De-accessioned from the inventory of the ill-fated Middle Passage Museum (see museum history below), this very unusual and atypical, 19th century, estate document is offered for sale, the purpose of which was to itemize and execute a division of property from the estate of the deceased, southern plantation owner. This document was purchased in the 1960s by one of the founders of the Middle Passage Museum from a descendant of this Sumter County, Georgia, plantation owner.
This is single page, partial document written on both front and back sides. It is missing its first page which would have shown the name of the deceased slave owner and the listing of the interior household goods and furnishings, and the last page which would have noted the date and county in which the document was executed as well as witness and judicial signatures. However, the most historically significant page exists and is offered here- a plantation estate document in which the slaves are referenced by name and further described by their family position and marital status!
What makes this document EXTRAORDINARILY RARE, UNUSUAL, and ATYPICAL is that it proceeds to, first, categorize the 40 slaves using the word SLAVES instead of the common verbiage of the time -Negroes-, and secondly, it proceeds to list the male slaves BY NAME, ALONG WITH THE NAMES OF THEIR WIVES AND THEIR CHILDREN, with monetary value listed in the right column of the document!!!! In two instances, the number of years married is also listed! Children are labeled "Girl, "Boy", or "Infant". Total value of these 40 slaves was calculated at $24,200.00!
Given that slaves were viewed as property and not human beings in any way equal to the Caucasian race which enslaved them, it is extraordinarily unusual to find a document which recognizes and lists slaves as "Family Units", further designating family position- husband, wife or child! Typically,there was little, if any, thought given to the pain and anguish such slave families would suffer if their "owner" chose to sell off any one of them at any given time. Such estate documents as this listing ENTIRE SLAVE FAMILIES BY NAME is simply without precedent! It would indeed be a phenomenal discovery to be able to identify the plantation and/or deceased slave owner as such an estate listing speaks to an uncommon, albeit, rare and unique perspective of slave ownership. Such a personalized and humanized account of the slaves owned makes this particular document all the more heart-wrenching, and it certainly begs the very sad question of whether or not these slave families were allowed to remain united and intact once the final estate disposition was conducted.
The document measures approximately 8 1/2 inches wide x 14 1/8 inches long, is double-sided and is in good condition, with fold lines evident along with some age-related foxing at top and bottom fold lines. 1 3/4 tear along the fold line of the top fold at right edge. The ink color is sepia toned (likely as a result of some fading over time) on a pale blue, vertically-ruled, heavy paper. This phenomenal piece of cultural ephemera is ready for appropriate archival preservation/framing.
The listing of slaves is on the back side of the document with the front side listing farm animals, equipment and supplies along with values- "The following property set apart for the use and benefit of the farm".
Middle Passage Museum History: The Middle Passage Museum was the dream of Jim and Mary Anne Petty of Mississippi as well as that of an anonymous Georgian benefactor who had together compiled a collection of slave artifacts numbering over 15,000 pieces and who had hoped to find a permanent site in Mobile, Alabama, for their museum. While they formed a non-profit organization to raise funds for their hoped-for museum, their dream was never realized.
In a 2003 statement, Jim Petty remarked, "The importance of the exhibit of these artifacts is to understand the harshness of what slavery and segregation was all about. The items in the exhibit remind us of the terrible heinousness of slavery. Viewing the collection can be very emotional, but it is a tool through which we can understand, honor and respect a great culture. We want to realize that out of slavery, a great culture emerged, and carried on, and continued to strive for a better life regardless of the adverse conditions that were placed upon them."