Letters included in this section refer to the state of relations (positive or negative) between the black and white communities in Augusta County, or to any incidents which may have affected these relations.
Violence was a daily reality for both Bureau agents and African Americans in Augusta County. Although also covered in the Legal System/Crime category, letters in this category contain specific references to violence committed against freedmen. Similarly, this section also contains the accusations of violence committed by freedmen.
As so many families were separated by the long-term effects of slavery and the slave trade, the Bureau office in Staunton was actively engaged in locating family members and reuniting them. These efforts often required aid from the Bureau in order for individuals to provide for traveling expenses. This category also contains letters regarding personal relations between family members, including their desire to help less fortunate ones, issues of marriage and other personal relationships or conflicts.
The encouragement and promotion of education among the newly freed population was one of the Bureau’s most important functions. Letters pertaining to education touch on almost all aspects of early efforts to build schools, education youth and adult members of the community, and the duties and activities of the teachers who taught in Augusta County. Some of these letters contain statistics about the number of students, while others are requests for financial assistance from the Bureau.
Bureau Agents at the local and district levels were required to file reports on a monthly and quarterly basis which summarized the general condition of freedmen under their jurisdiction. These reports contain a wealth of information which spans all themes and topics. Topics of commentary included the condition of schools in the area, how many freedmen were able to find jobs and at what wages, how many people received material aid from the Bureau, and the state of the judicial system, as well as crime levels. But they also talked about the “moral development” of the black community in terms of marriage relations and temperance. Relations between blacks and whites also received considerable attention.
One of the primary duties of the Bureau was to monitor and mediate employment contracts and disputes between the freedmen and local whites. The letters in this section cover labor contracts, various disputes that erupted over the fulfillment of those contracts, and the often bitter feelings Augusta’s economy brought up in both blacks and whites. Some of the letters deal with non-agricultural work, such as teaching and masonry. This section provides insight into how both whites and blacks sought to gain from the new post-war Southern economy, and touches regularly on the state of black-white relations.
The Bureau often found itself playing the role of mediator between individuals in the black and white communities in Augusta County, as well as within the black community itself. Bureau Agents worked on contract negotiations, contract settlement, issues of debt and property claims, and more personal problems as well. In some cases, mediation provided a way of avoiding the court system, while in others, Bureau agents were called upon to help enforce some of the settlements issued in civil cases.
Agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau frequently intervened in the legal system when freedmen were accused of, or victims of, crimes. These letters relate to the organization and function of the legal system in Augusta County, including local courts, military courts, and the conduct of magistrates. Many details about specific cases and their outcomes are provided in these letters, as well as information about various crimes committed, and importantly, Bureau agents’ reports on the ability of blacks to receive impartial treatment in the court system.
This broad and expansive category generally encompasses all letters which offer some comment on the general condition of freedpersons in Augusta County, frequently in the context of relief aid in the form of rations, material and financial assistance, and issues of poverty in general. There are, however, also letters about public health issues, temperance and broad community issues.
While politics was not the main concern of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the activities of the agents regularly placed them in local and national political disputes. This category includes letters, from both the Bureau and local residents, which reference or comment on local or national politics. These letters include any specific political positions of the agents themselves and most often comment on the local political scene.
These are letters which includes any references to personal allegiances during and after the war, as people called attention to the loyalty (or disloyalty, depending on their perspective) of local whites and freedmen. These documents contain many references to events during the war itself, as well as attempts by whites to control the post-war “loyalty” of Augusta blacks.
These letters relate to religious life in Augusta County, to the extent that the Bureau interacted with local church communities. Many of these documents pertain to disputes over the construction of new black churches and the Bureau's desire to make space available for use as school rooms.
At several different points, the Bureau agents in Staunton dealt with issues that connected directly to Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Some of the letters deal with African Americans who had been kidnapped during the war from Franklin County and then sold into slavery in Virginia, and others deal with the location of lost family members and transportation costs for reuniting freedmen.
The Bureau was a large and demanding bureaucratic operation, requiring agents to file numerous reports and papers. The large number of letters included in this category touch on a variety of topics. These include the organization and creation of the Bureau in Augusta County, the men who served as Bureau Agents/Assistant Superintendents, and the papers related to their daily duties. This category also includes opinions of the Bureau's operations and assessments of its functions.
Frederick Tukey was a Bureau agent in Augusta County from January-April 1867. After arriving he was quickly embroiled in a dispute where Tukey found himself accused of disloyalty, embezzlement, and improper behavior. While the Bureau ultimately decided that there was no real evidence of Tukey’s alleged misdeeds, they felt his local reputation had been too damaged for him to continue serving as the Bureau agent in Staunton. These letters detail the Bureau’s investigation and Tukey’s self-defense during the controversy.
The Bureau found itself involved in so many aspects of the local community that some letters do not fit into any particular category. The letters in this group encompass all the correspondence which did not fit neatly into any of the above categories. These letters deal with such diverse issues as property seizures, claims against the U.S. government for wartime support, care of the mentally ill, among many others.