Tag Archives: slaves

Were Free Negroes Enslaved to Confederate Service?

From a claim made to the Southern Claims Commission by Exum White, a free “colored” man of Nansemond County, Virginia, the following statement:

“White was a colored man.  The Magistrate of Nansemond Co. in Jany ’62 sentenced him & 100 other colored men to work on the rebel works on railroad near Manassas for 60 days worked by compulsion and got no pay, taken sick & sent home on sick leave. He afterwards worked for the Union army on works around Suffolk for 2 or 3 months. Daniel White and Benjamin Turner attest his loyalty which we find proven.”

Is it possible that 101 free negro men were guilty of crimes that warranted sentencing at the same time?  Was the magistrate at Nansemond technically enslaving free negroes to perform work on behalf of the Confederate military?

This is likely nothing new to historians, but it’s the first time I’ve read that “free” people were used in this way by southern courts.

From Wikipedia –

The Southern Claims Commission (SCC) was an organization of the executive branch of the United States government from 1871-1873 under President Ulysses S. Grant. Its purpose was to allow Union sympathizers who had lived in the Southern states during the American Civil War, 1861–1865, to apply for reimbursements for property losses due to U.S. Army confiscations during the war.

Confederates Use Blacks as Human Shields

It seems that all the ‘Contrabands’ in South Carolina are not as loyal as Wilson Small and his associates. A correspondent of one of the Northern papers recites the following incident as a trait of manners developed by the war in South Carolina. A small detachment of confederates crossed Broad river at night at Port Royal ferry in a large flat, adopting a very clever expedient to prevent discovery until the proper time. They placed a number of contrabands in the front of the scow and obliged them to pull them across, while they lay out of sight of our pickets in the boat. The boat was discovered by the pickets, hailed, and allowed to approach the shore, as the negroes answered that they were “niggers on the way to freedom — press de Lord for dat Massa.” The pickets did not discover the ruse until they had received a hot fire from the Confederates, who rose at the command and fired over the negroes’ heads. The fire was feebly returned, and the pickets fell back and continued to fall back until they had arrived at a safe distance. — Nat. Int.