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Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany



AROUND Major Delany's district, there being evidence of an abundant harvest, the movements of persons designing to reap large profits, to the detriment of the freedmen, were apparent. With a view of frustrating their designs, he suggested proper measures to obviate the diligently, which we find in his general report made to headquarters, dated March 1, 1867, for the year 1866. Therein he gave his views, showing the necessity of important changes in the industrial pursuits of the freedmen; also the measures put forward by him for their financial protection.

"It was apparent from observation and experience that the custom of renting the lands to speculators, who sub-let them to freedmen, or employed them to work at disadvantageous rates--that these poor people, at the end of the planting year, habitually came out with nothing--nay, worse than nothing, as those working them in shares having provision supplied from the stores of the speculators, or renting the lands, and obtaining them on credit from such stores. When the crops were realized, they paid them all away to these stores for the scanty mouthfuls they received on credit during cultivation--finding themselves with nothing

--in rags, and debt for "balance due" on the books of these first-hand lessees and supply speculators. And those who had a little chance of raising crops for themselves to advantage, were equally the victims of the petty brokers and cotton traders (resulting from their superior business knowledge and intelligence, and the almost entire absence of such qualifications on the part of the freedmen), their cotton being sacrificed in the market. It was evident from these facts that there could be but little or no chances for the freedmen or refugees to compete with bidders or lessees of the land, let at the highest cash price (frequently above their value in this district), except by an adoption of some measure for their protection, whereby a portion of their scanty earnings could be saved, and the lands let to them at prices suited to their means, in preference to speculators and capitalists.

"To this end I recommend the establishment of a freedmen's cotton agency, to be attended by a competent agent, where all could have their cotton deposited on consignment, culled (assorted), ginned, packed (bagged), and sold at the highest cash market value, in Charleston; they realizing the profits themselves, instead of the speculators.

"To make such an establishment profitable to them, the expenses should be as moderate as possible, and less than the usual rates of charges in commission houses. Hence, to accomplish this, a suitable building was obtained from the quartermaster's department (free of rent, of course), and those freedmen possessing foot-gins requested to put them up in the establishment, where they might be used in ginning the cotton

brought, charging twenty percent, or one fifth less than the market price for ginning, and receiving, when not worked by themselves, one fourth of the proceeds of the gin, the freedmen who worked receiving the other three fourths as his compensation, thus making them self-sustaining as well as self-reliant.

"The agent supplied the bagging, and received, as compensation for the advances thus made, the pay for the weight of the bag, deducted from the price of the bag of cotton. This will be understood in mercantile circles, as bagging is always worth the price of an equal weight of cotton.

"The next effort, officially, was to secure to them the advantages of the lands at a 'first-hand' low rate, as they were now able to raise the money among themselves, by which to secure leases. To accomplish this, interviews and correspondence were had with the United States Direct Tax Commissioners, who, being without instructions, were awaiting the action of Congress and government in relation to the division and assignment of land on the tenure of Lieutenant General Sherman's field order, No. 15. After mature consideration, as the season for planting was rapidly approaching, and the people clamorous and anxious to go to work, preparing for cultivation, I concluded to divide responsibilities with the commissioner, and let the lands to the freedmen at on dollar an acre, for the year 1867.

"They had been advised to prepare for leasing them at two dollars an acre, the leases to be made to one man on each plantation, who would receive and pay over their money, and see to a proper apportioning of

the land. In less than three weeks from the time that notice to this effect was given, upwards of three thousand dollars in cash and cotton vouchers were deposited with the bureau to secure leases, and fourteen plantations taken with the extreme satisfaction of paying back to each individual one half of his money. This last act of the commissioners crowns their official doings with discretion and liberality, which should entitle them to at least the thanks of the friends of humanity, if not respectful consideration of Congress."

The action of the major in this direction was approved and commended by his superior officers, and resulted in proving so far successful. His duties gave indications of further extension at this time, by the following document, issued from the war department, and reissued from the headquarters of the assistant commissioner subsequently:--

Headquarters Assistant Commissioner ,
Bureau R.F. & A.L., South Carolina ,
Charleston, S.C. , Feb 19, 1867.

The following circular letter is republished for the information of officers and agents of the Bureau R. F. and A. L., in this state:--

Circular Letter.

War Department, Bureau R. F. & A. L. ,
Washington , February 12, 1867.

To Brevet Major General R. K. Scott,

Assistant Commissioner, Charleston, S. C.

It has become apparent that the designation of the several officers of this Bureau should indicate the nature of the duty which each is to perform, and that such designation should be uniform throughout the jurisdiction of this Bureau.

Each state will be divided into sub-districts, of the proper number of counties, in the discretion of the assistant commissioner. The officers in charge of each will be empowered to

exercise and perform within their respective sub-districts all the powers and duties of assistant commissioners, except such as by regulations devolve upon assistant commissioners themselves, and these officers will be designated sub-assistant commissioners.

Any officer or agent serving under the direction of the sub-assistant shall be denominated an agent, except those serving in staff department and as clerks.

All officers authorized to disburse the funds of this Bureau shall be designated disbursing officers.

Major General O. O. Howard ,

Brevet Major General R. K. Scott ,
Assistant Commissioner.

Official Edward L. Deane,
Brevet Major & A.A.A. Gen

Soon after the publication of the "circular letter," the State of South Carolina, by order of the major general commanding, was divided into twenty-four sub-districts. Major Delany's administration of affairs in the spheres previously assigned him, receiving the confidence of the assistant commissioner, his province was extended, as the following order will show:--

Headquarters, Assistant Commissioner ,
Bureau R.F. & A.L. South Carolina ,
Charleston, S.C. , February 20, 1867.

General Orders No. 3


XI. The Sub-District of Hilton Head will comprise the Islands of Hilton Head, Pinckney, Savage, Bull, Dawfuskie, and Long Pine: headquarters at Hilton Head; Major M. R. Delany, United States Colored Troops, sub-assistant commissioner.

By order of Brevet Major General R. K. Scott ,

Assistant Commissioner .

Official Edward L. Deane
Brevet Major & A. A. A. Gen.