I’m reading a very interesting book, On Slavery’s Border, by Dianne Mutti Burke, published by The University of Georgia Press. Ms. Burke has expanded on her graduate thesis on Missouri slavery in this extraordinarily well researched and documented book.
She sought out to best understand if and why Missouri Slavery was – as contended – different from slavery in the Deep South. To that end she examines in detail the social networks, family lives (or lack their of), the relationship with whites in general and specifically the owners, their emigration and escape patterns, the uniquely small size of Missouri farms and relatively few slaves per farm and more. Her intent is to master the socio-economic conditions of the Missouri slave and come to some conclusions. For now, I’ll leave it to you to enjoy the book and assess her conclusions on your own.
Resources for Slave Research
As mentioned her citations in her book reflect an obvious attention to detail and a thorough digesting of all materials original and secondary on the subject of Missouri slavery. My eyes particularly popped when I saw her “list” of the “best” primary sources on slavery in Missouri, to which I’ll share here. Though not written as a genealogy source book, it can certainly offer a guide to familiar and not-so-familiar sources to aid in our research.
Starting with amazing original sources, she offers five former slave biographies and autobiographies from Missouri. You’ve hit the jackpot if one of these is your ancestor. If not, they can still provide excellent first-person narratives to shape your understanding of the time and place.
- William Wells Brown – Narrative of William W. Brown.Boston: Antislavery Office, 1847
- Henry C. Bruce – The New Man: Twenty-Nine Years a Slave, Twenty-Nine Years a Free Man: Recollections of H.C. Bruce York, Penn: A.G.Brown, 1880
- Archer Alexander – The Story of Archer Alexander: From Slavery to Freedom, March 30, 1863. Boston 1885
- Mattie J. Jackson – The Story of Mattie J. Jackson. Recorded by Dr. L.S. Thompson (formerly Mrs. Schuyler). Lawrence, Mass.: Lawrence Sentinel Office, 1866.
- Lucy A. Delany – From the Darkness Cometh the Light or Struggles for Freedom. St. Louis: T.J. Smith c 1891
Broader in scope are the Missouri Slave Interviews as complied by the Works Progress Administration. There are more than one hundred in existence, but several have been transcribed and put online here. Directions to find the interviews not online are presented here, too. Again, even if you don’t find your slave ancestor listed, check them out. Maybe someone lived in the same area as your ancestor. Maybe your ancestor was an owner, related to an owner, or lived next to an owner. Context like this can be golden.
Civil War Pension Files of formerly enslaved persons offer a wealth of information including – marriages, families, extended family ties, and interfarm slave neighborhoods. All of pension recipients served in Missouri’s 65th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. Pension records can be ordered from the National Archives using their online forms here. Note: Fold3 has some (4%) Civil War Widow’s pensions online. It is a subscription website, however you can access it for free at many archives and libraries. I’ll make one more plug for not stopping if your ancestor doesn’t have a pension. You’ll may find relations in the extended family ties and interfarm slave neighborhoods.
Although Ms Burke doesn’t mention it, there is an often overlooked treasure at the Missouri State Archives in the Provost Martial Records. They include the United State Colored Troops Enlistment Records (including the name of the slave and master), and the Recruitment lists for volunteers of the Colored Troops. If you’re looking for a pension record mentioned above, you may want to start here and determine first if he served. Hint: make a list of the names before and after your ancestor’s name on the lists. They may very well turn up again in your research as kinsfolk, witnesses, estate executors or some other party to your ancestor’s life.
I believe slavery in Missouri was a unique microcosm in American society and the annals of American slave history. What a story you have if your ancestor was part of this chapter in our combined history. The records discussed above can help you identify and tell that story.