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Excerpt from the Memoirs of W.W. Holden, June 12, 1865


Excerpt from the Memoirs of W.W. Holden, June 12, 1865


As the governor of North Carolina, William Woods Holden, dealt with the challenge of incorporating newly freed slaves into society. This was a tough task, because there was a lot of opposition toward the freedmen. This excerpt recalls the governor's first proclamation to the people of North Carolina regarding the newly freed slaves. Governor Holden was concerned both with freedmen obeying the law and improving their condition. He felt that they should find work so that they would be able to provide for their families. Governor Holden addressed the fact that he was for the advancement of freedmen and not against them.


William Woods Holden


"Memoirs of W.W. Holden," Documenting the American South, accessed October 22, 2014,




Jessie Byrd




North Carolina

Original Format



And in my first proclamation to the people of the State I used the following language in regard to the colored people: -

To the colored people of the State I would say, you are now free. Providence has willed that the very means adopted to render your servitude perpetual, should be His instruments for releasing you from bondage. It now remains for you, aided as you will be by the superior intelligence of the white race, and cheered by the sympathy of all good people, to decide

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whether the freedom thus suddenly bestowed upon you will be a blessing to you or a source of injury. Your race has been depressed by your condition of slavery, and by the legislation of your former masters for two hundred years. It is not to be expected that you can comprehend and appreciate as they should be comprehended by a self-governing people, the wise provisions and limitations of the Constitution and the laws; or that you can now have that knowledge of public affairs which is necessary to qualify you to discharge all the duties of citizens. No people has ever yet bounded at once into the full enjoyment of the right of self-government. But you are free, in common with all our people, and you have the same right, regulated by law, that others have, to enter upon the pursuits of prosperity and happiness. You should henceforth sacredly observe the marriage relation, and you should provide for your offspring. You can now not only learn to read yourselves, as some of you have been able to do heretofore, but you can instruct others, and procure instruction from others for yourselves and your children, without fear of punishment. But to be prosperous and happy you must labor, not merely when you feel like it, or for a scanty support, but industriously and steadily, with a view to making and laying up something for yourselves and your families. If you are idle you will become vicious and worthless; if vicious and worthless you will have no friends, and will at last perish. 'In the sweat of thy face shalt you eat bread all the days of thy life.' The same Providence that has bestowed freedom upon you, has

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told you that diligence in business is required of all his creatures; and you cannot expect that your race will escape ultimate extinction, if you wilfully [sic.] violate or disregard this, one of His great commands. Freedom does not mean that one may do as he pleases, but that everyone may, by industry, frugality, and temperance, improve his conditions and enjoy the fruits of his own labors, so long as he obeys the law. I have no prejudice against you. On the contrary, while I am a white man, and while my lot is with my own color, yet I sympathize with you as the weaker race; and I cannot forget that during this rebellion many of you fought for the preservation of the Union, and that those of you who remained at home in the then slave holding States, were for the most part, docile and faithful, and made no attempt by force of arms to gain even their freedom. I will see to it, as far as I can, that you have your liberty; that you are protected in your property and persons; and that you are paid your wages. But, on the other hand, I will set my pace against those of you who are idle and dissipated, and prompt punishment will be inflicted for any breach of the peace or violation of the law. In fine, I will be your friend as long as you are true to yourselves, and obedient to the law, and as long as you shall labor, no matter how feebly, if honestly and earnestly, to improve your condition. It is my duty, as far as I may, to render the government a 'terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well' - and this I will endeavor to do in relation to the whole people of the State of North Carolina, 'without fear, favor or affection, reward, or hope of reward.


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William Woods Holden, Excerpt from theMemoirs of W.W. Holden, June 12, 1865, Civil War Era NC, accessed June 16, 2024,