'We Have Made These Lands What They are:" Re-examining petitions, property claims, and the history of reparations on Edisto Island 1865-1880

Wu, Katherine, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Janney, Caroline, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia
Hale, Grace, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

In the fall of 1865 on Edisto Island, South Carolina, three freedmen – Henry Bram, Yates Sampson, and Ishmael Moultrie – penned two petitions to General Oliver Otis Howard and President Andrew Johnson. In these petitions, they protested the end of the federally-backed land redistribution project, and made an argument for why and how they should obtain land that they had made valuable during slavery. For scholars interested in the history of reparations, the top-down government efforts of land distribution often take center stage. At the same time, while these petitions are cited frequently in the literature as remarkable examples of what land meant to freedpeople at the dawn of Reconstruction, the petitioners have disappeared from view. This essay re-examines these petitions alongside other claims for property damages leveraged by one of the petitioners, Henry Bram, and within the context of the long history of Black petitioning. I argue that we must read these petitions as early calls for reparations in the wake of slavery and the Civil War. In excavating the lives of the petitioners, this essay demonstrates the intimate stakes of land redistribution and land restoration as well as how notions of repair were articulated by freedpeople themselves.

MA (Master of Arts)
African American, petitioning, political theory, Reconstruction, land redistribution, property, slavery, microhistory
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