The Graduate Center - City University of New York

James T. Ayers, The Diary of James T. Ayers, Civil War Recruiter (excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from the diary of James T. Ayers, an Illinois Methodist preacher who joined the Union army and after 1863 became a roving agent recruiting freed slaves to fight. In this May 1864 entry (which includes the original misspellings and offensive terminology) Ayers describes his encounter with a group of slaves on a Madison County, Alabama, plantation and how he brought news of their emancipation using a "Recruiting Picture."

Creator: James T. Ayers (John Hope Franklin, ed.)

Date: 1864

Source: Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society / Image: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

And now my friends I'll give you A sketch of one of my adventures Among many others of similar nature. I left Huntsville in the morning to see what I could see and hunt Recruits all Alone. Took the Pulaski Road and followed on ten miles without meeting Anything to suit in my line. Looking off to my write half mile or so I saw A Large Black place in A cornfield. Said I to myself "there is Sambo." So I let off Laid down the fence mounted my horse Rode through Leaving gap down for we never put up gaps or shut gates that would not be militerry. Beside A man dont know how soon he might wish to go out at the same place Again. Well I made up to the Black patch, and sure Enoughf as Expected here was About twenty women and gals and 7 men all geathering corn. Said "Hellow Children How do you all do geathering Corn thats the way to do. Whose farm is this?"

"Master Eldridges, sir."

"Is that his house yonder?"

"Yes massa."

"Are you all his slaves?'

"Yes massa."

"Is he good to you?"

"Not mighty good massa."

"Is he A union man or secessionist?"

"Oh Godamighty Master him Cusses de yankys all de time says day Come here to kill us all and carry us way and sell us all and dat masa Lincum gwiin send us all Clean of."

"Well your master then swares and cusses the yanks terribly does he?"

"Well Massa" says an oald Grayheaded Darky, "massa don't sware, he methodist man."

"Ah indeed he is A methodist is he?" said I.

"Yes massa and Classleader here and casorts some times Oh yes."

About this time one of the niggers said "we must go to work, massa flog us he see us idle and he will ask us who dis man is and he whip us for talking with you."

"Well," said I, "don't be scierd Children I have Come to tell you good news, and I want you all to Listen. Father Abraham has Declared you all free you have no master now. You are free and I have Come to tell you."

"Bress God," said two or three voices at the same time.

"Well children see here," getting off of my horse then and handing them one of my Recruiting Pictures "here is what Father Abraham is doin for you" showing them the Darky in Center with flagstaff flag waving and on the write, men knocking off the chains from the slaves wrists and some Just has got Loose and hands stretched upward shouting and Praising God for there Deliverance and on the left side A free school in full Opperation with miriads of Little Darkies Each with his Book, then on the other side in Large Letter "All slaves were made free by Abraham Lincoln President of the United States Jan 1st 63. Come then Able boddyed Collered men and fight for the stars and stripes." You would have to be present to understand the Joy of those pore down trodden Abused People. "Well now Children" said I "Father has been good haint he."