Freedmen's Bureau Letters
A series of letters written by W. A. Eaton to the Freedmen's Bureau

Transcribed & contributed by Renate Sanders

W. A. Eaton to Howard

Franklin County N.C. Aug 1865
Genl O O Howard

My Dear Sir

Your very kind letter 22 xxxx, was recd a few days past. And I hope you will pardon me for trespassing again with an other letter. The only excuse I can make General, is thae hope of getting something done for the poor colored widow & Orphans, many of wom must be left to starve unless you can be enlisted in their behalf. General you are the only hope they have on earth. It is generally believed they are committed to your care, and let me entreat you to try and get something done for them. Unfortunately a great many of the colored women have large families of children without a husband and a great many will be totally unable to feed and cloth themselves & children when they are given up by their former owners, which the former owners will be compelled to do, at the end of the present year. Nearly all the men will set up for themselves and leave the women & children to shift for themselves and many of them were formerly owned by widows......
and Orphans, who have no home. The negros are xxx hired, and the 1st day of Jany (January) coming will find them homeless & friendless, unless the government will ___ forward to their relief. You say in your letter General that Franklin County will have to take care of its own paupers. General if every white (probably citizen) in this county, was taxed to his full capacity ___ could not take proper care, of the pauper negros that will be turned on the county the frist (sp) Jany next But General I do not propose to make this altogether a county institution, the reason why I ask to have it under th especial care of the general goverment (sp) is that when ever the agent for freedmen for the state, finds a fit subject for his special patronage he may have a place to send him to where they can have proper care taken of them, and if we can get one such institution started in the South it will beget many others of like character. In the present crippled state of this country I fear it would be a hopeless job to raise money to establish an institution of any kind much less for such a one as I propose. Many persons think it best to keep the colored rase (sp) in as much ignorance as posible. I beg leave to differ with them. I wold to God that every man woman & child in these United States were well educated, and piously instructed, and properly point the way to the Lamb of God, and how can that be done, unless Gods more enlightened children, will help to lift these poor people from the darkness that now surrounds them; I have written to Col Whittlesey* and invited him to visit me that I may lay my plan before him: I think it the cheapest plan that can be adopted to do any good. The land that I propose to get for the purpose belongs to 5 persons but all lying in one compact body, and if laid off and adjusted with skill, would accommodate a great many negroes, and if provisions are laid in at the begining of winter may be done to advantage If Col Whittlesey allows the negroes to remanin in and about Town the wood for them would cost quite as much as the home for them, here they can furnish their own wood, and by proper encouragement a great many may be enduced to support themselves. With one years start the place can be made to support itself. General would it be asking too much of you, to request you to speak to the highest powers that be, in behalf of this home for Negroes, in the name of God I beg that something be done for them. I hope General you will pardon my earnest entreeties for them, being here among them and knowing thir true situation I can not help being interested in their behalf seeing too as I do every day how unconcious they are of ther true Situation, for unless something is done many must perish the coming winter from cold. “let us not turn them away homelss necked hungry and cold” but do what we can for them. God prosper my petition for them is the earnest prayer of
Your Humble Servant

W A Eaton

P.S. There is one thing that we must not loose sight of, heretofore the Negro was taxed as property, now that is lost to state county and the general government, and I am sure they will not be able in their present situation to pay even a pole(poll) Tax -

ps cte W.A.E..


