Great things have been digitized by libraries, archives, and museums.
As genealogists, we are primarily concerned with specific lives. However, it’s always worthwhile to look at some of the larger themes that affected your ancestors. For African-Americans, slavery always looms large.
In this post I’m sharing some letters written by enslaved people. These letters offer us a peek into a world available only to a small group of people.
Most enslaved people were barred from and did not have access to literacy. The enslaved people able to read and write were probably highly favored domestic slaves.
Obviously, not many letters written by slaves survived for future generations to read. One good collection is housed by Duke University, Special Collections.
Take a look at some of these slave letters. They make for fascinating reading:
- Hannah Valentine & Lethe Jackson of Abingdon, VA
- Vilet Lester of Randolph County, NC
- There are two slave letters on Cornell University’s “Abolitionism in America” website: Comfort Jany and Anney McDowell
- University of Virginia has many letters from former slaves of James Hunter Terrell who settled in Liberia as well as letters from Samson Ceasar, a former Virginia slave
- A letter from fugitive slave John Boston in the Army in Maryland (one of my favorite)
And although it is not a letter, Adam Plummer, an enslaved man in Maryland, kept a diary of his life that is indeed a very rare treasure.
Some excellent books that contain more slave letters and other types of primary source information from African Americans are:
- “Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews and Autobiographies” by John Blassingame
- “We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century“ by Dorothy Sterling has a chapter on Slave letters
- “Dear Master: Letters of a Slave Family” by Randall Miller
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.