What Shall be Done with Them?
An abolition paper says that there are some ten thousand contrabands scattered along the Ohio. There are six thousand at Columbus, Kentucky. The people are taxed to support these unfortuates, but, by the authority referred to, we learn that the money is kept by the officers whose duty it is to disburse it. These blacks are poor and decrepid, and the laws of the states they have left provided that they should be supported, and in coming north they supposed that they would be taken care of. We find nothing in the proclamation authorizing a return of them to their masters, and the tax money is not expended for their benefit. What shall be done? The Cincinnati Commercial says:
"The government supplies with rations, but unless they can be furnished to some extent with vegetable food, the worst forms of disease may be expected to sweep them away.
The government has forwarded the funds needed to pay those employed, and yet it is stated that the men in cases have labored from two to seven months without receiving anything, though the money was in the paymaster's hands. In other cases it is declared that the subordinate overseers cheat the negroes in the pay-roll, drawing, for instance, a full month's pay from the government and handing over to the negro laborer only for a few days' work.
In addition to this, they are subjected often to more brutal treatment from drunken subordinates than they had from their old overseers at the plantation. They are kicked, cuffed and knocked down without provocation and with no redress.
The condition of these poor wretches under such men may be seen from a statement in regard to them at one point, made by two witnesses independent of each other. At one of our military stations below, during the recent rebel raids, about seven hundred negroes had come in, fleeing from the advance of the rebel troops.
These were huddled into an old stable, with nothing to lie or sit upon, with no fire, with little clothing, no blankets, and for more than twenty-four hours without food. Here were the old, the infirm, the sick women and small children, after the fatigue and terror of their flight, herded in this old stable, with less care and fewer comforts than the brutes. At the same point others were in the open air, with no shelter, hovering around such fires as they could keep alive, which the first shower would extinguish.
The want of shelter, of clothing, of bedding, of proper food even, will send them to the grave by hundreds before spring, unless relieved. Now, when it is considered that every day will add thousands to the number of those along the Mississippi and its tributaries, it is easy to see the bearing which this condition will have on the question of emancipation, and that it behooves every friend of the government to aid in devising speedily some efficient system by which these helpless ones may be reserved from brutality, and placed at least in the hands of their friends."