War of the Rebellion: Serial 125 Page 0371 UNION AUTHORITIES.

Search Civil War Official Records

In the cities of New Orleans, Washington, Baltimore, Louisville, Saint Louis, and elsewhere the Commission found a numerous free colored population supporting themselves under grievous and depressing disabilities,a without any aid whatever even from those legal sources appointed for the relief of indigent whites. b They are not admitted to alehouses. They obtain no county or parish relief. Scarcely any beggars are found among them. Like the Quakers, they maintain their own poor. When a case occurs in which a family is unable to meet the expenses of sickness, or perhaps the cost of a funeral, it is among themselves alone that a subscription paper, usually called a "pony purse," passes in aid of the sufferers. A most striking incident illustrative of this peculiarity among them came to the knowledge of the Commission when visiting Saint Louis. At the commencement of the war there were about 5,000 free colored people in that city. During a portion of the years 1861 and 1862, in consequence of the disturbed condition of Missouri and the frequent raids which desolated that State, great distress prevailed, and many persons from the country, both white and colored, took refuge in Saint Louis. Wages fell to 25 cents a day, and even at that low rate labor was scarce. Under these circumstances the suffering was so general that great exertions were made for its relief. For many months throughout these two years the city expended $200 a month to keep the unemployed from starving, and in the winter season from freezing. The Provident Association spent $5,000; the Society of St. Vincent de Paul $10,000. Private individuals contributed largely. In the management of these various charities no discrimination was made as to color. The total number relieved was about 10,000, and out of that number two persons only were colored. There were but two applications for relief from colored persons, both women; one bedridden, the other a cripple. These facts were communicateder of the city of Saint Louis- a gentleman who was himself one of the managers in the distribution of the relief funds referred to. c The testimony of all the gentlemen concerned in the management of the various relief societas was, he said, to the same effect, that "the colored people asked for nothing." The same was found true among the free negroes in Canada West, as will be seen by examining the supplementary report of one of the members of the Commission, who visited that country and took voluminous testimony as to the character and condition of the refugees who have settled there. d

It would be difficult to find stronger proof of the ability and willingness of poor blacks to maintain themselves than is shown in cases


a Mr. James Speed, an eminent lawyer of Louisville, testified: "We have a law which makes it felony for a negro to go out of the State and return to it; but I have never known a conviction under it here. I have heard of two prosecutions under it in another part of the State, of which one resulted in a conviction." (Testimony taken in Kentucky, p. 29.) [Here omitted.]

Washington Spalding (colored) deposed: "The mother of a young colored man who lived here (in Louisville) moved across the river, and being on her deathbed sent for him; but on account of the law he could not go, and did not attend the funeral." (Testimony taken in Kentucky, p. 78.)

Another law, equally oppressive, prevailing and enforced in Kentucky and other slave States, is that no free colored man shall keep a store or shop of any kind, or a tavern. What an unheard of disability would a white man consider such a prohibition as that?

b Of this abundant proof will be found the throughout the testimony accompanying this report.

c Testimony of R. A. Watt, city register of Saint Louis. See Testimony taken by the Commission in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, pp. 145, 146.

d Supplemental Report A, on the Refugees in Canada West, by S. G. Howe, pp. 60, 102 of printed report.