Over the past thirty years historians have coaxed sensitive and compelling histories of African-American slave life from materials authored by those other than slaves themselves. From plantation journals, estate accounts, diaries and slave lists, scholars have reconstructed black family life, religious culture, work patterns, and social structure. The collections listed below reflect the importance of non-slave sources in the writing of slave history.
The Rubenstein Library holds much more material on African-American life during slavery than can be listed here, including a number of accounts generated by former slaves. The library's rare book holdings include more than 20 autobiographical works by former slaves from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; among them The address of Abraham Johnstone (1797), Memoir of Old Elizabeth, a colored woman (1866), and A narrative of the most remarkable particulars in the life of James Albert Ukawsaw, an African prince (1770). Moreover, though not always noted below, letters from slaves manumitted to Liberia emerge in the collection at several points. They can be located using the subject file of the Rubenstein Library card catalog. See, for example, the letter dated 2 August 1857 in the Malone Ellis papers. The library also holds an important collection of broadsides, pamphlets, circulars, and other printed materials that allow insight into African-American life during slavery. See, for example, The Road and Patrol Laws of Georgia (1863), Religious Instruction of the Negro (1861), and An Account of the late intended insurrection among a portion of the blacks of this city (Charleston 1822).
In addition, a guide entitled Slave Letters consists of a list of letters held by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University. These letters provide a glimpse into the lives of enslaved African Americans who yearned for rights and freedoms they were denied.
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- African-American miscellany, 1757-1983.
- Collection of print and manuscript items relating to African and African
American history assembled over a number of decades by the staff of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke
University. Collection contains approximately 600 items documenting the
sales, escapes, and emancipations of slaves from colonial times through
the Civil War, the civil rights era from 1950-1970, and to a lesser
extent, the period in between the 1870s and the 1950s. The documents
bring to light details of the lives and deaths of enslaved and free
Africans and African Americans in the Southern United States, especially
in North Carolina and Virginia, and of economic factors in the trade,
sale, and exchange of slaves and other individuals.
- Archibald Boyd papers, 1841-1897.
- Business correspondence of Lenox Castle County, North Carolina landholder, Archibald Boyd. Included in the collections are letters from slave trader Samuel R. Browning reporting on the health of slaves, the conditions of the market, and the effect of a cholera scare on his sales. One letter describes a woman who gave birth while she was part of one of Browning's coffles.
- Iveson L. Brookes papers, 1831-1888.
- Correspondence of white Baptist preacher and landholder in South Carolina and Georgia. Included in the collection are a contract concerning "Conditions For Hiring Negroes by the Georgia Railroad and Booking Co., 1855," and lists of slaves divided by family groups. Letters discuss slaves and race relations, largely giving insight into white perceptions.
- Robert Carter correspondence, 1772-1794.
- Letterbooks and accounts of prominent Virginia planter Robert Carter. Carter owned and/or administered eighteen plantations. By 1791 he owned about 2,400 slaves. His records reveal a meticulous attention to his various businesses and disclose a great many details of the lives, training, and hiring of his slaves.
- Christopher (Ship) papers, 1791-1792.
- Log book of the slave ship Christopher, detailing its journey, 1791-1792, from Liverpool England, to the Congo (now Zaire) river estuary, to Barbados and Dominica, and back to Liverpool. Volume includes instructions to the ship's captain, Charles Molyneux, an invoice of goods on board, crew list with wages, receipts for slave sales, and account of outfitting costs.
- Francis Porteus Corbin papers, 1662-1885.
- Letters and papers of Francis P. Corbin and his family. From 1828, the content of the collection focuses on Corbin's financial interests, including the maintenance of his Louisiana sugar plantation. Business letters from Paris, where he relocated in 1830, include reports on crops and conditions of slaves. Of particular interest are slave lists, ca. 1712, from the Ripon Hall plantation in York County, Virginia. The lists are extensive, documenting family ties between slaves and listing clothing and supplies distributed to approximately 60 slaves.
