Sunday, June 28, 2020

1807 Law for Tracing Slaves & Slaveholders

At a3Genealogy we have had many blog and presentation requests to address issues in the news of late. So let's unscramble referencing 1807.  Note: This 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves should not be confused with the recent “law and order” conversation that encouraged the use of the 1807 Insurrection Law

An 1807 Law that can help trace ancestors:
ex-slave ancestors and slaveholders.  

We have to remember 1807 was the year that slaves were no longer to be imported on our shores. It was a sort of weak attempt to end slavery. Slave trading was not abolished, so the north just sold their underutilized slaves to the southern planters. When referencing the slave trade we commonly envision domestic purchases and exchanges of plantation owners and traders culminating in the overland transporting of slaves. Shipping human cargo via coastal waterways from one region to another is often forgotten history. But, after 1807 slaves were legally transported via the Inter-coastal Waterways. An easy opening to the 1807 Importation of Slaves that allowed slave trading to continue, slave breading to continue, and the trapping and enslaving “free coloreds” to thrive. Of course, illegal boats also still imported slaves, in spite of the law. 

This Abolition Act of 1807 prohibited the import of slaves into the United States, effective 1 Jan 1808; however, domestic slave trading from one slave state to another was legal until 2 July 1864. An overlooked treasure for slave researchers are the ship manifests that document the legal trade and migratory path of slaves transported by water within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Ship Manifests
Ship Manifests, 1828 Baltimore to Savannah
It is estimated that over 1 million slaves were transported using either coastwise ships to the southern ports along the Atlantic, or channeling them along the southern coast and the Mississippi River using southern tributaries. 
To fulfill the law that required proof that slaves were not illegally imported into the United States after 1808, manifests of cargo carrying slaves were submitted at both ports of departure and arrival with appropriate statements swearing that the slaves listed "have not been imported into the United States since the first day of January, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight..."
Sworn Statement
Slave Names and Hints
The manifests contained the name of the shipper or slave owner as well as their residence. They specified the name, sex and age of each slave to include a physical description - stature and designation of "negro, mulatto or person of colour."  Names of slaves are sometimes provided. 
Once slaves arrived at the port of destination they were often sent to neighboring areas. In a recent search we were able to locate a slave arriving in Charleston and within days exchanged in Augusta, Georgia.

Tracing Northern Slaveholders and Slave Movements to South Slave research using ship manifests requires persistent sleuthing. The family historian must gather information on the records of slave masters as well as the slave. The extant manifests are tools to research the migratory path of your slave ancestor and in many cases the movement and business efforts of the slave owner, trader or shipper. The researcher will find that due to the pirating of vessels, coastwise shipments before the War of 1812 were few; but in 1821, the boom year of coastwise slave trading, over 2,600 manifests are available for research.
  1. Slave Traders. To help determine your ancestor's place of origin, be sure to trace shippers, traders and captains of that region. A recent search highlighted a well-known Cahawba, Alabama slave trader, "Shoestring" Barker. It appears Shoestring owned the local slave exchange. Corroborating information, including census record analysis and business deeds, resulted in positively identifying a slave ancestor and his owners; as well as papers that tied a slaveholder to “business dealings with Barker.”
  2. Northern Slavemaster to Cotton Belt. Since most slaves were transported under the shipper's name, master records may reveal sales to a shipper, allowing the researcher to trace the vessel. A successful search may result by tracing the family unit. This was possible since the slave master moved his entire plantation to the cotton belt. After the Civil War, a Pennsylvania-born family member, as described on the earlier Philadelphia manifests, were still living in close proximity.
  3. Outbound manifests from 1820 to 1860 with destination of Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Pensacola, Florida – may contain not only slave names, but allow researchers to trace a slavemaster, a slave ship and its cargo-passengers from origin to destination. The researcher should be familiar with the various slave ships. Visit the Slave Ships, South Carolina Genealogy Trails website for a listing of some slave vessels. Newspaper advertisements may also confirm active coastwise trading for your timeframe.
  4. Analysis of 1870 and 1880 census records may also uncover a migratory pattern. Perhaps you have noted that a disproportionate community of Georgian ex-slaves or ex-slaveholders recorded their parents' birth as Maryland? Or did your Alabama ancestor record his birth or his parents' birth as Virginia? In 1836, the height of the slave trade, Virginia exported over 120,000 slaves using coastwise vessels. Combining census data with deeds, sales, wills and local history, the researcher may be able to identify their slave ancestor in the manifests or the origin of a slave holder.
  5. If you are researching a New Orleans slave ancestor, you may wish to also check Louisiana Slave Records, 1719-1820, as compiled by Gwendolyn Hall. 
This blog is part of the following Presentation:
Using Ship Manifests for Slave & Slaveholder Research. 

Kathleen Brandt
Be Historically Correct

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