Debow's review, Agricultural, commercial, industrial progress and resources; vol. 2, iss. 4, October 1866; pp. 346-355. By George Fitzhugh.
ART. II. - CAMP LEE AND THE FREEDMEN'S BUREAU.
CAMP LEE, about a mile from Richmond, is but a branch or appendage of the Freedmen's Bureau in that city. For this reason, and because we ourselves live at Camp Lee, and until recently held our court in Richmond, we have thought it would be appropriate to treat of the two in connection. Admitted behind the curtains, were we curious, prying, or observant, we might have collected materials for an article at once rich, racy and instructive; but we are, unfortunately, abstracted, and see or hear very little that is going on around us. What we have seen and heard, so far as we deem it interesting, we will relate, without breach of confidence, because nothing has been told us in confidence, and we have seen or heard nothing at all discreditable to any officer of the Bureau.
The institution has a very pretty name, but unlike the rose, "would not smell as sweet by any other name." In truth, it is simply and merely a negro nursery; a fact which would have been obvious even to the blind, if led into our little court-room, where the stove was in full blast, and about a hundred cushites were in attendance, as suitors, witnesses or idle lookers-on. You may be sure, Mr. Editor, we smoked desperately and continuously. As this habit of ours, of smoking whilst sitting on the Bench, has been made the subject of remark in some of the Northern papers, we deem this explanation due to our contemporaries and to posterity; for as part, parcel, or appurtenance of the Negro Nursery, we shall certainly descend to posterity. Indeed, a good many of our Federal friends will be obliged to us for this explanation, for our soldiers smoked terribly in Richmond, quite as terribly as Uncle Toby's soldiers swore in Flanders.
This Negro Nursery is an admirable idea of the Federals, which, however, they stole from us. For we always told them the darkeys were but grown-up children that needed guardians, like all other children. They saw this very soon, and therefore established the Freedmen's Bureau; at first for a year, thinking that a year's tuition under Yankee school ma'ams and Federal Provost Marshals would amply fit them for self-support, liberty and equality, and the exercise of the right of suffrage. They have now added two years more to the duration of the Bureau, because they now see that the necessity for nursing the negroes is twice as urgent as they thought it at first. At the end of that time, they will discover that their pupils are irreclaimable "mauvais sujets," and will be ready to throw up "in divine disgust" the whole negro-nursing, and negro-teaching business, and to turn the affair over to the State authorities.
The American people, by that time, must become satisfied that they have expended enough, aye, and far too much, of blood and treasure in the hopeless attempt to make citizens of negroes. They must first be made men, and the Bureau is a practical admission and assertion that they are not men, and will not be for two years hence. By that time they think the Ethiopian will change his skin. We are sure he will not. Negro he is, negro he always has been, and negro he always will be. Never has he been, and never will he be a man, physically, morally, or intellectually, in the European or American sense of the term. None are so thoroughly aware that the term "negro" is, in its ordinary acceptation, the negation of manhood, as the abolitionists and the negroes themselves. They are no longer negroes, but "colored people." Those who call them other than negroes, are acting falsely and hypocritically, for they thereby as good as assert that these blacks have changed their natures, moral and intellectual, and risen to an equality with the whites.
They are our fellow-beings, children, not men, and therefore to be compassionated and taken care of.
The Bureau has occasioned much irritation, and in some instances, no doubt, been guilty of wrong and injustice to our people; but it has saved the South a world of money and of trouble, and expended a great deal of money among us, at a time when we could spare neither men nor money to keep order among the negroes, or to support the helpless ones. We can bear it for two years longer, but after that time we must have negro-nurseries of our own; that is, like the Federals, we must institute a distinct and separate government for the negroes. A majority of those living in the country will subside, if they have not already subsided, into the "statu quo ante bellum." The crowds of paupers, beggars, rogues, and vagabonds, infesting our cities and their suburbs, must be summarily dealt with by State bureaux located in each considerable town. No bureaux or bureau officers will be needed in the country, or in villages-nor are they even now needed.
