Posted by Lisa Arnold on February 12, 2009 in Collections

I couldn’t resist poking around in the new collection of Slave Manifests on which went up this week.  So what’s interesting about the new Slave Manifest records?  Plenty!  They are inbound and outbound records from the Port of New Orleans during the period of time when the Deep South was gearing up for the rapidly-expanding cotton boom. Some background may be helpful here: Eli Whitney’s cotton gin had been invented and was inexpensive enough for plantation owners in the South to purchase one.  So the need for slaves to work the land became paramount.  Since the Constitution banned the importation of slaves from Africa beginning in 1808, plantation owners in the Deep South looked to slave owners in the Mid-Atlantic States for their work force. Virginia and Maryland were heavily populated with slaves for their tobacco fields, but many slave owners saw a way to make money and sold their slaves to the ‘Slave Traders’ and were paid big money for them.  A close look at the manifest records will reveal locations in Maryland and Virginia as the port from whence these former tobacco growing slaves commenced their journey to their new lives involved in the back-breaking work of picking cotton. It is estimated that over 1 million slaves made this journey to the Deep South.

I noticed that for each ship manifest listing the slaves being transported, there is a 2nd page showing an affidavit from the owner/shipper which includes the port of departure often indicating the plantation or area where the slaves had worked.  Also included is the ship master’s sworn promise that these slaves were not being brought into the country illegally.  This is because in 1820, Congress passed a stronger law to enforce the illegal importation of slaves from Africa. This one had some teeth to it and made participation in the slave trade an act of piracy and punishable by death.  No doubt that the ship master wanted to do everything he could to avoid that fate!

image-698.jpgAs example, to the left is a manifest, dated 7 December 1840 (on Roll 08 of the arrivals), indicating the transport of Isabelle Sanders, age 29 and her 6 small children. They were sent from John Weldon, a slave owner in Price William County, VA to G.G. Noel in New Orleans.  This is great information for whoever is lucky enough to have Isabelle or one of her children in their family tree!

affidavit pageTo the right is the affidavit page which follows the manifest, indicating that they left the Port of Alexandria, VA in the care of John Graham, Ship Master of the ship Pioneer.

Check out these wonderful new records when you get a chance.  They are already being indexed through Ancestry’s World Archives Project and from what I hear the volunteers are completing in record time!  There appears to be a lot of interest in getting these indexed and available to everyone just as soon as possible!  If you are interested in getting involved with indexing click on this link.

3.jpgWhile you are checking out the ship manifests, you may want to hop over to the slave transaction records in the Louisiana Slave Records, 1720-1820 which are already indexed on Ancestry.  These transaction records contain names of over 100,000 slaves living in the state of Louisiana in a 100 year date range, which were collected by Gwen Hall over a 15 year period.  This research was truly an act of love and took Hall to archives in France and Spain to verify the records she found in French and Spanish language Catholic Parish records in Louisiana, as well as in case files in the courthouses of Louisiana. Wow, what amazing details about the slaves in this collection! Not just their names, but their birthplaces in Africa, their slave owners and buyers and the price paid, their skills, general health, personality traits and I have even noticed comments about their degree of rebelliousness for those who were involved in uprisings.  Great background and interesting reading whether they were my ancestors or not!


  1. Reed

    Dear Lisa,

    First of all, thank you to Ancestry for making such valuable records available online. I am sure they will prove useful to many researchers as they work to piece together the histories of families and individuals enslaved in North America and the Caribbean. The compilers of these records deserve great credit for their efforts to collect and organize this important data and further illuminate this tragic period in our nation’s history.

    I’m sure you will agree that these are no ordinary records. They represent more than a big genealogical “find.” They are the records of decades of human suffering and oppression, and require the same thoughtful consideration as records of other eras of government-approved, systematic, planned and documented brutality against our fellow humans, such as—for instance— the Native American removals of the nineteenth century and the Holocaust.

    With that in mind, might I suggest a more scholarly, and less “gee-whiz” tone for your remarks? I think phrases such as “Wow, what amazing details about the slaves in this collection!” and “Check out these wonderful new records when you get a chance”—while understandable in other genealogical contexts—show a lack of empathy for the memory of the enslaved men, women and children that these documents record.

    Thank you.


  2. Dear Lisa, Thank you for all of your enthusiams. It makes me fell excited to know that some one is doing a difficult job. I do wish Texas and other state were as Fortunate as Louisianna. I did find one relative from St. Lucy Barbados and was thrilled. I had heard from relatives about this Island they came from, but never had a name until now. I know i am a decendent of slaves, Americian Indians and understand their and my hardships, but I just want to find my people. To do this I’ll have to endure their brutality and be proud of the legacy they left me, my children and grandchildren. I am a senior person and I am in a rush to find as many records as I can.
    Thank You very much,

  3. Mary Beth Marchant

    Regardin the comment about Texas records, Texas has more online digital records than any other state, bar none. You just have to know where to go. Republic Claims Records and Confederate Pension records are there. My great grandfather was born in Louisiana and if Louisiana has any thing like on line in a digital format, I cannot find it.

    I too am pleased about the new records because of the inclusion of the Confederate Pension records for Georgia.

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