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African American Manuscripts - Colonial and Antebellum Eras

Rubenstein Library collections related to African American History from the Colonial and Antebellum eras

Understanding the Online Catalog

Section A Collections - Section A collections in our catalog are considered small collections. These materials range between a single sheet of paper or volume to a few items. Examples of a section A collection documenting slavery are:

  • Joseph Dickinson papers, 1848-1858. This collection is described as a correspondence of a slave-trading firm confirming slave market pricing. Notice the arrow in this screenshot indicates the Section A designation.  
  • James Graham papers, 1831-1850. This collection contains 13 items, with correspondence between family members. There is mention in the letters of an enslaved person accused of murder who was executed. There is also a mention of slave trading.
  • Burrwell family papers, 1802-1891. this collection has 8 items with letters among family members and account statements. Included are account records with land sales and sales of enslaved people.



Collections Without Published Guides

Collections without Collection Guides - Archives found solely in the catalog that don't have a "collection guide" button in the description don't have detailed, box, folder, or item level descriptions. There will however be a summary of the collection that will likely have details of references to the lives of enslaved people. Many of these collections have multiple boxes, so researchers may have to order all the boxes in a collection in order to find materials they are looking for. An example of a catalog record is:

  • William Gibbons Jr papers, 1728-1803. The summary notes the collection has papers related to the Gibbons family, "relating to plantation management and expenses, slavery, rice production, and absentee ownership..."
  • Isaac Brooks Headen papers, 1848-1855. In the summary notes it states, "Physician's account book containing information on a number of patients residing in Chatham County, NC, medicine prescribed, medical treatment of slaves, and the estate of G.S Fields...."

Collections With Published Guides

Collections with Collection Guides - Collection Guides are designed to give researchers detailed description of archival materials. These descriptions could be either box level (most common), folder level (common), or item level (less common). Researchers should be aware that even with a collection guide, pinpointing the experience of African Americans can be difficult. Here are some things to look for:

  • Collection guides contain summaries and overviews with a synopsis of the contents of the archive. There are often clues within this text can point researchers to where to looking inside box or folder.  In the guide David Bullock Harris papers (1789-1894), the overview notes that there is "an account book 1845-1857, listing prices of slaves, personal and business correspondence..." Looking closer at the container list, Box 12 and Volume M: 1675 are listed as containing account books that fall within those dates. It would be advisable to order both boxes and review them.
  • Researchers can us the "Search this collection guide" search box at the top of the page for terms of interest.