Researching the Artifacts and Evidence of Slavery

Beyond published materials, preserved first-hand accounts of slavery from the point of view of the enslaved are few and far between. Our archival collections, though largely limited to the documentary byproducts of slavery created by the slaveowners, contain a wide variety of materials that help enrich our understanding of the institution and its effects. They include personal papers (diaries, letters), materials related to plantation farming (ledgers, receipts), and artifacts of everyday life during the period (other documents and ephemera). Photographs are rare: photography was still in its infancy and was not often used to capture images of enslaved people.

Archival materials generated by freed people and those born in the generation after emancipation can also be difficult to find.

Note: Some collections appear in multiple sections; the larger they are, the more likely they cover multiple areas of interest, and they have been included in all appropriate lists. In the case of these larger collections, the box and folder with materials pertinent to that section have been given.

Most unpublished items held by Special Collections can be found through Acumen, our digital archives interface. It contains digitized materials as well as all available Finding Aids, even for collections which have not been digitized. These digitized items and guides will also come up in a Scout search. Here are some search strategies for finding materials pertaining to slavery in these online interfaces:

  • In Acumen:
    • To limit your search to Finding Aids, use the dropdown menu on the search bar; if you don’t, you will be searching item level records in addition to collection level records — which, of course, you may want to do!
    • To search for a keyword within the title field, use this format: title:[keyword]
    • To search for a keyword within the subject headings, use this format: subject:[keyword]
  • In Scout:
    • Date searches are best done in Scout; use the Date Range limiter
    • To restrict your search to just archival materials, use the Content Provider limiter, set to University of Alabama Libraries Digital Collections

By Record Type

1. Church Records

This page from the First United Methodist Church records (MSS.0519) features a list of enslaved members and their owners.

Includes church registers and notes on activities, generally with African Americans included in a separate section or given the notation “colored.”

  • First Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, records (MSS.0517) — Finding Aid
    • Box 1755
  • Bethabara (Baptist) Church records (MSS.0148) — Finding Aid
    • Box 2337
  • Union Baptist Church of Christ records (MSS.1462)
    • Box 2337
  • Presbyterian Church, Uniontown, Perry County, Alabama records (MSS.1167) — Finding Aid
    • Box 2636
  • Union Parish records (MSS.1463) — Finding Aid
    • Box 2636
  • Grant’s Creek Baptist Church record (MSS.3907) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0083
  • St. John’s Catholic Church records (MSS.1332) — Finding Aid
    • See Church ledger 1844-1888 (Box 102, Folder 1)
  • Bethany Baptist Church, Buhl, Alabama, records (MSS.0149) — Finding Aid
    • See Church Records 1832-1853 (Box 2801, Folder 3)
  • Vernon Grosse collection (MSS.0599) — Finding Aid
    • See New River Primitive Baptist Church record (Box 2359)
  • First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, records (MSS.0518) — Finding Aid
    • See Record Book:
      • Book #1 1820-1836 (Box 3766, Folder 1)
      • Book #2 1836-1842 (Box 3766, Folder 2)
      • Book #3 1842-1871 (Box 3766, Folder 3)
  • First United Methodist Church records (MSS.0519) — Finding Aid
    • See Record book 1831-1866 (digitized copy only)
  • Dunn’s Creek Baptist Church records (MSS.0458) — Finding Aid
    • See Record Books:
      • Logbook 1834-1854 (Box 1571, Folder 2)
      • Logbook 1854-1881 (Box 1571, Folder 3)
  • Christ Episcopal Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, records (MSS.1791) — Finding Aid
    • See Vestry Minutes Volume 1 (Box 6576)

2. Financial Documents

Preprinted receipt from 1853 for purchase of an enslaved man named Lewis (James Boykin papers, MSS.0196).

Includes bills of sale, rental agreements, and other financial transactions involving enslaved people.

