On 25 February 1865, Union soldiers forced the citizens of Georgetown to lower the Confederate flag and hoisted the Union flag. On 1 March 1865, Colonel Brown and several companies of "colored" occupation troops relieved the Union Army in the district. The occupation forces stationed in Georgetown consisted of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, five companies of the 102nd U. S. Colored Troops and eight companies of the 32nd U. S. Colored Troops. These groups emancipated the last remaining slaves in Georgetown.
On 5 and 6 March, colored Union soldiers and the United States Navy sailed up Georgetown's rivers and announced the end of slavery. The troops informed the planters that they remained responsible for the mortgages that any bank held on their slaves, but that the slaves could leave. After receiving news of their freedom, some former slaves left the plantations, while others stayed and rioted.
During the following month, corruption and crime reached epidemic levels in the Georgetown countryside. Soldiers and bands of freedmen looted the manor homes and carried off the planting families' valuables. Robert Allston's widow Adele wrote to Colonel Brown, of the Union Army, explaining the actions of the freedmen, and asked to be escorted home to her plantation. When she and others of her social set returned home they quickly realized the magnitude of change that had taken place. She complained that her Chicora Wood house had "been robbed of every article of furniture and much defaced and injured, also all my provisions of meat, lard, coffee and tea taken. That we are left without a bed or blanket and that all these necessary things are distributed among the Negroes."
Jane Pringle, who owned White House Plantation on the Pee Dee River, wrote to Mrs. Allston explaining what she knew about the missing Allston property: "All your furniture has been taken not only by your own Negroes but by troops and hordes of blacks who like vultures hung around the plantations here and by their numbers overawed the negroes and got the lion's share of the booty." In the same letter Pringle also described how the freedmen celebrated their emancipation, "The blacks had a large dinner party on Dr. Sparkman's place last Sunday and got drunk and have invitations out for a picnic."
In Georgetown and throughout the countryside, the presence of the colored occupation troops gave the ex-slaves a strong sense of impunity. Joel Williamson, in his book After Slavery, states that it was always more difficult to maintain law and order in areas occupied by colored troops . The freed slaves in these situations often did what they pleased and disregarded laws because they did not expect to be punished for any of their actions. The use of colored occupation troops was not confined to Georgetown, nor was their presence rare in the South Carolina Low Country. The Union Army stationed colored troops in every district of the Low Country from Georgetown to Savannah, Georgia (FOC- does anyone have authentic records of where these troops were posted?).
On 3 March 1865, the Freedmen's Bureau Act enacted Sherman's field order which gave each freed slave 40 acres and a mule. The Union Army distributed confiscated land south of Charleston to the freedmen. This action led Georgetown's planters to fear that the same fate might befall their property. At this point, many of the planters who had earlier moved inland to escape the war, moved back to their plantations to claim their holdings.
On 25 April 1865, under orders, the planters of Georgetown and Charleston districts took oaths of allegiance to the United States. Afterwards, the Union Army instructed the planters to assemble the freedmen and draw up formal labor contracts and to provide for the freedmen as they had before emancipation and divide the harvest with them. The occupation forces warned the planters that if they decided not to grow crops on their land, they would still be held responsible for providing food for their own and possibly other ex-slaves on their land.
Rice was planted shortly thereafter, but because the fields had lain fallow for four years and because of the shortage of laborers, the yield was very small. The Freedmen's Bureau planted and managed several plantations. The ex-slaves worked hard until after the crop was harvested. Afterwards, they refused to repair broken trunks and work at ditching. After deliberating over the crisis, the United States Army used force to make the freedmen perform the tasks that they usually performed during the "lay by time."
The war and the years immediately following had an enormous psychological effect on the Georgetown planters and on Southerners in general. White Southern males had been beaten militarily and the flower of their generation had been killed or maimed. With Georgetown under Union occupation, white Georgetonians felt helpless and feared that the freedmen might rise up and take revenge for their servitude. James Sparkman wrote to Benjamin Allston informing him of a rumored uprising of which "three of the most respectable citizens" informed him. Sparkman wrote, "white male adults and children were to be massacred, on a given night between this and Jan[uar]y. All the aged white women were also to be destroyed, but females between certain ages, to be reserved for servile and licentious purposes."
