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A South Carolina Landowner Attempts to Indenture a Free Child

When slavery ended, southern landowners attempted to establish a labor system that would pay freedpeople low wages and keep them under strict control. One method of accomplishing this was through indenture contracts for African-American children who were orphans or whose families were incapable of providing for them. These contracts required that the master feed, house, clothe, and educate the child for a set period of years (sometimes as long as a decade or more) in exchange for the child’s labor. Some states passed laws requiring that former owners have the first opportunity to indenture orphans who had once belonged to them. Many African-American parents objected to this system. As this report from a Freedmen’s Bureau agent demonstrates, the Freedmen’s Bureau frequently intervened in such disputes between landowners and freedpeople.

In one instance a Mr. Ben Ville Ponteaux living about 38 miles from Charleston on the North Eastern R. Road held a freedman’s son, aged about 12 years, against the wishes of his father, who complained to me about it. On my request to Mr. Ponteaux to inform me whether or not he had authority to retain the boy in his service, I received no answer, but Mr. Ponteaux is said to have remarked that he had nothing to do with the ‘Yankees’ and to have threatened to shoot the boy’s father if he again came to his house. I went to Mr. Ponteaux to enquire on the matter, and found the boy there. Mr. Ponteaux gave as his reason for holding the boy that he was unwilling to live with his father. I sent the boy to his parents. Mr. Ponteaux denied having made the above mentioned remark and to have threatened to shoot the boys father. At first I intended to arrest and bring this man to trial, but finding that I could not get sufficient evidence to convict him, I merely confiscated his gun thereby preventing him to carry out his threat to shoot.

Source | F. W. Liedke to Major H. W. Smith, 30 April 1866, Moncks Corner, S. C., The Freedmen’s Bureau Online: Records of the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands,
Creator | F. W. Liedke
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | F. W. Liedke, “A South Carolina Landowner Attempts to Indenture a Free Child,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 2, 2023,



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