Today we continue with the quarterly commissioner reports from Winchester, VA. Since they are rather lengthy, I chose to focus just on 1868 in this letter. You'll also notice, I am only including the sections that pertain to Shenandoah County, even though the letters are really fascinating to see what's happening in the counties surrounding Shenandoah County, too.
April 1, 1868 reveals the following update from McDonnell in Winchester, VA:
"Third Division, comprising the Counties of Shenandoah and Rockingham
"1st The General Condition of the freedpeople in this division is perhaps better than in either of the other divisions in this Sub-District, owing it is supposed to the comparatively few therein and the demand for labour. All are employed and although the wages are small, still, with constant employment, there is no suffering as the people have a choice of employers, causes of complaint are few, and if temperate and economical, they cannot fail in steady progression.
"2d The prospect of full and complete justice being given Freedmen in cases where they are interested against Whites is not good. An offence committed by a colored person is looked upon as more heinous, and therefore should be punished more severely than the same offence committed by a white person. Political and other prejudices operate unfavorably to the ends of justice in this division.
"3d The Register of Marriages for Shenandoah County is completed and in convenient form, ...
"4t The county authorities provide for the indigent freedpeople as for the same class of whites, the means are ample, and the houses tolerably fair for the purpose.
"5t The demand for labor will generally exceed the supply. Freedmen with families would do well to settle in this division avoiding Harrisonburg as a location, which is already too full.
"6t The School at Harrisonburg. numbering one hundred and seven (107) ... is in excellent condition, and which reflects credit on its teacher. Twenty six dollars ($26) was paid in February by the pupils for the support of this school. The Schoolhouse is the property of the freedmen.
"The school organized on the 21st of January at New Market, now numbers fifty six (56) and is in charge of Jesse Robinson (colored) As yet the colored people have manifested but little disposition to sustain this school. Only six dollars ($6 00 )) was paid by the pupils in February.
"At Woodstock the school in charge of Miss Mary J. Knowles numbers sixty (60) and exhibits a fair degree of proficiency. Schools could be organized at Strasbourg, and Mount Jackson if teachers and rooms were supplied, with an attendance of about fifty (50) at each place" (April 1, 1868:5-7).
The Third Division report from McDonnell in Winchester, VA for Shenandoah & Rockingham Counties in July 1, 1868 is as follows:
"1st All the Freedpeople are employed and as in the 2d Division they are well distributed, except at Harrisonburg, and their general condition is prosperous. At the latter place there is a good schoolhouse, the property of the colored people well attended, and showing a degree of efficiency commendable to ... the teacher. This school also closes on the 1st July, much to the regret of parents, and pupils. Reports of unprovoked assaults on Freedpeople and known Union people are well founded, and the recent outrage perpetrated at Woodstock before reported is perhaps the best indication of popular opinion which can be cited. While the freedpeople are industrious, peaceable and temperate, showing every disposition to become good law abiding citizens, they are not always permitted to enjoy the fruits of their industry quietly, but are cruelly maltreated by vagabonds, publicly known in their locality as White gentlemen. The frequent absence of Mr. Hall from his division and his reticence in affairs taking place during such absences no doubt stimulates offenders to repetition of such unlawful practices. A second outrage was perpetrated on the colored girl Celina Jackson during my recent visit on inspection to Woodstock.
"While the girl was walking quietly into Church on the Sabbath she was assaulted and struck across the face with an umbrella by R. L. one of the party who on a former occasion was fined "one cent" by a Jury for whipping Mr G. R., present State Treasurer.
"If practicable I would respectfully recommend that the officer of the Bureau at Woodstock may also be appointed Military Commissioner, with full power to correct abuses which are totally neglected by the Civil Authorities, and which if permitted to increase will eventually lead to serious results.
"2d The likelihood of full and complete justice being given to freedmen in cases where they are interested against whites is hopeful in Rockingham County but the indications in Shenandoah County are such as to leave no room for hope, unless a radical change takes place in the community, and a more determined effort is made by the officers of the law to execute their duties with fidelity.
"3d The Register of Marriages is completed, ...
"4th The County authorities have ample provision for caring for their own indigent poor, and freedpeople are received and treated as are the White inmates. Outdoor relief, where the necessities of the case require is also given.
"5th The demand for labor is greater than the supply except at Harrisonburg. Many families could find employment in both Counties at about $10 per month.
"6th The schools at Harrisonburg and Woodstock which are now closed, were in excellent condition, well attended and well conducted, with the advancement as progression and rapid as could be expected.
"Edinburg, Mt. Jackson, Strasburg & New Market in Shenandoah County require schools, but nothing can be expected from the people towards their establishment or support" (July 1, 1868:9-12).
The 3rd division report, that includes Shenandoah County, from McDonnell in Winchester VA on October 10, 1868 shares:
"1st General Condition- All the freedpeople who are able to work, are employed at prices varying from $8 to $12 per month. At Harrisonburg they appear to be in a very prosperous condition, they have erected a good schoolhouse at an expense of about $600, and during the last term of the school paid by contribution about $40 per month toward the supply of teachers. Extraordinary efforts will be made in this Division during the coming winter to increase the number of schools and it is hoped with success. The very bitter political prejudice of a large number of the Whites in is ... made manifest whenever the slightest opportunity presents is very much to be regretted. Woodstock, Edinburgh, and New Market are noted for the hostility on the part of their citizens towards men from the North, Officers of the Government...
