I’ve been fascinated recently by the great things being digitized and put online by libraries, archives, museums and other repositories. Although as genealogists we are primarily concerned with the details of specific lives, I think it’s absolutely worthwhile to expand your vision and look at some of the larger themes that applied to and affected our ancestors: slavery, emancipation, jim crow, disenfranchisment, farming and sharcropping, the great migration, etc. To that end, I’m sharing some very interesting slave letters I’ve been reading.
Obviously, there aren’t as many of these available as other sources because so few slaves were able to read and write, or if they did, few survived for future generations to read. One good collection is housed by Duke University, Special Collections.
Check out 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
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 (portions are available on are Googlebooks)
- “We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century” by Dorothy Sterling has a chapter on Slave letters (Googlebooks)
- “Dear Master: Letters of a Slave Family” by Randall Miller (Googlebooks)
Take a look when you can, and enter the lives of our enslaved ancestors. Send me any more links you may know about.