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Northerners in the South: Primary Sources

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  Building Up the Country | Refusing to Pander to Prejudices


Building Up the Country

The son of a Vermont farmer, Marshall Harvey Twitchell enlisted in the Union army when the Civil War broke out, and survived major battles including Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the Wilderness.

At war's end, the battle-scarred Twitchell went to Red River Parish, Louisiana, as an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau, to smooth the transition from slavery. He settled there and became a landowner, businessman and politician for a decade during Reconstruction, until terrorist attacks forced him to flee.

I then commenced a study of my instructions concerning the parish and people around me. My duty was to inform both black and white of their changed relations from master and slave to employer and employee, giving them the additional information that it was the order of the government that old master and old slave should remain where they had been [and] work as usual in the harvesting of the crop, at which time I would fix the pay of the ex-slave in case he and his former master did not agree about the amount. I expected all to obey and should not hesitate to enforce obedience from both employer and employee. Corporal punishment must not be restored by the planters, but all cases requiring extreme measures must be reported to me for settlement.

As one of the youngest men of the convention, I took an active part only upon the question that the school moneys of the state should be expended for the education of the children and that the system heretofore practised, of allowing the parents to deduct the school allowance from their taxes and then educate their children or not, should be done away with. I was very much surprised when I returned home to find that this act had made me very unpopular with the white people, who rightly looked upon it as a distinctly Northern idea.

In two or three instances the Southern desperado made his appearance but was so quickly disposed of that the parish soon gained a reputation for law and order equalled only by its prosperity. I did not notice at that time that it was the carpetbaggers of the parish who always suppressed these bullies, but my after familiarity with the people gave me the reason. The Southerner raised among them had a certain fear for the half-drunk desperado loaded with revolvers and bowie knives. The carpetbagger had a contempt for him and naturally, when he first overstepped the bounds of law, was ready to seize him.

During my early political life in Louisiana I had never taken any notice of the misrepresentations and falsehoods of the local press. The opinion of the public there, I found, was influenced by a man's actions and conduct, not by what the newspapers said and it did not occur to me that these falsehoods could have any effect on Northern public opinions. I did not think that the North would so readily accept the story of the men who had so lately been in arms against the government and were then, in most cases, barroom loafers and gamblers, in preference to the statement of a man who for four years had fought to sustain the government and was earnestly attempting to support and perpetuate the principles of freedom, for which he had fought....

...It was one of the complaints of Southern Democrats that Northern men settled in the South did not identify themselves sufficiently with the interests of the country, many of them unmarried and leasing lands, with no business except politics and governing of the country by the manipulation of the colored vote. I had married a daughter of one of the influential Southern aristocratic families, who all became my friends and supporters. In addition to this, my entire family, with wives and children and all the property which they possessed, had moved South and were engaged in building up the country.

Marshall Harvey Twitchell, Carpetbagger from Vermont: The Autobiography of Marshall Harvey Twitchell. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, 1989.

  First Sergeant Marshall Twitchell  
page created on 12.19.03
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