Panel 10

The African American Experience (1861-1865)

The Port Royal experiment proved formerly enslaved people were determined to learn, earn a living, own property, and become full-fledged citizens of the United States.

When planters abandoned the town and Sea Islands, they left behind thousands of enslaved people. These people and others who escaped to Union lines were called contrabands of war. The Union Army was quickly overwhelmed by the number of contrabands needing food, clothes, and housing. The Quartermaster’s Department built refugee camps around the marea, and a large barracks inside the camp on Hilton Head Island. These facilities were soon overcrowded and unhealthy. When General Ormsby Mitchel took over command, he supported construction of a Freedmen’s community outside the camp.

In 1862 Port Royal became the laboratory for a great social and economic experiment. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, General Rufus Saxton, and Treasury agent Edward L Pierce developed and operated a program to help former slaves become self-sufficient citizens. The Treasury Department and relief organizations provided food, clothing, and medical assistance.

Northern missionaries came to establish schools. Approximately 60,000 acres of land were foreclosed and sold at tax sales. Freedmen purchased nearly half of the land in 10- or 20-acre lots. Although former white owners tried to regain their land through the courts, most lawsuits were decided in favor of the new African American owners.

Beaufort History Museum
  1. Welcome!
  2. Beaufort County's First People
  3. The Yamasee Indians
  4. Altamaha Town Archaeology
  5. European Superpowers in Carolina
  6. The Greatest and Fairest Haven
  7. Beaufort's Golden Age
  8. Patriots and Loyalists
  9. Antebellum Beaufort – In Town (1782-1861)
  10. Sea Island Cotton
  11. Antebellum Beaufort – Plantations (1782-1861)
  12. Battle of Port Royal (1861)
  13. Beaufort and the Civil War (1861-1865)
  14. The African American Experience (1861-1865)
  15. Model of the New South: Postbellum Beaufort (1865-1893)
  16. Robert Smalls -- The 'King' of Beaufort
  17. The Great Depression – Riches to Rags
  18. The Early 20th Century -- Here Comes the Marines!
  19. The Early 20th Century -- Civil Rights
  20. Rise of the Sunbelt -- Charles Fraser and the Fraser Effect
  21. 21st Century Beaufort -- The 'Chambers' Vision
  22. Preserving Our History
  23. The Greatest and Fairest Haven