Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch

January 18, 1866


Following the end of slavery, farmers in Virginia seek cheap labor.


Petersburg, January 17, 1866. During last fall, when the negroes refused to make contracts for another year, the attention of farmers was turned to the introduction of white labor. They succeeded to some extent in procuring it through the agencies here and in Richmond ; but the subject seems lately to have lost its interest. This may be because the freedmen at length recovered from their delusion, and to some extent acquiesced in the necessities of the situation. With what fiercely they will comply with their engagements remains to be seen. They are, however, nothing but children of a larger growth, and are always ready to play the truant with as little compunction as a schoolboy. But even if they were reliable, there is far from being labor enough in Virginia to meet the agricultural demands of the people. It has, indeed, been deficient for a number of years. The State was kept pretty well drained of able bodied slaves before the war, and since then Tidewater Virginia has been well nigh stripped of its laboring population. For a year or two, at most, the framers may make out to get along after a fashion ; as to anything like prosperity, it its not to be looked for shortly. Those who know anything of the negro character must feel convinced that the dearth of labor will regularly increase, and the necessity is therefore urgent that they should be casting about betimes to supply the vacuum. Immigration should be encouraged by every proper means ; emigration societies ought to be organized, and judicious agents sent to Europe to engage the best class of emigrants, to be sent directly to Virginia. Hitherto the tide has uniformly set in toward the Northern States; and to wait quietly for it to turn in a southern direction would be not unlike the boy setting by the rivulet watching for the water to pass by. Virginians will now have to surrender old prejudices- the peculiar institution is forever abolished; and the jealousies against settlers from other States must now be laid aside, and a welcome invitation extended to all who are capable of aiding in the development of agricultural resources of the State. A distinguished gentleman living near your city has earnestly and able advocated for the tenant system. I allude to General Richardson, whose efforts in the cause of Virginia agriculture entitle him to the gratitude of the people. Not that the tenant system will meet all exigencies of the situation- far from it; for we stand in need of a large class of day-laborers , and of small farmers who will bring their habits of thrift and industry, and some means, along with them. The tenant system is peculiarly adapted to the wants of the large landed proprietors, who have been the lords of the soil for so many years. Woe worth the day when this class of our citizens shall be broken up and dispersed. We want too aristocracy, indeed ' but it deserves to be remembered that they are the men who have given tone to society, who have made the State renowned for its hospitality, and furnished the leasing men in the councils of the State and the nation. May the day be far distant when their plantations shall be cut up into little farms, and their properly alienated forever. Such proprietors can offer inducements to industrious tenants which will be of signal benefit to both parties. It is hoped that the public-spirited men of the State will soon move in this important matter, that Virginia may begin at an early day to enter on that career of improvement to which her natural advantages invite her. Since the wintry weather of Monday there has been a pleasant change, the air being temperate and bracing; but under foot there is very little satisfaction to pedestrians. Cotton has been coming in freely on the Southern road, but circumstances have prevented me from obtaining any statistics. The price is something better, being worth forty-seven cents to-day.
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Justin Barlow




“Correspondence of the Richmond Dispatch,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed June 1, 2023,