SIR: By direction of Colonel Samuel Thomas, assistant commissioner, I have the honor to submit the following report of the condition of freedmen in this section of the country:
It was thought that while civil law was re-established, when laws were passed for the protection of the freedmen against the evils that might arise from their sudden emancipation, these philanthropic lawgivers would, at least, accede to the negro the right to live and to own and accumulate property; but to-day the ugly fact stares us in the face that there is a wide gulf between our anticipations and realizations.
On the 15th day of December, 1865, a negro reported at my office and informed me that his former master, Mr. Felix Allen, of Pike county, had sent him into Amite county, Mississippi, on business, and that he would call and see me on his return. On the ensuing day he returned to my office most shamefully beaten, and stated that after he had performed his mission with Mr. Allen's son-in-law, he lodged for the night in the "quarters" on the place, by direction of Mr. Allen's son-in-law; that while in bed, about 11 p.m., some six or seven white men came and burst into the house and, with pistols drawn, asked him what he was doing there, when he informed them that he was sent there by Mr. Allen, his master, and that if they would go with him to the white folks' house he would prove his statement; but "no", they told him. "We dont care a damn for that; we want you to go with us." When they had taken this man about a mile they were met by about fifty (50) armed, mounted men, supposed to be militia, and commanded by a man they called "lieutenant," who ordered them to take him (the negro) off from the road and give him a flogging, and when they had proceeded about fifty yards from the road they threw him down, and six or seven of them jumped into his face and bosom with their heels, stamping and kicking him. When this old negro (he was apparently sixty or sixty-five years old) returned to my office he presented a most frightful appearance, his breast-bone broken, and spitting blood. On the 18th day of December, 1865, I was informed that a negro man had been badly beaten by a company of militia at Holmesville, Mississippi. When I proceeded thither, on the same day, I found that on the 16th of December the colored people had assembled at a ball, which was broken up by a town patrol, and one man badly flogged.
On the 24th day of December, 1865, a soldier of company D, 66th United States colored infrantry, received a five-days pass, with permission to proceed to Summit, Mississippi, and on the second day he was halted by two white men with drawn pistols and asked "by what authority he was there." He produced his pass, and in the streets of Summit, in broad daylight, these two men cut off his coat-buttons and the fastenings for shoulder-scales, and gave him an hour to leave town or they would kill him.
On the same night a party of a dozen or more white citizens proceeded to a house occupied as a colored school-house, broke it open, and gave the teacher until the next morning to quit the place. This teacher was a colored man, and had permission to teach from the provost marshal at Brookhaven, Mississippi.
I wish especially to call your attention to the many brutal outrages perpetrated by a company of militia in Amite county, Mississippi, commanded by one Captain Daniel Fenn. Several of his actions have been previously noted in my reports.
About the holidays this company patrolled the country and gave the negroes a general flogging, whether at home attending to business or absent. On the Kane plantation, near Zion Hill, a woman was literally cut to pieces, in which Kane himself, a militiaman, being present and engaged in the affair, whose father is a justice of the peace of that beat. Also, on the same nght, a woman was terribly flogged, who has since disappeared and can not be found, on the John H. McGee place. On the following night a negro man, whose name I have forgotten, but vouch for the truthfulness of the statement, had two pony-horses taken from him on the Kane plantation by this company, when he (the negro) produced his bill of sale for the property, and who was informed by a lieutenant of Fenn's company that "negroes were not allowed any property larger than a chicken." This lieutenant, together with Kane and young Lumpkins, can be identified as being present when these dastardly outrages were committed; all of whom, I believe, are members of Fenn's militia, in Amite county, Mississippi.
I respectfully invite your attention to a murder committed by one John M. McGee, some nine months since, which would challenge the world for an equal in studied brutality, which was reported to me some time since, but for want of facts I did not feel warranted in reporting before. The negro was murdered, beheaded, skinned, and his skin nailed to the barn. Should this affair be investigated, I would refer you to Mr. Bunkly, at Bunkly's ferry, who can give the names of parties knowing to the facts.
While marching across the country from Magnolia to Natchez, Mississipi, the 66th United States colored infantry bivouacked in the Zion Hill neighborhood, and I determined, if possible, to arrest these villains and march them to Natchez. For this purpose I proceeded with an officer and two mounted men to the several plantations where these depredations had been committed, but was unable to find any of the perpetrators at home - a very bad omen, to say the least of.
I have given these statements in a plain household style, and my only regret is my inability to do the subject simple justice. I wish to publish, and especially to the officials of Mississippi, the practical working of their midnight schemes. I beg leave to make the sweeping statement, that in some four or five townships or beats in the counties of Amite and Pike nine-tenths (9/10) or the entire white male population have actually perjured themselves. All, or nearly all, have subscribed to the amnesty oath, and have sworn to refrain from the very acts they are performing; and I have no idea that more than one in ten in the Zion Hill vicinity can lay his hand upon his heart and swear he has acted an upright and honest part toward the freedmen since taking the oath, while at the same time it should be remembered that this same Zion Hill country is continually reporting negro insurrections being on foot - a perfect "hot-bed" for originating insurrection canards. No wonder that such an inmate in their minds as the recollection of their own nefarious actions should be the instigator of a subterfuge to screen themselves in violating law by implicating others who are defenceless.
In view, then, of the terribly vindictive pasions, not only among but controlling the minds of these people, permit me to respectfully recommend that troops be stationed in that section of the country, or that the freedmen be protected in removing to some locality where their lives, at lest, will be secure.
Should they remain where they are, under existing circumstances, their condition will not only be rendered worse than slaves, but the safety for their lives and their hopes for the future for this unfortunate race will depart forever.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. MATHEWS,
Captain and Sub-Comissioner of Freedmen, &c.
Lieutenant STUART ELDRIDGE,
A. A. A. G., Freedmen's Bureau, State of Mississippi.
Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Arkansas - Georgia - Mississippi - Alabama, pages 146-147.