Freedmen's Bank Overview
INDEX OF KNOWN AUSTINS HOLDING FREEDMEN BANK ACCOUNTS
Transcribed and Annotated by Helen Cook Austin, PhD
Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, also called Freedmen’s Bank, existed from 1865-1874. Eventually there were 37 branch offices in 17 states with approximately 70,000 depositors (over the bank’s lifetime) and deposits of more than $57,000,000. Freedmen’s Bureau was a “sister” agency that provided other help and social organization for freed slaves. The Bureau records are on separate microfilms at the National Archives.
The purpose of the company was to create an institution where former slaves and their dependents could place and save their money. The original bank was first headquartered in New York and later was moved to Washington. D.C. Soon after, branch offices opened in other cities, mostly in the south.
In 1874, mismanagement and fraud caused the Freedmen’s Bank to close. The final report on the bank was made by the Comptroller (Commissioner) in 1920. Some of the depositors received 60% of their money back. Many people got none of their money back. The Federal Government did not insure the deposits.
These account records are good sources for genealogists doing African American research, especially when combined with the U. S. Census of 1860, 1870, and with Southern Claims Commission approved claims for the plantation owners or the former slaves. Some account records are complete and have much family information, but many are sadly incomplete.
The records following are from National Archives microfilms posted by Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. Transcriber comments are shown with parentheses (n). Research notations are shown in brackets [b]. They note additional information from sources that may further support or explain the transcribed data of the account registers. Other remarks on the bank registers made by the bank clerks are not bracketed as they are part of the record.
The bank records below have personal identification data about depositors in some branches of the Freedmen’s Bank. In addition to the name and account numbers of individual depositors, the files can contain information such as the age, complexion (color), place of birth, place raised and current residence (“where you now live”), occupation, employer (“who you work for”), name of parents, spouse, marriage status, names of sisters and brothers. The name of the former owner (master or mistress), and plantation name appear in some of the earlier account records. A signature space provides information about whether the person could write their name or signed an X. Remarks include various information, such as co-signers on the account, or the name of a beneficiary. A few depositors were white or orphaned children.
Note that the Branch Office State where the bank account was opened was often not the same as the place of residence, or birth, or place where raised for an individual or family. Note also that all descriptive terminology having to do with color or race comes from the original records and is not a reflection of the opinion of the transcriber or this organization.
- U. S. Freedmen Bank Records 1865-1874. Available at Ancestry.com.
- The original data: Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865-1874. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington. DC. Micro-publication M816, 27 rolls.