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Friday, February 12, 2016

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What Do Freedmen's Bureau Labor Contracts Have to do With Free People of Color?


The batch I downloaded to index last night came from Concordia Parish, Louisiana. Concordia Parish was created on April 10, 1805. Even though the parish suffered some loss from tornado and flood, a quick call to the Clerk of Court of Concordia Parish confirms the following records are available on site:
  • deeds from 1802 from the time of the Spaniards
  • marriage records from the 1800's
  • criminal records from the early 1900's 
  • probate records (kept downstairs but available for viewing)
Using these other resources to learn more about freedmen ancestors and the relationships between them and the people they entered into labor contracts with can be very helpful. The first page of the batch had no extractable data, but it was useful nonetheless because it listed the plantations in Concordia Parish with recorded labor contracts for the years 1866-1868. If you were searching the names of a plantation in this area during that time period, this would prove very useful. Here are screenshots showing the names of the plantations listed: 

Concordia Parish, Louisiana with Labor Contracts 1866-1868
Plantation, Year Plantation, Year Plantation, Year
Bothgrown, 1867 Fletcher, 1867Moreville, 1868
Experience, 1866 Lucerna, 1867 Sycamore, 1867
Cotton Ridge, 1867 Good Hope, 1867 Refuge, 1867
Connor, 1866 Helena, 1868 Rifle Point, 1866, 1867 & 1868
Elba, 1868 Innesfail, 1866 & 1867 Spoken, 1867
William Earhart, 1868 Killanrey, 1867 Ft. Genevieve, 1867

If I knew I had an ancestor that was emancipated in Concordia Parish and I did not know the name of the former owner, I would research these plantations to discover the names of the owners. Then I would determine the name of the local field office and search those records for the plantation owner and my ancestor.

It is not as difficult as you might think to research if you know how to use online resources.  I decided to search to see what interesting tidbits I could find out about a few of these plantations. I first searched out Ft. Genevieve Plantation.  It has an intriguing history where I learned enough to peak my curiousity to learn more about the history of a family who were freed long before Emancipation.

William T. Johnson and his sister, Adelia, were children of a free woman of color, Amy Johnson, who gained her freedom in 1814.  Her children were freed by planter, another William Johnson, in Adams County, Mississippi.  Adams County, Mississippi is adjacent to Concordia Parish, LA. William was freed in 1820, and his sister was freed in 1818.  William married Ann Battles who was freed along with her mother in 1822.  They had 10 children.

William found himself in a dispute over the property line of his plantation.  He was assasinated by one of the parties in dispute with him on June 16, 1851. His son, Byron became head of the family. Byron served in the Mississippi Federal Colored Milita. See Black Soldiers in the Civil War.  As it turns out, Ft Genevieve was owned by Ayers P. Merrill, Jr. in 1869.  Byron Johnson whose parents were free prior to Emancipation leased Ft. Genevieve from Ayers P. Merrill.

This could solve a very tangled web for anyone who had ancestors who were emancipated on Ft Genevieve Plantation. You could now begin researching Freedmen's Bureau Records to learn if documentation exists mentioning Byron Johnson from 1869 to 1872. The question in my mind is why did Byron lease Ft. Genevieve? Prior to that, it is quite possible that Ayers P. Merrill may appear on records with freedmen on his plantation. That would be an interesting avenue of research to persue.

If this story excites you as much as it does me, then you are in for a real treat! You can access the entire digitized collection at Free People of Color in Louisiana: Revealing an Unknown Past.
Citation:  William T. Johnson and Family Memorial Papers, Mss. 529, 561, 597, 770, 926, 1093, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge.


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