African American Court Records

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Court records in county courthouses or federal district courthouses can contain genealogy. Such records include court docket books, court minute books, and court case files in the court clerk's office. Federal court records more than thirty years old are moved to the National Archives which serve that court's state.

Slaves and masters were often in court suing over mistreatment, neglect, petitions for freedom, fugitive slave returns, and the like.

State Government Records Petitions can be a source of genealogical information. Some blacks petitioned their state, asking for special help. (For example, a law was passed in the Republic of Texas in 1840, requiring all free blacks to leave by 1842. Some blacks petitioned the Republic, and were allowed to stay.)

The Digital Library on American Slavery provides information about slaves, slaveholders, and free people of color. This website provides access to information gathered and analyzed over and eighteen-year period from petitions to southern legislatures and county courts filed between 1775 and 1867 in fifteen slaveholding states in the United States and the District of Columbia. This is a free resource provided from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro library.

The Library of Congress has a collection of Slaves and the Courts, 1740-1860.

The book (975 F23s):State Slavery Statutes: Guide to the Microfiche Collection. by Paul Finkelman. This book includes index by subjects, names and geographic locations. State slave statutes for the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

The Family History Library has the 354 microfiche collection of State Slavery Statutes, typescript original records created by the General Assembles of the states. The records are the acts of laws. Published by University Publications of America.

State Slavery Statutes

State Family History Library Fiche # Number of Fiche
Alabama, ca. 1818-1865 6118902 22 fiche
Arkansas, ca. 1818-1864 6118903 8 fiche
Delaware, ca. 1790-1865 6118904 13 fiche
Florida, ca. 1822-1865 6118905 16 fiche
Georgia, ca. 1789-1865 6118906 31 fiche
Kentucky, ca. 1792-1856 6118907 38 fiche
Louisiana, ca. 1804-1865 6118908 34 fiche
Maryland, ca. 1789-1865 6118909 35 fiche
Mississippi, ca. 1799-1865 6118910 31 fiche
Missouri, ca. 1813-1865 6118911 17 fiche
North Carolina, ca. 1789-1865 6118912 19 fiche
South Carolina, ca. 1789-1865 6118913 31 fiche
Tennessee, ca. 1795-1865 6118914 16 fiche
Texas, ca. 1836-1864 6118915 10 fiche
Virginia, ca. 1789-1865 6118916 33 fiche

Civil Court Records from Other Parishes, 1700s-1900, will include successions, marriages, and conveyance (deed) records. The latter include sales of slaves as well as sales of land. Slaves sometimes sued their owners in county court for mistreatment.

Judicial Cases

Registers of Slaves, Registers of Freedmen, and Manumission Papers. By the time of start of the Civil War in 1861 about ten percent of African Americans were free. Most free African Americans carried their own papers, but these could be stolen. In order to distinguish between slaves, runaways, and free African Americans, many counties or states in the upper South, and border states kept one or more sets of registers or papers. Some had registers of slaves. Some kept registers of freedmen, "free men of color," or "free negroes." Some kept copies of manumission papers of people freed from enslavement. To find these kinds of registers or papers look in county courthouse records. They are most likely found in the court papers, or among the land and property deeds, or occasionally in probate records, or even with taxation records. Sometimes these kinds of records are found at state libraries, archives, or historical societies.

Slave Trade Registers. The Constitution allowed the outlawing of the importation of slaves to the United States after 1808. Between then and the Civil War the internal slave trade became an important business in the Southern United States. Most states regulated the slave trade. A few kept records of slave traders and their business. Look for such business registers at state libraries, archives, historical societies, or county courthouses.

Some registers, and other related data may be found on this larger website about the slave trade throughout Europe and the Western Hemisphere.