Digital Library on American Slavery

People Not Property - Slave Deeds of North Carolina

The People Not Property project is a collaborative endeavor between the UNCG University Libraries, North Carolina Division of Archives and Records, and North Carolina Registers of Deeds among others. Working as an addition to and evolution of the Digital Library on American Slavery, the project is leading towards a unique, centralized database of bills of sales indexing the names of enslaved people from across North Carolina.

When complete, People Not Property - Slave Deeds of North Carolina will include robust metadata, high resolution images, and full-text searchable transcripts. We hope to open the project to states beyond North Carolina, creating a central location for accessing and researching slave deeds from across the Southern United States.

What are Slave Deeds?

"Slave deeds" are property deeds - bills of sale, deeds of trust, divisions of property - registered with county courts and registers of deeds that contain information about enslaved individuals. Sometimes these individuals are listed only by number, but more often they are listed by name and age, providing invaluable historical information for historians and genealogists.

The slave deed shown below from Buncombe County records the sale of a negroe woman named Rachal About twenty six years old for $375 on January 24, 1816. Rachal was sold by William Moore to Ann Ashworth. Documents like this one, along with the other components of the Digital Library on American Slavery documents like these will help to restore personal details to the history of slavery and to trace the movements of enslaved peoples over time. For genealogists, even small details like first names and approximate ages can be precious leads in reconstructing family histories.

excerpt from a Buncombe County NC slave deed

Current Progress

UNC Greensboro University Libraries has received a three-year, $294,603 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to digitize nearly 10,000 North Carolina slave deeds and bills of sale, create a comprehensive database for the digitized records and transcribe the full text of these documents.

Grant funding and project development began on October 1, 2018

Participating Counties

Alleghany, Beaufort, Brunswick, Buncombe, Chowan, Craven, Duplin, Guilford, Halifax, Haywood, Iredell, Madison, Martin, New Hanover, Orange, Perquimans, Person, Richmond, Robeson, Stanly, Stokes, Surry, Union, Wake, Washington, Yadkin

The ultimate goal of the project is to digitize slave deeds across the state of North Carolina. In the first phase, we are working with twenty-six counties. Surveys about participation were sent to all 100 counties in the state, and the twenty-six listed above responded favorably to the survey and have relevant records. Other counties either did not respond to the survey or do not have records going back that far. This may be due to the destruction of records by flooding/fire or, in the case of Western counties especially, the late date of establishment as counties.


Maintained by ERIT, University Libraries, UNCG

This project is made possible through funding from the National Archives.

National Historic Publications and Records Commission