From an engraving by John Warner Barber showing the town of Athens, GA from across the Oconee River in 1861
A WONDERFUL SOURCE OF HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL INFORMATION:
Prof. Robert Scott Davis
Whether you call it
researching or pleasant dabbling, hunting down information for history and genealogy questions can be a major project for thousands of Americans. A lot of their work would be a thousand times more difficult if it weren’t for the dedicated band of persons who spend tedious months and years finding, abstracting and publishing old records from local and state agencies.
Basically, the persons who meticulously work to make records public and convenient for use by hobbyists and researchers are really the “unsung heroes” in history and genealogy, especially on the local or state level. One of the top experts making this a major part of his life is Prof. Robert Scott Davis, director of the Family and Regional History Program, Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, Alabama. Professor Davis has written more than 1,000 books and articles on records and research. He carefully cites his sources and indexes the hundreds of thousands of names occurring in local records. Using one of his books of records is like successfully hunting for nuggets of gold in family history. While more and more records are becoming available on-line, there are still vast quantities not on the Web, and the collections in print are very valuable. Professor Davis doesn’t know me, and I have never met him—but I can sure tell good work and research when I see it. He has been amazingly helpful to thousands of genealogists, history buffs and others.
Clarke County and residents of the surrounding area are lucky Professor Davis has dug out many Clarke County records which otherwise would languish in musty files sometimes very difficult to find. He is a marvelous detective at sniffing out old records and saving them for easy use.
Since this is a blog about Civil War and Reconstruction period history in Clarke County, Georgia, we’ll zero-in on just one of his incredibly useful publications: Records of Clarke County, Georgia, 1801-1892, in the Georgia Department of Archives and History.
(Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press, 1993). Not everyone can dash over to the Department of Archives and History in Morrow, Georgia, especially now that its public hours have been slashed by the state budget crunch. For those of you who want to visit, here is the location and Web listing for the Georgia Archives. Note carefully the brief times the facility is open for research: 5800 Jonesboro Road,
Morrow, GA 30260,
, Open Friday - Saturday
8:30 - 5:00,
Just one section of the rich records trove Professor Davis has dug out from the state archives concentrates on information about Confederate soldiers and their relatives. In some cases, these records involve returning veterans after the war was over. If you’re interested in tracing your Clarke Confederate ancestors, the chances are good you’ll run across mentions of them in the Clarke County records housed in the State Archives and published in Professor Davis’ Clarke County book.
Of most interest to seekers of Civil War era information about relatives and friends in Clarke County are Record Group 129-2-4 Miscellaneous, Box 2: Civil War Era Files. Professor Davis did detailed searches of this record group at the Georgia State Archives.
Here are some highlights of records he found involving Civil War and later time periods involving those with involvement in the era: Amnesty Oaths
with 358 names of Clarke and a few other area residents who swore allegiance to the federal government after the war ended in 1865. Professor Davis also notes that physical descriptions and signatures of these persons are found in Microfilm Reel 287/40-8 at the Georgia Archives. His list of oath signers contains the names and ages of the signers. Confederate Veterans Receiving Artificial Limbs in 1867 in Clarke County
: 19 names. Extensive Confederate Records, 1862-1892
: Includes: Names of Confederate widows, 27 names. Guardians or persons having charge of orphan of deceased soldier
: 29 names. Persons dependent upon deceased soldiers for support:
4 names. Soldiers crippled for life
: 1 name. Aged or infirm white persons
: 13 names. I assume these are persons dependent upon Confederate veterans. On the back of this list are 23 names of African-Americans. A long list of widows, wives and infirm persons and their families
whose service in the Confederate Army caused much hardship for the families in Clarke County. A list of persons entitled to receive salt from the Confederate government
. Salt was in tremendously short supply in the Confederate states during the war. Lists of more aged and infirm persons, persons dependent on soldiers for support, soldiers’ widows, more guardians of orphans of deceased soldiers
. A list of citizens made destitute by the war, as of April 15, 1864
. Sixty-six names of whites and 42 names of African-Americans. A long list of classes of priority for aid to families of Confederate soldiers.
These gave the reason for the priority of each case. This list contains hundreds of names, listed by militia district. Destitute Confederate Soldiers and other destitute citizens
, as of June, 1867. A long list of widows, wives and families with sons in military service
As you can see, Professor Davis’s book and the records of the Georgia Archives can be of tremendous help in tracing activities of your Civil War and Reconstruction era relatives.
