Nell Irvin Painter on Freedpeople’s Autonomy

The freedpeople insisted on being treated in a new way, no more as chattels but as people. They resolved, wrote an Army officer, “that in their present condition as freedmen their former masters and present employers should address them in a more respectful manner than formerly.”2 Now they refused the whippings that had been their lot as slaves. They “stoutly resisted” beatings, exhibiting an “independence and fearlessness” that showed them clearly cognizant of the difference between being slaves and being freedpeople, and willing to take care for themselves.3 They meant no harm toward their former masters, for the most part; rather they wanted simply to do for themselves and act in their own interests.

  • 2- Charles H. Gilchrist to W.G. Gordon, Jackson, Mississippi, September 17, 1865, United States Senate, 39th Congress, 1st session, Executive Document no. 2.
  • 3- Stephen Powers, Cincinnati Commercial correspondent, United States House of Representatives, 39th Congress, 1st session, Report no. 30. Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction (Washington, 1866), IV (Florida, Louisiana, Texas): 148

  • P. 5, Exodusters – Nell Irvin Painter, ISBN 0-393-00951-3

Nell Irvin Painter


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