W. Storer How arrived in Staunton in late July 1865 to serve as Superintendent of the Virginia Bureau’s Sixth District, compromising much of the Shenandoah Valley. Frederick Tukey served as How’s agent in Staunton during this time. The immediate concerns of the Bureau were to aid in the formation of employment contracts between blacks and their employers, as well as to clarify the new relationship between freedmen and their former masters. How’s early reports identify much hostility and tension on the part of the white community toward the new freedoms of African Americans, leading How to argue that if federal troops were to be withdrawn from Augusta County (and the Shenandoah Valley) the position of local blacks would become worse than it had been under slavery. Relief for the poor and education were two other issues of primary importance to the black community in Augusta County after the war, and efforts to organize schools for freedmen began immediately.
George T. Cook assumed the position of Assistant Superintendent/Agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau in May 1866 (displacing Frederick Tukey in Staunton), when Augusta and Highland Counties were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Seventh Sub-District (headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia). Among the most pressing issues that confronted Cook was the overt prejudice against freedmen in the legal system, various contract disputes, and setting up schools for freedmen. In these records appears a scathing letter from Nelson Irwin, a local freedman, who wrote to General John M. Schofield complaining about the condition of blacks in Augusta County, decrying the Bureau’s weakness and its inability to enforce justice. Cook responded by calling the letter “overdrawn” but generally accurate.
In January 1867, the Freedmen’s Bureau again reorganized its districts, this time making Augusta County part of the Ninth Sub-District (headed by John A. McDonnell in Winchester). With this reorganization, came the reappointment of Frederick S. Tukey as Assistant Superintendent in Staunton. During Cook’s tenure Tukey had remained in Staunton, occasionally serving a clerk in the Bureau and participating in the life of the community. The change in personnel, however, prompted a series of accusations of mismanagement against Tukey from his previous administration, as well as accusations of disloyalty, first leveled by Cook himself. In the end, Tukey was exonerated from any serious wrong-doing, but he was relieved as agent in April 1867. Aside from the scandal, Tukey’s tenure as agent required him to address the problem of providing material aid to needy freedmen and serving the legal interests of freedmen in Augusta County.
The Bureau appointed Thomas P. Jackson to the Staunton office in April 1867 as part of another reorganization (this time making Augusta County, together with Highland County, the 4th Division of the 9th Sub-District of Virginia). Jackson’s administration was the most prolific in terms of documents produced and business transacted. Jackson was often described as a skillful and effective agent by those around him (although he was often scolded by superiors for failing to complete reports in a timely fashion). Concerned with education, Jackson spent much of his time recruiting teachers and setting up school houses. During the spring of 1867, this work brought Jackson into a dispute with a local church (which would continue beyond his term as agent) over use of the church building for a freedmen’s school. At the same time, Jackson also concerned himself with continuing to reunite families separated before and during the war, mediating conflicts over contracts and wage disputes, and working with the local Augusta County authorities in regard to the support of indigent freedmen.
John W. Jordan took over as the agent in Staunton in April 1868. Jordan had served previously as the agent in Farmville, Virginia (where Jackson was transferred after leaving Staunton). Early in his tenure, Jordan reported that treatment of blacks in the legal system might be improving, although he still did not trust the courts to treat freedmen equally. Race relations in Augusta do not seem to have been improved by this point, as Jordan found himself regularly involved in mediating disputes between whites and blacks in order to ameliorate hostilities. Jordan, in fact, witnessed one of the Ku Klux Klan’s early marches through the streets of Staunton on May 3, 1868. His letters to Bureau and local authorities describe the demonstration, as well as the uproar caused by it.
Roswell Waldo became the Staunton Bureau agent in August 1868, and was immediately disgusted by the brazen cheating of local blacks by their employers in Augusta County. Waldo spent much of his time working with the schools and trying to improve the education of freedmen (where the controversy with the church that began with Jackson reemerged), while also trying to address the entrenched poverty of the freedmen. Waldo spent the last few months of the Bureau’s tenure sorting through these issues while also wrapping up local Bureau operations. As he closed the Staunton office, Waldo reported that Augusta whites became more belligerent in their attacks on blacks.
After the close of the Staunton Bureau office, several administrative matters still needed to be completed. There were also several letters, over a span of two years, that made their way to Bureau officials and the Superintendent of Education about the state of schools in Augusta County. This section comprises correspondence sent after the official close of the Bureau in December 1868.