17 Replies Latest reply on Jul 23, 2020 11:58 AM by Frederick Allen

    Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"

    Frederick Allen Newbie

      I’m trying to find the origin of “40 Acres and a Mule.”

        • Re: Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"
          Alice Lane Tracker

          Hi Frederick Allen,

          Welcome to History Hub

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forty_acres_and_a_mule#:~:text=Jump%20to%20navigation%20Jump%20to%20search.%20Forty%20acre…

          Forty Acres and a Mule

          Forty acres and a mule is part of Special Field Orders No. 15, a wartime order proclaimed by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman on January 16, 1865 during the American Civil War, to allot land to some freed families, in plots of land no larger than 40 acres. Sherman later ordered the army to lend mules for the agrarian reform effort. The field orders followed a series of conversations between Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Radical Republican abolitionists Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens following disruptions to the institution of slavery provoked by the American Civil War. Many freed people believed, after being told by various political figures, that they had a right to own the land they had been forced to work as slaves, and were eager to control their own property. Freed people widely expected to legally claim 40 acres of land and a mule after the end of the war. Some freedmen took advantage of the order and took initiatives to acquire land plots along a strip of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts. However, Abraham Lincoln's successor as president, Andrew Johnson, explicitly reversed and annulled proclamations such as Special Field Orders No. 15 and the Freedmen's Bureau bills.

          Best Wishes,
          Alice Lane
          Volunteer Researcher
          1 person found this helpful
            • Re: Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"
              Frederick Allen Newbie


              Thanks so much. To be clear, I am fully aware of Special Field Order 15. What I’m so curious about is how the “and a mule” became a familiar phrase. I’ve found references to the Army promising surplus mules to the families receiving 40-acre tracts, but I cannot find any specific citations. The earliest thing I can find is an article in the North American Review, May 1906, by Walter L. Fleming, referring to the “expectation” among black families of receiving 40 acres and a mule.

                Fleming cites the Ku-Klux Report of 1871, a 13-volume congressional  compendium of testimony and findings related to the activities of the Klan. On page 217 of volume 1, it says “the idea was wide spread and common among them (black families) that each head of a family would have ‘forty acres and a mule.’”

                So the phrase was well established by 1871 ... but where, exactly, did it come from? Is it entirely folkloric? Or  is there something we have all missed? I asked Eric Foner about this, by the way, and he couldn’t help.

              Thanks, Frederick Allen

            • Re: Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"
              LOC Manuscript Division Tracker

              Dear Mr. Allen,

               

              You may also wish to conduct a search of the online William T. Sherman Papers at the Library of Congress for potentially relevant evidence. Because the collection is not yet keyword-searchable, the best way to examine the collection is to select from the series on the home page and browse by date. Additionally, an account of Sherman's meeting with Secretary of War Edwin McMasters Stanton and others on Jan. 12  was published in the Feb. 13, 1865 issue of the New-York Tribune. This issue among others may be found in Chronicling America.

               

              All the best of luck on your research endeavor. Please feel free to contact the Library of Congress Manuscript Reading Room if you have any questions about use of the Sherman Papers or Chronicling America.

              1 person found this helpful
              • Re: Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"
                Cara Jensen Scout

                Dear Mr. Allen,

                 

                Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!

                 

                We searched the National Archives Catalog and located Orders and Circulars, 1797 - 1910 in the Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762 - 1917 (Record Group 94) that may include the order from General Sherman to loan mules to freedmen. Lists of Orders and Circulars, 1832-1910 in Record Group 94 serves as the main finding aid to this series. We also located Circulars, 5/1865 - 7/1869 in the Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Record Group 105) that includes Circular No. 10 about the distribution of the land and other necessities to freedmen. For access to these and other possible records, please contact the National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1) via email at archives1reference@nara.gov.

                 

                Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT1. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.

                 

                We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!

                 

                2 people found this helpful
                  • Re: Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"
                    Frederick Allen Newbie

                    As you may have gathered, I’m uncertain how to navigate federal records. Your reply is highly promising ... but I cannot link to the records you mentioned. In other words, I could use more help! If you can help me find that mule, I think we will have a discovery of genuine newsworthiness. Thanks.

                      • Re: Seeking origins of “40 Acres and a Mule"
                        Rebecca Collier Ranger

                        Dear Mr. Allen,

                         

                        Thank you for posting your follow-up request on History Hub!

                         

                        As stated in our previous response, please contact the National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1) via email at archives1reference@nara.gov. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT1. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.

                         

                        We hope this is helpful.

                         

                        1 person found this helpful