Guide to African American slavery, plantation and other related records available for researchers. Finding an African American ancestor who was enslaved almost always means finding the records of the family that owned him or her. Study the life and records of the slave owner and his family. Nearly 75 percent of people who arrived in America from Europe and Africa before were immigrants in bondage. Those from Africa almost always arrived enslaved.
I'm writing a story and I would like to know how someone in the South would have gone about selling a slave. What if you had only one to sell? Surely you couldn't hold a whole auction just for one. What would you do? Most likely, the slave owner would let neighbors, friends, and extended family know that the slave was for sale and hope that a buyer could be found through this informal networking. They might also put up a notice in local stores, or take out an ad in the local newspapers. Or they might bring the slave to an informal local venue where people met together from time to time to buy and sell slaves.
Slave sales as an important feature of the Virginia economy have their origins in changes that occurred late in the eighteenth century. In , the General Assembly abolished entail , a practice that required large estates to be kept intact through generations. In , the assembly abolished primogeniture , which required that those estates be passed on to the eldest son. A dozen years after that, the assembly prohibited entails on large groups of inherited slaves. While encouraging equality among whites, these acts also had the effect of breaking up African American communities and families by putting many people up for sale.
When an individual dies, his property must be distributed. The records created during this process are called probate records. The most common probate record, created before the individual dies, is the last will and testament, known simply as a will. In the will, a testator specifies how he would like his estate distributed, and designates a person to be his executor. In most cases, however, a person died without creating a will.