I’ve written before about the information that can be found in what I call Community Papers. These Papers include account books, diaries, ledgers, loose papers, family records, etc.
These are the papers of (usually) prominent men and families. They might be large slaveholders, doctors, merchants or lawyers. Almost every library and archives has these kinds of papers housed in their Manuscript or Special Collections.
I recommend viewing these records for what they can tell us about the lives our ancestors lived. Enslaved people and free blacks are often mentioned in these records.
Capturing that social history is just as important as reclaiming the names of our ancestors.
Thomas Seon Sudler
I recently got a chance to view the Thomas Seon Sudler Account Book at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas lived in the community where my ancestors lived in Somerset County, Maryland.
In a place called “Back Creek,” near the Great Annemessex River, Thomas owned more than 400 acres of land called “Sudler’s Conclusion.
By 1820 he owned 15 slaves. His home still survives (shown above), along with some of its outbuildings. It is one of the most important historic homes in the county.
I have collateral ancestors who were enslaved by Thomas Sudler. My direct ancestors were enslaved by his neighbor William Waters and other members of the Waters family.
Thomas was a meticulous record-keeper, though not a neat writer (!). His book recorded many things we would expect to see from someone who owned a farm.
He noted what crops were planted, what the weather was like, and other activities like hog killing and shearing sheep. The primary crop was tobacco and wheat, with some cotton.
Other entries mention a variety of foods probably for consumption such as watermelon, red peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, apples and beehives for honey:
Began to heap the plant bed before the door Friday Feb 12, 1819
Note: I lent Emory S Sudler one cow and calf to give him milk Friday Feb 12, 1819
Tubman W Sudler was to see me Thursday Feb 11, 1819 and helpt the people to worm the plant and fence in the Neck..[?] It took 26 pannels of fence ‘round[?] the bed
Began to Burn the plant bed before the door Monday Feby 22 & finished burning Tuesday 23 and sewed it on Tuesday..
He writes about births and deaths, visitors and activities like making candles. Surprisingly, at times he includes poetry and scripture. Other entries record his feelings:
Note January 4th Poor old Nish Departed this Life being Friday Night and on Saturday morning January 3rd, 1819 Tubman W Sudler and his wife went away from me by perswasion which was a sorrowful day to poor me I don’t know what is to become of me,
I see nothing but trouble and want both to me and my family what to do. I cant tell for the best I sent Caleb up for my poor son Tubman W Sudler, whether he will be too good as to come and see me
This book offers all sorts of other interesting tidbits. The image below is hard to see, but Thomas paid several free black men for harvesting wheat. They likely worked alongside his slaves as well as alongside other white men:
John Tull 1/2 day work harvest, $1.50
Levin Tull 1/2 day work harvest, $1.50
Negroe Nathan Turpin one day, $1.50
June the 27, 1826 Harvest Wheat
Harry Waters half day, $.50 (Negroe)
Peter Waters half day, $.50 (Negroe)
Levin Waters, half day $.50 (Negroe)
One page simply provides a list of names. I am almost certain these are Thomas’ enslaved people. They appear throughout the account book performing various tasks:
One entry shows a man named Daniel making shoes for Thomas’ slaves:
Daniel made 5 pair viz Nan, Ben,Tobe, Job and Cesar….13 pair in all
This entry shows the purchase of stockings for his “black people”:
Note all our black people new stockings in the fall 1815, except 4 as follows Tobe, Ben, ?, Lucey
Another page notes the death of a slave owned by one his neighbors, William Waters:
Note Negroe Stephen the property of Capt William H Waters got drowned on Friday December 23, 1825
An enslaved man named Arnold tried to run away. It is unclear whether Arnold is Thomas’ slave:
Arnold ran away on Sunday May 21, 1825 and taken up in the Delaware State on Monday 23 by Mr Peter Stewart. Tubman W Sudler went up after Arnold on Thursday the 26.
But Arnold paid the ultimate price. He was sold at the slave market located in nearby Princess Anne:
William L Wynn Petersburge who bought Arnold May Saturday 28, 1825 at PAnn Town
I hope this post illustrates that even items with benign titles like “Account Book,” can convey a wealth of information.
This book had short entries, but they gave us a glimpse into life in the early 1800s. The book discusses the care of enslaved people and the interactions of free blacks.
This post also illustrates how important it is to study the neighborhood. Doing that is how I knew Thomas Sudler lived in the neighborhood of my ancestors.
Many of the free black Waters men he mentions are men whose families I know. And while the 1820 census does not include slaves’ names, Thomas’ book reveals the names of most of them.
Readers, have you looked at any Community Papers yet?
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.