New On My Bookshelf: Williamson County, TN Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contracts

This past weekend I attended the monthly meeting of the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society. The guest speaker was Williamson County Historian, Rick Wallace.  Mr. Wallace is a walking trove of history and it was immediately clear why he is indeed the county historian!  His presentation covered a series of books & publications that document the history of Williamson County, and even with as many as he described, he noted the need for more extensive historical work. I was personally quite excited to learn about a publication he authored of 1866 Freedmen Bureau contracts that pertain to Williamson County, titled “Freedom and Work in the Reconstruction Era: The Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contracts of Williamson County, Tennessee.

The book is an incredible work. Rick transcribed close to 500 contracts, peppering the book with photos and research notes along the way. The book contains a complete name index and as Rick notes in the introduction, these records “…provide valuable insight into the nature of freedom and work in post-Civil War in Middle Tennessee.” The contracts were overseen by a third party, the Freedmen’s Bureau (or, as officially named “The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands”).
 
Not only is this publication likely to be of great value for anyone who has African-American roots in Williamson County area, but it also serves as an example of the type of work that could be replicated in other areas. Books such as these make great complements to the growing number of Freedmen’s Bureau records being added online, digitized, and indexed (such as on discoverfreedmen.org).
 
I am thankful to have an example of an 1866 labor contract in my own family. In 1866, my 3rd great-grandfather, Rufus Tannahill McNair was contracted by Ed Macnair (whom I am fairly sure was his former slaveowner), to farm land, for which Rufus was to receive one-third of the produce made on the farm except in the garden, and $150. My McNair Family is having their 47th annual reunion this weekend and though I am not able to attend, I can’t wait to share this labor contract with my family on Facebook.

1866 labor contract excerpt for my 3rd great-grandfather Rufus Tannahill (later Rufus McNair)

Meanwhile, as I prepare to deliver a workshop in August to our local Nashville Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society on using Freedmen’s Bureau records, Rick’s book is definitely getting mentioned!  Thanks, Mr. Warwick. Your catalog of work is outstanding and I look forward to seeing what comes next!