Thursday, 19th April, 1866

A very beautiful day. – – Corned 18 shad. Patsy’s sick, so I got Clarissa to clean the fish and corn them. Salted 100 shad. Hardie and I spent the day at Ju’s, drove Shakespeare. I was taken with a chill about 2 o’clk. Mag had me some nice coffee made, while I sat by the fire in the kitchen till she could have one made in the chamber. I laid down then, and soon after Jo and Livinia came, and Mrs. Edwards also.1 After laying a while longer, I got up and went down and a little excitement made me feel much better. Bill attended the Freedmen’s Court today.2 – – And my little darling remained at home by herself at work on Liv’s shirts cut out this morning. – – My turkeys are so much trouble and no profit that I have given them up to do what they can for themselves, having no one to attend to them.

  1. Certainly Josephine (Joe) [Lewis] Baytop and her sister Livinia Lewis.  (back)
  2. With practically no training, few resources, and knowing nothing of King William County, 29 year-old Pennsylvania native Lt. John C. Chance landed alone at the West Point dock among strangers on 10 February, 1866. What he did have was a bad leg, the outsized hopes and fears of those he met there, and the modest support of a distant Army bureaucracy struggling in its new post-war role. Assistant Superintendents like Chance were the face of the War Department’s Freedman’s Bureau for most localities like King William County, a.k.a. its 3rd Division, 3rd Subdistrict. While the Freedman’s Bureau’s general mission of assisting the freedmen of the South rolled easily off the tongue, local situations and implementation varied widely, as did the attitudes and skills of the officers assigned to each community. All concerned – freedmen, former slave owners, ex-confederate soldiers, returning Union loyalists, northerners like Chance, and state and federal bureaucracies – were making it up as they went along. Not surprisingly, it would get messy in places. Nevertheless, within two months Lt. Chance had moved to the central part of KW and organized a functioning Freedman’s Court. His reports of court proceedings, county conditions, and his attempts to fulfill the Bureau’s mission were sent to his superiors and filed away to await microfilming, digitization, and now internet distribution. While most of the early cases seen in these courts involve labor disputes (pay and working conditions), Lt. Chance and his successors will soon grapple with more weighty issues, like larceny, assault, arson, incitement to riot – and questions of authority.  (back)

One comment on “Thursday, 19th April, 1866

  1. Peter H. Wood says:

    Thanks for the long and candid footnote on John Chance and the beginnings of the local Freedman’s Bureau. It would be good to know more about him and his specific background, and to know the availability of the sources mentioned here. From the perspective of black Virginians, who had never been paid for their work, it is hard to imagine “more weighty issues” than labor conditions and just compensation! -PHW

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