Thursday, June 10, 2010

Let My People Go! An Appeal to the Ft. Smith Freedman's Bureau Field Office

Old Commissary Bldg.
Ft. Smith Arkansas Field Office Freedman's Bureau
(Library of Congress)

A good friend and colleague of mine from Hampton Virginia, was going through a publication that she had pertaining to records of the Freedman's Bureau.  Known officially as the Bureau of Refugees Freedmen & Abandoned Lands, this bureau worked as an agency providing services to newly freed slaves. Selma Stewart, Hampton AAHGS president shared with me a series of documents that she saw indexed, and that they contained references to Indian Territory Freedmen.  She thought that I would be interested.  Indeed, she was right. 

Some background----

The Freedman's Bureau had a field office in Ft. Smith Arkansas. Among the many tasks at the Ft. Smith Freedman's Bureau office, was also to serve as an office that assisted with the needs of Freedmen from Indian Territory. These were those enslaved by the Indian tribes that had held families of African descent in bondage. 

Freedom had already come to Ft. Smith by late 1863, when a combination of abolitionist activities, and the occupation of the Ft. Smith fort by Union soldiers, occurred, and many once enslaved black people inhaled their first breath of Freedom. In nearby Indian Territory--in both the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations, many men got the word that if they could make their way to either Ft. Gibson, or Ft. Smith---they too, would be free.  Some took their chance and escaped, mostly in the dead of night. They would eventually find their way to the Federal line---and if able bodied, they enlisted. 

After the war, many wished to return to Indian Country---but several indicated that they had been prevented from returning----as slavery had not yet ended. 

They had but once choice---to appeal to the US Government for assistance to set their people free.  These letters were retained by the Ft. Smith Field Office, and they provide a glimpse into the days after the war, when in late 1865 and 1866--some of these individuals wanted to be reuninted with their loved ones.

They wrote for assistance under the leadership of Daniel Loman, a Choctaw Freedman. They also compiled a list of names of some of the families still being held in bondage.  

The letter pertaining to their suffering right after the war, depicted a time in which though the war had ended, the plight of slaves held in bondage in Indian Territory--was a dangerous one.

Daniel Looman was a leader among a group of other men, who wrote to the Bureau asking for assistance.  He was among a group of men who had escaped from bondage, who still have loved ones remaining in bondage towards the end of 1865.  They wanted to be reunited with their loved ones, and they were in fear of losing their lives.

Letter sent to Freedman's Bureau

Thanks to Selma Stewart a devoted Virginia genealogist, these documents were brought to my attention.  Filed among a series of over 70 reels of microfilm---these precious pages reflecting the letters and some of the names are a wonderful find. They tell another part of this long over looked history.  I present a one of those pages here. 

A Partial List of Freedmen still held in bondage
included in appeal to the Freedman's Bureau in Ft. Smith, Arkansas

Once received, this letter was directed to the national headquarters of the Freedman's Bureau in Washington DC.

Cover Letter sent to Washington DC seeking
relief for families still held in bondage, October 1865

Let us hope that the wait to be reunited with their families was not too long. 

The Treaty of 1866 eventually abolished slavery in the Indian Tribes, and although many today, would like to see this never mentioned again, thankfully, some of  the stories of these forgotten people have been found, and can be told.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a great find! I hope this helps someone who is looking for their family.