If you would like to obtain this book, call the Southern Historical Press at 1-800-233-0152
to obtain prices (reasonable) and place your order. You can’t order online from this press yet, but it has hundreds of excellent books of interest to genealogists and historians.
Brevet Major John J. Knox, head of the Athens Georgia Sub-District of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867-68
Part 1 of 2
In 1867, two years after Emancipation, slavery wasn’t dead in Athens, Georgia. It was only “lying doggo”—existing in a little-diluted manner causing untold hardships for “freed persons” and also for former slave owners.
The South—and the nation—had a lot of unfinished business. Bearing much of the brunt of this unprecedented effort at change was the formidably named federal agency, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. It was commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau. With its many offices throughout the South, some border states and Washington, D. C., the Bureau was ceaselessly dealing with whites and blacks. It might be considered the “oil” which tried to make the wheels turn to set up new relations between whites and former slaves. For much of its existence, the Bureau could call upon limited Union armed force against recalcitrant citizens in the occupied South. Yankee civilian workers and military men were trying to drag Southern whites by the scruff of their necks to accept ideas that African Americans were not slaves any more.
The Civil War was lost, which Southerners could reluctantly admit. But the social fabric of life hadn’t necessarily meant equality and justice for all. The idea that blacks could marry, choose their own employment, try to get an education and even vote was exceedingly difficult to understand by the many white citizens of Athens, Georgia, and elsewhere.
The field office reports of the Freedmen’s Bureau give us a ringside seat at this imperfect search for getting along between the races throughout much of the South, and specifically in the Athens Sub-District of the Bureau. The Bureau heard complaints of many former slaves, and from many whites—both sides felt they were mistreated. What assurance did blacks have their former master's would actually pay them to work? Were the ex-slaves willing to work for former masters? How could former slave owners make a buck to keep their farms or plantations alive?How would they get their crops taken care of? What kind of labor contracts could make all this possible? How did the Bureau deal with instances of physical beatings, kidnappings of black children, and even murder of the freedmen?
In Athens, a doughty brevet major, John J. Knox, was named the Athens Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Sub-Commissioner in 1867, and we have a thorough record of much of his duties with whites and blacks in 1867 and 1868. Freedmen’s Bureau operations started in Athens in 1865, but Major Knox was one of the most active sub-commissioners to hold the job. Major Knox, from Michigan, was respectful to the community, but he did not suffer fools gladly and rose to protect destitute blacks. Also, Knox’s period is one of the better-documented in existing records.
A lot of the details of this Civil War veteran’s work become plain to us in his field office reports and letters. A bantam of a man, not weighing 100 pounds, he was nearly killed in battle near Richmond, Virginia, and was seriously disabled. He was the the Union reserve officer's corps. He was naturally a likable guy, and even un-reconstructed Athens area residents had to admire his bravery in battle.
The records of the Bureau can reward the user with a detailed day-by-day account of what the Freedmen’s Bureau was trying to do in the Athens Sub-District. You can get to these records via the partnership of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and Ancestry.com, the tremendously useful genealogical site on the Internet. Of great importance to genealogists and African-American history fans and genealogists are the thousands of names of ex-slaves and where they lived in the Athens Sub-District, as well as how they lived their lives during Reconstruction. These details are reflected in Freedmen's Bureau letters sent and received and in many reports. Thousands of these sources are available on-line.
The Athens Sub-District covered the following counties: Clarke, Jackson, Gwinnett, Walker, Hart, Franklin, Banks, Habersham, Rabun, Hall, Oglethorpe, Elbert, and Madison. Other Bureau sub-district headquarters in Georgia were at Savannah, Albany, Brunswick, Thomasville, Macon, Columbus, Augusta, Atlanta and Rome. Each sub-district employed agents at smaller towns or villages as well.
But your hunt may not be easy. There’s no decent index to these records. You have to hunt information like prospectors hunted nuggets of gold—expecting to get very little and then hitting a bonanza from time to time. Many African-Americans, however, have successfully traced their ancestors in the years immediately following the Civil War and Emancipation. They are often able to find their labor contracts with planters, their complaints about violence and unfair treatment, their depth of destitution, and even their hospitalizations and illnesses.
