The Plaint of a Freedmen

February 23, 1866


Some of the freedmen reportedly prefer slavery to freedom because they "received better treatment under slavery".


The followimg unvarnished story was brought to this office by an aged and polite colored man, who had evidently seen better days, and who had enjoyed the comforts and kindly treatment of life among very good Virginia people. No man who knows anything of the character of that kind of human existence will for a moment doubt this old man's story. He speaks but the experience of thousands: What is Freedum? - I had been free nearly nine monts, and wuss off now den I ever was fore the vacuation. During the federacy, I used to hear the niggers always talking about freedum, saying Lincum would free us if the federacy went up. I prayed for dat day to cum, cause I was told dat we would have everything we wanted ; dat the yankeys would bring us money a plenty, and give us land whare belongs to the white folks, and told me we woul not have to work less we choose ; and said we niggers would be better off.When I heard the yankeys had cum, I said well! is it possible dat de yankeys has got Richmond and Petersburg ; so I went in de great house, and axes miss if de yankeys had whiped, and you all got such smart ginrels. Miss said, yes, Tom, they has cum, but we southern people aint whiped yet- only overpowered ; but said, well, Tom, I suppose you are going to leave us! I said I reckon so, as so many fine tales has been told us. But oh! could I had den seen my siteation as I now see it, I would said, no mistis- not as long as I have breath in my body. So de next morning we all was fixing to go, and massy come to me and told us all if you choose to stay, I will treat you all well as I have always dun; will feed and clothe you well, or will feed- feed you all, and give you five dollars a month. But we all thought we could doo better; so we left- about thirty of us. But how mistaken. Times got wuss every day ; but I tried to keep a good heart, thinking times would git better, but, sorrt to say, dey are wuss. I had a wife and two children, but I find it impossible to git along. When I was with Miss and Massy, every Mundy morning we all went to the smoke-house to git out lowance, and got plenty. And we use to take Massy's team and haul as much wood as we wanted. A big log fire all night. Oh, what happy times. And den Jane, the house servant, would bring out something from the table besides ; for dey had a plenty. But now we would be glad to eat what Jane would give the dogs arter dinner. Well, out of all dat left Massy, only eleven of us now. We set over a few coals of fire, not enuf to keep us warm, and have to go to bed to keep from fresing. When we are sick, no Miss to bring a nice cup of tea and toast, and ax me what does I feel like eating, and whar is my pain. Now we can't ford to eat but one meal a day, and not enuf at dat. If we stole a thing, all Miss would say is, I dont bleve out servants done it. If I was back at Massy's I would give my zistance- let the ballanc do as the may.
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Justin Barlow




“The Plaint of a Freedmen,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed December 5, 2022,