- Devereux Family papers, 1776-1936 (bulk 1839-1900).
- Papers of a prominent and wealthy white family. The majority of the collection falls between 1839 and 1900, and is primarily correspondence concerned with personal and family affairs. There are comments on slavery and manumission, as Thomas P. Devereux (1793-1869) was a lawyer and planter who owned more than 1000 slaves. A volume in the collection contains the accounts for three plantations; included are extensive slave lists.
- Kate Foster diary, 1863-1872.
- Diary of Kate Foster, Adams County, Mississippi. Approximately two-thirds of the entries date from the latter half of 1863 and concern the Civil War, with attention to the effect of the war on her home and on local blacks. The diary provides rich illustrations of slave desertion, many of the absconders being women with children.
- Georgia Superior Court Slave Importation Register. 1 volume (microfilm)
- Records of slave imports to the state of Georgia -- contains descriptions, including name, age, and sometimes occupation and physical characteristics of slaves.
- William Gibbons Jr. papers, 1728-1803.
- Correspondence and financial papers of William Gibbons Jr., wealthy rice planter and justice of the peace in Chatham County, Georgia. The bulk of the collection begins in the 1750s and describes life on some of Georgia's early large plantations. Papers document the management of a large low country plantation, including a series of comments on the purchase, management, and sale of slaves.
- Tyre Glen papers, 1820-1889.
- The letters and papers of Tyre Glenn -- planter, constable and slave trader who entered the business in the early 1820s. Collection contains many receipts for slaves sold or purchased, as well as information on profit margins and overhead. Correspondence sheds light on the business of slave trading, and the character and life of the trader.
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- Wade Hampton correspondence, 1791-1934.
- South Carolina statesman, from Columbia (Richland Co.), S.C. Correspondence dealing with the breeding of horses, 1840s; secession; the sale of slaves; Hampton's Legion in the Civil War, including a list of the German volunteers serving in the Legion; Reconstruction; Afro-American suffrage; the depression of land values; the Ku-Klux Klan; and the role of Thomas Mackey in the campaign of 1876 which restored control of South Carolina to the Democratic Party. Included also is a letter of Hampton's grandfather, Wade Hampton, concerning an Indian expedition; and a letter, 1796, from Nathan Stark to John Hampton, Hampton's great-uncle, discussing the election of United States senators and representatives from South Carolina.
- Isaac Brooks Headen papers, 1848-1855.
- Account book of a white physician in Chatham County, North Carolina. Book includes numerous entries concerning the treatment of slaves. Only rarely are the records specific about gender of patient or treatment prescribed. They do, however, document the frequency of illness on specific plantations.
- John Richardson Kilby papers, 1755-1919 (bulk 1840-1889).
- Business and personal papers of John Richardson Kilby (1819-1878) and Wilbur John Kilby (1850-1878), father and son lawyers of Suffolk, Virginia. Correspondence is dotted with numerous references to the African Colonization Society. Included is a letter from a former Kilby slave detailing the conditions and activities of the family's former slaves now settled in Liberia.
- Louis Manigault papers, 1776-1883.
- Personal and business papers of Louis Manigault and the Manigault family who began to acquire rice-planting land in the mid-eighteenth century, and by 1850 owned several plantations. The papers concerning their plantations begin in 1837 and continue through 1883. There are work schedules, slave lists, and instructions to overseers on the care of slaves and the management of plantations. One of the volumes in the collection is an 1852 prescription book concerning the medical treatment of plantation slaves.
- Alexander Proctor Papers, 1837-1895.
- This collection consists of legal papers and correspondence relating
to Alexander and Margaret Proctor and their children--tracing their
history beginning as freedpeople in Virginia, their 1840s resettlement
in Warren County, Ohio, a subsequent move to Canada around 1860, their
emigration to Haiti in 1861, and their eventual return to Kalamazoo,
Michigan. in 1865. Alexander Proctor was a Baptist minister who died in
Haiti in 1865. Most of the correspondence in the collection is between
Margaret Proctor and her children. Legal papers include an agreement
dated July 17, 1837, signed by Thomas Proctor, of Washington, DC, and
Capt. George H. Crossman, U.S. Army, by which Proctor, a freeman, agrees
to bind himself to Crossman as a servant for five years.
