Proposal for Settling the Sea-Islands
In the following excerpt from The Congressional Globe, the record of the proceedings of Congress in the nineteenth century, Senator Wilson makes a proposal to settle the controversy over title to the Sea Islands created by General Sherman's Special Field Order #15. In his proposal, Senator Wilson suggests that the Sea Islands be returned to the white landowners but only if provisions are made to sell the freedmen
Mr. WILSON. This proposition is to strike out the sixth section of the House bill and to insert seven sections in lieu of it. I will state that this sixth section refers to the lands in Georgia and South Carolina occupied under General Sherman's special field order. The purpose is to allow the President to restore those lands to the owners by the 1st of January. As far as we can learn, there are between twenty-five thousand and thirty thousand acres that have been taken up by the freemen in accordance with the provisions of General Sherman's field order. There is a great deal of controversy over them. I see that General Steadman and Fullerton have recommended to the President that they be given up to the owners by the 1st of January next. Some nine hundred persons have acquired titles to small portions of those lands. We propose to give up those lands in this manner: we have acquired about forty thousand acres of land by tax sales on the islands in South Carolina; those are in the possession of the Government; now, we propose that in lieu of the claims acquired under General Sherman's order, those lands shall be divided up into twenty-acre lots and shall be sold to the persons who have those titles at their cost to the Government. They are to go on the lands and have six years within which to pay for them. They cost the Government about one dollar and a half an acre. This, it is thought, will settle all this difficulty. These lands on the islands are our lands; they are in our possession. They amount to about the same number of acres that have been acquired by these colored persons under General Sherman's field order. It is now proposed that they shall have these lands set apart to them which shall not for six years be alienated by them, and they shall pay the Government a small pittance of a dollar and a half an acre, which was the cost to the Government.
Then we have six thousand acres, some thirty-three tracts said to be worth ten dollars per acre, which we authorize the selling of a ten dollars per acre, and which are not to be sold for less, which have been set apart by the commissioners, and are now used and rented for the purposed of a school fund. We propose to have these lands sold between now and the 1st of January, and that the proceeds shall be a fund for the benefit of the person residing upon those island for school purposes.
If this amendment shall be adopted, we shall provide for the restoration of the lands set apart by General Sherman, and we shall allow persons who have acquired titles under his order to acquire titles to the land we possess. It is believed by those who understand the condition of affairs there to be an arrangement that will satisfactory to all. We provide further that if any betterment or improvements have been made on these lands, these person before being removed from the lands, shall have the benefit of them, and also the benefit of the present crop, which they planted and which they are to gather.
I believe that the adoption of this amendment will be a great advantage to the freedmen, and that it will relieve us from the controversy that has gown up in regard to the lands set apart under the special order of General Sherman. I will say that several persons who know all about the lands and about the condition
of affairs there of the freemen think that the provisions of this bill will be great advantage to all concerned.
Source: The Congressional Globe. June 26, 1866.