Tag Archives: Private Collections

Document Facsimiles Relating to Slave Research on Display at the State Archives of North Carolina

[This blog is written and illustrated by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections Section, of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

The Search Room exhibit case, August 2019, features examples of resources for researchers seeking information about enslaved ancestors. The title is “Evidence of African American Ancestors in Unlikely Places: Examples from Private Collections, Including Account Books, at the State Archives of North Carolina.”

Photo of the exhibit case in the Search Room with facsimile documents on display.
Search Room exhibit case.
Photo of an African American woman sitting in a chair with her hair up in a bun. she is wearing a checkered shirt and a long, dark colored skirt.
Emma Jones Allen, emancipated from slavery. Allen, Carter, Gwynn Family Collection, PC.2154.V.12

Researching enslaved ancestors can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating process. One must work backwards from the known to the unknown, often turning up more questions than answers. However, private manuscript collections, including account books, sometimes provide crucial information about names, locales, and other details. These can supplement county records such as deeds, wills, and court minutes and can provide valuable insights not found elsewhere. The examples below represent the facsimiles in the exhibit and the accompanying captions.

Note of Permission from William Ezell, Sr. for Slave, James, to Marry, Signed July 24, 1825
Note of Permission from William Ezell, Sr. for Slave, James, to Marry, Signed July 24, 1825

In this note of permission, William Ezell, Sr., advises Col. E. Peete that his slave James, who wishes to marry one of Peete’s slaves, is “as well Disposed as common as fair [sic] as I know or believe.” No county is listed, but during the first half of the 19th century there were men named William Ezell in counties including Camden Duplin, Granville, and Richmond. Note: Help solve the mystery. We welcome confirmation of the county where the Ezell and Peete plantations were located.

From Slave Collection. PC.1629. Box 1, Folder 4.

Deed: Marriage Contract of Bennett T. Blake & Scheherazade Mial, Wake County, N.C., 16 Feb. 1837 (two excerpts from longer document)
Deed: Marriage Contract of Bennett T. Blake & Scheherazade Mial, Wake County, N.C., 16 Feb. 1837 (two excerpts from longer document)
Deed: Marriage Contract of Bennett T. Blake & Scheherazade Mial, Wake County, N.C., 16 Feb. 1837 (two excerpts from longer document)

Oaky Grove Plantation, southeastern Wake County, was owned first by Thomas Price, then Bennett T. Blake. Blake had married a Price daughter, Fetna, who died in 1836, then married her sister, Scheherazade, widow of Thomas Alonzo Mial III, who had died in 1830. The slaves named in the marriage contract between Scheherazade and Blake, were part of the Mial estate. Thomas Price was also one of the county’s largest slaveholders. Note the juxtaposition: in addition to enslaved men, women, and children, Scheherezade’s contract secured physical properties, such as a four-wheel carriage and harness.

From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 3.

Bill of Sale, 1845: George W. Styron of Carteret County, N.C., Sells Two Slave Children, Harriet and Hannah, to William Jones, a Free Mulatto of Jones County, N.C.
Bill of Sale, 1845: George W. Styron of Carteret County, N.C., Sells Two Slave Children, Harriet and Hannah, to William Jones, a Free Mulatto of Jones County, N.C.

This bill of sale, dated 22 July 1845, documents the sale by George W. Styron, Carteret County, to William Jones, Jones County, of five-year-old-Harriet and nine-year-old Hannah. In 1860, the same William Jones was still living and farming in the Beaver Creek District, Jones County, where he died in 1868. The collection and public records shed little if any additional light on the life journey of these two girls. The Rumley papers, however, do contain other materials and types of document on slaves and freedmen. For additional information see the State Archives blog, History for All the People, for a post written by Elizabeth Crowder and entitled “The Rumley Family Papers: A New Collection Featuring Resources for Researchers Seeking Information About Enslaved Ancestors.

From Rumley Family Papers, PC.1969, Box 2, Folder 51.

