Rare slave records found in courthouse

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 16, 1999

The records are chilling. Written in precise script on yellowing pages, they document the vital statistics of slaves brought from Kentucky to Mississippi just before the Civil War.

Stephen Bryan, of brown coller, age about 25 years, weighs 150 lbs.

Lewis Figg, of black coller, age about 27 years, weighs 160 lbs.

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William Ball, of black coller, age about 11 years, weighs 90 lbs.

July Buckner and 3 children, of brown coller, age about 27 years, weighs 160 lbs.

The simply named &uot;Record Book&uot; was found in the basement of the Adams County Courthouse by Mississippi Department of Archives and History researchers and Adams County Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne. The book, which had been rebound sometime this century, is a rare discovery – and could help some people trace more of their ancestry.

Many of the slaves are listed by first and last name, and their Kentucky owners’ names are included as well. The records cover the period 1858-1861.

&uot;Mississippi required them to have an affidavit that would be signed by owners that they had not committed a felony and that they were of good character,&uot; O’Beirne said.

&uot;There are no other records in the state of Mississippi like this.&uot;

The documents aren’t the only slave records in Mississippi, but they are the most comprehensive group researchers have found.

&uot;If you went back into the deed records, you would see occasionally references to slaves,&uot; O’Beirne said.

The inclusion of the slaves’ first and last names is very rare.

&uot;Any slaves brought into the state had to be certified, and a person offering them for sale had to be the legal owner,&uot; said Archives and History archivist Jim Pitts.

The 1870 census was the first document that included blacks by name – in the 1850 census slaves were merely numbers.

&uot;That’s about as far as most blacks can take their genealogy,&uot; Pitts said. &uot;Having a book like this gives another generation back. It’s something that’s priceless for blacks who are doing their genealogy.&uot;

A microfilm of the records is now housed at the Department of Archives and History and at the Adams County Chancery Clerk’s office, so anyone can look up the information without handling the rare records themselves.

&uot;It is very rare to find documentation of this sort from such an early time period,&uot; said Anne Webster, head reference librarian at the Department of Archives and History. &uot;These records indicate surnames, and in many cases the slaves are listed in family groups. Using this information, genealogists may be able to determine the slaves’ previous owners, thus tracing their families back another generation.&uot;

The records may also provide valuable information about the slave trade. The Forks of the Road in Natchez was one of the largest slave trading sites in the South.

&uot;Historians may be able to draw some conclusions about trade routes between Kentucky – where most of these slaves were moved from – and Mississippi,&uot; Webster said.

The record book also contains justice court records and minutes from the board of police, the precursor to the board of supervisors.