Reconstruction in Charlotte Mecklenburg, 1865-67
On the whole, Reconstruction in Charlotte Mecklenburg was much milder
than in many parts of the South. Unlike some southern cities, Charlotte was
not damaged in the Civil War. Because it was a railroad hub, the city grew
rapidly between 1860 and 1870, nearly doubling in population from 2300 to
4500. Business in Charlotte boomed after the war, although Mecklenburg
planters did not fare as well. In general, black-white relations were
relatively good, with few racial incidents in the early years of
Immediately following the Civil War, in late April 1865, Charlotte
suffered some burning and looting. As a result, many Charlotteans welcomed
the arrival of Federal troops, who soon restored order to the city.
Approximately 5000 troops, most from New Jersey and Ohio, camped in
Charlotte for the next 2-1/2 years. Relations between the troops and local
citizens were generally cordial, unlike many places in the South. When the
last troops left in December of 1867, ten years before the last Federal
troops were pulled out of the South, Mayor S. A. Harris presented the troops
with a resolution adopted by the Board of Aldermen thanking the soldiers for
their good behavior.
Many Mecklenburg slaves, upon hearing of their freedom, left their
masters and congregated in town. This was a common occurrence all over the
South. Most freedmen didn't feel free until they left the plantation. In
addition, they felt safer in town with the Freedmen's Bureau and Federal
troops nearby to protect their rights. Cities and towns also offered
opportunity to meet with other blacks and develop a distinctive black
community with neighborhoods, schools, and churches. Many whites were
frightened by the large numbers of blacks who congregated in Charlotte.(See
Mecklenburg's planters were devastated by the loss of slave labor and by
the fact that many former slaves simply did not want to work on plantations
when they had opportunities to work elsewhere. Many Mecklenburg slaves also
migrated to the midwest and the deep south, where they heard that wages were
better. The Western Democrat reported that many farms were being sold at
sheriff's sales when farmers could no longer make ends meet. In August of
1865, ads appeared in the Western Democrat calling for white labor to work
local plantations. Many whites also refused to hire blacks because of the
Freedmen's Bureau, claiming that they got tired of appearing before the
Bureau for alleged violations of labor contracts with their black laborers.
(See Documents .1(g)-1(i))
As in many parts of the South, immigration societies were organized to
bring white immigrant labor to Charlotte Mecklenburg. This movement failed
since most immigrants preferred to own their own farms rather than work as
Unlike many southern cities, Charlotte had few racial incidents following
the Civil War. Most white complaints about blacks centered around their
congregating in town and their involvement in political affairs.
From the earliest days of freedom, blacks began establishing their own
separate communities and social institutions. As early as May of 1865,
Charlotte had a black church, Clinton Chapel. By 1866-67, the Freedmen's
Bureau had established schools for blacks and blacks were becoming actively
involved in politics through the Republican Party. In 1867, Biddle
Institute, a college to train black teachers and ministers was established
in Charlotte. (For more detail on the growth and development of black
neighborhoods and institutions, see section #3)
Note to 8th grade teachers: This section complements pages 282-296
of Parramore's North Carolina: The History of An American State
Documents # 1 (g), (h), and (i): The Freedmen's Bureau
The Freedmen's Bureau was an agency of the Federal government established
immediately after the Civil War. Its purpose was to ease the lives of former
slaves as they entered the world as free people. With a district office in
Charlotte that served western North Carolina, the Freedmen's Bureau provided
a number of services to newly freed blacks. The Bureau established schools
and distributed food and clothing. In addition, the Bureau mediated disputes
between blacks and whites, particularly disputes over labor contracts. While
offering much support to the freedmen, the Freedmen's Bureau was a source of
irritation to many whites who saw it as a tool of northern Radical
Republicans used to interfere in their local affairs.