We have resided at Camp Lee for more than a year. During that whole time there have been from three to five hundred negroes here, furnished with houses by the Federal authorities, part of which were built by the Confederates during the war for military purposes, and part by the State Agricultural Society before the war. The grounds are still owned by that Society. The brick house, however, in which we reside was originally erected by Colonel John Mayo, deceased, father in-law of General Winfield Scott. The dwelling-house, called the Hermitage, was burned down many years ago. The Society added a story to these brick buildings, and erected two-storied porticos in front and at the sides of them. They now make quite an imposing appearance, with a portico of a hundred and fifty feet in front, and wings of about eighty on the lower floor, and one of equal extent on the upper floor. We are, just now, the sole occupant of the lower floor, and a French lady the sole occasional occupant of the upper floor.
Most of this building, until a few weeks since, was occupied by Mrs. Gibbons, her daughter and Miss Ellison. Whilst they were here, Camp Lee was tolerable, and often very agreeable, even to us, separated as we are from our family. We hope, and have reason to expect, that they will return during this fall. In front of this building we have a market-garden of two acres, which so far, owing to the drought, has been a great failure, but which Daniel Coleman (Freedman), our gardener, assures us will do wonderfully well as a fall garden. But we are quite incredulous. We are great at theory, and hence generally fail in practice.
Just beside our vegetable-garden stands Mrs. Gibbons' zoological-garden. Here she would sometimes have as many as a hundred and twenty negro orphans, of both sexes, and various ages. The buildings for them were ample and commodious. Mrs. G.'s attention and kindness to her wards was assiduous, untiring, and very successful. When she first took these infants in charge, some time last fall, the mortality among them was fearful; but after about two months, by frequent ablutions, close shaving of their heads, abundance of warm and clean clothing, and plenty of good and various food, they were rendered remarkably healthy, and so continued until their removal to Philadelphia. Mrs. G. removed, in all, about two hundred to that city. We presume they have not been so healthful there, for we learn, indirectly, that the Board of Health of that city has advised, or required, their removal. Poor things! Camp Lee was a Paradise to them. Immorality and crime in every form, want and disease, will fill up the balance of their existence. They will be feeble, hated, persecuted and despised. They lost nothing in losing their parents; but lost all in losing their masters. They will meet with no more kind Mrs. Gibbons in this cold, harsh, cruel world.
Mrs. Gibbons is a member of the Society of Friends, deputed by an association of ladies, of Philadelphia, belonging to that society, to superintend the negro orphan asylum at this place. The Bureau furnishes the ordinary rations to these infants, and the association abundance of whatever else that is needed for their comfortable subsistence. When Mrs. Gibbons left, she had on hand some fifty-five new comers, not yet prepared to be sent North. These were sent over to Howard Grove, another branch of the Negro Nursery at Richmond. We believe most of the sick, aged and infirm negroes are sent there. It was a Confederate hospital during the war, and is now a negro nursery and hospital. We have never visited it since the war. Near it is Chimborazo Hospital, now Nursery, and this also was a Confederate hospital. There were a great many negroes there last winter, but we believe the Bureau has succeeded in getting rid of all but the infants and infirm. We learn there are nine ladies there, teaching literary or industrial schools.