From business or organizational papers

  • Shelby Iron Company (MSS.1261) — Finding Aid
    • See General Financial: Payroll and Timebooks:
      • Timebook Negro Overtime (Box 1261.003)
      • Coal Mine Account Book (Box 1261.652, Folder 4)
    • See Manufacturing Operations: Labor and Material Records:
      • Labor Distribution Negro Time (Box 1261.652)
  • George W. Carmichael and Company bills (MSS.1699) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 56
  • University of Alabama Administrative Records — (RG.001) — Finding Aid
    • See Slave Labor (Box 19801776-003, Folders 90A-90D)

From personal or family papers

  • William A. Morris papers (MSS.1021) — Finding Aid
    • Box 3548, Folder 5
  • Sarah G. Williams and M. Stanly papers (MSS.1683) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 40
  • Jackson Napoleon Chadwick papers (MSS.4168) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0110, Folder 4168.01
  • King family papers (MSS.0817) — Finding Aid
    • See Accounts: Slave purchases (Box 2905, Folder 12)
  • James Boykin papers (MSS.0196) — Finding Aid
    • See and Business records (Box 1518, Folder 6)
    • See Burwell Boykin: Misc. papers (Box 2910, Folder 6)
  • Joshua Hill Foster papers (MSS.0535) — Finding Aid
    • See Bills of sale for slaves (Box 412, Folder 5)
  • Robert Jemison Jr. papers (MSS.0753) — Finding Aid
    • See Business and Plantation Accounts: North East and South West Railroad Company: Receipts for Hire of Slaves, 1853-1859 (Box 0753.0054, Folder 06)
  • Henry De Lamar Clayton Sr. papers (MSS.0313) — Finding Aid
    • See Family and Personal Data: Legal and Financial: Slaves (Box 309, Folder 3)
  • John Cocke papers (MSS.0328) — Finding Aid
    • See Financial Papers: Receipts:
      • 1834 (Box 3458, Folder 9)
      • 1842 (Box 3458, Folder 16)
      • 1850 (Box 3458, Folder 22)
      • 1856 (Box 3458, Folder 24)
      • 1858 (Box 3458, Folder 25)
      • 1859 (Box 3458, Folder 26)
  • Watkins Family Papers (MSS.1530) — Finding Aid
    • See James L. Watkins: Negro slaves (Box 4114, Folders 14-15)
    • See Brackett O. Watkins: Business: Negro purchases (Box 4114, Folder 20)
  • Daniel C. Smyly papers (MSS.1300) — Finding Aid
    • See Receipts: Slave bill of sale (Box 1551, Folder 2)
    • See Family and others: Malena Smyly (Box 1551, Folder 17)
  • William and Crawford L. Brown family papers (MSS.3759) — Finding Aid
    • See Tax receipts (Box 3759.001, Folder 5)
    • See Bills of sale for slaves (Box 3759.001, Folder 6)

Single receipts or bills of sale

  • W. S. Adkins bill of sale (MSS.0012) — Finding Aid
    • Box 1
  • George W. Oliver receipt (MSS.1080)
    • Box 1111, Folder 11
  • William Gary receipt (MSS.0563) — Finding Aid
    • Box 640
  • Louisiana Boykin receipt (MSS.1679)
    • Box 6476, Folder 36
  • William Garrard and Samuel N. Luckett bill of sale (MSS.1682) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 39
  • Carlet G. Richardson receipt (MSS.1684)
    • Box 6476, Folder 41
  • Mary Allen receipt (MSS.1689) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 46
  • T. B. Greenley receipt (MSS.1693)
    • Box 6476, Folder 50
  • Jacob Ramser receipt (MSS.1695) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 52
  • A. L. Armstrong receipt (MSS.1702)
    • Box 6476, Folder 59
  • J. H. Schraebel bill of sale (MSS.4020) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0095, Folder 4020.01

Other single documents

  • George Benagh promissory note (MSS.1603) — Finding Aid
    • Box 2826, Folder 1603.01
  • John Davis mortgage (MSS.0406) — Finding Aid
    • Box 571
  • Carriere and Borduzat conveyance (MSS.0282) — Finding Aid
    • Box 1451
  • William Todd and John H. Bilks slave rental invoice (MSS.2213) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0007, Folder 2213.01
  • Samuel Steele letter (MSS.1685) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 42
  • W. G. Hann letter (MSS.1690) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 47

3. Legal Documents

Samuel Townsend’s 1856 will decrees that some of his “servants” should be “emancipated and forever freed from the bondage of slavery.”

