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A worn black and white photograph that is slightly exposed of slaves standing in front of the cabins on J. J. Smith's cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina.

Freedmen’s Bureau Records

Stories from the Freedmen’s Bureau Records

From 1865 to 1872, the Freedmen’s Bureau offers assistance to newly freed African Americans as they construct new lives after slavery. Men and women contact the Freedmen’s Bureau for various reasons, including to apply for land, request funds to build schools, file complaints against abusive employers, and seek help in reuniting with their families. Their stories are recorded in millions of documents generated by the Freedmen’s Bureau and available through the Freedmen’s Bureau Search Portal. Select one of the five documents below to learn more.

Citizens Petition for a School

On August 17, 1867, a group of freed men and women in North Carolina write to the Freedmen’s Bureau. They want to build a school for their children. Explore the document to uncover more of the story.

A handwritten petition sent to the Freedmen’s Bureau. The cursive writing fills the page and has people's names listed at the bottom.

Freedwomen Request Transportation

In September 1866, Julia Aston and Maria Johnson come to the Freedmen’s Bureau office in Raleigh, North Carolina, to ask for help reuniting with family members they had been separated from during slavery. Explore the document to learn more about their stories.

A handwritten transportation Request for Julia Aston and Maria Johnson

A Freedman Testifies Against His Employer

On April 6, 1866, Zander Clay goes to the Freedmen’s Bureau office in Paducah, Kentucky, to file a complaint against his former employer for nonpayment of wages. Explore the document to learn more about his story.

A fully page of handwritten affidavit of Zander Clay. It is signed at the bottom.

A Mother Seeks to Recover Her Children

On September 21, 1867, Caroline Atkinson goes to the Freedmen’s Bureau office in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to ask for help getting her children back from her former enslaver. Explore the document to learn more about the challenges she faced as a newly freed woman and mother.

A handwritten letter from Caroline Atkinson's Statement to the Freedmen's Bureau.

Freedmen Apply for Land

On August 28, 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau in Louisiana offers freed people the opportunity to lease or purchase abandoned plantation lands held by the U.S. government. Hundreds of citizens submit applications, hoping to work for themselves and become landowners. Explore the document to learn more about the people who applied for land.

A ledge of people who applied for land with the Freedmen's Bureau.
A sterograph produced by C. W. Woodward of people outside the Main Building housed the university’s administrative offices and served as the Freedmen’s Bureau headquarters.