Friday, June 22, 2012

Island Residents Confirmed

I've spent the last two months studying Freedmen's Bureau Bank records for Memphis, culling from them residents of President's Island. Thirty-four such persons claimed to live on the island. Their family members bring the total to 105. This, however, I would later discover to be a mere tip of the iceberg. After transcribing District 13 for Memphis, the district in which those with F.B.B records were found to live, the number of heads of household on the island in 1870 grew to 683. Once their family members are counted, it may be safe to say that five years following the war more than three thousand people lived on President's Island.

I plan soon to include this information in a pdf. file of heads of household on the Last Road to Freedom website. For now, I am excited about all that I learned while transcribing together the bank records and the census. Data gathered indicate that the agricultural experiment that Superintendent John Eaton, Jr. envisioned and planned during the war came into fruition following it. While President's Island is a diverse community in 1870, including recent immigrants from Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, England, and Italy, 79 percent of residents were African American, 70 percent of residents were farmers, and 83 percent of farmers were African American. Although I have not yet compared these demographics with other areas of southwest Tennessee and northwest Mississippi, instinct would suggest that these numbers will not be matched in places that were without contraband camps. Such a high level of independent black farming is directly a result of Eaton's program. I also found clustered in one section black heads of household who (1) had served in the war and (2) appeared to have been acquainted with each other before moving to the island. In the latter case, a few of these persons seem to have lived under the same masters in the era of slavery.

Two residents provided a specific location for their residences, one my second great uncle Samuel Williams stated that he lived on the northwest side of the island while Marrina Williams (of no known relation) stated that she lived on the Mississippi [River] side. Their directions would seem to suggest that people lived on different sides of the island. I do not yet know if District 13 would have covered the entire island. The photo below, courtesy of Special Collections at The University of Memphis, provides the location of the contraband burial ground. It reads:

I have the honor to request that the land laying adjacent to Camp Shiloah [sic] extending from the Contraband Hospital on the East to the Mississippi River on the West, and from the contraband burying ground on the North, to the soldier's graveyard on the South be assigned for the present season to the Department of Freedmen for agricultural purposes.