Promissory Note for Hire of a Negro boy, Simon, Wake County, 27 Dec. 1847
Promissory Note for Hire of a Negro boy, Simon, Wake County, 27 Dec. 1847


“Twelve months after date we promise to pay Thomas F. Grice Ex. [Executor] of Hugh Lee, Dec’d, on order Twenty Seven Dollars for the hire of a negro Boy named Simon [.] Said negro to have the following clothes [:]Two suits of cotton clothes and one of woolen, one pair of Double soled shoes, one pair of stockings, one good Blanket, one wool Hat for value received on this 27 Dec. 1847.”
Signed by A. T. Mial (Also, C. Bryan; A. Montague, Witnesses)

From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 4-B.

Deeds of Gift Bequeathing Peter and Ailsey, Robeson County, 1851
Deeds of Gift Bequeathing Peter and Ailsey, Robeson County, 1851

Peter and Ailsey, a man of forty-five and a girl of fifteen, the subjects of these deeds of gift, were enslaved by the McKay family of Robeson County. In 1851, “for the love and affection” Christian McKay Galbreath had for her two nephews, Duncan and Dougald McKay, she sold Peter and Ailsey to them for a dollar each. Peter died in 1896. Ailsey’s descendants continued to live on the McKay farm into the 20th century.

McKay, McPherson, McNeill Family Papers, PC.2144.3 McKay Family Papers, 1790–1984, Box 3, Folder 01.

Receipt for sale of Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally (Wilmington, N.C.) 1853
Receipt for sale of Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally (Wilmington, N.C.) 1853

Slave receipt/bill of sale, with one for Catey, and her three children, Mary, Richard, and Sally; and the other for Cloey, a girl. The documents are dated 4 May 1853 and 5 March 1862, respectively. The receipt shown was given at Wilmington, New Hanover County, N.C. by Ansley Davis to Speir [Spier] Walters, in the amount of $1,000 for Catey, a slave woman and children, Mary, Richard, and Sally. Receipt attests that all are healthy, but the child Mary is “marked with burns.”

From the Bill of Sale of Catey and Children [and one other bill of sale] Collection, PC.2094.

Impressment of John, Slave of A. T. Mial, for Service as a Teamster, Supposedly for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, 15 March 1864
Impressment of John, Slave of A. T. Mial, for Service as a Teamster, Supposedly for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, 15 March 1864


“E O. Wake Co. Raleigh, N.C. March 15 [1864] This day received of A. T. Mial one negro Slave named John aged 26 years for duty as teamster in Genrl. Johnson’s army.” Signed by E. Porter, Capt. E.O. Wake County. The slaveholder referred to was probably Alonzo Thomas Rush Mial, Sr. (1823–1897), the son of Thomas Alonzo Mial (1799–1830) and Scheherazade Price Mial Blake (1805–1853).

Note: Teamsters loaded and drove supply trains/wagons, often returning in dangerous terrain to the march or to the camp. The Confederate government had passed a slave impressment law on March 26, 1863. Slaves were used extensively, though the effort was not as successful as the generals had hoped.

From the Alonzo T. & Millard Mial Papers, PC.132. Box 25, Folder 18.

Page from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Birth and Death Dates, 1852–1864
Page from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Birth and Death Dates, 1852–1864

The J. & W. Peace general store was located on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, from approximately 1798 until 1832, when the store burned. Before and after the building’s demise, the proprietors used the store ledger to keep a record of slaves owned by them and other family members, with slave birth and death dates ranging from 1784 to 1864. Example shown is one of six pages of entries.

Page Section and Scrap from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Births and Death Dates, 1852–1864
Page Section and Scrap from Joseph & William Peace Account Book, Wake County: Slave Births and Death Dates, 1852–1864

The note written on a piece of scrap paper (bottom of photo) recorded names and birth dates temporarily until they could be entered permanently into the account book (top of photo):

Matilda (daughter of Mary) born 4th March 1864.
Patsey (daughter of Harriet) born 22nd April 1864.

Both document photos above from the Joseph & William Peace Account Book, 1784–1864, Wake County. Page 297. PC.AB.132.

In summary, researchers of enslaved populations and freedmen in North Carolina may find a variety of resources, both in public and private records. County records contain deeds, wills, and court minutes, and some counties have a miscellaneous series that contains slave records. While these can be rich sources, private collections and account books surely supplement public records in ways that have often been overlooked.

