Readings for April 3


1. Interview with a Former Slave (1941)

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration hired writers to scour the country and interview former slaves on tape. Click here to listen (MP3) to part of an interview with former slave Harriet Smith in Hempstead, Texas, in 1941. You can also click here to read a text transcription of the audio file.

2. Website about a Houston Civil War Figure

In 2011, history students at Rice University built a website about Richard “Dick” Dowling, a Confederate soldier from Houston whose statue stands just off the Rice campus in Hermann Park. Click here to read a synopsis of the battle that made Dowling famous and to watch the introductory video that students created. Then read through the exhibit called Slavery and the Battle of Sabine Pass, beginning with the introduction and continuing to the final section on “The Stakes at Sabine Pass.”


1. A Slaveholder Reacts to Abraham Lincoln’s Election (1860)

Excerpted from the November 9, 1860, diary entry of Keziah Goodwyn Hopkins Brevard, a 57-year-old plantation mistress from South Carolina.

I had prayed that God would thwart his election in some way & I prayed for my Country — Lord we know not what is to be the result of this — but I do pray if there is to be a crisis — that we all lay down our lives sooner than free our slaves in our midst — no soul on this earth is more willing for justice than I am, but the idea of being mixed up with free blacks is horrid!! I must trust in God that he will not forget us an unworthy as we are — Lord save us — I would give my life to save my country. I have never been opposed to giveing up slavery if we could send them out of our country — I have often wished I had been born in just such a country — with all our religious previleges & liberties with none of them in our midst — if the North had let us alone — the Master & the servant were happy with out advantages — but we had had vile wretches ever making the restless worse than they would have been & from my experience my own negroes are as happy as I am: — happier — I never am cross to my servants without cause & they give me impudence if I find the least fault, this is of the women, the men are not half as impudent as the women are. I have left a serious & what has been an all absorbing theme to a common one but the die is cast — “Caesar has past the Rubicon.” We now have to act. God be with us is my prayer & let us all be willing to die rather than free our slaves in their present uncivilized state.


2. President Lincoln Overturns an Emancipation Proclamation by a Union General (1862)

Washington [D.C.] this nineteenth day of May,
in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.

Whereas there appears in the public prints, what purports to be a proclamation, of Major General Hunter, in the words and figures following, to wit:

Head Quarters Department of the South,
Hilton Head, S.C. May 9, 1862.

General Orders No 11.–The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States–Georgia, Florida and South Carolina–heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.

(Official) David Hunter,
Major General Commanding.

Ed. W. Smith,
Acting Assistant Adjutant General.

And whereas the same is producing some excitement, and misunderstanding; therefore

I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, proclaim and declare, that the government of the United States, had no knowledge, information, or belief, of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation; nor has it yet, any authentic information that the document is genuine– And further, that neither General Hunter, nor any other commander, or person, has been authorized by the Government of the United States, to make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation, now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.

I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States, free, and whether at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government, to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.

On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution to be substantially as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

The resolution, in the language above quoted, was adopted by large majorities in both branches of Congress, and now stands an authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and people most immediately interested in the subject matter. To the people of those States I now earnestly appeal– I do not argue, I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves– You can not if you would, be blind to the signs of the times– I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any– It acts not the pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as, in the providence of God, it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Abraham Lincoln

Source: Freedmen and Southern Society Project

3. A Black Union Soldier from South Carolina Protests the Length of His Enlistment (1866)

Morris Island So Ca January 13 1866

My Dear Respictfully Friend General Sickels it is with much Honor we take to write to you about the Circumstances of our case now Genl do if you please Cir to this lookin to this [for us]. now General the Biggest Majority of our mens never had a Home Science this late wor Commence between the States the Greatist majority of them had Runaway from they Rebels master & leave they wives & old mother & old Father & all they parent jest Run away from they Rebels master in the years 1862. & 1863 & come Right in under the Bondage of Soldiers life living & according to agreement & promised we was expected to get out at the Closing of the wor, & then go back over the Rebels lands to look & seek for our wives & mother & Father

