rev. Dr. Peck,
he, of course, paying' for the labor; and they also paid to Mr. Hitchcock, a gentleman from New York, who was a
government superintendent in their neighborhood during last season, a bale of cotton (equal to $400) as
compensation for his advice and assistance ; which leads some of us to think that they either overrated his services,
or that they made more money than they knew how to use. The Edgerly pepole have had lumber brought from the
North, and having divided up their land, are building houses upon their several lots.

Thus far those that worked for themselves. Now for those that worked for other people. Anthony and Venus, laborers
on the " Capt. John Tripp Corner" place, St. Helena, received $194.80, exclusive of their provision crop.

Anthony is over sixty, and Venus over seventy years old. Frank and two daughters, girls of sixteen and eighteen
years, of the same place, received $184.35. Cato, wife, and daughter, of the "Robert Fulton" place, received
$180. The following amounts were received by persons on the " Coffin Point" place: Aaron and Judy, $136.48; Abel
and family, $210.57; Amaretta and family, $335.24; Leah and Peter, $99.38; Hackliss and Phillis, $175.32;
Frank and family, $181.93; George and family, $174.60; Miller and family, $188.67. There are several other families
receiving amounts ranging from $50. to $100. This, of course is independent of their provision crop. On
the " Pallanana " Island plantation, each hand will average over fifty dollars, and it will be remembered that these
cases, as well as numerous others that I might cite, are not the result of high wages, (though the wages were fair,) but
of industry on the part of the laborers. After this statement, and that made by Mr. Philbrick, that during the past
season he paid out twenty thousand dollars ($20,000) as wages to the people on his places, it will not be disputed
that the people have worked industriously and earned a large amount of money.

The next question is, are they thrifty and provident in the use of it ? In my opinion they are. Let me state some facts,
which will, I think, sustain that opinion. When the "instructions" authorizing the "pre-emption" of land came down here,
over eight thousand dollars were at once deposited, with parties appointed to receive it, by the colored people. This,
of course, did not take in anything like all the money that would have been forthcoming, had the people felt sure that
by so doing they would have secured the land They had been deceived too often, and, to use their own phrase, they
" couldn't trust." At the sale of the town of Beaufort, a short time ago, a large proportion of the purchases were made
by colored men, many of them paying the whole amount down, while others bought with the soldiers' privilege, one-
fourth down.

These purchases were not made for a song, either, I can assure you. At the land.sales which commenced on the l0th
of February, the same evidence of thrift and industry on the part of the people was manifested. Of course, however,
they could not compete with white men, who had come down here prepared to give the most fabulous prices for land.
Still, in some instances the Freedmen were successful in securing their land, paying in some cases as high as twenty
dollars per acre. In these cases, of course, they spent all they owned, and in a few instances, I believe, they
borrowed. On those lands recorded to be sold to the people, although not yet sold to them, they are at work for them-
selves. They are very desirous to secure animals to help them work their land.

At the recent sales of chattel property on the different plantations, the ability of the Freedmen was again manifested.
Horses, mules, and cows were bought by them quite freely, at very high prices. They gave more for them than their
friends thought best, but our appreciation of their necessity was probably not as great as theirs.

In making this estimate of the material progress of the Freedmen in this department, I have not yet referred to the
change that is slowly but surely going on in their domestic habits. Hitherto their diet has been of the simplest and most
meagre kind—corn and potatoes, varied occasionally by a piece of bacon, some oysters, or fish. Now they buy
habitually flour, molasses, bacon or pork, beef, sugar, rice, tea, and coffee. These articles, at the present
high prices, take a great deal of money, and this should be taken into account in speaking of their wages. Then, in
the matter of clothing, it should be remembered that the majority of the people have had to get a complete outfit; for
at the time their masters left, even the usual pittance of clothing had not yet been doled out to them. The refugees
from other places left everything behind them, and have literally had to commence life anew. Eighteen months ago
such a thing as a kerosene lamp, or even a candle, could not be seen in a negro Cabin; now they are frequent, not to
say common, sights. So I might go on through the whole catalogue of material wants, and the same indications of
progress would be found.

The educational progress of the Freedmen is so dependent upon their material welfare, that to prove the one is to
settle the question with regard to the other. The schools are always largely attended, and when all the drawbacks
are considered, the result so far attained can only be described by one word —marvellous. There are, of course, any
number of vices and weaknesses in the character of the Freedmen that must yet be uprooted ; and a contempla-
tion of these is sometimes very discouraging. The existence of such characteristics, however, any right minded
person will take for granted; and it is our business to show that there are counter-tendencies in their character and
condition which now modify, and will eventually control, them.

Truly yours,
Reuben Tomlinson.
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