W. A. Eaton to Whittlesey


Franklin County Sept 2d 1865
Col E Whittlesey
Dr Sir
Your letter 12th *itto reached me this day. I have read its contents carefully, and I am truly thankful that I can indulge a slight hope from your letter, that something may yet be done for the poor destitute colored people of this country, for I do assure you they will soon stand much in need of your assistance. I say of yours Colonel, because they have no one to look to but you, and unless you can enlist the General government, or some of the Philanthropic Societies at the North in their behalf, God only knows, what is to become of them.
The time is drawing near where the greater portion of the negroes will have give up their present homes, and I fear many thousands will be homeless and friendless. As things exist, it will follow as a natural consequence. Very many of our largest land holders are renting their grounds to White laborers, owing to their inability to pay high wages for Colored labour; And this will throw a great many women and children out of imployment. And then there are a great many persons, who would employ the negroes but they are fearfull that the negro, might leave them in working season, and they would loose their crops. And this will throw a good many out of homes: And the fearfull consequence must follow.. that a great many negroes will spend the most of their time runing about the country looking for day work: which will nothing like give them a support. And that good old adage will surely be about them, Idleness produces want & want, vice & vice misery.
I had a good deal of conversation with Col Clapp* on the subject of the home for the destitute. I think I can furnish an excellent tract of land for the home, and think with good management it could be made to support a great many indigent negroes. You ask if such a place can be had with suitable buildings. There are already a great many buildings on the place, but not enough to carry out the home according to the scale I would like to start one, say with a school attached, for improving the young, and giving the old proper religious instruction, both of which I consider very important. I should like to have a personal interview with you on the subject. The place I propose to sell for the home, is two plantations that lay together. The two tracks of land contain 2200 acres, if properly laid off into lots, say of from 30 to 60 acres each, with with a good family house on each. And then select some of the best families we can find settle them on these lots. I say best families because I would like to have a good example set at the beginning, it would induce others to do better.
There are now on the two places good family residences sufficient to accommodate the teachers to the school, and the manager of the farming opperations, I gave Col Clapp a full description, and particularly of the School house which is onto accommodate 500 pupils. I propose to make it a manual school. By settleing 50 or 60 families, which would consume about 1500 acres; and the remainder of the land to be worked by the pupils in the school; The two places can be purchased for Twentyfive thousand dollars ($25,000) I have made a calculation what it would cost to erect all the buildings necessary to make the accommodations sufficient for 500 pupils, at my figures: all the necessary buildings will cost Fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) So you will see that land & buildings will cost ($75,000). I propose to put up every thing in neat and comely style: for unless the place was made to look like home; The colored people would not like it. I refer you to Col Clapp, for a full description for the plan. I would like to see you here; that you might see the situation. I think you would like it.
I am quite sure Col, that I could, after the frist year, make it a self supporting Establishment, and if you will have a proper agent, a goodly quantity of supplies may be collected from the farmers, from the growing crop for the indigent, if delivered to them, they will soon be waisted. And by the coming Spring, they will not have one pound of any thing to subsist on. And I fear, unless some eye is kept on the more ignorant persons among the colored people, many of them will be left without any portion, and then, what is to become of the women and children, unless they have some place to go to, and some person to look to for advice. Use your best endeavor to get a home erected for them. God grant us his assistance, in this. I believe a I hope I will meet with his approbation.
I before said that provisions could be collected from the farmers. I mean that portion of the crop that belongs to the Orphans. And then we have a good many women who have large families, and no husband, and may as a class may be counted Orpans, for, I assure you these women and children will want as much looking after, as any Colored people in our land. take these two classes together, and they will give a large number of the destitute. I think if you will have a proper agent for the colored people, and establish a home for them, and have their provisions collected together, and have some system in the use of them a large sum will be saved to the general government.
For unless you have some place for them to collect they will all be puring into your at Raleigh by the 1st of January, and in a very short time the fuel a lone would cost as much as the home would. And at this home, they can have wood without allowance, and comfortable houses to live in, many of them made to support themselves. By strict vigilance over them, many of them who would always live in idleness if left a lone, would be induced to work where every body was at work around them. But some of them would have to be made to work or they will die in idleness
Let me speak a little more plainly on the subject of an agent for the colored people, and I hope you will pardon my freedom of speech on that subject.
The time will soon be here when the crop is to be gathered in, and then come the division of the crop; A great many of the white people are perfectly willing that the Negroes should have an equitable part. But on the other hand I fear there are a great many who will try to make the negroes part as little as possible. Will it not be important to have an agent for them, who is well acquainted with the customs of the country; and likewise to be able to judge under the present circumstances what part of the crop ought to be paid to the negro for his services. This agent ought to be carefully selected, and ought to be required to give his entire time and personal attention to this business, for I assure you he will find, a full amount of business for any one man to attend to. If one man can do it, after the crops are divided between the whites & Blacks, some attention will have to be bestowed on the 2d division, say among Blacks themselves. For the stronger will be sure to try to get a full share and leave the orphan out and those orphans Col, must have some one to care for them. And you will find a great many in every county. We have in our family some 6 or 8 who will be destitute in deed if you do not have them looked to be some one, and have some place to send them to, some place of safety for them
I only cast these hints that you may think of what ought to be done in the premises.
If you can possibly come to Franklin I would be pleased to come out, for I am sure if we could see each other, we could make some arrangements for the home. If you conclude to come, give me a weeks notice. Your letter was 18 days on the road. Let me hear from you at least.
I am very Respectfully
Your most abl St
W A Eaton

*Lieutenant Col Clapp – Superintendent of the Central District of the Freedmen’s Bureau