The Digital Library on American Slavery offers data on race and slavery extracted from eighteenth and nineteenth-century documents and processed over a period of eighteen years. The Digital Library contains detailed information on about 150,000 individuals, including slaves, free people of color, and whites. These data have been painstakingly extracted from 2,975 legislative petitions and 14,512 county court petitions, and from a wide range of related documents, including wills, inventories, deeds, bills of sale, depositions, court proceedings, amended petitions, among others. Buried in these documents are the names and other data on roughly 80,000 individual slaves, 8,000 free people of color, and 62,000 whites, both slave owners and non-slave owners.. (quote taken from the website)
The database is searchable by Petition and Subject. There is a wonderful Glossary of Terms that is helpful in understanding some of the legal terms that might be included in the petitions.
The years cover 1775 thru 1867. The database includes information on both whites and blacks. Here are a couple tips I have found early on:
- When you are in the database where you search for names, you can enter first or last names or both.
- You can also enter only a state or only a county and state and see who comes up or both. I was especially interested in putting in “Shelby County, Tennessee” and seeing who comes up.
- There is also a slave status section where you can check to only receive information on slaves. This will help you narrow down your searches.
- There is also the section where you can narrow down to slave holders only.
- Don’t limit your self by county, sometimes just use the state as boundaries changed throughout the years and your ancestor may not be in the county you thought, but was picked up on a petition a county over.
- Remember over time, some African-Americans had name changes, both given and surnames could change, so have an open mind when doing these searches.
- District of Columbia
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
The states covered in this database are
Here is an example of what you can find in these petitions. Remember, this is referring to 1814 and African-Americans; you are reading their names and the family unit, the county/state and some ages. If you discover your ancestor in these petitions, it can be a wonderful find!
PAR Number 11681416
State: Virginia Year: 1814
Location: Amherst Location Type: County
Abstract: Forty-seven-year-old free black John Charleston purchased himself a number of years ago for 110 pounds. He has now been able to also purchase his wife, Ursley, and two children, Asberry and Caroline. He asks for the freedom of Ursley and the children; he requests that they be permitted to remain in Virginia.
(The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2000-2009, Repository: Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, Legislative Petitions, http://library.uncg.edu/slavery/details.aspx?pid=2440)