Includes wills as well as documents on legal proceedings related to slavery or enslaved people.

  • Marvin P. Harper papers (MSS.0632) — Finding Aid
    • Box 2289
  • W. L. Campbell deposition (MSS.1681) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 38
  • William Waltrip and Franklin Wright Depositions (MSS.1688) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 45
  • Matthew Crumb and Margaret Vest Legal Documents (MSS.1700)
    • Box 6476, Folder 57
  • Lewis L. Marks estate papers (MSS.2813) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0042, Folder 2813.1
  • Clements family papers (MSS.0316) — Finding Aid
    • See Hardy Clements: Will (Box 389, Folder 1)

By Topic

4. Slavery and slave trade

In the Richard Dennis letter (MSS.1691), a concerned citizen writes about the plight of a group of free Africans seized in Baltimore.

Includes items discussing slavery as an institution.

  • Richard Dennis letter (MSS.1691) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 48
  • Joseph Meek and C. Haynes letters to Samuel Logan (MSS.1776) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6533, Folder 22
  • William S. Wright Letter (MSS.2210)
    • Box SC0007
  • Iveson L. Brookes papers (MSS.0214) — Finding Aid
    • See Correspondence (various boxes)
    • See Diaries (Box 422)
    • See Ms to “In Defence of the South” (Box 420, Folder 5)
    • See Ms of Letters to Editors (Box 420, Folder 6)
  • Woodward Family papers (MSS.1577) — Finding Aid
    • See S. H. Woodward: Miscellaneous (Box 2183, Folder 26) — essay “Statement, The Justice of Slavery Extension, 1848”

5. Plantation system

The 1840 record book for a plantation in Barbour Counter, Alabama, lists the clothing allotted to some 30 enslaved people (John Horry Dent papers, MSS.0430).

Information about the running of a plantation, including the work done by enslaved people and their care. See Financial Documents for bills of sale, rental receipts, and other transactions.

  • C. T. Conn slave pass (MSS.1717) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 74
  • Manly Family papers (MSS.0900) — Finding Aid
    • See Basil Manly Sr.:
      • Correspondence (Box 292)
      • Diaries (Boxes 393-394)
  • Robert Jemison Jr. papers (MSS.0753) — Finding Aid
    • See Correspondence:
      • Business papers – Plantation proclamations (Box 0753.0008, Folder 01)
    • See Business and plantation accounts: Plantation accounts:
      • Account book (Box 0753.0018, Folder 04)
  • Hugh Davis papers (MSS.1611) — Finding Aid
    • See Farm operations: Farm journals
      • 1848 (Box 3462, Folder 2)
      • 1854 (Box 3462, Folder 3)
      • 1856 (Box 3462, Folder 4)
      • 1859 (Box 3462, Folder 5)
      • 1862 (Box 3462, Folder 6)
    • Pocket diaries (Box 3462, Folder 8)
    • Slave receipts (Box 3462, Folder 9)
  • James Boykin papers (MSS.0196) — Finding Aid
    • See James Boykin: Medical expenses (Box 1518, Folder 3)
  • John and Mary Wellborn Cochran Diaries, Letterbook, and Photographs (MSS.0326) — Finding Aid
    • See John Cochran Letterbook/journal (Box 805, Folder 2)
  • Jesse Beene letters (MSS.0128) — Finding Aid
    • See Letter 1839 (Box 15, Folder 13)
  • John Horry Dent papers (MSS.0430) — Finding Aid
    • See Plantation book (Box 0430.0001, Folder 2)

6. Antebellum race attitudes

An 1848 essay on slavery leans on the arguments of John C. Calhoun (from the Woodward Family papers, MSS.1577, digitized item at http://purl.lib.ua.edu/29812)

Includes expression of personal opinions on race and accounts of race relations.

