Reconstruction was in full swing in Vicksburg in 1870, and with it new establishments to help former slaves.
One such company was located at 1100 Washington St.: The Freedman’s Savings Bank.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company was a private corporation licensed by an act of the U.S. government signed in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln. It was created to help newly liberated African Americans as they strived to become financially stable. Originally the bank was headquartered in New York, but later moved to Washington, D.C. Eventually there were 37 locations in 17 states.
“African Americans were also hired to work in the bank. In 1874, nearly half of the bank’s employees were African American,” the Treasury Department reported. “Most were cashiers – senior branch officials. Otherwise, they were assistant cashiers, clerks or messengers.
At its peak, Freedman’s Savings Bank had approximately 100,000 depositors. Because people could open an account with as little as 5 cents, it offered former slaves the chance for a stable life.
The bank was not immune to corruption, and towards the end of its life the bank’s executives brought in abolitionist, writer and lecturer Frederick Douglass to act as the bank’s president, replacing its original president, John Alvord.
However, Douglass soon realized the institution’s instability and personally recommended to Congress that it be shut down.
“Married to a Corpse” was the term used by Douglass to refer to his involvement with Freedman’s Savings Bank.
While Freedmen’s Savings Bank was a national institution, the Vicksburg branch was the first in Mississippi. While the institution as a whole was short-lived, disbanding in 1874, the marks of the company can still be seen today.
Two original vaults are still visible in the ca. 1856 building, now home to the Parish Waterfowl Company.
Local business owner and investor Kelle Barfield now owns the building, along with the rest of the block.
“In Vicksburg, there was a lot of enthusiasm to go fast,” Barfield said. “The Vicksburg bank was one of the very first. Within seven years, there were 37 branches in 17 states. From the research I did, the one in Vicksburg was one of the top 10 in the country.
Other Secrets of 1100 Washington St.
In modern times, the “Biscuit Company” mural on the side of the building has become the eponym of the restaurant started by the Monsour family and currently operated by Kay Daniel.
However, there was never a cookie business in Vicksburg – it was simply an advertisement for Nabisco products, which were sold in the dry goods store that moved into the Freedman’s Savings Bank space after the closure form the bank.
WT Montgomery and Company was owned by Ben and Isaiah Montgomery, former slaves of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his brother, Joseph Davis. The store was operated by the Montgomerys until 1889, when another grocer took its place, followed by another.
Union Hill Publishing Company moved into the building in July 1899, but in 1906 a fire broke out in the stored newsprint, causing the paper to move to a location on Clay Street.
In May 1909, the building again housed an African-American-owned bank, the Union Savings Bank, which operated until 1912.
In more recent history, it housed The Collection gift shop and Southern Cottage.