Miss Ellison was the teacher at this place. This teaching, however, is, we fear, but a cruel farce, that but incites to insubordination, and will induce the negroes to run a muck against the whites, in which Cuffee will come off second best. These negro orphans have lost their parents, but we feel quite positive that in three instances out of four their parents are not both dead. Negroes possess much amiableness of feeling, but not the least steady, permanent affection. "Out of sight, out of mind," is true of them all. They never grieve twenty four hours for the death of parents, wives, husbands, or children. Some of the negroes at this place informed us, many months ago, that many of Mrs. Gibbons orphans had parents in Richmond. About four weeks since, a very interesting little negro child, about two years old, was deserted by its mother, picked up in the streets of Richmond, and brought to Mrs. Gibbons. Not ten days since, just at the approach of a terrific storm, a negro mother left her little daughter, of about five years old, exposed in the field, within a few hundred yards of this place. It was picked up by some kind-hearted negro, and is now in the keeping of the French lady. It is clever, and extremely emaciate. It has been starved. But we do not blame the poor mother. She, too, deprived of a master, was no doubt starving, and the best she could possibly do was thus to expose her child, with the hope that some humane person able to provide for it might find it and take it in charge.
"Abolition" has dissevered the relation of husband and wife among the negroes, as well as that of parent and child. Besides Mrs. Gibbons' zoological gardens, here at Camp Lee, there are some thirty or forty tenements, inhabited by negro women and children. A negro man is scarce ever seen. They have very generally deserted their wives entirely, or live and work at a distance, come once a month to see their families, and bring them nothing when they do come. The very young children here have died out from neglect of their mothers. There are scarce any births, and some three hundred women, and children between the ages of six and sixteen-all as idle as the dogs, which are quite as numerous as the negroes, for they all love dogs and take care of them, however much they may neglect their children. These three hundred "Amazonidee" are under the especial charge of the Richmond Bureau. They constitute a zoological garden independent of Mrs. Gibbons' zoological gardens. They are of all colors, from ebony-black to almost pure white; and of all races, except the pure Caucasian. My gardener, Daniel Coleman, is descended from an Indian father, who belonged to the Pamunky tribe, about three hundred of whom now live on the Pamunky River, about forty miles from Richmond. They retain not a word of the Indian language, and have more of negro than Indian blood in their veins. Daniel Coleman's first wife was an Indian woman, and his children have more of the Indian appearance than he. He has a daughter exactly like the picture of Pocahontas in the Capitol at Washington. He himself has a very aquiline nose; in other respects he resembles the negro more than the Indian. All of his children by his first wife have delicately tapering limbs, very small feet, with high instep. His present wife is a bright mulatto, but her children resemble only the coarse, sluggish negro; yet she is quite a clever woman, and I would sooner confide in her children than those of mixed Indian blood, for all Indians are thorough, unmitigated scoundrels, animals of the feline kind, false, cowardly, hypocritical and cruel. Indians were made to be exterminated.. But for abolition negroes might be put to a better use.
Uncle Daniel Coleman (his young wife and everybody else call him Uncle Daniel, although he is ten years younger than we, and we are by no means old), Uncle Daniel, we say, has so little of the Indian blood in him, that he is honest, industrious, reliable, and respected by everybody. He is a universal favorite, a good gardener, and the best chambermaid we ever saw. But his boy John, about fifteen years old, small, handsome, beautifully formed, and active as a cat, is a thorough Indian, and the greatest scoundrel in America, yet we cannot help liking John, for although he cheats or deceives us every day, he is so graceful, so elegant, so polite, that we had much rather be cheated by John, than to receive a favor from a Down-Easter, a Dutchman, or a Scotchman. He is the very soul of chivalry, and is always fighting, when be is not cheating or stealing. Nothing could be more amusing than to see Daniel, his father, who is short, fussy, and irascible, trying, or pretending to try, to catch him, to punish him for fighting. John runs twice as fast as Daniel, who soon gets out of breath, and before night forgets his wrath. But yesterday John was regularly arraigned before us by a negro who had lost seven dollars, and been to the fortune-teller's in Richmond, whose description of the thief exactly answered to John. Upon the strength of it he demanded restitution of the money from Daniel. Thereupon the prosecutor, Daniel, Daniel's wife and children, and half the women, boys, and dogs in Camp Lee, came to lay the case before me. I told the prosecutor I did not think his evidence quite sufficient to convict John, and if it were, I was no judge now, and had never been a judge in criminal matters.
