Digital Library on American Slavery

Help With Searching

Search by Name

The result of a "Search by name" is a list of one or more names of people to be found in the website database who meet the search criterion/criteria. Each person on the list has a personal profile, labeled "Details for (name of the specific person)". The personal profile of a person on the list is accessed by clicking on his/her name. The first ten fields of a person's record can be populated for any person in the database (slaves, free people of color, and whites); the next eleven fields are reserved for slaves and free people of color. The completeness of a person's personal profile depends on the completeness of the information provided in the source documents (petition and/or related documents). Any field left blank denotes that no information was found in the documents.

For all people, the following details are provided:

Old Beaufort County Courthouse
Washington, North Carolina

Name:
The last name is provided first, followed by first and middle names, and any extension to the name such as Sr., Jr. Bracketed information next to the name represents alternate spelling(s) of the name, nickname(s) or alias(es) by which the person was also known, as well as descriptive name information. In some instances, a person may have more than one personal profile in the database. The duplicate record(s) will be identified either by the words "Same person" or "Same people" in brackets, or by the word "Continued" in parentheses. A duplicate record or records for a person will occur only in the case of a slaveholder and is/are used for the purpose of showing the person's ownership of the same slave(s) at two different periods of time. A name can be preceded by the name of a legal group such as "Estate of" , "Trust Estate of", etc. Again this is used for the purpose of slave ownership. For example, the property of a deceased person is held by his/her estate prior to being distributed among the heirs.
Petition:
This field shows the unique PAR number (Petition Analysis Record) that has been assigned to a petition and its set of related documents, followed by the state and year of filing of the petition. For an understanding of the configuration of each PAR number, see the "What is a PAR?" section in the Introduction to this site.
Role in Petition:
Identifies each person associated with a county court petition as being a petitioner (a person filing the suit) or a defendant (a person being sued). If left blank, this field denotes a person who is neither a petitioner nor a defendant, but one who is mentioned in the petition and/or related documents as having a role in the case at hand as either slaveholder, slave, or free person of color.
Color and gender:
The color of a person followed by his/her gender.
Status:
Identifies a person as being either a slave or free person of color (if left blank, the person is neither).
Age:
The age of a person is year sensitive; therefore the age is paired with the year in which the person was at the given age. The age can be provided in the documents as exact or approximate. It can also be derived by averaging an estimated age range. Although the documents may provide multiple ages for a specific year or over multiple years for the same person, that person's profile only shows one age in one specific year.
Birth:
Identifies the place (town, city, state, or country) where a person was born; it is almost always limited to the place of birth of a slave or free person of color. It is provided only if specifically mentioned; it is not derived or assumed from the documents' context.
Death:
Identifies the year in which a person died, or whether the person died before or after a specific year. This information can either be specifically provided in the documents or, in some instance, derived by combining other available information. For example, a date of death can be derived by comparing the year a will was written (the person was alive) and the date when the will is probated (the person is dead).
Owned slaves?:
Identifies a person as a slaveholder, meaning a person who, at some point in his/her life, either had or claimed title to one slave or more.
Occupation:
Identifies the occupation of a white person or a free person of color. The information is provided only if the occupation is specifically identified; it is not derived or assumed from the documents' context.

For slaves and free people of color ONLY, the following details are provided:

Skills:
Identifies the skill(s) associated with a named slave.
Diseases:
Identifies the disease(s) associated with a specific slave. The descriptive words used in the document where the information was found, and current at the time the petition was filed, have been preserved. In some rare instance where the terminology used in the document(s) may not be easily understood, the modern term for the disease has been substituted.
Physical Attributes:
Identifies the physical characteristic(s) associated with a specific slave. The descriptive words used in the document(s) where the information was found have been preserved.
Moral Attributes:
Identifies the moral characteristics attributed to a specific slave. The descriptive words used in the document(s) where the information was found have been preserved. This information must be interpreted as subjective, as it is not based on concrete knowledge but only reflects the view(s) expressed by one or more people in the petition and/or related documents.
Plantations:
Identifies the plantation(s) where a specific slave may have lived at some point of time in his/her life.
Literate?:
Identifies a specific slave who is described as being able to read and/or write, or who has been taught to read and/or write.
Urban?:
Identifies a specific slave who lives and is employed in a town/city as opposed to a rural/plantation environment.
Runaway?:
Identifies a specific slave who has run away, has been accused of running away, or is rumored to have run away.
Punishments Received:
Identifies the type(s) of punishment inflicted on a specific slave or free person of color by an owner, an overseer, or any other person.
Term slave?:
Identifies a specific slave who has been promised and/or is entitled to freedom at the end of a predetermined term of servitude. For example, a slave may be entitled to freedom when he/she reaches a certain age, after a number of years from the time when he/she was declared to be a term slave, or in a specific future year. Upon becoming a term slave, a slave is no longer considered a "slave for life."
Freedom:
This field is populated to reflect one or more of the following pieces of information regarding how a slave may attain freedom: the year a slave sues for freedom, the year a third-party presents a slave for emancipation, the origin of the freedom or emancipation suit, and the year a slave attains or has alaready attained freedom. The year when a slave attains freedom is populated only when the document(s) provide concrete information that the manumission process has been completed to the point that the slave is declared free or there is evidence that a person has lived free for a number of years.

Keyword Searching

The keyword search goes through the petition abstract looking for the word or phrase entered. The default is to only return petitions containing the complete phrase in the abstract.

Selecting the AND option will result in a search for each word entered, even if they do not appear in a phrase. For example, "See Cat Run" would return any petition within which each of the words "see" and "cat" and "run" appear anywhere in the abstract. Selecting an OR search parameter would result in any petitions where one or more of the keywords are included in the abstract.

Genealogists

The genealogical information provided by the Digital Library on Slavery is based on information found in court documents and legislative petitions pertaining to civil cases filed by slave owners, slaves, and free people of color in the fifteen states of the slaveholding South between the end of the American Revolution and the end of the Civil War. The types of documents thus used are varied; they range from plaintiffs’ complaints to local and regional courts, defendants’ answers to the complaints, witnesses’ depositions, judges’ rulings, and documents, such as wills, inventories, and property assessments, among others, that were offered by each side to support its case. The accuracy of the information found on this website is therefore directly related to the accuracy of the information found in the documents thus utilized. The documents were prepared by attorneys and court personnel, who wrote down what the plaintiffs, the defendants, the witnesses, and the local authorities told them. Similarly scribes were used to take down the last wishes of a person on his or her deathbed, or to document on-site inventory taking or estate valuation proceedings by court-appointed commissioners. As is sometimes the case, the person telling the story or dictating it may have had imperfect knowledge of family relations; his or her recollection may have been distorted by the many retellings through family or local lore, the passing of time, the incorrect interpretation of what was told, or even a personal “agenda” in the case at hand. In addition, scribes may have taken down the information incorrectly, corrected it at a later date to fit contradictory statements, or omitted critical pieces of the story through inattention. The information found in these court and legislative documents are uniquely valuable in that they fill in the gaps created by the limitations or, in the case of slaves, the absence of civil records; at the same time it is vulnerable to the distortion that can be introduced any time someone tells his or her story, or the story of relatives and neighbors, friends or foes. We therefore caution the user to view the information provided by this website as another piece in the family history puzzle, or perhaps, when the user has not yet found any piece at all, its starting point; in some cases it will corroborate already known information, in others it will point to new directions, and yet in others it will suggest the need to untangle conflicting information.