The following excerpt was taken from an article that appeared in the "Anglo-African" magazine in 1864. In the article, Dr. Thomas P. Knox, who was hired as a doctor to treat freed slaves in South Carolina, recounts his firing and brief confinement in jail on orders of General Saxton, the commander of South Carolina. In this excerpt, he explains the reasons for his firing. What problems does Knox identify in the treatment of freed slaves? What evidence does he give to support his claims?
And now, why have I received this treatment at the hands of Gen. Saxton? As no reasons have been assigned in any of his official orders, the real reasons will be found in the following facts, which I feel bound, though reluctantly, to place before the public under my affidavit.
After receiving my appointment as Contract-Surgeon, as above stated, I was assigned to Coosaw Island for official duty. On entering on the field of my duties, I found the small pox in almost every dwelling. I also found the people, and especially the children, in a most wretched and destitute condition in regard to clothing. Mothers were obliged to let the children go naked or wrap them in coarse bagging, while their squalid clothes were being cleaned of the infection of their disease, for the children had no change of clothing, and many of the mothers were in the same condition.
In view of this condition of things, I inquired why they did not get clothing of Mr. Judd, the agent of the "Freedmen's Relief Association," at Beaufort, as large quantities had been given by the Northern people to be distributed gratuitously among them. They all replied that they had tried to get clothing of the agent, but had been driven away without any, because they had no money to buy. I went to Corn Island, another settlement of the colored people, and found the same state of things, small pox and destitution of clothing. At Eddings Point Plantation, the condition of the people was in no wise different. There I found an aged woman, with nothing but an old bagging skirt, and that in tatters, to cover her. I inquired why she did not apply to the agent of the Northern donors of clothing, at Beaufort for a supply of garments. She said, she had made application, and had been driven from the door, because she had no money with which to buy, and with tears in her eyes, the old woman prayed for her old master to come back and give her some clothes. I went to Ladies' Island, and there found the same condition of things. At St. Helena Island I also found the same destitution. At St. Helena Ville, I met a Mr. Thorpe, the superintendent, in the presence of whom it was remarked by a gentleman, that the people seemed to be very destitute of clothing. To this I replied, that if they had received the clothing sent to them from their friends at the North, they would not be in this wretched condition. Whereupon Mr. Thorpe asserted that he could show me plenty of people who had received these donations from the North. I replied that I would go with him twenty miles to see them. To make his word good, he took me into a cotton house where there were about twenty men and women, who had just been carrying cotton on board the steamer. Mr. Thorpe, addressing one of the company, said, "Here is a man who says there is nobody here who has received second hand clothing;" adding, with emphasis, "you know you have , and I want you to tell him so, for you know Mrs.--gave you clothes the other day, and I gave you a pair of stockings." The old man dropped his head in silence. I saw his embarrassment, and said to him, "Did you do anything for these things?" He replied, "Yes, I worked for them." I said, "Then it was no gift." Mr. T. not seeming inclined to appeal to any other, I spoke to all present, and asked them if there was one of them who received from any of the agents for the distribution of clothing, any garments as a gift. They all replied that they had not. I then said to Mr. Thorpe, "You are condemned by your own witnesses." Whereupon a sharp altercation took place between us, in which I charged him with deceiving and defrauding these poor colored people, who had escaped from bondage only to fall into the hands of God-forsaken Northern sharks. As I went on board the steamer to leave the place, these people, to show their gratitude for my defence of their cause, came to the bank of the river, and cheered me as I departed. On this Mr. Thorpe went away and reported that I was making the people discontented, and creating disturbance among them, tending to insurrection, or something of that kind.
At Beaufort, I met five old slaves, Jennie, Scipio, Killis, Molly and Anna, who had been kidnapped in Africa in their childhood, who told me they could get no clothes from the Freedmen's Association without buying them, and that they could not do. I found Scipio, who is not less than one hundred years old, lying one night on the bare floor, suffering from the cold. I went and obtained a blanket, the fruit of a Christmas Fair gotten up for the benefit of the poor colored people who could get no assistance from the Freedman's Relief Association, and gave it to him, which filled him with gratitude, and brought from him a hearty, "God bless you, massa."
The above Association keep a store in Beaufort for the sale of their goods, and also, from time to time, make sales of their clothing at public auction, some of which auctions I have myself attended. . . . I have been informed by reliable persons that all moneys obtained from these sales of the Association, are paid into the hands of Gen. Saxton, to whom all goods are assigned. . . .
In the commencement of the establishment of schools in Beaufort, both colored and white children met together in the same schools; but recently they have introduced the odious Northern system of caste, by establishing separate schools for the negro children, thus perverting the very object of this mission among the freedmen of the South, which was to elevate the colored people, break down the prejudice against color, and thus produce a homogeneous society, as the basis of freedom and peace.
I will also add a word in respect to the general management of the plantations. These plantations are monopolized by Northern speculators to the almost entire exclusion of the freedmen, who are made the mere serfs of these lords of the soil. On the plantations, the highest price paid to colored laborers, to my knowledge, is thirty cents a day, they subsisting themselves. Many have told me that they have worked all the year, producing from three hundred pounds to five hundred pounds of cotton, and have received only from $5 to $15 for their years toil. They who plant a small patch for themselves, are often denied the use of mules and necessary implements unless they will plant the same amount, gratuitously, for the superintendent; and in some cases they have been driven off the plantations because they would not work on the agent's terms. I have met with hundreds of these poor laborers, and all say they have never received the amount of wages secured to them by act of Congress, * viz: $8 per month for men, and $4 per month for women.
*This pay was promised, however by the Commander of the post.
Colored laborers, on the wharf at Beaufort, get out $8 per month, and not fully paid at that, while white men, doing the same work, get from $30 to $50 per month. Capt. Isaac Simmons, Black Isaac, as he is called, is a pilot, and the best in those waters, and who has more brains than nine-tenths of the whites, gets only $45 a month, while the white pilot gets from $60 to $75; a wicked and oppressive discrimination against the black man.
Under this unrighteous and oppressive treatment, universal sadness is written on every countenance. Many have told me their present condition under these "Buchramen," as they call them, is worse than under their old masters; proving to them what "Old Massa" told them, that the Yankees were not their friends. Cheating these people is in proportion to their ignorance, and as a consequence universal ill-will prevails among them towards the whole horde of plunderers who have come down there, not for the good of the freedmen, but for their own profit. The cry of these suffering people comes up:
"Pay us for our labor, and treat us as free men and women, giving us an equal chance in the participation of the soil, and we will buy our own lands, keep our own store, and relieve the Freedmen's Association of the benevolent task of drawing on the charities of our real friends in the North, for donations for our benefit, which we never receive as a free gift, as the donors designed."
Thomas P. Knox, M.D.
STATE OF NEW YORK.