Immediately following the Civil War, much confusion existed in the South
about the status of blacks. It was unclear what civil rights they possessed,
if any. Document l (g)"Rules for the Government of Freed Men in North
Carolina", was issued from Raleigh and distributed throughout the state. It
first appeared in Charlotte's Western Democrat on May 23, 1865, just a month
after the Civil War ended. This document points out many practical
considerations surrounding freedom, such as who was responsible for minors,
the aged and infirm as well. as the new working relationships between whites
and blacks. Document 1(h)"Circular to the Freedmen of Western North
Carolina," also reflects the confusion and misinformation which followed in
the wake of emancipation. Issued from Charlotte in October of 1865, this
document was circulated among blacks to clear up erroneous ideas about
freedom. While Captain Barnett of the Freedmen's Bureau clearly explains the
government's stance on blacks, most blacks could never have read this
document since they were illiterate. This document was presented to the Mint
Museum of History by the late Fred Alexander, who served in the State Senate
and was an important black leader in Charlotte. The document was Passed down
through his family. Document l(i)"The Freedmen's Bureau", is an excerpt from
Dr. J. B. Alexander's memoirs. As a former slaveholder and planter from
Mecklenburg County, Alexander's memoirs reflect how many white Southerners
felt about the Bureau.
Suggestions for the classroom: After having students read Document
l(g) "Rules for the Government of Freed Men in North Carolina," ask the
(1) What obligations did former masters have to their former slaves
immediately following the Civil War?
(2) According to this document, what role did the Federal government play
in providing for newly freed blacks?
(3) How were blacks supposed to support themselves after the Civil War?
What problems do you think they encountered?
(4) How were these rules supposed to be enforced?
(5) How were freed blacks supposed to learn about their rights? Do you
think this could be a problem? Why?
Document 1(h) is a much more detailed follow-up to Document l (g) . The
following questions can be asked
(1) What were some of the wrong impressions that blacks had about
freedom, according to Captain Barnett?
(2) According to this document, what would the government do for newly-
freed blacks? Why do you think the government's role was so limited? (Be
sure to point out to the students that 4 million blacks, most of whom were
illiterate and with few skills, and with no experience with freedom, were
thrust out into the world overnight.) Do you think the government should
have done more? (Also point out that it wasn't until the 1930s, with the New
Deal, that the government an active role providing for the public welfare.)
(3) According to Barnett, what rights did the freedmen have? What rights
did they not have?
(4) What advice does Barnett give the freedmen? Do you think it is good
(5) Why do you think Barnett tells the freedmen not to try to get the
right to vote? Do you think it is good advice?
Document I (i) ,gives a local white planter's view of the Freedmen's
The following are suggested discussion questions. Note that Alexander
refers to "The Captain", John Barnett, author of Document 1(h).
(1) What impression of the Freedmen's Bureau do you get from Alexander's
memories? Do you think he is correct? How might he be biased?
(2) Why do you think Alexander had so many bad feelings about the
Freedmen's Bureau? Do you think his feelings are justified?
(3) Based on this document, what conclusions would you draw about
white-black relation in Charlotte Mecklenburg right after the Civil War?
(4) What do you think Alexander means when he talks about "whipping a
"Rules For The Government of Freed Men in North
Headquarters Department of N. Carolina, Army of the Ohio
Raleigh, N.C., May 15, 1865.
General Orders, No. 46
(Published in the Western Democrat, May 23, 1865)
The following rules are published for the
government of Freedmen in North Carolina, until the restoration of civil
government in the State:
I. The common laws governing the domestic relations, such as those
giving parents authority and control over their children, and guardians
control over their wards are in force. The parent's or guardian's
authority and obligations take the place of the former master.
II. The former masters are constituted the guardians of minors and of
the aged and infirm, in the absence of parents or other near relatives
capable of supporting them.
III. Young men and women, under twenty-one years of age, remain under
the control of their parents or guardians until they become of age, thus
aiding to support their parents, and younger brothers and sisters.
