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Using Records about Slavery in the Southern Historical Collection: Selected Collections about Slavery

This tutorial is meant to orient and direct users to materials that document the history of slavery in the Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Special Collections Library.

Selected Collections about Slavery

This list includes collections in the Southern Historical Collection that contain a high volume of content about slavery in the American South. It is not meant to be a full representation of all the collections about slavery in the SHC, but rather is meant to be a starting point for research. See the Popular Topics by Collections page for suggestions on collection use by subject and focus.

A.H. Arrington Papers, 1744-1909

Archibald Hunter Arrington, son of John Arrington (1764-1844), was a white planter of Nash County, N.C. and owned many enslaved people. The Arringtons were one of the wealthier plantation families of antebellum North Carolina. They also owned a number of plantations and enslaved people in Alabama, where Archibald's brother, Samuel L. Arrington (fl. 1806-1866), lived. The majority of papers relate to A. H. Arrington's agricultural and business pursuits in Nash County, N.C., and Montgomery County, Ala. They include documents about those who were enslaved and formerly enslaved, for example, records of provisions provided, bills of sale and hiring agreements, lists of ages and birthdates of enslaved people, sharecropping contracts, overseer contracts; and also land records, including deeds, plats, and rental agreements. Other papers include some notes on laws regulating the oversight of enslaved individuals. The Arrington Papers are interesting because they show the continuity of an oppressed life for enslaved people that began in the early 19th century and spanned through emancipation and into the reconstruction era. Many of the individuals who were enslaved by the Arrington family continued to work for A.H. as tenant farmers (sharecroppers). Also of note is the documented relationships between plantation overseers and the enslaved people.

Cameron Family Papers, 1757-1978

The Cameron Family Papers documents many aspects of the personal lives of the white Cameron Family of Orange County, one of the wealthiest and largest slave holding families in North Carolina. On the eve of the Civil War, Paul Cameron and his siblings owned over one thousand slaves and nearly thirty thousand acres of plantation land in Orange, Wake, Person, and Granville Counties, as well as plantations in Alabama and Mississippi.There is a wealth of information about the enslaved people who lived and worked for the Cameron family: their original owners, where they were bought, how much they cost, their names, their ages, where they worked, what they did, what they wore, and their illnesses.

DeRosset Family Papers, 1671-1940

The collection includes DeRosset family papers, chiefly 1821-1877, relating to various activities of the white DeRosset family in Wilmington and Hillsborough, N.C.; Columbia, S.C.; New York, N.Y.; and other locations. Included are some letters written by enslaved people. The letters describe the health and welfare of the enslaved people left behind, especially the yellow fever epidemic of 1862. Some reconstruction era letters discuss activities of people who were formerly enslaved. Financial and legal materials include papers documenting land transactions; papers relating to slave sales and a volume listing births and deaths of DeRosset slaves, 1770-1854.

Hairston and Wilson Family Papers, 1750-1957

The bulk of the collection documents several branches of the white Hairston, Wilson, and extended families of Virginia and Mississippi. Numerous documents, including bills of sale, tax assessments, and extracts from wills, reflect the antebellum plantation economy and illustrate the families' use of and reliance on enslaved labor from the colonial period until emancipation. Post emancipation documents include tenant agreements with African American farmers. Note that the Hairston and Wilson Family Papers are related to the Wilson and Hairston Family Papers in our collection. 

Hayes Collection, 1694-1928

White members of the Johnston and Wood family owned and operated Hayes Plantation on the Albemarle Sound near Edenton, N.C., and at least seven other plantations in various parts of North Carolina, the largest being Caledonia in Halifax County. The collection documents the families' slave labor system including the sale, purchase, and hiring-out of slaves, and the use of slaves as overseers; runaway slaves; the homefront during the Civil War; Reconstruction and the transition to tenant labor and sharecropping system. Materials also document the health and discipline of slaves and give some insights into slave life. One strength of this collection is its size; it is 32 linear feet. The finding aid can help you to identify the series in which you can find references to enslaved people.

Moore and Gatling Law Firm Papers, 1788-1921

The Moore and Gatling Law Firm of Raleigh, N.C., was a law partnership established between white lawyer B.F. Moore and his white son-in-law John Thomas Gatling in 1871. Documents from the collection often contain information about enslaved or free African American individuals who are mentioned in wills, labor agreements, and court materials, and in personal correspondence that discusses business dealings, crimes, and perceptions of work and religious habits, as well as bankruptcy and financial losses for slave-owning families during the Reconstruction era. Moore and Gatling also owned enslaved people. Although the collection is large, many of the prominent mentions of enslaved people are noted at the folder level in the finding aid. 

Pettigrew Family Papers, 1776-1926

The collection includes business and personal correspondence reflecting the varied interests and activities of the white Pettigrew family members of Washington County, N.C., and Tyrrell County, N.C. including the development and management of Bonarva, Belgrade, Magnolia plantations and the enslaved people who lived and worked there. Financial documents contain information about the buying and selling of enslaved people, enslaved people serving as planation overseers as well lists documenting those who were enslaved. The collection also contains letters written by enslaved people.

Rice C. Ballard Papers, 1822-1888

Rice Carter Ballard (c. 1800-1860) was a white slave trader based in Richmond, Va., who worked in partnership with the large slave trading firm of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield in the late 1820s and early 1830s. After 1843, Ballard was also a planter and owned plantations and enslaved individuals in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Kentucky. These papers provide insight into the cruel realities of the American slave trade.