But General now to see that the wor is over & our Enlisment is out the Greatist majority of by two months & the General characters of our Regiment we do not think that the our Goverment have knowit for Instant I think if he had know the General characters of our Regt he would let us go at the Closing of this [war] for instant look & see that we never was freed yet Run Right out of Slavery in to Soldiery & we hadent nothing atoll & our wifes & mother most all of them is aperishing all about where we leave them or abbout the Country & we hear on morris Island Perishing sometime for something to Eate Half of our money got to use up in the Regtal Sutler for somthing to Eate & we all are perrishing our self & our Parent & wives all are Suffering

& do General if you Please do see & Enterceed & see if you cannot do any good to get us out of this if you please cir for all other Colored Soldiers that had a Home & is well situated at Home is go back but we that never had a Comford Home we is heer yet & we will have to buy our lands & places & by the time we get out of this all the Goverment cheap. Property & all the lands that would be sold cheap will be gone & we will have a Hard struggle to get along in the U S & then all the Southern white Peoples will have us for alaughin & game after for our Braverist that we did to Run away from them & come asoldiers they will be glad to see that we would not have but very little money & we would not have any land, atoll for all the cheap in things are going now So do Gen you is the only one that we know could do any good for us beside forwarded to Washington. So Please if you can do any good for us do it in the name of god it is a mejority of men of the 33 Regt USCT

Source: Freedmen & Southern Society Project

4. A Georgia Freedwoman Asks Federal Government to Restore Property Lost during the War (1873)

[Savannah, Ga., March 22, 1873]

General Interrogatories by Special Com’r– My name is Nancy Johnson. I was born in Ga. I was a slave and became free when the army came here. My master was David Baggs. I live in Canoochie Creek The claimant is my husband. He was a good Union man during the war. He liked to have lost his life by standing up for the Union party. He was threatened heavy. There was a Yankee prisoner that got away & came to our house at night; we kept him hid in my house a whole day. He sat in my room. White people didn’t visit our house then. My husband slipped him over to a man named Joel Hodges & he conveyed him off so that he got home. I saw the man at the time of the raid & I knew him. He said that he tried to keep them from burning my house but he couldn’t keep them from taking everything we had. I was sorry for them though a heap. The white people came hunting this man that we kept over night; my old master sent one of his own grandsons & he said if he found it that they must put my husband to death, & I had to tell a story to save life. My old master would have had him killed He was bitter. This was my master David Baggs. I told him that I had seen nothing of him. I did this to save my husbands life. Some of the rebel soldiers deserted & came to our house & we fed them. They were opposed to the war & didn’t own slaves & said they would die rather than fight. Those who were poor white people, who didn’t own slaves were some of them Union people. I befriended them because they were on our side. I don’t know that he ever did any thing more for the Union; we were way back in the country, but his heart was right & so was mine. I was served mighty mean before the Yankees came here. I was nearly frostbitten: my old Missus made me weave to make clothes for the soldiers till 12 o’clock at night & I was so tired & my own clothes I had to spin over night. She never gave me so much as a bonnet. I had to work hard for the rebels until the very last day when they took us. The old man came to me then & said if you won’t go away & will work for us we will work for you; I told him if the other colored people were going to be free that I wanted to be. I went away & then came back & my old Missus asked me if I came back to behave myself & do her work & I told her no that I came to do my own work. I went to my own house & in the morning my old master came to me & asked me if I wouldn’t go and milk the cows: I told him that my Missus had driven me off–well said he you go and do it– then my Mistress came out again & asked me if I came back to work for her like a “nigger”– I told her no that I was free & she said be off then & called me a stinking bitch. I afterwards wove 40 yds. of dress goods for her that she promised to pay me for; but she never paid me a cent for it. I have asked her for it several times. I have been hard up to live but thank God, I am spared yet. I quit then only did a few jobs for her but she never did anything for me except give me a meal of victuals, you see I was hard up then, I was well to do before the war.

Second Set of Interrogatories by Spec’l Com’r.

1 I was present when this property was taken.

2 I saw it taken.

3 They said that they didn’t believe what I had belonged to me & I told them that I would swear that it belonged to me. I had tried to hide things. They found our meat, it was hid under the house & they took a crop of rice. They took it out & I had some cloth under the house too & the dishes & two fine bed-quilts. They took them out. These were all my own labor & night labor. They took the bole of cloth under the house and the next morning they came back with it made into pantaloons. They were starved & naked almost. It was Jan & cold, They were on their way from Savannah. They took all my husbands clothes, except what he had on his back.