- Sanford J. Ramey notebook, 1820-1821.
- Manuscript notebook in which are recorded questions for debate; arguments supporting negative and affirmative positions on given issues; and decisions on the outcome of the debates. Topics reflect prominent intellectual and social concerns of the period. Issues include intelligence and education of women; education of slaves; colonization of Blacks; religious questions; and political and governmental concerns. Front cover is informally labeled "Notes, 1820-1821, Disputes, Sanford J. Ramey." A few diary entries and accounting notations from Leesburg (Va.?) are recorded on the last few pages.
- Rankin-Parker papers, ca. 1880.
- The collection contains the autobiography of the Reverend John Rankin and the biography of John Parker, an ex-slave who Rankin worked with on the Underground Railroad. Parker was born in slavery and bought his freedom in 1845. Included in the Parker biography is the story of one Eliza's escape to freedom by crossing the Ohio. Supposedly, Harriet Beecher Stowe appropriated the story for her Uncle Tom's Cabin.
- Rockingham Plantation journal, 1828-1829.
- Daily record of work done by slaves on plantation in Hampton County, South Carolina from 2 February 1828 through 13 July 1829. The journal author notes which slaves are out sick and which have run away. The volume illustrates the division of labor on a medium sized plantation.
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- Slave Transporter's Notebook, 1845.
- Notebook of unidentified person employed by J. H. Witherspoon to transport 25 slaves from Lancasterville, S.C. to Alabama. Author recorded the names of the slaves, as well as distances traveled, locations where the party camped, and expenses incurred during the journey.
- Mrs. Smith diary, 1793.
- Journal of Mrs. Smith describing a voyage from Boston, Massachusetts to Savannah, Georgia, in 1793. In the first third of the journal, the author makes numerous observations concerning the work and religion of the slaves there. Smith notes, for example, that slaves have a black religious leader and that whites sometimes attend black religious services for entertainment or out of curiosity.
- William Smith papers, 1785-1860.
- The papers of William Smith, member of Parliament, relate chiefly to the movement in England to abolish slavery. There are letters from planters in Jamaica, St. Vincent, Bermuda, Nevis, Barbados, and Berbice discussing the condition of slaves and slavery on the islands. Extensive printed and miscellaneous papers include research notes on the number of ships involved in the slave trade, the rate of death on slave ships, methods of obtaining slaves, eyewitness accounts of slave treatment, an illustration of how space is allotted on slave ships, and runaway statistics from various islands.
- Edward Telfair papers, 1762-1831 (bulk 1771-1807).
- Papers of a merchant, governor of Georgia, and delegate to the Continental Congress. Telfair's mercantile firm dealt in slaves, among other things, and the correspondence includes discussions of the management of slaves, purchase and sale of slaves, the problem of runaway slaves, slave mortality rates, the difficulty of selling closely related slaves, and the relations between whites and free blacks.
- Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas diaries, 1848-1889.
- Civil War-era journal of Ella Thomas, who lived with her husband on the Belmont plantation in Richmond County, Georgia. The Thomases owned ninety slaves and often went to a black church to hear black preachers. The diary comments on slave weddings and revivals, reviews Uncle Tom's Cabin, and discusses relationships among black women and white men. Of particular interest are two letters from a former Thomas slave dated the early 1900s.
- Henry Watson papers, 1765-1938 (bulk 1828-1869).
- Personal and business papers of Greensboro, Alabama, lawyer and planter Henry Watson. Among them is information concerning the establishment of the Planter's Insurance Company, fear of a slave insurrection in 1860, slave impressment during the Civil War, and postwar labor contracts between blacks and their former masters. Volumes include plantation accounts, 1834-1866, and records of black laborers, slave and free, 1843-1866.
Last updated October 2011