Lists, Records, and Reports

Hilton Head SC Register, March 14, 1862 from E.Q. Fellows

This blog post will be short. I have so many names swimming in my head; I just might take a weekend break from the work, but before I do…

I’ve been thinking about how each superintendent received instruction as to how to administer the program of receiving transitioning African Americans into their lines. In most cases, the person making the report is either a superintendent of freedmen, a chaplain (usually named superintendent), or a provost marshal. I am yet unclear at what level the order was first received! I will have to check my notes and find the answer to this question. In the long run, I may have to look at Official Records for correspondence in each department.

The reason this question interests me is because of the idiosyncratic way in which the registers were created in each location. I am in the process of making an index of them and have noticed differences in language including language used to title the registers, which do not in fact ever go by that name but, more often, as “lists,” “records,” or “reports.”

It would in fact seem appropriate to think of these records as registers since technically the freedpeople were registering or being registered. In some, if not all, locations they were coerced to work and to register with the provost marshal to prove that they were employed by some responsible (i.e. white) person. Some of the records are proof of blacks working for specific people, or working in specific locations, for instance, the Seabrook Dock. The labor imperative is undeniable.

As I continue, I will discover and discuss other peculiarities that are maybe owing to the mind and will of the person(s) doing the recording, which may, in turn, suggest a flexibility that was accepted by whoever mandated the records to begin with. Whatever the case, I think when I’m done analyzing these important documents I will know much about how labor and each registration system figured in emancipation in each locality.

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