IV. The former masters of freedmen may not turn away the young or the
infirm, nor refuse to give them food and shelter; nor may the able bodied
men or women go away from their homes, or live in idleness, and leave
their parents, children, or young brothers and sisters, to be supported by
V. Persons of age, who are free from any of the obligations referred to
above, are at liberty to make new homes wherever they can obtain proper
employment; but they will not be supported by the government, nor by their
VI. It will be left to the employer and servant to agree upon the wages
to be paid; but freedmen are advised that for the present season they are
to expect only moderate wages, and where their employers cannot pay them
money, they ought to be contented with a fair share in the crops to be
gathered. They have gained their personal freedom. With industry and good
conduct they may rise to independence and even wealth.
VII. All officers, soldiers, and citizens are requested to give
publicity to these rules, and to inform the freed people as to their new
rights and obligations.
VIII. All officers of the Army, and of the city police companies, are
authorized and required to correct any violation of the above rules within
IX. Each District commander will appoint a superintendent of freedmen,
(a commissioned officer with such number of assistants (officers and
commissioned officers) as may be necessary, whose duty it will be to take
charge of all the freedmen in his District, who are without homes or
employment. The superintendents will send their homes all who have left
them in violation of the above rules, and will endeavor to find suitable
employment for all others. The superintendents will provide suitable camps
or quarters such as these not to be otherwise provided for, and attend to
discipline, police, subsistence, &tc.
X. The superintendents will hear all complaints of guardians or wards,
and report the facts to the District commanders, who are authorized to
dissolve the existing relations of guardian and ward in cases which may
require it, and to direct the superintendent to otherwise provide for the
in accordance with the above rules.
By command of Major General Schofield
Assistant Adjutant General
Document 1 (i)
From Reminiscences of the Past Sixty Years by Dr. John B.
This was the Pandora's Box from which
issued many of the evils that produced discord between the races. In
almost every instance the Agent appointed to attend to the Freedman's
Bureau was a dishonest character, and of course irritated our people. A
great number of people were summoned to appear before the Agent. Any
trumped up charge by a negro was sufficient to have our best men in the
country appear in person before the Agent, whether the charges were true
or false, convenient or inconvenient, he had to attend court. I will give
a few instances of the Agent Co. proceedings. In the fall of 1865 I was
notified that my presence was wanted in the Freedman's Bureau for not
treating certain colored children humanly. I obeyed his orders, and came
down, some 17 miles, and no witness appeared against me. I demanded of the
Captain to know why I was compelled to attend his court, neglect my own
business and find him not ready for the trial. He said "You will have to
appear in my office this day next week." Suffice it to say I did not
appear till notified.
The next time I was ordered to appear, and when I got there he was
trying Lock Gibson for whipping a negro, but was venting his spleen upon
Mr. Gibson in a most outrageous manner; intimating that he was a bad
character, had sworn falsely, and threatened to put him in jail, as he
said he would do to the Harrises of Cabarrus county. At this point I arose
and said, "I know Mr. Gibson, and you can depend upon whatever he says,
his neighbors give him a very good name." Here the Capt. turned upon me
with the fury of a Hyena, cursed me, threatened to put me in jail, and
ordered me out of his office if I could not keep my mouth shut. He was up
walking about while cursing me. I got up and started out when Mr. Gibson
put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Doctor, all this cursing and abuse
is on my account, come back and I will stamp his livers out of him." To an
uninterested spectator, Mr. Gibson seemed to be master of the situation;
the Capt. or Agent looked wild, as much as to say, "I wish I was out of
this." Occasionally those who were in command had quite an unpleasant time
in executing their edicts. Another time I was summoned to appear before
Capt. Barnett for whipping a fifteenth amendment on a certain day, I
proved to him I did not have a negro on my farm at that time.
The Capt. said he may have been mistaken about the day, but he knew I
was a hard master. There was one of my former slaves sitting by and I
referred him-Capt. Barnett-to John. The Capt. asked him if I was not a
hard master. John remained silent. I told him to answer the question, but
to tell the truth. John answered, "well sir, he didn't whip often, but my
lord, when he did whip he made it count."
