Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dark Side of the Archives

Archives sustain civilization. Civilization is the total of human experience. Archival repositories hold the records of that experience, good or bad, gained over time. Archives orient people in society, and create a foundation for profiting by historical context. Archives touch peoples’ lives when individuals are introduced or connected to the documents we hold in our collections. Sometimes it is finding information about an ancestor that brings joy. Other times the documents bring up memories of a darker time in our past. 

As we come to the end of Black History Month, the document featured is one of those records that document a darker time in the history of America. It is a receipt from 1847 for the purchase of a female slave named Silvy. The receipt states that on April 3, 1847, in Union County, North Carolina, John S. Leany paid $213 ($6,000 in 2015 dollars) for a “Negro girl Silvy” who was lately sold as the property of another individual. It further states that she is healthy and in sound condition. In addition, it transfers the title to Silvy to John S. Leany and his heirs and offspring.

In this one document, the whole issue of an individual owned by another is summed up. It is clear that slaves had no rights and were thought of as nothing more than a piece of property to be bought and sold as one would do with land.

For more information about slavery from those in bondage, the Dick Smith Library has The Slave Narratives of Texas by Ron Tyler, and from the Federal Writers Project, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States, From Interviews with Former Slaves. This 17-volume set is also available online from the Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/about-this-collection/.

The Texas Slavery Project, http://www.texasslaveryproject.org/, explores slavery in Texas in the years between 1820 and 1850.

The Texas State Historical Association has a free eBook on the trials and triumphs of African Americans in Texas at https://tshaonline.org/membership/african-american/.

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