Private Collections

Written by Faith Baxter, Digital Services Intern

Imagine playing a game of hide and seek and wandering into a room with over 3,000 private collections rarely seen by anyone except for you. Inside of the collections are inspiring stories about individuals, families, businesses, politicians, judges, and other influential people from North Carolina. These stories, filled with tremendous amounts of information, were just waiting to be discovered.  

The above narrative reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Although fictional, readers of all ages love Narnia because of the great collection of stories, characters, and truths that are meaningful to them. Just think of what you could discover once you take the first step!

The Private Collections (PCs) section of the State Archives has been keeping collections for over one hundred years, dating back to the 1700s. Included in the PCs are approximately 3,000 different collections composed of manuscripts, correspondence, family accolades, letters, diaries, photos, recordings, and financial and legal records. These materials are collected from a wide variety of individuals, families, and businesses from around the state and add to the rich culture and history of North Carolina.  

Fran Tracy-Walls

Fran Tracy-Walls is the Private Manuscripts Archivist and is the person responsible for managing North Carolina’s PCs. She is also the first contact when wanting to donate your collection. [or for those wanting to donate a collection.] Some of Fran’s favorite materials, from her years of collecting on behalf of the state, include personal letters, diaries, and account books. She particularly enjoys identifying the situational, physical, and cultural descriptors left by letter writers so that she can understand the context while reading. Fran loves finding scarce information that can help with genealogical research and gives a sense of the period or obstacles faced. She seeks papers that reflect experiences of North Carolinians whose heritage and lives are inadequately represented in our current holdings. Examples include African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian Pacific individuals or families.

The State Archives provides for, through legislation, not only the preservation of these materials, but also public access to them. The collections provide a unique story about North Carolina and its history and culture. There is a great deal of information given through these collections and there is a process by which these materials get accessioned and ready for public use. The digitization of these materials is harder to provide because of the large quantity of donated materials and a lack of funding. These collections are available to the public,  but they are required to be used in the Search Room where researchers are given full assistance by the wonderful reference staff.  

The PCs hold information that has been kept for generations but has not been published. Researchers and archivists find these materials to be interesting artifacts that can be used to teach different subjects. The Guide to Women’s Records gives a wide variety of information that includes but is not limited to, correspondence, private manuscript materials, women’s organization notes, account books, photographs, and government documents. While spending time updating the Guide, I have come across many remarkable private collections of phenomenal women.

Dr. Lavonia Allison (PC. 2049)

Dr. Lavonia Allison

Dr. Allison is a visionary whose inspiring story holds so much power, determination, and leadership. She donated her collection and it includes, Clippings, Correspondence, Memorandum, Yearbooks, Brochures, and Committee reports. Dr. Allison is widely known for her outstanding leadership in the political arena; and her commitment to the re-creation of a fair and just society in which all citizens can shape their own destiny through both the educational and political processes. She was a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, where she served in many capacities, including the chair, from 1998 to 2012. Dr. Allison has served on 60 boards and community/professional organizations in her lifetime and she adds so much to the culture and history of Durham.

Betty Ann Knudsen (PC. 1960)

Betty Ann Knudsen

Betty Ann Leonard Knudsen was a trailblazing female politician and community activist in Wake County, as well as an avid butterfly lover. She was the first female chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners from 1976 to 1984. She served on numerous boards, councils, and associations at the state and local level since the 1970s. Knudsen paved the way for future female candidates by running for N.C. Secretary of State. She has been an active mentor to other women in politics and leadership positions. Her collection includes correspondence between Betty Ann Knudsen and various politicians on a political and personal level; correspondence related to the Royal Order of the Butterflies; her children’s book, DVD, and butterfly presentations; material reflecting her political and community action and involvement; and personal correspondence with family members and friends from the 1970s to the 2000s.

These are just a few of the collections. Just imagine what you might come across!

Contact Information:

Questions about the Women’s Record Guide:

Fran Tracy-Walls
Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections
State Archives of North Carolina
(919) 814-6856

The Rumley Family Papers: A New Collection Featuring Resources for Researchers Seeking Enslaved Ancestors

[This blog post was written by Elizabeth Crowder, contract archivist with Private Collections of the Special Collections Branch. This position is overseen by Fran Tracy-Walls and is supported by funds bequeathed to the North Carolina Genealogical Society by the estate of the late Frances Holloway Wynne.]

