Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Liberal Arts

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Michael Woods

Second Advisor

Robert Deal

Third Advisor

Tyler Parry


This thesis covers two critical months (April and May, 1862) during the Port Royal Experiment, which took place during the Civil War in the Sea Islands of South Carolina. This abolitionist-influenced experiment has been enriched by numerous primary sources from a range of people: military officials, General Superintendents of the Treasury, abolitionists and educators. However, this topic has been missing one important source: Special Treasury Agents. These men implemented the orders of various groups involved with the Experiment. The unpublished papers of one such agent, James Severance, provides a new depth in Port Royal analysis. This firsthand account shows the results of conflicting orders among the ex-slaves and the Agents themselves, something not accounted for from previous historians. The Agents were exhausting and vilifying themselves by associating themselves to antebellum slave drivers, which led some to want to leave the Experiment. At the same time the ex-slaves resisted efforts by these groups to plant cotton and wanted consistency as to whether they were free or not. They were told they were free, but were both told later they really were not free and treated poorly in a pseudo-slavery condition brought by the Union occupation of the Sea Islands. Tragically, they also reveal that the Experiment was on the road to what could be a violent pre-mature conclusion within a couple of months after it began if drastic changes did not take place and fast. Fortunately, the Experiment did not fail because changes as consolidating management. Emphasis on cotton lessened, and the Emancipation Proclamation officially made the Sea Islands slaves freemen took place quickly. However, James Severance is the only primary source to reveal such a reality in the 1862.


Port Royal (S.C.) Expedition, 1861.

South Carolina -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.