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Freedmen’s Bureau

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, known as the Freedmen’s Bureau, was the first social welfare agency created to address the problems of freedmen and refugees in the former Confederate states or anywhere the U.S. Army had operated during the Civil War. Headed nationally by Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, the bureau operated in West Virginia from 1866 to autumn 1868. Its headquarters were at Harpers Ferry, and of the several agents who conducted its business Lt. Augustus Ferzard Higgs and Capt. Jacob Clement Brubaker were the most important. Most bureau activities centered in Jefferson and Berkeley counties, but after Agent Brubaker conducted tours to places in the state where African-Americans resided, the agency appointed a sub-agent in Charleston and aided school construction in several communities.

Although the bureau addressed an initial refugee problem at Harpers Ferry and continual civil rights violations in Jefferson County, most of its activities involved the education of freedmen and the building of schools. It worked closely with William Ryland White, West Virginia superintendent of free schools, local Black leaders, and White Free Will Baptists in the Shenandoah Valley. The bureau succeeded in stimulating official interest in public education of African-Americans, aided in the construction of 16 schools, and supported financially and politically the formation of Storer College, the first and for more than two decades the only institution for education of Blacks above primary level in the state.

Written by John Edmund Stealey III


  1. Stealey, John E. III. The Freedmen's Bureau in West Virginia. West Virginia History, (Jan.-Apr. 1978).

  2. Stealey, John E. III. Reports of Freedmen's Bureau Operations in West Virginia. West Virginia History, (Fall 1980-Winter 1981).

  3. Stealey, John E. III. Reports of Freedmen's Bureau District Officers on Tours and Surveys in West Virginia. West Virginia History, (Winter 1982).