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Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands was established by the War Department on March 3, 1865. Its primary function was to supervise all relief and educational activities relating to refugees and freedmen. It assumed custody of abandoned or confiscated lands or property in the former Confederate States, border states, District of Columbia, and Indian Territory.

The National Archives gives us the following information: “In the years following the Civil War, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) provided assistance to tens of thousands of former slaves and impoverished whites in the Southern States and the District of Columbia. The war had liberated nearly four million slaves and destroyed the region's cities, towns, and plantation-based economy. It left former slaves and many whites dislocated from their homes, facing starvation, and owning only the clothes they wore. The challenge of establishing a new social order, founded on freedom and racial equality, was enormous.

The Bureau was established in the War Department in 1865 to undertake the relief effort and the unprecedented social reconstruction that would bring freedpeople to full citizenship. It issued food and clothing, operated hospitals and temporary camps, helped locate family members, promoted education, helped freedmen legalize marriages, provided employment, supervised labor contracts, provided legal representation, investigated racial confrontations, settled freedmen on abandoned or confiscated lands, and worked with African American soldiers and sailors and their heirs to secure back pay, bounty payments, and pensions.”

Records were kept when people signed up to take advantage of the bureau. These records are a wonderful source for family researchers. “Documents such as local censuses, marriage records, and medical records provide freedpeople's full names and former masters; Federal censuses through 1860 listed slaves only statistically under the master's household. No name indexes are available at this time, but the documents can be rewarding, particularly since they provide full names, residences, and, often, the names of former masters and plantations.”

Oliver Otis Howard, a U.S. Union officer in the American Civil War (1861–65) who headed the Freedmen’s Bureau (1865–72) to help rehabilitate former slaves during the period of Reconstruction. The Bureau's most constructive achievement was its partnership with Northern missionary societies in establishing more than a thousand schools for freed slaves, out of which evolved public schools for African Americans and the network of Southern African American colleges. The foremost African American college, Howard University, was named after the commissioner, who served as its president from 1869 to 1874.

The Freedmensbureau is a link to give you online data for the states of AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NY, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, Washington, DC.

Note: this is NOT the same as the The Freedman's Saving and Trust Company, also called the Freedman's Bank. To learn more about this program, read my review
Freedman's Bank Review



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