These fortune-tellers employ spies and informers, and we shrewdly suspect John did steal the money, yet this evidence was not sufficient to convict.
The negroes have always had very vague notions of the extent of our power and authority as judge, and as they were inclined to think our powers quite as extensive and unlimited as those of Thad Stevens's Radical Congress, we have encouraged the delusion. Indeed, although we practised law in the civil courts for almost thirty years, we never had very precise notions of military law, especially of Yankee military law, and felt, whilst sitting as judge in the Freedmen's Bureau, pretty much, we suppose, as Sancho Panza felt whilst distributing justice in the island of Barratoria. We assumed that our jurisdiction was almost unlimited, and that we were bound by no system of laws, and therefore ought to decide each case according to our own notions of right and wrong. Proceeding upon this principle, we believe we gave entire and universal satisfaction to all parties, negroes, federals, and confederates. But let us deceive no one. Our notions of right and wrong in matters of law and justice are not the notions of unlettered men. They are derived from almost forty years of study of the laws and institutions of all civilized nations, whether modern or ancient, so far as we had access to them. Crude, indeed, are the ideas of law and of justice of men unlettered in the law.
Our Camp Lee folks are a very party-colored people, and we have given Uncle Daniel and his family only as a sample of the whole. Never lived there a more quiet, indolent, and orderly set. They never work except in strawberry, blackberry, and whortleberry season, and when the peaches and apples begin to get ripe. Very few of them are allowed rations, and how they subsist no one can tell. It is not their fault, however, that they do not work. A stronger, abler and heartier set we never saw; but they have not enough sense to get employment for themselves, the Bureau will not hire them out, and they are taught that it is discreditable and wrong for negro women to work in the field. Now, we know, that there is not a full-blooded negro woman in America fitted for any other work except field work. At that they are almost equal to white men, but in any other capacity, their labor is not worth half that of white women. Half the country ladies of Virginia have worked in their gardens, and some in the fields, during, and since the war, yet these negro wenches are taught to live by crime, rather than work in the field, where alone they are fitted to work. They have, in a great measure, ceased to have children. They have no husbands, and deserve none, for they are too proud to work, and husbands cannot support them in idleness. The inevitable consequence will be, that the vast number of negroes congregated in and about our towns will be rapidly exterminated.
The negroes in the country are contented, and valuable laborers. Having, no rent to pay, abundance of food and fuel, and money enough at all times to buy plain necessary clothing, they are never punished by absolute want, never become rest less or insubordinate. Besides, they dwell too far apart to combine for any mischievous purposes. But the excessive numbers of negroes about our towns, for want of employment, are continually in a state bordering on actual starvation, and all starving men are desperate and dangerous. We know from daily and careful observation that the Bureau in Richmond has and still is exerting itself to the utmost of its very limited powers to abate this nuisance, by refusing rations, and advising and persuading the negroes to remove into the country, where they can all find employment. Force, not "moral suasion," governs all men, whether white or black. If the Bureau had the power to take these idle negroes up, and hire them out to the highest bidder, or put them out to the lowest, and were about to exercise the power, the negroes would at once squander, and find masters in the country. But the Radicals are afraid that if negroes are treated no better than poor white people, it will be said that they are re-enslaved, and subjected to a worse form of slavery than that from which they have just escaped. The result of all this must be, that a very large standing army must be kept up in the South by the Federal Government; portions of it stationed at every town south of the Ohio and Mason and Dixon's line; or the Constitution must be amended so as to authorize the several States to maintain standing armies. But even after all this is done, there will be frequent bloody collisions between the races in all of our Southern towns. Negroes, so useful in the country, are an abominable nuisance in town. Mobs at the South, after a time, will drive them out, as mobs have often done at the North. The Radicals hold the wolf by the ears. They have not tamed him, and instead of letting him go, are trying to mend their hold. This wolf is the opposing races in our towns and cities. In conquering the South and freeing the negroes, they but bought the elephant - and now they know not what to do with him. But he is their elephant, not ours, and we are of opinion should be left with them to be nursed and cared for. In two more years they will grow heartily tired of nursing this elephant and holding the wolf by the ears. Standing armies and Freedmen's Bureaus are rather more expensive cages than the country can now afford. These negro nurseries will be broken up, and their inmates, probably, be turned over to us at the South, to try our hands at nursing. If the North, after turning them over to us, will not intermeddle in their management, we will at once tame them, and make them useful, and instead of costing the nation some thirty millions a year, they will yield a neat annual profit to it of some two hundred millions. Then you will hear no more of idle, discontented, starving negroes. All will be well provided for, and all happy and contented.