Private manuscript collections, part of the State Archives’ Special Collections Section, can provide useful source material for researchers seeking information about enslaved ancestors. In many cases, these collections organize records concerning slaves and freedmen into dedicated series. The accompanying finding aids often identify those slaves who can be tentatively traced in federal census records dating from 1870 and later. Such is the case with the Rumley Family Papers (PC.1969). This collection contains correspondence, bills of sale, promissory notes, mortgages, receipts, and a warrant concerning enslaved and free African Americans.

Among these documents is an 1837 bill of sale for William, an approximately fifty-year-old slave whom Gibbons Bell (1807–1875) sold to his brother-in-law William Jones (1807–1850) in Carteret County, N.C. In attempting to find more information about the slave named William, I worked from three assumptions: that he was born around 1787 and lived at least until 1860, that he called himself either William Bell or William Jones after emancipation and the Civil War, and that he settled in Carteret County or an adjacent county once he was free. William might well have died earlier, used an entirely different name, and/or moved elsewhere. However, I needed a starting point for my search.

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The Conservation of the 18th Century Sloan-Osborne Ciphering Book

[This blog post was written by Garrett Sumner, a graduate student at West Dean College and summer intern in the Conservation Lab]

As part of my internship at the Conservation Lab in the State Archives of North Carolina, I had the opportunity to work on a number of projects, but the one object that garnered most of my time was the Sloan-Osborne Ciphering Book (PC.1955). The Sloan-Osborne Ciphering Book is actually two distinct notebooks, one from the 1750s, and the other from the early 1780s, which were later sewn together. The notebooks contain numerous ciphering problems, such as long division and unit conversion, and were composed by two individuals, Adlai Osborne and Henry Sloan. While their exact relationship to one another is unclear, Sloan may have served as Osborne’s pupil at Charlotte’s Liberty Hall Academy, where Osborne may have given Sloan his notebook. The most intriguing aspect of the book is that it contains two partial snake skins that are still adhered to the paper. Most likely the book was stored in an attic or basement and one or more snakes slithered between the papers to shed their skin.

The book arrived in the conservation lab in a very poor condition, preventing its use by researchers. The paper was very brittle and cockled, and had suffered extensive water and pest damage. Furthermore, some pages were missing, removed either intentionally or accidentally. The iron gall ink used to write the notebook was fading, and in some areas had even burned through the paper.


Example of iron gall ink burn and damage to paper.

In conservation practice we aim to follow two principles when treating an object: minimal intervention (doing as little as is needed), and reversibility (that any treatment performed can be reversed). However, when an object is so extensively damaged it cannot be safely handled, a more aggressive treatment may be necessary to stabilize it. Such was the case with the Ciphering Book.

The treatment plan for the book involved removing the original sewing thread to allow the paper to be washed. Because iron gall ink can be water-soluble, we first had to perform solubility tests by placing droplets of water, ethanol, or a mixture of the two in different areas to see if the ink migrated. The tests showed that some ink was water soluble, and so to err on the side of caution we used a solution of 50/50 water and ethanol for the bath. Although washing paper is a risky, non-reversible procedure, it can also remove dirt, discoloration, and the acidity that makes the brittle, as well as flattening out the folds and cockling in the paper.

The sheets were gently placed in the bath for 25 minutes. The paper was so dirty we could actually see the discoloration floating out of the paper. After washing, the sheets were then placed between felts to dry. A less invasive washing method was needed for the snakeskin pages. Instead of immersing the sheets in a bath, we placed them between sheets of blotting paper saturated with the 50/50 solution, along with a hole cut out in the areas around the snakeskin in order to not disturb them.

After drying, the paper was noticeably cleaner and flatter, and some of the writing was more legible as a result of the increased contrast between the ink and the now-cleaner paper. However, washing left the paper a bit weak and limp, so the paper was re-sized with a 0.5% gelatin solution. Paper was traditionally sized with gelatin, a type of animal-based adhesive, which would fill in the gaps of air between the paper fibers to give the paper more strength and protect it.

