Mark anniversary of Emancipation at watch servicePublished 12:01am Sunday, December 30, 2012
One hundred fifty years ago this New Year’s Day, in the midst of our Civil War, this area experienced a cataclysmic shift that split modern Natchez history into slavery time and a time after slavery.
Enslaved people across the parts of the Confederacy still in rebellion whose forced labors and talents had created the “cotton kingdom” of the Old South and supported the great houses of Natchez were all declared by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to be free as of Jan. 1, 1863.
This action contradicted the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that had required that runaway slaves be returned as property to their owners. In 1861, Union general Benjamin Butler had declared slaves in occupied areas to be “contraband of war” whose labors were subject to confiscation. Lincoln opposed this approach, as it effectively recognized the seceded states as a foreign entity.
Lincoln’s executive order was not enforceable in Natchez until the Union Army occupied the city seven months later. Until July 1863 human beings continued to be torn from their families and sold as property at the “slave marts” at Forks of the Road.
As Union forces gathered along the Mississippi River in the winter of 1862-1863, slaves already were beginning to disappear from local houses and plantations in their quest for Union protection and freedom. One African American played a key role in providing direction for General Grant’s army as it came ashore near Bruinsburg en route to Vicksburg.
Within two years, more than 2,600 African American men would be mustered into the U.S. Army at Fort McPherson, the large earthen fort they helped build on the bluff north of downtown Natchez. More joined the U.S. Navy as sailors. African American women also served the Union forces as nurses or cooks.
Thousands of old men, women and children escaped to freedom only to be held by Union forces in “contraband barracks” at the Mississippi River’s edge below Fort McPherson where deadly diseases ran rampant. Many did not survive to experience the new world of freedom.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the border states that remained loyal to the Union — or in Tennessee which had largely already fallen to Union forces. Most of these states took measures to prohibit slavery before the end of the Civil War. It also did not eliminate slavery in those parts of the Confederate States that were already under Union control as of Jan. 1, 1863.
Enslaved people in these areas had to wait for state laws or the 13th Amendment that outlawed slavery across the United States, passed in February 1865 and ratified in December 1865.
These actions resulted in a new birth of freedom for 4 million people.
Natchez will mark this anniversary of freedom and the American dream for all its citizens with a Watch Night choral celebration at the City Auditorium from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Admission is free.
Editor’s note: The full text of the Emancipation Proclamation follows.
Kathleen Jenkins is the superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park.
The Emancipation Proclamation: January 1,1863
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
“That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.