The land seized, sold and leased in occupied South Carolina by the North’s Direct Tax Commission was dominated by Northern philanthropists and others who had acquired their wealth by exploiting free labor. They developed Northern support for the “Port Royal Experiment” by convincing manufacturers that successful black farmers would become ravenous purchasers of Yankee goods. In a June 15, 1864 letter to the Edward S. Philbrick mentioned below, Northern General Rufus Saxon wrote: “What chance has [the Negro] to get land out of the clutches of the human vulture, who care for him only as they can gorge themselves upon his flesh? If you had seen the hungry swarms gathered here at the land sales in February . . .”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
A Superior Race of Yankee Employers
“[In the occupied South Carolina’s Sea Islands], the first purchasers were principally the New England wing of the planter-missionaries [who] welcomed more favorable circumstances in which to prove their theory that free labor could grow more cotton, more cheaply, than slave labor. The largest buyer [of land] was Edward S. Philbrick, backed by wealthy Northern philanthropists . . .
Federal authorities were reluctant to lease or sell subdivided plantation tracts to the freedmen [though some] managed to purchase several thousand acres . . . but the acreage they acquired was always well below that purchased by Northern immigrants, and this result was intended by a majority of the tax commissioners.
The truth is, not many of the liberators had boundless faith in the freedmen’s capacity for “self-directed” labor so soon after their emancipation. When in January 1865 General William T. Sherman set aside a strip of land along the southeastern seaboard for the exclusive occupancy of the thousands of slaves who followed his army to the sea, the news was generally greeted in the North with lamentation and deep foreboding.
It was a great mistake in statesmanship, the New York Times said, for what the ex-slaves needed was not isolation and complete independence, but “all the advantages which the neighborhood of a superior race . . . would bring to them. And what they needed even more was the good example and friendly guidance such as Yankee employers could largely provide. Few doubted, after emancipation, that the freedmen had some promise, provided that Yankee paternalism was allowed full scope.
When the old masters talked of free labor, they really meant slave labor, “only hired, not bought.” And how could men whose habits and customs were shaped by the old order readily grasp the requirements of the new order? The case seemed plain to all who had eyes to see. If the freedmen were ever to be transformed into productive free laborers within the South, the New York Times argued with unintended irony, “it must be done by giving them new masters.”
(New Masters: Northern Planters During the Civil War and Reconstruction, Lawrence N. Powell, Yale University Press, 1980, excerpts, pp. 4-5)