1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Rhode Island Association for Freedmen

 Records, 1864-1867

 Size: 0.25 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 664

 Processed by: James J. Gordon, 1979.

 Finding aid revised by Cindy Bendroth, October 1989

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The Rhode Island Association for Freedmen was formally established on February 10, 1864. The Association emerged as a direct outgrowth to the needs of the emancipated slaves and the War Department's Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. The Rhode Island Association predated the Freedmen's Bureau by almost a year. The initial membership of the Rhode Island Freedmen's branch attracted many local men of wealth and standing. Some of the more prominent figures included banker and financier Seth Padelford, who in time became Governor of Rhode Island, and Rowland Gibson Hazard the wealthy manufacturer form Peace Dale, Rhode Island. In addition to the men of wealth within the membership ranks, the Rhode Island Association also attracted leading educators and theologians such as the distinguished Professor Alexis Caswell of Brown University and Honorable Rev. E. B. Hall.

            The primary function of the Rhode Island Association for Freedmen was to provide an assortment of relief (temporary) services to accommodate slave who were emancipated by the act of 1862. Occasionally the Association provided intermittent relief for a few white war refugees. The slaves' itinerary, for the most part, led them to Rhode Island and into the hands of several sympathetic and charitable whites. The Rhode Island Association's services included temporary housing, the collection and distribution of clothing, food, sundry goods and a job training program. In the latter service the Association was occasionally successful in finding jobs in other states for those fortunate in acquiring marketable skills.

            Although the Rhode Island Association for Freedmen dealt with the immediate needs of ex-slaves, its long range goal centered around the establishment of a Rhode Island Industrial School in Washington, D.C. The Association also wanted to establish a theological school and eventually did by combining the two schools and calling it by the infamous name of the "Beulah" School.

            By 1867 the Rhode Island Freedmen's branch had reached its capacity to service the needs of ex-slaves and sought to combine forces with another New England branch for Freedmen's services. In February 6, 1867 the Rhode Island Association for Freedmen merged with the New England Freedmen's Aid Society. The subsequent merge resulted in a new association called the New England Branch Freedmen's Union Commission.

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Scope and content:

            The Rhode Island Association For Freedmen's records contain business minutes, account books, correspondence and newspaper clippings. The three series are:

            Series I: Minutes

            Series II: Accounts

            Series III: Correspondence and Documents

Series description:


Series I: Minutes, 1864-1867 (1 volume)

            Contains minutes from the quarterly meetings and special meetings. Also contains the original constitution, an amended version, explanation of the Association's function and a list of members.

Series II: Account Books, 1864-1867 (2 volumes)

            Includes accounts of cash received and expenses incurred. Volume 3 contains the day to day account to the Association's operations in receiving and distributing clothing and supplies to freedmen.

Series III: Correspondence and Documents, 1864-1867 (1 folder)

            Includes newspapers clippings and correspondence between Rhode Island and Washington and the Freedmen's Bureau. Mostly letters received by Samuel Austin as secretary of the RIAF. Arranged chronologically.

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            The records of the Rhode Island Association for Freedmen were donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society on October 4, 1897 by the Samuel Austin family. Samuel Austin was the former secretary for the Rhode Island Association between the years 1864 to 1867. Prior to his involvement with the Rhode Island Association for Freedmen, Austin served as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Newport, RI and Commissioner of the Justice of Peace in North Kingston, RI.

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Processing note:

The papers were processed in 1979. In 1989, they were reboxed and a new finding aid was written. The collection was re-cataloged in 2003.

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Series I: Minutes

            Vol. 1 [blue book], 1864-1867

Series II: Accounts

            Vol. 2 Cash receipts, 1864-1867

            Vol. 3 Records, 1864-1867

Series III: Correspondence and Documents

Folder 1

            Penned rough draft of appeal, early 1866

            LaVere, Emma, to Samuel Austin, Jan. 8, 1866 (with calling card)

            "Rooms R.I. Association for Freedmen," January 18, 1866 (printed, with mss draft)

            Bigelow, R.M. to Austin, May 1, 1866

            Howard, Gen. Oliver O. to Mrs. W.F. Harris, June 28, 1866

            Harris, W.F., to Austin, June 28, 1866

            Bigelow, R.M. to Austin, July 2, 1866

            Harris, W.F. to Austin, July 2, 1866

            [Bigelow], R.M., to Austin, September 11, 1866

            Bigelow, R.M. to Austin, September 28, 1866

            Robinson, C. to Austin, October 6, 1866

            Harris W.F. to Rev. H.G. Stewart, October 22, 1866

            Bigelow, R.M. to Austin, November 10, 1866

            "A Brief Sketch of the 'Beulah' School," undated

            Appeal to "The Friends of Freedmen," December 12, 1866

            Harris, W. F. to Austin, Dec. 24, 1866

            Reyburn, Robert (surgeon, U.S. Volunteers), to Austin, January 18, 1867

            Taber, A.C. to Austin, January 18, 1867

            Harris, W.F. to Austin, January 19, 1867

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, January 24, 1867

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, February 2, 1867

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, March 7, 1867

            Cheney, Edward to Austin, March 13, 1867

            Wallcut, R.F. to Austin, March 23, 1867

            Circular announcing annual meeting of New England Branch, March 23, 1867

            Harris, W.F. to Austin, March 26, 1867

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, April 19, 1867

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, April 22, 1867

            Austin to J.H. Chapin, April 27 1867 (draft)

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, April 29, 1867

            Chapin, J.H. to Austin, December 4, 1867

            A document with expense account summary of the Assoc,. undated

            Circular letter addressed to "Friends of Humanity," 3 pages, undated

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American Freedman's Union Commission. New England Branch.

Austin, Samuel, 1816-1897

Charities - Rhode Island


Howard, Oliver O., 1830-1909

United States - History - Civil War, 1861-1865 - African-Americans

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