Subordinate local superintendents were assigned to the different islands, each having charge of one or more plantations, who were to oversee, and direct the labor of the freedmen, inculcate, upon them the importance of industry, frugality, and self-reliance, inspire them with a sense of the dignity and duties of freedmen, and prepare them for the exercise of their newly recognized rights as men, and free men.
Rates of wages, which, being experimental, were properly small, were established. Yet with this and the moral stimulus of their new condition, the labor of the freedmen was willing, and, under the circumstances, quite as satisfactory as could have been expected.
The actual cotton crop of the first year, 1862, did not answer the promise of the early season. It was invariably planted late, and the ravages of the army worm destroyed a large portion of the crop. When the army and the freedmen were withdrawn from Edisto Island by General Hunter under a military exigency, which in his judgment demanded it, at least 1,000 acres of cotton and as many of corn were abandoned and never recovered. All the labor any expense bestowed on the cultivated were lost. Only 50,000 pounds of ginned cotton were harvested.
The economical results of 1863, which I had the honor to report in February last, were 110,000 pounds of ginned cotton. The freedmen also raised a much larger amount of corn and other food crops than was needed for their own support.
The regulations and my supervision of the lands were suspended by the sales of February and March last. No land has since been cultivated on account of the Government, and most of the local superintendents have been discharged, only so many being retained as seemed required for purpose of local police and to look after the destitute.
The number of negroes under my superintendence was about 15,000. Of these 9,000 were engaged in productive or compensated labor-as soldiers, agricultural laborers, mechanics, employes in the Quartermaster's Department, house and officers" servants, and others engaged in various handicrafts. Those who required support from the Government were lately arrived refugees and persons who, by reason of age or bodily infirmity, were unable to earn their subsistence and had no relatives or friends present to depend upon.
The increasing industry and thrift of the freedmen is illustrated by the decreasing amount of Government expenditure for their support.
The whole expense on that account for 1863 was $41,544, but while the monthly average was $3,462, the expenditure in December was less than $1,000.
The operations conducted under my supervision and those carried on by white purchasers of lands have proved only the availability of the negroes as an agricultural peasantry; that the rich staple of the sea islands can be successfully cultivated by free labor moderately compensated. They have also proved that the lash is a gratuitous abomination.
But the prudence, forethought, industry, and ability to calculate results necessary for an independent owner and cultivator has so far been proved that those qualities may be safely assumed as elements in all reasoning upon the problem-what to do with the negro.
As an illustration of the general capacity of the freedmen, a few plantations were purchased by the negroes and a few leased by them of the Government by companies, usually the late slaves on the plantations hired. They all managed their respective lands on their own