Search information from thousands of slavery-related county court and legislative petitions in a new, free resource from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro library.
The Digital Library on American Slavery provides detailed information on more than 150,000 individuals who are named in the petitions, including 80,000 individual slaves and 10,000 free people of color.
The information comes from legal documents, such as wills, estate inventories and civil suits, filed in courts of 15 states and Washington, DC, from 1775 to 1867. Though this database doesn’t contain images of the records, it offers a lot of detail from them.
When you search by name, here’s what your results list might look like:
Click the petition number by someone’s name for an abstract that tells you what the petition was about, and the date and place it was filed.
Under “People associated with this petition,” click the links for names of enslaved individuals, defendants, petitioners, etc.
One the resulting page, click a name for information about that person. You might learn the person’s color and sex, slave or free status, occupation, skills, physical attributes, diseases and more. Not every detail is available for each person—it depends what’s in the record.
This database lets you connect slaves with owners and others they may have interacted with.
The Digital Library of American Slavery grew out of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project, established in 1991 by Loren Schweninger. The project created a microfilm edition of the petitions and documents called Race, Slavery, and Free Blacks: Petitions to Southern Legislatures and County Courts, 1775-1867. It’s on 151 reels; scroll down on this page for a list of institutions that have some or all of them.
Also see Schweininger’s book, The Southern Debate Over Slavery, Volume 2: Petitions to Southern County Courts, 1775-1867 (University of Illinois Press). The original documents are at state archives and county courthouses.