Saturday, February 27, 2010

Carrying Freedom Papers

(like Michelle Obama's Jumper Relations)

Emancipation papers for Amyntus Earl, Hopkins County, KY
, 10 May 1841; Slave owners name was Samuel Compton (not Earl). Amyntus was yellow complexion, 35 years of age, spare form and five feet eleven inches.

Megan Smolenyak posted the blog "Michelle Obama's Roots: Proving Your Freedom (Over and Over Again) 20 Feb. 2010 on The Huffington Post website. Below is my "editorial" to that informative post.

"Free-coloreds" is not a new concept for African Americans or for genealogists researching African American families. I write about it on my blog and also offer a presentation on free African Americans prior to Civil War, The Free Coloreds - The Privilege of Papers for Proof.

A Few Authors on the Topic
Paul Heinegg wrote on this topic, Free African Americans of North Carolina and Virginia in 2005, as have others like Melvin Patrick Ely, Israel on the Appomattox (VA).

How Were They Freed? (with examples)
Many African Americans were granted freedom for Revolutionary War service, as did Ned Griffin (NC). Others, never born into slavery had white, melungeon, Indian mothers, or free-colored mothers as did the children of Louisa Griffin (Rutherford NC 1840, 1850 census) or were emancipated prior to the civil war due to a change in the slave-master's religious convictions or view on slavery. As free-coloreds were commonly allowed to purchase slaves, they often did so for the purpose of freeing the person. There were even free Africans who came to the Americans as explorers, such as Christopher Columbus' Moor navigator, Pedro Alonso NiƱo. Yes, Spanish name, but a free colored in the Americas.

As a descendant of free-coloreds prior to the Civil War - Griffin family (NC); Wiley Morris, who purchased his freedom abt. 1855 (NC); Amyntus Earl, KY who purchased his freedom in 1841; Lucinda Lewis and Polly Lewis emancipated in 1835 and 1837 respectively, to name a few - this topic is dear to my heart.

Papers Could Have Been a Privilege
There were many social advantages that came with having the papers to prove that you were a free person. For one, you were usually granted the same rights as your white neighbors. You were able to purchase land, as did Peter Griffin in 1817 (NC); you were able to contract yourself out for pay, you could purchase slaves although this advantage is harder to realize, unless you keep in mind that free-coloreds often bought family and friends out of slavery, by setting them free, or they purchased their own spouse or child out of slavery. However, not all free-colored slave-masters were kind to their slaves. Although the treatment of their slaves have not been confirmed, families like the Richards in Louisiana worked the majority of their 152 slaves in their sugar cane plantation, (1860 census analysis of PC Richards and C. Richards full references on file). Free coloreds even had the right to move about freely (in theory), and were free to read and write, if someone was brave enough to teach them as written about in books like the 1992 When I Can Read My Title Clear: Literacy, Slavery and Religion in the Antebellum South by Janet Duitsman Cornelius.

I am pleased that Smolenyak posted a blog on the connection of the Jumper family and First Lady Michelle Obama, as it is another example of bringing the topic of Free Coloreds to light. Perhaps with wider knowledge of the subject, African Americans can also be referenced as having individual experiences and pasts, avoiding the "one in the same" stereotype used when discussing pre-Civil War history.

Accurate, Accessible Answers


  1. Kathleen,

    I agree completely with you. You know another subject that I hardly ever see anyone write about are the Black soldiers that fought during the Civil War. Not the slaves who accompanied their Confederate masters while they were serving, but the free black men and women (yes I have heard of a few women!) who fought.

  2. Thanks Sheri for stopping by.
    Yes. Free Coloreds fought in the Civil War, some in the Union, some as Confederates for the same economic fears as their white counterparts. I will get some of documents together and post something on the topic.

    There are women who served in the Rev War and support for the Civil War. You have given me homework.

    Give me some time, I closing up a a couple client deadlines.


  3. Oh my goodness! Amentas Earl was my 4th Great Grandfather. I just happened to google "slave freedom papers kentucky" and I can't believe you happen to have his actual papers attached to your article. I'm officially a fan of a3Genealogy!

  4. I have additional papers on the Earl's as they are my ancestors also.

  5. Fantastic! There's luck and then there's fate!

  6. Well, Kathleen you've just located another relative of the Earl's. Amyntus Earl was my 3rd Great Grandfather. I am anxious to get whatever information you have about the family and am most curious to know how we are related. I'm so happy my 3rd cousin Kristina stumbled upon and alerted me to your site. Do you know anything about Samuel Compton?


  7. I know these posts are 5 years old but I have just starting searching. Amyntus Earl is my Great Great Grandfather on my father's side. I have a copy of that letter in the genealogy binder my mom just sent me.