This post was written by Shelley Murphy and consists of her notes from Tony Burroughs’s talk on Contrabands at the International Black Genealogy Summit, Oct 29, 2009, Allen County Library, Ft. Wayne Indiana.
Tony Burrough’s began with a brief history of how the contrabands began. He references “24 May 1861, and Major General Benjamin F. Butler the Fortress Monroe incident where Butler refused to return three fugitive slaves to their Virginia slave owners, because they would be working for the Confederates, building fortifications against Union forces. Butler decided the slaves were contraband of war and put them to work for the Union Army.”
Burrough’s suggested that researchers learn about the history of Contrabands, understanding that there were East and Gulf Coast camps. Learn about the Military command structure and check out any maps that are available.
Check the 1864 Census-US Army Continental, contrabands newly freed slaves, records list former slave owners.
Check Civil War records, realize the Navy has separate records
“By 1865 there were approximately one million blacks-a quarter of the 1860 slave population-lived within Union lines and more than two hundred thousand (in addition to an equal number of black soldiers) lived and labored under direct U. S. Army control.” (Louis S. Gerteis, “Contraband Camps” in Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery).
There are payroll records-soldiers did construction work for the Union-
Contrabands joined military troops/units like the 55th MA; some records are with Freedmen bureau records. Other records can be located at the NARA:
Quartermaster General Records
Adjutant General Office
Freedmen’s Bureau (almost totally available online, searchable)
Reference 92 Quarter Master Persons & Articles Hired
Reference 94 Adjuntant –inventory records
10 Freedmen’s Bureau- camp info is mixed in
There are numerous articles and books to check out, such as: Ira Berlin “Freedom Documents of Emancipation (how enslaved people emancipated themselves (1861-1867)
Morton, Richard L. “Contrabands and Quakers in the Virginia Peninsula, 1862-1869” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 61 (1953); 419-429