  • Archimedes Hank petition and letters (MSS.0619) — Finding Aid
    • Box 631
  • Union Soldier Letter (I) MSS.1663) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 20
  • Jacob Ackerly Letter (MSS.2118) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0008, Folder 2118
  • Charles R. Durkee Letter (MSS.2442) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0015, Folder 2442.01

7. Fugitive slaves

An 1864 deposition relates the story of how three white men in blackface disguise caught three other white men in the act of attempting to help an enslaved man cross the Ohio River (James S. Fruit, L. R. Burk, and John L. Blangy Deposition, MSS.1678).

Includes expression of personal opinions on fugitive slave law and accounts of slave escape and capture.

  • James S. Fruit, L. R. Burk, and John L. Blangy Deposition (MSS.1678) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 35
  • Francis Taylor Letter (MSS.1709) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 66
  • J. W. Scott letter (MSS.1712) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 69
  • Reward broadside for runaway slaves (MSS.3761) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0096, Folder 3761.01

8. Free people of color

Freedman Horace King writes to Robert Jemison in 1870, giving him cost estimates for various construction projects.

Includes materials related to the lives of free people of color, whether born free, manumitted, or emancipated. For discussion of emancipation as a phenomenon, see the section Emancipation below.

  • Creole Social Club records (MSS.0374) — Finding Aid
    • Box 3602
  • Patti Julia Malone autograph album and papers (MSS.4169) — Finding Aid
    • Box 4169.001, Folders 1-8
  • Jeremiah Haralson letter (MSS.0625) — Finding Aid
    • Box 631
  • Joseph Daugherty Receipts (MSS.1686) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 43
  • Samuel Lowery and Ruth M. Fundraising Appeal (MSS.1731) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6526, Folder 3
  • D. Spreacher Letter (MSS.2273) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0044, Folder 2273.01
  • Chauncey Leonard letter (MSS.4148) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0107, Folder 4148.01
  • Five certificates attesting to the service of African American sailors during the Civil War (MSS.4149) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0107, Folder 4149.01
  • Nearror family histories (MSS.4189) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0114, Folder 4189.001-002
  • S. D. Cabaniss Papers (MSS.0252) — Finding Aid
    • See Box 252.005, Folder 6 — W.D. Chadick report concerning the prospects for freed persons in Ohio, 1858

9. Emancipation

An 1868 account statement for a freedman named Roger, evidently a sharecropper (John Cocke papers, MSS.0328; see section below)

Includes information about and opinions on emancipation as well as the system set up for freedmen.

  • Office Sup’t Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands broadside (MSS.4052) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0100, Folder 4052.01
  • Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands labor contract (MSS.0230) — Finding Aid
    • Box 195
  • Margaret Pearson Sharecropping Agreement (MSS.1706) — Finding Aid
    • Box 6476, Folder 63
  • Bird Griffin papers (MSS.0596) — Finding Aid
    • See Freed slaves (Box 2644, Folder 13)
  • John Cocke papers (MSS.0328) — Finding Aid
    • See Financial Papers: Accounts with Laborers: Pay Receipts, 1868-1869 (Box 3459, Folder 13)
    • See Legal Papers: Miscellaneous Legal Documents, 1827-1865 (Box 3459, Folder 27)
  • (MSS.0461) — Finding Aid
    • See Contracts 1 of 2 (Box 0461-0001, Folder 2)

10. Post-war race attitudes

An 1870 letter from an Alabama chapter of the Ku Klux Klan threatens a local advocate of the rights of African Americans (Citizens of Macon County (Ala.) Ku Klux Klan Letter, MSS.0303).

Includes expression of personal opinions on race and accounts of race relations.

  • Ryland Randolph trial transcript (MSS.1179) — Finding Aid
    • Box 1451
  • Citizens of Macon County (Ala.) Ku Klux Klan Letter (MSS.0303) — Finding Aid
    • Box 2960, Folder 1
  • O. A. Luckett letters (MSS.1950) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0001, Folder 1950.1
  • Dan Price letter (MSS.3713) — Finding Aid
    • Box SC0088, Folder 3713.01
  • John Horry Dent papers (MSS.0430) — Finding Aid
    • See Farm journal (Box 0430.0001, Folder 4)

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