Although this fear did not come to pass, the whites probably justifiably feared revenge from slaves they had formerly mistreated. The following years brought crop failures and by 1867, many faced bankruptcy. According to what I have read, many, or perhaps most, large plantation owners were deeply in debt most of the time even before the war and emancipation. The struggle to retain authority over the work force, exorbitant interest rates and the lack of capital (due to not only to crop failures, but typically half the capital of these plantation owners was tied up in their slaves) doomed most big plantations, including the Georgetown rice farms. In 1867 planters only cultivated 12,000 acres of rice land compared to the 46,000 acres cultivated just before the war began. By 1870, planters harvested over 15,000 acres of rice in Georgetown which produced an average yield of 540 pounds per acre. South Carolina still produced the vast majority of rice in the United States, dwarfing the production of both Georgia and Louisiana combined, although this quickly waned.
The Reconstruction Act of 1867 brought great change in the south. Perhaps the second greatest upheaval came when ex-slaves gained the right to vote and hold office, privileges now withheld from white men of pre-war prominence. The act also divided the old Confederacy, except Tennessee, into five occupied zones and established military rule. Additionally, it empowered the newly elected Congress to write new state constitutions and passed the Habeas Corpus Act which greatly expanded the right of citizens' to remove cases from local or state courts to federal courts. The Reconstruction Acts transferred political power throughout the South from whites to freedmen and their allies.
Ex-slaves who remained in the Low Country vowed to make a difference in the 1868 elections. As a result of their determination and superior numbers, they won many of the Georgetown's county elections. In addition, with backing from the Federal Government, blacks took over many local federal office positions. This pattern continued throughout Reconstruction.
With ex-slaves in control of the local government, the Freedmen's Bureau began to end its work in Georgetown County. It had provided the freedmen with education, clothing, food and medical facilities, but after 1869 local bureaucracy administered those welfare programs, along with efforts to develop a free labor system. During the same year, United States occupation forces withdrew from the county and the blacks created a local militia of their own to ensure their authority.
During the second half of Reconstruction, Georgetown continued to fumble with its labor problems. Although there were many problems with the industry, Georgetown rice, in South Carolina referred to as "Northern Rice" because it came from north of Charleston, was still considered the finest quality rice produced in the United States. It sold in the Charleston market for seven or eight cents per pound, double its pre-war price.
In an attempt to keep their workers happy and productive, many of the plantation owners changed their payment policies. Some began to pay their workers weekly and some increased salaries to an average of six dollars a month, plus rations. Those workers that did not receive rations usually made about thirteen dollars a month. Due to the lack of currency, some planters issued promissory notes that looked like currency, and promised to redeem them in the future.
Near the end of Reconstruction, Georgetonians revived one element of antebellum life. Whites began to organize clubs; however, these new organizations bore little resemblance to the pre-war societies of the wealthy planters. On 20 August 1874, either in desperation or in response to the black militia, the whites formed the Georgetown Rifle Guards. At their first meeting, held at the Winyah Indigo Society Hall, the organization claimed that it had formed "a club for self defense" whose belief was "the promotion of Social intercourse and the enjoyment of the members by means of target shooting and such other amusement as they may determine." By 1874, Georgetown also had the Santee Gun Club and a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Hagar Brown, an ex-slave at the Oaks Plantation remembered having problems with the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction: Klu Klux. Have you run way, you go church. Going to come in to ketch you or do any mischievous thing-come carry you place they going beat you - in suit of white. Old white man to Wilderness Plantation. Parish old man name...Come to house, ain't crack. Come right in suit of white. Drag him out-right to Woodstock there where Mr. Dan get shoot...Come in. Grab you and go. Put a beaten on you till you can't see. Know they got a good grub to lick you wid. They git done you can't sit down. Ain't going carry you just for play with.
While the freedmen thought the Klan brutal and unnecessary, the white people of Georgetown, considered the Klan a necessary organization. According to Richard Lathers, the Georgetown chapter of the Ku Klux Klan formed because local magistrates refused to protect the property of whites. Lathers claimed that the freedmen frequently stole cattle, hogs and portions of crops while they waited for hand-outs from the Freedmen's Bureau and, later, from the town. He justified the Klan by saying, "There is not a case on record of hostility to the Union, or any evidence of robbery or desire for personal profit in the Ku-Klux outrages: they were simply crimes of resentment against other crimes."
In 1877, Reconstruction ended in South Carolina with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as President. On 31 October 1876, when Hampton spoke in Georgetown, he urged the freedmen to move to the front of the crowd so that they could hear his plan. He spoke of interracial unity in an attempt to revive the economy and promised the ex-slaves that he would protect their rights and restore peace and prosperity. (From Boyle 1999)
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This section is initially verbatim from An Elementary History of Georgia by R. P. Brooks, Ph.D., U.Ga., Atkinson, Mentzer, & Co., Boston, ©1918.
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