By Dr. Barnetta McGhee White, Ph.D
Genealogical research on slave ancestors is made difficult by the prevailing pre-1865 practice of using only the given names of slaves when speaking or writing about them. These names, occasionally accompanied by their ages, were written in the wills and estate inventories of the slaveholder. Considered personal property, they were enumerated in all census records, and in 1850 and 1860 special slave schedules were constructed for their nameless enumeration. From the middle of the 18th century until the early 1800s, the given names of slaves were written on some of the tax lists of the slaveholders, but this was not done for all tax lists, nor by all enumerators. By the early 19th century this random, hit-or-miss practice was generally discontinued. For the slave holding record keepers, slaves became numbers, and combined with counting the acres of land owned, determined the amount of taxes to be paid.
This does not mean that by the beginning of the nineteenth century most slaves had not adopted or acquired surnames for themselves. Stripped of their own names when they were brought unwillingly to this continent, forced to respond to the names their masters gave them, any surnames they adopted for themselves, for the most part, went unacknowledged.
The reconstruction of many African American family groups can be done by abstracting and analyzing the names of slaves that appear in pre-1865 county deed books. In many cases their movements within the county can be traced and, in some instances, their transport to another county or outside the state can be ascertained. In some instances, migration from Virginia of slaves and slaveholders, whether separately or together, can be tracked. There is a wealth of African American genealogical information to be found in deed books if one knows the names of the slaveholders. Bills of sale, deeds of conveyances, deeds of gifts, and deeds in (of) trust - - all include transactions that often refer to slaves by their given names and are among the few primary resources available for research.
The early deed books reveal when and how Granville County was settled, keeping in mind that parts of it became Orange in 1752, Warren and Franklin in 1764, then Vance in 1881. The date of 1746 was the earliest recorded deed with many of the early ones identified as land grants, most of them from the Right Honorable John Earl Granville Viscount Cateret and Baron Cateret in the county of Bedford in the Kingdom of Great Britain. It appears that many of the early deed books have been copied over and over again. There are missing and torn pages in some books, and all of the early ones contain overlapping years. Most significantly for the purpose of these abstractions, the names of slaves are missing from the very early documents and books. There are many bills of sale and deeds of gifts among the papers of these early settlers, but even their deeds in trust are written for land, livestock and household property but seldom do the names of slaves appear. Certainly many of these early settlers held slaves. The absence of slave names within these early books would lead one to conclude that their names might have been intentionally omitted during one or more copying of the material and/or many transactions were never recorded.
The abstractions I have done from the deed books of Granville County, North Carolina are now complete. Volume II covers the years 1746-1828 contained in books A through Z (there is no "U" book), along with books 1, 2, and 3. Previously published Enslaved Ancestors Abstracted From Deed Books, Granville County North Carolina, Volume I, contained those deeds written or recorded in 1828 through 1864 taken from deed books #4 through #21.
All of the extant deed books for Granville County from its formation as a county in 1746 up through 1864, have been examined in their original form, in the Granville County courthouse, for these publications. In 1961, the NC State Archives filmed all of the books and it was from this microfilm that the first reading of the deed books was done. Because of the poor condition of some of the books, the fading of some of the film with the pages only faintly revealing ancient script with the addition of sometimes nonexistent page numbering, it was necessary to consult the original books.
There are indexes of grantors in roughly one half of the books either at the beginning of the book or at the end of the recorded deeds. Some have no index at all. Even when an index is provided in a particular book, seldom are the names of the grantor/grantees written in the index when only the transfer of slaves is involved. Occasionally, slave traders or those engaged in that business as an occupation can be identified.
The format I chose to use alphabetizes and places the slaveholders' surnames first, because African American genealogy starts with the name of the slaveholder without which an isolated list of slave names is useless. The names, ages and relationships of the slaves to each other (usually a mother and her children, sometimes husband and/or wife) are always noted if the deed contained that information. If others, such as the grantee, were related to the slaveholder, I made that fact known also.
I made no attempt to abstract any deed or other transaction unless it named at least one slave. I also made no attempt to correct the spelling of either slave or slaveholders' names. Much of the early spelling was done phonetically with different scribes spelling the same name differently, sometimes in the same document. As usual with this type of research, it is advisable to look for variations in the spelling of names when looking for a particular person.
In each case, the year at the end of the abstract itself
to the date of the transaction, the page is that which is numbered in
deed book, and other abbreviations are as follows.
BOS bill of sale
DIT deed in trust or deed of trust
DOG deed of gift
The deed in (of) trust is an often misunderstood document. A first reading makes one think that the property named therein is transferred immediately from the grantor to the grantee. This was seldom the case. The named property was used as collateral to secure a loan, a debt, or a financial obligation of some sort. The collateral was lost (sold) only if the loan was not repaid. The collateral and the debt were both precisely spelled out such as "this land (description) is to be used to repay John Doe the $1,000 I owe him, if I don't repay him by December next; [or] these slaves (names and description) are to be used to pay Joe Doe the $2,500 I owe him if not repaid by March next". The named trustee (grantee) was restricted in that the identified collateral could be used only for the stated purposes and for no other debts the grantor may have had at the time. In all cases, the property remained in possession of the grantor unless (until) a sale became necessary.
I do hope this work is useful to you and that those of you out there doing research in other North Carolina counties, and in other states as well, will be willing to methodically abstract mention of slaves from other deed books and will share your information with the general public. The slaves and slaveholders named here are recorded in the deeds of only one North Carolina county. Can you imagine how many more are named in other NC counties? In other southern states? These records show what can be done, what should be done, in an effort to pull aside the curtain on pre-1865 America. This goes a long way toward helping African Americans identify the last slaveholder of their ancestors.
||A - G (1746 - 1828)|
|H - N (1746 - 1828)||O - Y (1746 - 1828)|
|A - G (1828 - 1864)||H - N (1828 - 1864)|
|O - Y (1828 - 1864)|