Cover of Emancipator
Shared Digital Exhibit: Enslaved People in the Southeast
by Laura Romans
July 6, 2020  •  5 minute read

ASERL (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries) recently invited special collections departments from its member institutions to participate in building a shared digital exhibit to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans sold into bondage in the English colonies. The resulting digital exhibit, “Enslaved People in the Southeast,” includes material from 33 ASERL institutions as well as three libraries from the HBCU Library Alliance. With more than 100 items to view, the exhibit represents the history of enslavement as well as the ongoing aftereffects. Contributions to the project include bills of sale, plantation ledgers, abolitionist materials, and much more.

Our department was excited to join the project, sharing seven items from our collections. These documents span a time period from 1773 to 1861 and illustrate various aspects of enslavement during that time. Below is a chronological list of the items we contributed, along with a short description; each item is linked to its page in the digital exhibit where readers can view the items as well.

Cover of Emancipator
  • Signature of Phyllis Wheatley from her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773, PS866 .W5 1773
    Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral is the first book published by a black woman in America. Enslaved in Boston, Wheatley wrote poetry that is often religious and elegiac, with Classical influences, and inspired by the artistry of other eighteenth-century poets such as Thomas Gray and Alexander Pope.
  • Micagor Crews Slavery Documents, 1788, MS.2395
    Documents recording a July 1788 case brought against Micagor Crews for possessing stolen slaves, a man named Jack and a woman named Nanci. The documents were executed and signed by Richard White, justice of the peace for Washington County, North Carolina. Washington County court records later show that a Micajah Crews sold an enslaved woman, known as Nancy, to Andrew Jackson in November 1788, the first of many enslaved peoples Jackson would own.
  • Tennessee Census Schedule, 1801, Ephemera Collection
    A census schedule from 1801 for the districts of Mero, Hamilton, and Washington in Tennessee. Includes sections for “free white males,” “free white females,” “all other free persons, except Indians not taxed,” and “slaves.” Put together by Robert Hays, the marshal for the District of Tennessee, this information was provided by Thomas Jefferson to a committee within the House of Representatives to help determine the number of representatives for Tennessee.
  • First page of The Emancipator, 1820, E446 .E48
    The Emancipator, a monthly periodical published in Jonesborough, Tennessee, in 1820 by Elihu Embree, was the first newspaper in the United States to be entirely devoted to the abolition of slavery. The Emancipator ran from April to October 1820 and included articles, poetry, letters, and more related to the abolition of slavery. The periodical ceased following Embree’s death. The Emancipator was reprinted in 1932 by Nashville publisher B. H. Murphy.
  • Petition to Abolish Slavery from Bedford County Residents, ca. 1830s, MS.1204
    This petition, signed by more than 70 residents of Bedford County, Tennessee, asks the Tennessee Legislature to pass a law that will free the state’s enslaved peoples and their descendants. While the exact date of the document is unknown, it is possible this petition was submitted prior to revision of the Tennessee constitution in 1834.
  • Anti-Slavery Lectures Broadside, 1834, Patricia Cornwell Collection, MS.3823
    A broadside advertising two lectures on “slavery, and the slave trade throughout the world” to be given by George Thompson, a British abolitionist and politician, in the summer of 1834.
  • Page from McCalley Plantation Record Books, 1854, MS.0491
    A page from a record book for the McCalley Plantation in Huntsville, Alabama. This page includes a daily record of cotton picked by the plantation’s enslaved people over the course of a week in September 1854.
McCalley Plantation Record