The field reports of Georgia and other Southern states give us tons of information including labor contracts, education efforts, court cases, and violence against freedmen. They also frequently portray actions of whites and their complaints against African Americans or the Freedmen's Bureau. Of course, we are seeing through the lens of a camera held by the Yankee bureau. Major Knox, for example, never hid his belief that the Bureau should help destitute blacks and try to make their lives better. But he proceeded with quite a bit of caution, courtesy and fairness. Several times, however, he faced death threats, although no actual assassination attempt was made.
The overall Freedmen’s Bureau site on Ancestry.com can be found at U.S., Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1865-187, compiled by the National Archives. Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia, on-line are the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1903, 90 rolls); Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives, Washington, D.C. The on-line address for Athens sub-district records is: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1105
Athens" specific records address includes hundreds of letters received and sent : http://search.ancestry.com/Browse/view.aspx?dbid=1105&path=Georgia.Letter.1867.Letters+Received+Entered+in+Volume+1,+A-W.1156&sid=&gskw=Record+from+U.S.,+Freedmen+Bureau+Records+of+Field+Offices,+1865-1878
If you don’t have your own access to Ancestry.com, many public libraries have it free. Or if you prefer, many libraries have the microfilm National Archives records of the bureau for their area and state. Check with the genealogy and local history departments. Sometimes it seems faster to use the microfilms to browse.
The current online records for the Bureau in other Southern and a few non-Southern locations include: Washington, D. C., Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. See ancestry.com
for further information for what records are available for individual states. The regional branches of the National Archives have all the microfilmed records. The National Archives in Washington has the original paper records of the Freedmen's Bureau. Not all have been microfilmed or placed on-line.
Here’s the microfilm listing: Alabama, M1900, 34 rolls; Arkansas, M1901, 23 rolls; District of Columbia, M1902, 21 rolls; Florida, M1869, 15 rolls; Georgia, M1903, 90 rolls; Kentucky, M1904, 133 rolls; Louisiana, M1905, 111 rolls; Maryland/Delaware, M1906, 42 rolls; Mississippi, pre-Bureau Records, M1914, 5 rolls and Freedmen’s Bureau, M1907, 65 rolls; Missouri, M1908, 24 rolls; North Carolina, M1909, 78 rolls; South Carolina, M1910, 106 rolls; Tennessee, M1912, 28 rolls; Texas, M1912, 32 rolls; and Virginia, M1913, 203 rolls.
In Part 2 of this blog article to follow soon, we’ll give specific examples of Freedmen’s Bureau records which hold high genealogical, historical and cultural interest concerning the Reconstruction period after Emancipation.
An letter sent by the Freedmen's Bureau to a private lawyer thanking him for reporting efforts to rid Elbert County, GA, of Union troops.
Any blog has to answer the question, "What's in it for the reader?" Of course it also has to answer the author's question, "What's in it for me?" I hope the answers to these questions will be positive for readers and for me. The subjects of these blogs may range from the ridiculous to the sublime—but they basically will deal with history and from time to time some culture, too. As you can tell, my Web pages are mostly about Civil War and Reconstruction subjects and incidents. They are, obviously, also about selling two of my books. Writing local histories is a labor of love, and I can say nobody gets rich doing it.
The Internet has made it possible for us to reach a great many more persons than writing a small-press-run book and hiding it in the cobwebbed stacks of miscellaneous libraries. Blogs on the Internet put a lot of chaff out there for others to see and read. But they do offer an unparalleled opportunity to reach some Web users interested in subjects bonding them together. I hope these blogs, more or less to be aired each week will pique your interest and keep you coming back for more.
There's nothing an author likes to do more than get the viewer's or reader's interest. If he or she can do this, the Web user may be put into a jocular frame of mine to put up with a writer. Each blog will probably contain a lively treatment of some off-beat or little-known incident in Athens or Clarke County during the Civil War or Reconstruction. Here's the first one:
The Confederate Veteran Who Taught Ex-Slaves in a Yankee Freedmen's Bureau School in Athens, Georgia—and a Union drum major who taught ex-slaves in Athens
The Yankee Drum Major: Less than two months after the Civil War ended, an Yankee Union Army drum major from New York was busily teaching what seems to have been the first Freedmen's Bureau school for African American ex-slaves in Athens. Perhaps even more surprisingly, a Confederate veteran from an old Athens family took a job just days later teaching ex-slaves in another Freedmen's Bureau school. Both men began their teaching careers in August, 1865, when Athens was still under occupation by units of the Union Army.