4 These things were taken from David Bagg’s place in Liberty County. The Yankees took them. I should think there were thousands of them. I could not count them. They were about a day & a night

5 There were present my family, myself & husband & this man Jack Walker. He is way out in Tatnal Co. & we can’t get him here

6 There were what we called officers there. I don’t know whether they ordered the property taken. I put a pot on and made a pie & they took it to carry out to the head men. I went back where the officers camped & got my oven that I cooked it in back again. They must have ordered them or else they could not have gone so far & they right there. They said that they stood in need of them. They said that we ought not to care what they took for we would get it all back again; that they were obliged to have something to eat. They were mighty fine looking men.

7 They took the mare out of the stable; they took the bacon under the house, the corn was taken out of the crib, & the rice & the lard. Some of the chickens they shot & some they run down; they shot the hogs.

8 They took it by hand the camp was close by my house.

9 They carried it to their camps; they had lots of wagons there.

10 They took it to eat, bless you! I saw them eating it right there in my house. They were nearly starved.

11 I told one of the officers that we would starve & they said no that we would get it all back again, come & go along with us; but I wouldn’t go because the old man had my youngest child hid away in Tatnal Co: he took her away because she knew where the gold was hid & he didn’t want her to tell. My boy was sent out to the swamp to watch the wagons of provisions & the soldiers took the wagons & the boy, & I never saw him anymore. He was 14 yrs. old. I could have got the child back but I was afraid my master would kill him; he said that he would & I knew that he would or else make his children do it: he made his sons kill 2 men big tall men like you. The Lord forgive them for the way they have treated me. The child could not help them from taking the horses. He said that Henry (my boy) hallooed for the sake of having the Yankees find him; but the Yankees asked him where he was going & he didn’t know they were soldiers & he told them that he was going to Master’s mules.

12 I didn’t ask for any receipt.

13 It was taken in the day time, not secretly.

14 When they took this property, the army was encamped. Some got there before the camps were up. Some was hung up in the house. Some people told us that if we let some hang up they wouldn’t touch the rest, but they did, they were close by. They commenced taking when they first came. They staid there two nights. I heard a heap of shooting, but I don’t think that they killed anybody. I didn’t know any of the officers or quartermasters.

15 This horse was as fine a creature as ever was & the pork &c were in good order.

16 Item No. 1. I don’t know how old the mare was. I know she was young. She was medium sized. She was in nice order, we kept a good creature. My husband bought it when it was a colt, about 2 years old. I think he had been using it a year & a little better. Colored people when they would work always had something for themselves, after working for their masters. I most forgot whether he paid cash or swapped cows. He worked & earned money, after he had done his masters work. They bridled & carried her off; I think they jumped right on her back

Item No. 2. We had 7 hogs & we killed them right there. It was pickled away in the barrel: Some was done hung up to smoke, but we took it down & put it into the barrels to keep them from getting it. He raised the hogs. He bought a sow and raised his own pork & that is the way he got this. He did his tasks & after that he worked for himself & he got some money & bought the hogs and then they increased. He worked Sundays too; and that was for ourselves. He always was a hardworking man. I could not tell how much these would weigh; they were monstrous hogs, they were a big breed of hogs. We had them up feeding. The others were some two years old, & some more. It took two men to help hang them up. This was the meat from 7 hogs.

Item No. 3. I had half a barrel of lard. It was in gourds, that would hold half a bushel a piece. We had this hid in the crib. This was lard from the hogs.

Item No. 4 I could not tell exactly how much corn there was but there was a right smart. We had 4 or 5 bushels ground up into meal & they took all the corn besides. They carried it off in bags and my children’s undershirts, tied them like bags & filled them up. My husband made baskets and they toted some off in that way. They toted some off in fanners & big blue tubs.

Item No. 5. I don’t know exactly how much rice there was; but we made a good deal. They toted it off in bundles, threshed out– It was taken in the sheaf They fed their horses on it. I saw the horses eating it as I passed there. They took my tubs, kettles &c. I didn’t get anything back but an oven.

Item No. 7. We had 11 hogs. They were 2 or 3 years old. They were in pretty good order. We were intending to fatten them right next year– they killed them right there.

Item No. 8. I had 30 or 40 head of chickens. They took the last one. They shot them. This property all belonged to me and my husband. None of it belonged to Mr. Baggs I swore to the men so, but they wouldn’t believe I could have such things. My girl had a changable silk dress & all had [talanas?] & they took them all– It didn’t look like a Yankee person would be so mean. But they said if they didn’t take them the whites here would & they did take some of my things from their camps after they left.