Another came in which I was interested end I will leave off personal
In the fall of l866 I was summoned to appear in the "Freedman's Bureau
with regard to not paying Bob Berry for four months work-$32.00." I did
not get down until the day after the trial. Here I found a new Agent-one
Shaffer, who proved himself a vile character in after life. I asked him to
open the case and allow me to introduce certain evidence to show that the
negro had not been on the place since the surrender. He said, "No, you
ought to have been here yesterday, but you were afraid to meet the colored
man, I'll make you pay the bill." I replied, "if you will step out of this
office I will settle with you in two minutes." He ran into the back room
to arm himself, when Mr. Sam Harris rushed in and took me by the arm,
saying "come out of this, don't you know they have 6,000 troops here, and
will put you in jail? Stay out of this office, and I will have another day
appointed for a new trial. Time passed on and when the trial came on
another man had charge of the office, who appeared willing to do what was
right. I never saw Shaffer again until 1897, when I had a chance to tell
him of his meanness; and I told him.
There was a very estimable gentleman, Mr. V. Q. Johnston, living ten
miles northwest of Charlotte, engaged in farming, working his place with
free negroes; one of his men became very insolent, quit work and told
Capt. Johnston he would report him to Capt. Shaffer. In a few days Shaffer
sent for Capt. Johnston to appear in his office the next day. Next day he
rode down to the Yankee's office, and then he found his negro sitting by
the side of Shaffer, looking is if they were on a par. Capt. Johnston
asked Shaffer what he wanted with him. The Agent said, "this colored man
has preferred charges against you." "State your charges," said Capt.
Johnston. Whereupon the Captain asked him why he cursed him. He said
"because I got you where I want you, and you can't help yourself." Capt.
Johnston walked out and hastened up street and entered the first store he
came to, and seized an axe handle, returned, to the Freedman's office and
began to pay the negro for his cursing; the negro appealed to the Agent
for help. But he said he could not help him, he would have to have
recourse to the state courts. Capt. Johnston whaled him until he was
satisfied that both the negro and his friend, the Freedman's Agent, had
learned a wholesome lesson.
Documents 1 (j) though 1 (n): Reconstruction from the Newspaper's Point
One of the few sources of information about the Reconstruction period in
Charlotte-Mecklenburg is the Western Democrat, a Charlotte newspaper.
In the early days of Reconstruction, the newspaper was filled with editorial
comments concerning the behavior of the freedmen and the "intrusion" of
Radical Republican politics in the South, particularly through the
Be sure to notice the dates on the articles. They range from June 1865 to
Suggestions for the classroom:
Have students read these articles carefully. The following are suggested
1. What complaints does the Western Democrat have about freedmen?
What positive comments?
2. Why do you think blacks congregated in town (Document 1 (l))? Why do
you think the Western Democrat was upset with blacks congregating in
3. Document 1 (k) is entitled "A Sensible Negro". Why, from the writer's
point of view, was this negro 'sensible'? Do you think he was sensible? Why
or why not?
4. Why do you think many plantation owners thought that blacks would not
work without force? Why do you think some blacks chose not to work?
5. In Document 1 (m), what does the Western Democrat claim that "northers
fanatics" are doing to black-white relations? What, according to the
article, would be the result of this?
6. In Document 1 (n), why is the Western Democrat against blacks
attending political meetings?
7. Based on these articles, how would you describe black-white relations
after the Civil War? Do these articles tell the whole story? How accurate do
you think they are? What are the advantages and disadvantages in using old
newspapers to write history?
Document #1 (j)
"Thieves", from the Western Democrat, June 6, 1865
"THIEVES. General complaint has recently been
made about the robbery of gardens and chicken roosts in this town and
vicinity, and - believe soldiers have been suspected of committing these
depredations; but so far as the proof shows, negroes are the guilty
parties. Four negroes were caught last week stealing onions and chickens.
Captain Smith, the post Provost Marshal, had the rogues paraded through
the streets with barrel shirts on, bearing appropriate inscriptions, and
carrying specimens of the stolen property. We hope Capt. Smith will
succeed in breaking them of their thievish propensities.
