(see transcription below)
Researching African American ancestry is not without its challenges. The 1870 census provides a glimpse at a community of individuals who were a mere 5 years living in freedom.
But sometimes the assumption is often made that the individuals were living in the communities where they had been enslaved, and had not ventured far from their home.
It possible that in most cases this is true, however, if one studies the thousands of non-indexed pages from NARA Record Group 105--(the Freedman's Bureau) a wealth of data can be found that might reflect stories otherwise not known.
The Haney Family - A Case Study
In 1867 a woman Jane wrote to the Freedman's Bureau office in search of her sons. Upon first glance I would have thought that Jane's sons had been sold away from her, and she was seeking assistance to find them.
However in this case---they did not leave Virginia until 1866. They had signed a contract in Alexandria Virginia to travel to eastern Arkansas, to work for a year, with their father. Meanwhile, in Arkansas, the father of the two boys died after a short illness and their mother was seeking information about their return.
The letter reads:
August 16th, 1867
Col. S. P. Lee
Sub. Asst. Commr.
I have the honor to apply to you to assist me in procuring my two sons Lewis Haney age 13 yrs, and Joshua Haney aged 16 yrs who are now in the vicinity of Helena Arkansas.
With their father Joshua Haney, they made a , 1866 contract April 16th in your office to work for one year with the firm of Van Belk, & Co., of Helena Arkansas. They remained with Van Belk & Co. until their year expired and were discharged. After this they were employed by Mr. Briant Lynch of St. Francis Co. Ark until the 27th of July last when the father (my husband) died after an illness of nine days. The boys are now without any one to care for them and on account of their age I am anxious to have them under my care and protection.
and for that purpose I apply to you for aid, praying that you will have them returned to me through the agencies of the Freedman's Bureau.
Rachel (her X mark) Haney
Witness Geo. H. Smith
She lived in Virginia and it appears that a contract was made with the Bureau to provide labor in eastern Arkansas. Upon reading this letter one cannot wonder what the circumstances were that Arkansas needed to send for workers? There were thousands of former slaves along the Mississippi River, and there was a Freedman's Bureau field office in many places in eastern Arkansas to assist with labor contracts.
With there being no shortage of labor in eastern Arkansas, what were the circumstances for the recruitment of workers from Virginia?
There must have been steady communication between Rachel and her family since she was clearly aware of what had happened to her husband as well as the status of her sons, when their contract had ended. This is significant, particularly because this reveals a part of history that is just simply not well known. This tells the story of what happened in those critical years between 1865 and 1870.
In this case---we see that a contract was made to send a large number of former slaves from Virginia to work in Arkansas. This was organized by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands---the Freedman's Bureau.
A report in the Freedman's Bureau files describes what happened to them.