Lt. Col. Homer B. Sprague of the 13th Connecticut Infantry Regiment of Volunteers served as the first Freedmen's Bureau agent in Athens, although he was on active duty with occupation forces here in 1865. He encouraged the earliest efforts to educate ex-slaves in Athens and Clarke County. Blacks ardently wished to become literate. It had been illegal during slavery. Most white citizens didn't want ex-slaves educated and gave almost no support to efforts by the federal government to do so, or to efforts by such groups as the American Missionary Association, which furnished many of the teachers for ex-slaves throughout the South.
The Yankee drum major was Bernard P. Jacobs, about 22 years old when he saw duty in Athens with the 156th Regiment, New York Volunteers. He was mustered in as drummer, Co. I, Nov. 18, 1862. He was promoted to fife major on that same date, and made regimental Drum Major Feb. 19, 1864. (From files of the Adjutant General of New York, 1904, and records in the Athens Freedmen's Bureau correspondence.)
"The Colored School of Athens (at the Colored Baptist Church) was opened on the 10th of August, 1865, taken charge of, conducted by Mr. Barnerd [sic] J. [sic] Jackobs [sic], Drum Major of the 156th Regt., New York Volunteers. . ," the Rev. William Finch, a prominent African-American leader in Athens wrote to Freedmen's Bureau Supt. of Georgia Schools, G. I. Eberhart. There were about 60 to 70 pupils in this first black school.
"I don' think that children by any means made more rappid [sic] progress than they have done under Mr. Jacob's teaching. He has become a great favorite among the colored people. . . by his gentlemanly conduct and general good behavior and I know the colored people of Athens would do anything to have Mr. Jacobs come again, after him being discharged from the service of the United States. I don't suppose that any colored school has been opened any where under more difficult circumstances than his without any help and hardly any books," the Rev. Mr. Finch said. Jacobs was mustered out on Oct. 23, 1865.
The Confederate Veteran: Leonard S. Schevenell, a member of an early Athens family headed by Richard Schevenell, had enlisted in Company G of the North Carolina Infantry, also called the Highland Guards. He joined at age 18. A number of Athens men had joined the 25th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, as had Schevenell. He mustered in on April 1862. He mustered out on April 9, 1865, the day Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Schevenell didn't go into details about why he wanted to teach. He must have taken severe criticism from white townspeople for teaching blacks. Richard Schevenell, Leonard's father, had one 61-year-old female slave, according to the enumeration in the 1860 Federal Census.
"I am a white man and the only Southern man I know of engaged in teaching Freedmen," he wrote to Eberhart on Nov. 2, 1865. Schevenell said he began teaching in Athens on Aug. 14, 1865 ". . . on which day I organized the school of which I now have charge." He had 26 pupils. His school met in an African-American church. "There is a general disposition among the colored people to educate their children but very few of them are able to pay for their tuition [$1 per month per student]. The children progress very well in their studies as in general they pay more attention to their lesson than white children," he wrote the school superintendent.
"Being dependant [sic] on my labor for a support I fear I shall have to discontinue my school activities as the amount that I receive for tiuition is insufficient," Schevenell explained.
The Confederate veteran was criticized in a letter written to Supt. Eberhard by Daniel Hough: "The other school is taught by Mr. L. Schevenell, a Confederate soldier, and in my opinion does not amount to much. I don't think he will continue."
Schevenell remained in Athens for many years, but not teaching school. He worked at various times as a bookkeeper and carpenter, and was employed by the Athens Evening News. On Dec. 16, 1904, the Athens Weekly Banner reported his death, saying he died Dec. 8, 1904, falling from the Georgia Railroad trestle into the Oconee River. He is buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens.
This unlikely pair of Yankee drum major and Confederate Infantry veteran were the forerunners in what would become a major effort to give African Americans an education. During Reconstruction and afterward, many schools gave blacks their first education, long before the whites in Athens had public schools. Whites were also invited to attend Freedmen's Bureau schools, but there is no record any of them wanted to be educated with blacks.
These are mere vignettes of brief teaching careers, but we wonder what motivated the New Yorker and the Athenian to teach black children in Athens. Union military unit members also taught in other Freedmen's Bureau schools and received encouragement to do so. Schevenell, a returning veteran, seemed to count on the low pay to support himself. Jobs were few and far between in Athens that soon after the Civil War.