We never had the least idea that many negroes would work if they could
get a living in any other way, but we did not expect them to commence
stealing so soon after being declared free. Their idea of freedom is to
live in idleness and eat and sleep."
"A SENSIBLE NEGRO," from the Western Democrat, July 11, 1865
" A friend furnishes us the following as the
substance of a speech made by a negro man in a neighboring town, on the
4th of July:
My Colored Friends: I belong to the same man I belonged to when I can
first remember. He has always treated me kindly, and he is a perfect
gentleman, and I am a gentleman, because I have always tried to do my duty
to my master. I expect to stay with him as long as we both live. I intend
to do the very best for him I can, and feel that in promoting his interest
I am doing but good service to myself.
Now, many colored people are of the opinion that the way to be
gentlemen and ladies is to have nothing to do. Now I tell you, people that
will do nothing will cut a poor figure in the world after a while, for
they have nothing to go on. No true gentleman is lazy. If you wish to be
gentlemen and ladies you must work, and in order to do this successfully
you must have something to work with you must have a home, land, and means
of cultivating it. If you leave your former masters you can't have these.
I have no doubt you have all the necessaries of life in greater abundance
than you can have after you leave your masters.
My advice for you is for you to go home, stay there, do all you can to
please and profit your masters, and Heaven's richest blessings will come
Document #1 (l)
Western Democrat, July 25, 1865
"Cannot the civil or military authorities of
Charlotte adopt some law or regulation to prevent the colored people of
the county and surrounding country from gathering in town on Saturdays in
such large numbers? We fear that trouble will result from the practice if
continued... The white man is compelled to work regularly for his living,
and the sooner the negro is made to understand that he is obliged to do
the same, the better it will be for all concerned ... We have no
prejudices against the negro - we want him to succeed, if he can, in
maintaining himself and if everybody, north and south, will quit talking
about 'negro equality' and 'negro suffrage', and strive to inaugurate some
fair measure to compel him to work, they will do more good for the negro
in that way than in any other."
"The Freedmen", from the Western Democrat, April 17, 1866
"THE FREEDMEN. From what we can learn, we think
the Freedmen in this section are becoming more industrious and doing
pretty well-behaving with more propriety than they did some months ago.
Some of these people really deserve credit and commendation for the good
example they have set their fellows and for using their influence for
good. There are yet many who seem to prefer idleness and poverty to labor
and industry, and hope to live without work; but this number is not as
large as it was some time ago. The fact is, if the Northers fanatics would
let the negro alone, and quit their fussy and demagogging harangues
about him, and leave the black and white man in the South to arrange
matters between themselves, it would greatly promote the interests of both
races. If an attempt is made to enforce the civil rights bill, and the
annoyance of the people of the South Continued by those in authority, the
result will be that white labor will be substituted for colored labor, and
the negro must either emigrate or suffer. The southern people are disposed
to give the colored man a fair chance, but they are unwilling to be
annoyed and dictated to by those who are influenced by spite and hatred
and ignorance; and if it is continued, they will withdraw all employment
from the colored man, and leave him to his fate and the tender mercy of
"Advice Gratis", from the Western Democrat, May 7, 1867
"ADVICE GRATIS. In all directions we hear and
read of advice being given to the colored people. Public speeches are
being made for the negro's special benefit - it being understood, of
course, that the negro's benefit consists in voting with a particular
party or for particular men. Now, we suggest that the negro will be more
benefited by large crops of corn, &tc., than by all the political
harangues from this until doom's day.
The only advice we have to give the colored man is to attend to his
work and strive to make money, and provide something for his wife and
children. Money in the pocket or corn in the crib, and plenty of meat in
the smoke house will be found to be better friends to the colored man than
all the political speakers in the land.
If the colored man-loses a day now and then attending political
meetings, he will find himself at the end of the year that much poorer. He
cannot afford to lose one day in each week from his labor. He needs every
cent he can make, and it is wrong for any one to induce him to neglect his
work. The right to vote will never fill the stomach of black man or white