National Museum of African American History and Culture

Records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of Tennessee, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1870


Collection ID:
Physical Description:
9 Reels
This collection is comprised of digital surrogates previously available on the nine rolls of microfilm described in NARA publication M1000. These digital surrogates reproduced the records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of Tennessee, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865–1870. The records consist of eight volumes and some unbound documents. The volumes include letters and endorsements sent and registers of letters received. The unbound documents consist primarily of letters and reports received.

Historical Note

Historical Note
[The following is reproduced from the original NARA descriptive pamphlet for M1000.]
The Freedmen's Bureau, as the Bureau was commonly known, was established in the War Department by an act of March 3, 1865 (13 Stat. 507), and extended twice by acts of July 16, 1866 (14 Stat. 173), and July 6, 1868 (15 Stat. 83). Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, appointed Commissioner by the President in May 1865, served in that position throughout the existence of the Bureau. In January 1869, in accordance with an act of July 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 193), Bureau operations in the States were terminated except for educational functions and the collection of claims. These activities were terminated June 30, 1872, as required by an act of June 10, 1872 (17 Stat. 366).
Although the Bureau was part of the War Department, its work was primarily social and economic in nature. The Bureau cooperated with benevolent societies in issuing supplies to destitute persons and in maintaining freedmen's schools; supervised labor contracts between black employees and white employers; helped black soldiers and sailors collect bounty claims, pensions, and backpay; and attended to the disposition of confiscated or abandoned lands and property. In Tennessee, Bureau officials expended much time and effort seeking to protect freedmen from intimidation and physical violence at the hands of hostile whites.
The act of March 3, 1865, authorized the appointment of assistant commissioners to aid the Commissioner in supervising the work of the Bureau in the States. In July 1865, Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk took command as the Assistant Commissioner in Tennessee with headquarters at Nashville. From July 1865 until June 1866 the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee also had jurisdiction over the State of Kentucky and the northern part of Alabama.
In a circular issued by Commissioner Howard in July 1865, the Assistant commissioners were instructed to designate an officer in each State to serve as "General Superintendents of Schools." These official were to "take cognizance of all that is being done to educate refugees and freedmen, secure proper protection to schools and teachers, promote method and efficiency, correspond with the benevolent agencies which are supplying his field, and aid the Assistant Commissioner in making his required reports." In October 1865 a degree of centralized control was established over Bureau educational activities in the States when Rev. John W. Alvord was appointed Inspector of Finances and Schools. In January 1867 Alvord was divested of his financial responsibilities and was redesignated General Superintendent of Education.
The educational activity of the Bureau in Tennessee was under the direction of Brigadier General Fisk until the appointment of Lt. Col. Alexander M. York as Superintendent of Education on July 28, 1865. He was succeeded on August 23, 1865, by John Ogden, later President of Fisk University at Nashville, who served until May 1866. His successor, Rev. David Burt, served until April 1868, at which time Bvt. Lt. Col. James Thompson assumed the office. Thompson served concurrently as Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee until April 1869. In May 1869 Bvt. Lt. Col. Charles E. Compton, former Assistant Commissioner of North Carolina, became Superintendent of Education and served in that capacity until July 1870, when all Bureau educational activities in the State ceased. Information on educational matters during the tenures of York and Ogden may be found among the records of the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee. There is very little documentation of educational efforts in the States prior to March 1866 in the records if the Superintendent of Education.
The Superintendent of Education served under the Assistant Commissioner as a staff officer. Subordinate to both the Assistant Commissioner and the Superintendent of Education were subassistant commissioners (with headquarters at Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Pulaski) who commanded the five subdistricts into which the State was divided. Subassistant commissioners supervised all Bureau activities, including education, in their respective areas and reported on educational matters to both the Superintendent of Education and the Assistant Commissioner, The subdistricts were further subdivided into agencies, usually coinciding with counties. Among the more significant of these local offices were those headquartered at Columbia, Gallatin, Jackson, Lebanon, Murfreesboro, Springfield, and Trenton.
The schools maintained by the Bureau in Tennessee included day schools for children, night schools for adults, and Sabbath schools. Rudimentary education, including reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, received primary emphasis in most Bureau schools. Teachers were recruited from the local white population, from among the freedmen themselves, and from the North by the freedmen's aid societies.
The Bureau's responsibility for education in Tennessee included establishment and maintenance of schools and the examination and appointment of teachers. Bureau funds were used to pay for construction and repair of school buildings, for rental of properties used for educational purposes, and for providing teachers with transportation. A number of schools established by local whites and freedmen were subsequently given direction and support by the Bureau. Teachers' salaries and cost of textbooks were provided by the aid societies and the freedmen.
The volumes reproduced in this microfilm publication were originally arranged by type of record and thereunder by volume number. Originally, no numbers were assigned to series consisting of single volumes; later, all volumes were arbitrarily assigned numbers by the Adjutant General's Office of the War Department after the records came into its custody. In this microfilm publication, the last set of assigned numbers are shown in parentheses and are useful as an aid in identifying the volumes. Numbered blank pages have not been filmed.


Immediate Source of Acquisition
Acquired from FamilySearch International in 2015.

Digital Content

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Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
Freedmen's Bureau Digital Collection, 1865–1872, is a product of and owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian Institution. Copyright for digital images is retained by the donor, FamilySearch International; permission for commercial use of the digital images may be requested from FamilySearch International, Intellectual Property Office, at:
Preferred Citation
Courtesy of the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration, FamilySearch International, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

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