Nancy X Johnson

Source: Freedmen and Southern Society Project

5. Elizabeth Cady Stanton Argues that Woman Suffrage Must Come Before Black Enfranchisement (1869)

From Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Address to the National Woman Suffrage Convention, January 19, 1869

If the civilization of the age calls for an extension of the suffrage, surely a government of the most virtuous, educated men and women would better represent the whole, and protect the interests of all than could the representation of either sex alone. But government gains no new element of strength in admitting all men to the ballot-box, for we have too much of the man-power there already. We see this in every department of legislation, and it is a common remark, that unless some new virtue is infused into our public life the nation is doomed to destruction. Will the foreign element, the dregs of China, Germany, England, Ireland, and Africa supply this needed force, or the nobler types of American womanhood who have taught our presidents, senators, and congressmen the rudiments of all they know ?

I urge a Sixteenth Amendment because, when “manhood suffrage” is established from Maine to California, woman has reached the lowest depths of political degradation. So long as there is a disfranchised class in this country, and that class its women, a man’s government is worse than a white man’s government with suffrage limited by property and educational qualifications, because in proportion as you multiply the rulers, the condition of the politically ostracised is more hopeless and degraded. … If American women find it hard to bear the oppressions of their own Saxon fathers, the best orders of manhood, what may they not be called to endure when all the lower orders of foreigners now crowding our shores legislate for them and their daughters. Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who can not read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling-book, making laws for Lucretia Mott, Ernestine L. Rose, and Anna E. Dickinson. Think of jurors and jailors drawn from these ranks to watch and try young girls for the crime of infanticide, to decide the moral code by which the mothers of this Republic shall be governed ? This manhood suffrage is an appalling question, and it would be well for thinking women, who seem to consider it so magnanimous to hold their own claims in abeyance until all men are crowned with citizenship, to remember that the most ignorant men are ever the most hostile to the equality of women, as they have known them only in slavery and degradation.

6. Frederick Douglass Argues that Black Suffrage Must Take Precedence (1869)

From a Debate at Equal Rights Association Meeting, May 12-14, 1869

Mr. [Frederick] DOUGLASS:- … There is no name greater than that of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the matter of woman’s rights and equal rights, but my sentiments are tinged a little against The Revolution [Stanton’s address]. There was in the address to which I allude the employment of certain names, such as “Sambo,” and the gardener, and the bootblack, and the daughters of Jefferson and Washington, and all the rest that I can not coincide with. I have asked what difference there is between the daughters of Jefferson and Washington and other daughters. (Laughter.) I must say that I do not see how any one can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to woman as to the negro. With us, the matter is a question of life and death, at least, in fifteen States of the Union. When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own. (Great applause.)

A VOICE:-Is that not all true about black women?

Mr. DOUGLASS:-Yes, yes, yes; it is true of the black woman, but not because she is a woman, but because she is black. (Applause.) Julia Ward Howe at the conclusion of her great speech delivered at the convention in Boston last year, said: “I am willing that the negro shall get the ballot before me.” (Applause.) Woman! why, she has 10,000 modes of grappling with her difficulties. I believe that all the virtue of the world can take care of all the evil. I believe that all the intelligence can take care of all the ignorance. (Applause.) I am in favor of woman’s suffrage in order that we shall have all the virtue and vice confronted. Let me tell you that when there were few houses in which the black man could have put his head, this woolly head of mine found a refuge in, the house of Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and if I had been blacker than sixteen midnights, without a single star, it would have been the same. (Applause.)

Miss [Susan B.] ANTHONY:-The old anti-slavery school say women must stand back and wait until the negroes shall be recognized. But we say, if you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. (Applause.) If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the Government, let the question of woman be brought up first and that of the negro last. (Applause.) While I was canvassing the State with petitions and had them filled with names for our cause to the Legislature, a man dared to say to me that the freedom of women was all a theory and not a practical thing. (Applause.) When Mr. Douglass mentioned the black man first and the woman last, if he had noticed he would have seen that it was the men that clapped and not the women. … Mr. Douglass talks about the wrongs of the negro; but with all the outrages that he to-day suffers, he would not exchange his sex and take the place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Laughter and applause.)