Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All Slave Research is NOT the Same


Researching A New England Slave From The 1600s

State
MASS
NH
NY
CON
RI
PA
NJ
VT
European
settlement
1620
1623
1624
1633
1635
1638
1620
1666
First record of slavery
1629?
1645
1626
1639
1652
1639
1626?
c1760?
Official end of slavery
1783
1783
1799
1784
1784
1780
1804
1777
Actual end of slavery
1783
c1845?
1827
1848
1842
c1845?
1865
1777?
Percent black 1790
1.4%
0.6%
7.6%
2.3%
6.3%
2.4%
7.7%
0.3%
Percent black 1860
0.78%
0.15%
1.26%
1.87%
2.26%
1.95%
3.76%
0.22%
   Chart: Slavery in the North, Douglas Harper, 2003; online http://www.slavenorth.com

I received a message today from a reader who had a problem that all researchers of slaves would love to have.  She ran into a brick wall on her slave ancestor from the 1600s!  The 1600s?  That means, I suspect, she got through the Civil War, and backed up past the Revolutionary War, and was able to trace an ancestor to the 1600s! She even knew the slave master’s name.  What?  How?

This ancestor was from the Northeast.  Of course, like all of us, she wanted to continue her search using a comprehensive slave database.  Well, there are several slave databases scattered about, but none are comprehensive.  So what is a researcher of slaves to do?

You start researching and delving into the slave master’s records, and you begin to hone your analytical skills.  Yes, you should have paid attention in school.  For starters, pull the slave master’s will, deeds, and other relevant property records (that may include land records).  Why? These records most often named the slave by name (usually by first name, but may have a second name/surname if previously owned).  Slaves were valuable property and to be inherited in many cases.  There were even serious court fights over the ownership of a slave and the off-springs of slaves. 

Don’t forget to peek around the New England Historical Society in Boston for slave master records, even if your person wasn’t from Massachusetts. This repository holds a surprising amount of resources.

Now the analytical part! 1600 New England slave trafficking had a different flavor than that in the south. Just look at the chart above. Sure it too was part of the Atlantic Slave Trade, but practices and customs were different. Many slaves during this time were brought over with the masters, or purchased right off the ship, even though some did come from the south. So be sure to become familiar with where the slave master originated and lived (England, Portugal, etc).  Be familiar with customary practices of transporting and selling slaves for that area.  

By the Revolutionary War, slavery was practically wiped out in the US north east.

Kathleen Brandt
stradercom@aol.com

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