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Slavery, Enslaved Persons, and Free Blacks in the Americas Collection

Identifier: MS101

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

This collection of 45 documents pertains to Africans and their descendants in the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries. Materials on slavery from Rhode Island, Cape of Good Hope, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia include correspondence on the slave trade, assignments on chain gangs, bills of sale, manumission papers, and wills and bequests regarding enslaved persons. Free Blacks in Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts are represented by letters providing character references, reports on schools and the African American religious community in Baltimore, and an indenture between a printer and a new apprentice.

Materials representing colonization and the slave trade in the West Indies include holograph manuscripts in French containing transcriptions of and notes on French colonial activity and enslavement and documentation of revolts and uprisings in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Much of the material references correspondence by M.L.E. Moreau de Saint-Méry (1750-1819). It is unclear which archive collection these notes come from, though some reference “Fonds Moreau de St.-Méry (Correspondance Générale). (Série C).” Also included are holograph manuscripts containing notes on materials in the French National Archives’ Archives du Comité des Colonies records, series D/XXV/1-D/XXV/115: Saint-Domingue. Notes on other correspondence, proclamations, memoirs, Saint-Méry’s writings, and an annotated index to related materials in the Bibliothèque Nationale complete the series. Notes may relate to archival collections or documents in the French Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer or other collections in the French National Archives. The compiler of these notes is unknown.

Some documents have pencil markings on them, such as dealers’ prices or other notes, that are not original to the documents.

Some folders include supplementary materials to offer the researcher additional information concerning the items in each folder.


  • 1750-1895

Language of Materials

Documents relating to the United States are primarily in English; many documents from Louisiana are in French. Documents relating to Haiti are in French.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on use of the materials in the department for research; all patrons must comply with federal copyright regulations.


1.00 Boxes


Materials in this collection of 45 documents pertain to the institution of slavery in the Americas. The documents include correspondence on the slave trade, assignments on chain gangs, bills of sale, manumission papers, and wills and bequests. They also include letters providing character references for free Black people, reports on a school in an African American religious community in Baltimore, Maryland, and an indenture agreement between a printer and an apprentice.


This collection is arranged into two series: U.S. Slavery, 18th - 19th Century and Haiti documents. The files in the U.S. Slavery, 18th - 19th Century are organized by state. The Haiti documents are organized chronologically, the files without dates are placed at the back of the series.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

J.C. Shaffer, a Northwestern University patron, donated some of these materials to the university library. Other items have been purchased from dealers or in some cases are missing information on provenance. Materials regarding North and South Carolina were donated by Grace (Peggy) Hartshorn Westerfield in 1951.

Related Materials

Consult the Northwestern University Library online catalog for published materials in the McCormick Library including personal narratives and documentation of travels by enslaved persons in the South and the West Indies.

Related Materials

For other collections about the institution of slavery and free Black people in the colonial era held by the McCormick Library, see the French manuscript of prison memoirs from 1802 by Haitian revolutionary Pierre Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803) accompanied by a letter to General Rochambeau (West. Ms. 6).

The transcripts of Charleston county, South Carolina records from 1719-1763 contain inventory lists of property including enslaved persons, records of manumission, indentures, and apprenticeships, as well as proceedings in the court of common pleas (series CXIX).

The Frederick Douglass Collection (MS202), formerly part of this collection, includes Douglass' correspondence, bill of sale, and newspaper clippings and copies of correspondence.

See also leases, indentures, trusts, and a marriage settlement written in the British West Indies in the latter part of the 18th century; these documents also outline enslavement and plantation life (Wakefield Collection Box G). G1: 1793, George III, West Indies, Island of St. Vincent.  G2: 1742, July 20, George II.  G3: 1794, April 9, George III.  G4: 1794, October 6.

Processing Information

This collection was redescribed in 2021 through a reparative description process that aimed to address outdated and harmful descriptive language, specifically in the collection title, scope and content note and folder titles. Changes included revising the title from "African American Documents Collection" to "Slavery, Enslaved Persons, and Free Blacks in the Americas Collection," separating documents relating to or by Frederick Douglass into a new collection (MS202), and adopting more historically accurate terminology and language that humanizes enslaved people. For example, the words, “slaves,” “slave cargo,” and “Negro,” were replaced with “enslaved person” or “captured person," given the context of the documents. The previous version of this finding aid is available upon request.

We consulted the following sources, among others, to advise the updated description:

Antracoli, Alexis A., Annalise Berdini, Kelly Bolding, Faith Charlton, Amanda Ferrara, Valencia Johnson, and Katy Rawdon. “Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia: Anti-Racist Description Resources.” October 2020.

P. Gabrielle Foreman, et al. “Writing about Slavery/Teaching About Slavery: This Might Help” community-sourced document, Accessed October 19, 2021, 9:37 a.m.,

Yale University Library’s Reparative Archival Description Task Force:

Guide to Slavery, Enslaved Persons, and Free Blacks in the Americas Collection
Redescription by Marquis Taylor, Jill Waycie, and Charla Wilson.
Redescription completed October 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US