|,Freedwoman Leah Black arrived at President's Island after spending time at LaGrange, Tennessee|
The story I love to tell is of Leah Black, a.k.a. Leah Martin, who, after losing her husband at the start of the war, lost also two of her four children. She spent time in different occupied towns, first, Bolivar, Tennessee (in the county that neighbored her "home" county of Fayette); next, in LaGrange, which was in fact in Fayette County (just a few miles from where she likely had lived before the war); then to President's Island and Memphis. One may be amazed at Black's movement, but she was likely being transported by the army via train, and given her later activities, there is reason to believe that she would have taken advantage of the best opportunities offered her. At LaGrange, she worked "on a Government farm for pay." But, once in Memphis, she may have decided to try to become more independent. According to Fountain Day, who testified on her behalf before the Southern Claims Commission, she moved quite a bit around Memphis. He stated, “I saw her often inside the Federal lines—she was in Camp ‘Shiloh’ of the colored people, & also on President’s Island, while I was in service.” Day adds that Black always talked to the soldiers and cooked food for them.
This freedwoman obviously defined her freedom to include an ability to work and fend for herself. She appears in The Register of Freedmen as Leah Martin, but following the war she either took her dead husband's last name or remarried. Her case gives us some idea of the latitude black women in camp had despite the fact that they were registered as laborers and were probably encouraged to work for others.
There is no doubt that many black women did work within the camps. The University of Memphis holds several copies of payrolls that include women. (See above picture.) One from August of 1864 (for workers at President's Island) includes Margaret Crawford, Cornelia Davis, Laura Davis, Manerva Davis, Zerena Green, Lucinda Hardaway, Mariah Harris, Jane Harvel, Lucinda Harvel, Martha Holland, Roseanna Johnson, Emily Logan, Ellen Louis, Ann McGee, Cathena McGee, Sharlott McGowen, Rachel Miles, Ann Miller, Alena Mitchel, Emma Moore, Milly Smith, Susan Paine, Fanny Thomas, Clarisa Thompson, Eliza Treadwell, Martha Wilkinson, Sally Wilkinson, and Ann Williams. These women would have worked cording wood, as seamstresses, cooks, and hospital help. This runs somewhat contrary to Frankel's statement that as a way to coerce them to move onto plantations women did not receive pay .
|Pay Roll of Laborers Employed on President's Island During the Month of August 1864|
Needless to say, this important work, whether that of teaching or that of cording wood, was necessary to the process of reconstruction that began, not following, but during the war.