When Freedom Cried Out
The Freedmen's Bureau in Texas




An Act Regulating Contracts for Labor.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas, That all persons desirous of engaging as laborers for a period of one year or less. may do so under the following regulations: All contract for labor for a longer period than one month shall be made in writing, and in the presence of a Justice of the Peace, County Judge, County Clerk, Notary Public, or two disinterested witnesses, in whose presence the contract shall be read to the laborers, and, when assented to, shall be signed in triplicate by both parties. and shall then be considered binding, for the time therein prescribed.

Sec. 2. Every laborer shall have full and perfect liberty to choose his or her employer, but when once chosen, they shall not be allowed to leave their place of employment, under the fulfillment of their contract, unless by consent of their employer, or on account of harsh treatment or breach of contract on the part of the employer, and if they do so leave without cause or permission, they shall forfeit all wages earned to the time of abandonment.

Sec. 3. One copy of the contract, above provided for, shall be deposited with the Clerk of the County Court of the county in which the employer resides; and the Clerk shall endorse thereon, filed, giving the date, and signing his name officially; the contract then shall have the force and effect of an authentic act, and be conclusive evidence of the intent of the parties thereto; but all disputes arising between the parties shall be decided before a court of competent jurisdiction, and said court shall have power to enforce the same.

Sec. 4. The Clerk of the County Court shall enter, in a well bound book kept for that purpose, a regular and alphabetical index to the contracts filed, showing the name of the employer, and the employed, the date of filing, and the duration of the contract, which book, together with the contract filed, shall, at all times, be subject to the examination of every person interested, without fee. The Clerk shall be entitled to demand from the party filing such contract, a fee of twenty-five cents, which shall be full compensation of all services required under this Act.

Sec. 5. All labor contracts shall be made with the heads of families; they shall embrace the labor of all the members of the family named therein, able to work, and shall be binding on all minors of said families.

Sec. 6. Wages due, under labor contracts, shall be a lien upon one-half of the crops, second only to liens for rent, and not more than one-half of the crops shall be removed from the plantation, until such wages are fully paid.

Sec. 7. All employers, wilfully failing to comply with their contract, shall, upon conviction, be fined an amount double that due the laborer, recoverable before any court of competent jurisdiction, to be paid to the laborer; and any inhumanity, cruelty, or neglect of duty, on the part of the employer, shall be summarily punished by fines, within the discretion of the court, to be paid to the injured party; provided, that this shall not be so construed as a remission of any penalty, now inflicted by law, for like offences.

Sec. 8. In case of sickness of the laborer, wages for the time lost shall be deducted, and, when the sickness is feigned, for purposes of idleness, and also, on refusal to work according to contract, double the amount of wages shall be deducted for the time lost, and, also, when rations have been furnished, and should the refusal to work continue beyond three days, the offender shall be reported to a Justice of the Peace or Mayor of a town or city and shall be forced to labor on roads, streets and other public works, without pay, until the offender consents to return to his labor.

Sec. 9. The labor of the employee shall be governed by the terms stipulated in the contract; he shall obey all proper orders of his employer or his agent, take proper care of his work-imuies, horses, oxen, stock of all character and kind; also, all agricultural implements; and employers shall have the right to make a reasonable deduction from the laborers' wages for injuries done to animals or agricultural implements committed to their care, or for bad or negligent work. Failing to obey reasonable orders, neglect of duty, leaving home without permission, impnfdeie, swearing or indecent language to, or in the presence of the employer, his famil or agent, or quarrelling and fighting with one another, shall be deemed disobedience. For any disobedience, a fine of one dollar shall be imposed on, and paid by the offender. For all lost time from work hours, without permission from the employer or his agent, unless in case of sickness, the laborer shall be fined twenty-five cents per hour. For all absence from home without permission, the laborer shall be fined at the rate of two dollars per day; fines to be denounced at the time of the delinquency. Laborers will not be required to labor on the Sabbath, except to take necessary care of stock, and other property on the plantation, or to do necessary cooking or household duties, unless by special contract for work of necessity. For all thefts of the laborer from the employer, of agricultural products, hogs, sheep, poultry, or any other property of the employer, or wilful destruction of property, or injury, the laborer shall pay the employer double the amount of the value of the property stolen, destroyed or injured, one-half to be paid to the employer, and the other half to be aced in the general fund, provided for in this section. No live st cck shall be allowed to laborers without the permission of the employer. Laborers shall not receive visitors during work hours. All difficulties arising between the employer and laborers, under this section, shall be settled, and all fines imposed by the former; if not satisfactory to the laborer, an appeal may 'be had to the nearest Justice of the Peace. and two freeholders, citizens, one of said citizens to be selected by the employer, and the other by the laborer; and all fines imposed, and collected under this section, shall be deducted from the wages due, and shall be placed in a common fund to be divided among the other laborers employed on the place at the time when their wages fall due, except as herein provided; and where there are no other laborers employed, the fines and penalties imposed shall be paid into the County Treasury, and constitute a fund for the relief of the indigent of the county.

Sec. 10. Laborers, in the various duties of the household, and in all the domestic duties of the family, shall, at all hours of the day or night, and on all days of the week, promptly answer all calls, and obey and execute all lawful orders and commands of the family in whose service they are employed, unless otherwise stipulated in the contract, and any failure or refusal by the laborer to obey, as herein provided, except in case of sickness, shall be deemed disobedience, within the meaning of this Act. And it is the duty of this class of laborers to be especially civil and polite to their employer, his family and guests, and they shall receive gentle and kind treatment. Employers, and their families, shall, after ten o'clock at night, and on Sundays, make no calls on their laborers, nor exact any service of them, which exigencies of the household or family do not make necessary or unavoidable..

Sec. 11. That for gross misconduct on the part of the laborer, such as disobedience, habitual laziness, frequent acts of violation of their contracts, or the laws of the State, they may be dismissed by their employer; nevertheless the laborer shall have the right to an appeal to a Justice of the Peace, asd two freeholders, citizens of the county, one of the freeholders to be selected by him or herself, and the other by his or her employer, and their decision shall be final. Sec. 12. That all laws and parts of laws contrary to or conflicting with the provisions of this Act be, and are hereby repealed, and that this Act take effect from and after its passage. 

Approved November 1. 1866.

  Extracted from Gammel's The Laws of Texas