"Such outrages have the effect to [unclear: infuriate] the colored persons. Selina Jackson, a freedgirl having been repeatedly assaulted for giving evidence against a party of men accused of cutting down and burning a flagpole in front of the Bureau office at Woodstock and being unable to obtain redress or protection, was compelled to leave the County to escape further violence. Since the arrival of Mr. James Agent of the Bureau at Woodstock, no reports of abuse have been made, and it is sincerely hoped such [unclear: censurable] practices will soon cease altogether.
"2d It is believed the Magistrates intend to administer fair and impartial justice altho' complaints have been made that they have not done since the case of Selina Jackson. Perhaps it is fair to presume that they are not prepared to fully oppose strong local prejudices which could not fail to be disastrous to Magistrates engaged in business. It is very doubtful if fair and impartial juries can be found to try cases in which colored men are parties.
"3d The Register of Marriages is completed in each County, and each of the four paragraphs are believed to be carried out as far as practicable.
"4t The County Authorities provide for the indigent freedpeople as they do for the whites, and their means are ample.
"5t The supply of labor is less than the demand but no encouragement can be given for the introduction of more at this season In the Spring from three to four hundred (300 to 400) agricultural hands could find ready employment at prices before stated.
"6t There were no schools in Session during the quarter - Strasburg, Mount Jackson and New Market, in addition to the places at which schools have already been established seem to require schools, and at least fifty (50) pupils at each place would attend, but the people, from indifference and poverty will offer no reliable inducement towards an effort to organize schools at those places.
"The interest taken by Mr James in the affairs of this division will it is believed be production of excellent results.
"As the freedman's friend, he will labor for their advancement socially, encourage education, and it is hoped bring about a better state of feelings between the race than has heretofore existed" (October 10, 1868:7-10).
A report from McDonnell, Winchester VA, on December 31, 1868 of the 3rd division, including Shenandoah County:
"Except at Harrisonburg and Woodstock, the colored people are well distributed in this division, and constant employment is obtained without difficulty the greater part of the year. The people however are very poor, and appear less ambitious than elsewhere. Seldom obtaining cash for labor, they depend on employers to furnish the necessities of life for their families, forgetting that when a settlement comes, they will have to pay the highest store prices for what they had. Except also at the first mentioned place, they appear to have but little interest in education. They would attend schools if furnished them without the expense of Rooms, Teachers, or fare, but no great importance seems to be attached to gaining knowledge through the slow progress of books. The advancement of those who live remote from large towns or settlements, and in the mountains is extremely slow. Few contracts for the coming year have been made.
"2d Reports from the officer in charge indicate that full and complete justice is given to Freedmen in cases where they are interested against white men. This is probably so as far as the courts are concerned, but in trials by Jury it is certain that mens prejudices operate against the Freedmen especially in cases of assault, or in the settlement of accounts. Mr James has reported one or two cases where it was evident the juries did not regard the evidence.
"3d The Register of Marriages is complete. No additions have been made to it for some months...
"4th Indigent freedpeople are provided for by the authorities of the County, and the means adequate. Few colored people will consent to become inmates of the Poorhouse.
"5th The supply of labor is greater than the demand, except at the dullest season. Even at present all are employed who are able to work.
"6th But one school is yet in operation, it is located at Harrisonburg, ... Schools will also be commenced as rapidly as teachers can be secured, at Woodstock, Strasburg and New Market.
"Since Mr. James has been assigned to this Division, an improved state of feeling has existed between the white and colored people" (December 31, 1868:10-12).
Let's reflect on these reports over the last two weeks. Thanks to the 13th Amendment, slavery has been eradicated. The Confederacy has been dissolved and left in history, where it belongs. However, this series of reports written by McDonnell gives an overview of sentiments toward African Americans in Shenandoah County in 1866-1868 that should chill us even today:
- "strong feeling of hostility"
- "bitter prejudice"
- "the condition of freedpeople in these Counties does not improve in any perceptible degree, owing to the intensely bitter feelings of the whites, especially in Shenandoah County"
- "full and complete justice is not given"
- "the Whites are an intensely disloyal people, in real sentiment, and were the protection ... withdrawn, the freedmen would be treated pretty much as they used to be"
- "unprovoked assaults on Freedpeople and known Union people"
- "freedpeople are industrious, peaceable and temperate, showing every disposition to become good law abiding citizens, they are not always permitted to enjoy the fruits of their industry quietly, but are cruelly maltreated by vagabonds, publicly known in their locality as White gentlemen"
- "indications in Shenandoah County are such as to leave no room for hope, unless a radical change takes place in the community"
- "very bitter political prejudice of a large number of the Whites"
- "Woodstock, Edinburgh, and New Market are noted for the hostility on the part of their citizens"
- "a... girl having been repeatedly assaulted ... and being unable to obtain redress or protection"
Is this the way we want Shenandoah County to be remembered and labeled? These are phrases taken verbatim from reports. It's real history that we aren't talking about.
These perspectives on our ancestral community members should be difficult for us to hear. Dr. Shelly Murphy reminds us "Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards." This sentiment is similarly shared in James Baldwin's writings, captured in the 2016 documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, "History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history." Recognizing how parts of our history are infused in this place we call home and being intentional about how we represent and honor this place are very important conversations. Knowing our past, our leaders should be compelled to make difficult decisions that impact everyone in our community, not just the majority. Community identity must be unbiased and promote justice, truth, and most especially peace.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day