Monday, February 27, 2012

Amanuensis Monday
Freedmen's Bureau Labor Contract Rules

As the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land, popularly known as the Freedmen's Bureau, to help former slaves make the transition to freedom. The Freedmen's Bureau helped negotiate labor contracts and generally tried to protect them from former masters. Below are the following rules between former master and former slaves in Mississippi.

1. The laborer will be required to rise at the blowing of the horn at day-break, and begin work at or before sunrise, and do good and faithful work. The beginning and leaving of work, and the mode and manner of doing work, will be entirely under the control of the employer or manger. For all time lost and for bad work deductions will be made; and in cases where entire days are lost from sickness, or other good cause, deductions covering wages and value of rations will be made. Two hours rest at noon will be allowed in the months of June, July and August, and one hour in other months of the year.

2. During work hours the laborers will receive no visits, nor visit or receive visits at any other time without permission of employer or manager.

3. All abuse and improper use of stock, and negligently breaking or losing tools, gear, &c., will be charged against the laborer.

4. Every laborer must feed and attend to the stock assigned to him or her at all times, Sundays included.

5. No fire arms or liquor will be kept on the plantation by the laborers except by consent of the employer or manager.

6. Difficulties that may arise between the laborers shall be adjusted by the employer or manager.

7. For impudent, profane or indecent language to or in the presence of employer, manager or the families, quarreling, fighting, stealing, disobedience, willful neglect of duty, quitting work without permission and offenses of the like serious character, the laborer will be carried before a Magistrate or other proper officer, for punishment all expense, loss of time, &c., will be charged against the laborer. In all cases of dismissal or voluntarily quitting plantations, the laborer forfeits all unpaid wages, and his family or dependents will be dismissed at the discretion of the manager.


There is just enough rope in these rules for the former slave to hang himself. A man and his family could work for months and be dismissed without pay.
Source: Freedmen's Bureau Labor Contracts, Microfilm Number: 2022
Microfilm found at Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Law Creating the Freedmen Bureau - Act of March 3, 1865

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