Page images
PDF
EPUB

INJUSTICE TO FREEDMEN.

221

ittle houses and established their humble homes. What was to become of them? On one estate of six hundred acres there was a thriving community of eight hundred freedmen. The owner had been pardoned unconditionally by the President, who, in his mercy to one class, seemed to forget what justice was due to another.

The terms which some of these returning Rebels proposed to the freedmen they found in possession of their lands, interested me. One man, whose estate was worth sixteen dollars an acre, offered to rent it to the families living on it for eight dollars an acre, provided that the houses, which they had themselves built, should revert to him at the end of the year.

My friend broke a bolt in his buggy, and we stopped at a. blacksmith-shop to get another. While the smith, a negro, was making a new bolt, and fitting it neatly to its place, I . questioned him. He had a little lot of half an acre ; upon which he had built his own house and shop and shed. He had a family, which he was supporting without any aid from the government. He was doing very well until the owner of the soil appeared, with the President's pardon, and orders to have his property restored to him. The land was worth twenty dollars an acre. He told the blacksmith that he could remain where he was, by paying twenty-four dollars a year rent for his half acre. “I am going to leave," said the poor man, quietly, and without uttering a complaint.

Except on the government farm, where old and infirm persons and orphan children were placed, I did not find any body who was receiving aid from the government. Said one, “ I have a family of seven children. Four are my own, and three are my brother's. I have twenty acres. I get no help from government, and do not want any as long as I can have land.” I stopped at another little farm-house, beside which was a large pile of wood, and a still larger heap of unhusked corn, two farm wagons, a market wagon, and a pair of mules. The occupant of this place also had but twenty acres, and he was “getting rich."

“ Has government helped you any this year?I asked a young fellow we met on the road.

Government helped me ? " he retorted proudly. “No; I am helping government."

We stopped at a little cobbler's shop, the proprietor of which was supporting not only his own wife and children, but his aged mother and widowed sister. “Has government helped you any ?” we inquired. “ Nary lick in the world I” he replied, hammering away at his shoe.

Driving across a farm, we saw an old negro without legs hitching along on his stumps in a cornfield, pulling out grass between the rows, and making it up into bundles to sell. He hailed us, and wished to know if we wanted to buy any hay. He seemed delighted when my companion told him he would take all he had, at his own price. He said he froze his legs one winter when he was a slave, and had to have them taken off in consequence. Formerly he had received rations from the government, but now he was earning his own support, except what little he received from his friends.

It was very common to hear of families that were helping not only their own relatives, but others who had no such claim of kindred upon them. And here I may add that the account which these people gave of themselves was fully corroborated by officers of the government and others who knew them.

My friend did not succeed very well in obtaining laborers for his mills. The height of the freedmen's ambition was to have little homes of their own and to work for themselves. And who could blame this simple, strong instinct, since it was not only pointing them the way of their own prosperity, but serving also the needs of the country ?1

Notwithstanding the pending difficulty with the land. owners, those who had had their lots assigned them were going on to put up new houses, from which they might be PROTECTION OF THE FREEDMEN.

1 For example: the freedmen on the Jones Place, with one hundred and twenty acres under cultivation, where they had commenced work with nothing for which they did not have to run in debt, were now the owners of both stock and farming implements; and, besides supporting their families, they were paying to the United States a large annual rent.

223

driven at any day, — so great was their faith in the honor of the government which had already done so much for them.

Revisiting Virginia some months later, I learned that the Freedmen's Bureau had interposed to protect these people in their rights, showing that their faith had not been in vain.

[blocks in formation]

CALLED home from Fortress Monroe by an affair of business requiring my attention, I resumed my Southern tour later in the fall, passing through Central and Southwestern Virginia, and returning from the Carolinas through Eastern Virginia in the following February. I am warned by a want of space to omit the details of these transient journeys, and to compress my remaining notes on the State into as narrow a compass as possible.1

Virginia was long a synonym for beauty and fertility. In the richness of her resources, she stood unrivalled among the earlier States. In wealth and population, she led them all. She was foremost also in political power; and the names she gave to our Revolutionary history still sparkle as stars of the first magnitude.

This halo about her name has been slow to fade; although, like a proud and indolent school-girl, once at the head of her class, she has been making steady progress towards the foot. Five of the original States have gone above her, and one by one new-comers are fast overtaking her. Little Massachusetts excels her in wealth, and Ohio in both wealth and population.

The causes of this gradual falling back are other than physical causes. Her natural advantages have not been overrated. The Giver of good gifts has been munificent in his bounties to her. She is rich in rivers, forests, mines, soils. That broad avenue to the sea, the Chesapeake, and its affluents, solicit commerce. Her supply of water-power is limitless and

1 West Virginia, which seceded from the State after the State seceded from the Union, and which now forms a separate sovereignty under the National Government, I can scarcely say that I visited. I saw but the edges of it; it is touched upon, therefore, only in the general remarks which follow.

FERTILITY OF THE STATE.

225

well distributed. She possesses a variety of climate, which is, with few exceptions, healthful and delightful.

The fertility of the State is perhaps hardly equal to its fine reputation, which, like that of some old authors, was acquired in the freshness of her youth, and before her powerful young competitors appeared to challenge the world's attention. Such reputations acquire a sanctity from age, which the spirit of conservatism permits not to be questioned.

The State has many rich valleys, river bottoms, and alluvial tracts bordering on lesser streams, which go far towards sustaining this venerable reputation. But between these valleys occur intervals of quite ordinary fertility, if not absolute sterility, and these compose the larger portion of the State. Add the fact that the best lands of Eastern and Southeastern Virginia have been very generally worn out by improper cultivation, and what is the conclusion ?

A striking feature of the country is its “old fields.” The more recent of these are usually found covered with briers, weeds, and broom-sedge, - often with a thick growth of infant pines coming up like grass. Much of the land devastated by the war lies in this condition. In two or three years, these young pines shoot up their green plumes five or six feet high. In ten years there is a young forest. In some of the oldest of the old fields, now heavily timbered, the ridges of the ancient tobacco lands are traceable among the trees.

Tobacco has been the devouring enemy of the country. In travelling through it one is amazed at the thought of the regions which have been burned and chewed up by the smokers and spitters of the world.

East Virginia is hilly. The southeast portion of the State is undulating, with occasional plains, and swamps of formidable extent. The soil of the tide-water districts is generally a light sandy loam. A belt of mountain ranges, a hundred miles in breadth, runs in a northeast and southwest direction across the State, enclosing some of its richest and loveliest portions. The Valley of Virginia, - as that fertile stripe is called lying west of the Blue Ridge, drained by the Shenandoah and the head

« PreviousContinue »