The University of Alabama
Bringing Alabama's African American History to Light: A Model Partnership
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ABOUT THE PROJECT

Detail of Townsend will.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) generously funded both the arrangement and description and the digitization of the Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers Collection through two separate grants.

The first grant provided by the NHPRC was given under the auspicies of an initiative titled "Bringing Alabama's African American History to Light: A Model Partnership." Awarded jointly to The University of Alabama and the Tuskegee University Library, these funds allowed for the processing of Septimus D. Cabaniss' papers. Locate his finding online under the Tuskegee University Archives Manuscript Collections in Acumen, The University of Alabama's portal for digized special collections materials.  

The second grant, also awarded by NHPRC, allowed for the digitization of the entirity of the Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers Collection. 

Septimus Douglass Cabaniss was a prominent Alabama attorney who is perhaps best remembered for his role as executor for the estate of Samuel Townsend, a plantation owner who intended to emancipate his slaves upon his death. After attending the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Cabaniss returned to Huntsville and was admitted to the Alabama Bar in 1838. An examination of his legal papers shows that Cabaniss concentrated on civil matters, particularly the settlement of estates, from the inception of his legal career. In 1853, Cabaniss was employed by the wealthy, unmarried Samuel Townsend to draft a will that would allow him to manumit and leave property to a selection of his slaves, many of who were his children. Townsend was concerned because his brother Edmund Townsend's will had been held void by the courts at the time of his death in 1853. Edmund had left the bulk of his estate to two of his slaves, whom he acknowledged as his children. However, the extended family of Edmund protested and succeeded in nullifying his will for their benefit. Samuel Townsend was concerned that his own will could be held void and hired Cabaniss to draft a will which would protect the interest of his chosen heirs. At his death in 1856, the Samuel Townsend estate was valued at approximately $200,000 and included eight plantations.

The will was unsuccessfully contested for nearly two years by the natural heirs of Samuel Townsend, but in 1858 it was finally probated, though more legal battles and the Civil War would soon interrupt its disbursements. Townsend's former slaves were relocated to Ohio and Kansas, and after the Civil War, Cabaniss continued trying to liquidate and settle the remainder of the estate.

Read more about the Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers Digitization Project here