We have the highest respect for all the officers of the Bureau in Richmond, from the commanding general down. They have even treated us with great courtesy and kindness; and we are witness to the fact that they discharge their duties with zeal, industry and integrity. Therefore, in calling the Bureau a negro nursery or a congeries of negro nurseries, we intend no disrespect - but only wish to convey to the public a full, accurate and comprehensive idea of the true character of the institution. Besides, we have been one of the nurses ourselves, and would not bring discredit on our own calling.
Moreover, it is our earnest desire and cherished object to aid in restoring kind relations between the South, and at least as much of the North, as will enable us to form new political combinations and new political parties, irrespective of sectional lines. In this way alone can we ever have hereafter any voice or influence in the administration of Federal affairs. Communities and nations are little influenced in their conduct by selfish considerations, more influenced by hatred than by any other motive. They made war upon us and liberated our negroes, with the full knowledge all the while, that they were bringing pecuniary ruin upon themselves. - They were actuated solely by sectional hatred and thirst for revenge. That hate and that thirst are not yet satiated, and never will be, so long as we treat them with haughty reserve, or heap upon them indiscriminate abuse and vituperation. They are now making legislative war upon us, more cruel than a war of arms, and almost as costly. They are still willing to ruin themselves, if they can but persecute and punish us. If we would but treat them courteously and fairly, try to make friends of them, instead of increasing their hatred by heaping abuse on them, we might divide and conquer them. This war of words, kept up by those who can no longer fight, is a mere woman's game, unbecoming in men. We never can rise from our abject and fallen condition, so long as the North presents a compact front of opposition to us. By treating all parties at the North alike, by denouncing all, by speaking of their presence among us as a plague-spot and a vile contamination, and by repelling their immigration, we will effectually preserve their compactness, and perpetuate our own bondage. In truth, immigration from the North is the only desirable immigration. We should invite it, and treat their immigrants hospitably, kindly and courteously. Few would come who were not well disposed already towards us, and that few would become Southern in their feelings so soon as they became Southern in their interests. We want above all things a homogeneous population. The Northern people are far more like ourselves than any other people. They blend at once with our native population, intermarry with it, and become Southerners after awhile. Immigrants from Europe are usually low-minded agrarians, who settle to themselves in large bodies, and preserve for many generations their national peculiarities, their antipathy to gentle men, and their love of negroes. The distinguishing peculiarity of native Americans, both North and South, is their aristocratic feeling and bearing. This was remarked by the poet Dr. McKay, when he traveled among us, and he rebuked the North for calling us aristocratic, whilst they were equally so. There never was a more aristocratic pretension than KnowNothingism, nor one more heartfelt and sincere. Northerners entertained not the least doubt of their infinite superiority to all men of foreign birth. We of the South were quite satisfied to assert and maintain our superiority to negroes. Yankee aristocracy mounted a league higher. Now, it is just such aristocratic immigration that we desire. The work of abolition is not completed. The next step is negro equality. Northern immigrants will oppose this step; European immigrants advocate it. We prefer American aristocrats to European infidels, levelers and agrarians.