After more drying, the paper was ready to be mended. There were countless tears and holes on every sheet, in all shapes and sizes. When mending paper, conservators typically prefer to use Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Japanese tissue is thin yet strong, with long fibers that allow it to easily blend into the original paper. Wheat starch paste is a refined paste made by hand using just starch and water. Together, these form a strong repair that can be reversed in the future with water, if needed. To mend the tears and holes, pieces of Japanese tissue were carefully torn to the appropriate shape, then brushed with paste and applied to paper.

Twenty-five hours later, the mending was complete, and the repaired book was ready to be resewn. Replicating the original sewing pattern would have been difficult and potentially damaging, so instead the book was sewn through five new holes using linen thread. A paper wrapper was sewn on the outside of the book in order to provide more protection. In all, the treatment took 49 hours to complete. After treatment, the book is now much cleaner and can be safely handled by researchers, snakeskins and all.

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I would like to thank the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for facilitating this internship and for providing guidance and assistance during its course, especially Dr. Kevin Cherry, Emily Rainwater, Kate Vukovich, and Mathew Waehner.

The Sloan-Osborne ciphering book is now available as part of our North Carolina Digital Collections!  http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p16062coll28/id/5601


Processing the Bill Harris Papers

[This post was written by Taylor Wolford, a summer intern at the Outer Banks History Center.]

When I began working at the Outer Banks History Center, I was familiar with the name Bill Harris. In 2014, I was a high school student and budding historian in Dayton, Ohio researching the history of flight. My history teacher suggested that I contact local historians in North Carolina to expand the scope of my research. I researched local historians to contact, including Bill Harris, as word had gotten out among researchers regarding his extensive collection of local photographs, oral histories, and documents.

As a graduate student in Archives and Records Management, I am now processing the Bill Harris Papers at the Outer Banks History Center for future researchers. My internship involves processing the collection according to current archival standards and creating a descriptive online finding aid for the collection.

In order to process the collection, I developed groupings, known as series, for the organization of the documents. A notable series in this collection is the Wright Brothers First Flight, which is beneficial for researchers interested in a variety of related topics, including the construction of the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Anniversary of the First Flight, and the First Flight Shrine. Bill worked for the Wright Brothers National Memorial as an expert on local history, and documents throughout the collection showcase his work with the National Park Service and First Flight Society. Additional topics covered by the collection include Dare County, N.C. and the U.S. Lifesaving Service Stations.

Bill Harris (right) at the Wright Brothers National Memorial for the unveiling of the Barnaby Plaque on December 17, 1963. The plaque was a gift from the Soaring Society of America.

Perhaps the most impressive series, however, is Local Genealogy. This series contains a large number of oral histories, documents, and photographs that highlight the juxtaposition of an evolving yet deeply rooted Outer Banks community. The Local Genealogy series poses the most difficulties in terms of organization, for local families often intermarried until it was challenging to separate the Baums from the Harrises. As locals tend to say, “Genealogy in the Outer Banks is not a tree, but a vine.” For those interested in researching family histories in the area, the collection provides many opportunities to answer questions and delve deeper into the familial vines that constitute the Outer Banks community.

After two months processing these documents, I can verify that this collection extends far beyond my initial research in aviation history. Bill spent his entire lifetime immersed in the unique culture of the Outer Banks, and the collection certainly reflects his knowledge of the area. As the collection covers a wide range of topics and geographic regions, I am confident that it will continue to contribute to the research community long after it is properly stored in boxes and folders.

Members of Bill Harris’s family explore his newly processed collection with Taylor’s help, July 2018.

Highlights from the William and Mary Coker Joslin Papers: Mary Joslin, Woman of Many Talents

[This blog post was written by Elizabeth Crowder, contract archivist in the Special Collections Branch of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Under the supervision of Fran Tracy-Walls, private manuscripts archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina, I am arranging and describing materials in the William and Mary Coker Joslin Papers (PC.1929). This work is made possible through generous funding from the Joslins’ daughter Ellen Devereux Joslin.

Mary Coker (far left, with cello) at Vassar College, ca. 1943, around the same time she was experimenting with soybean cultivation.

Mary Coker (far left, with cello) at Vassar College, ca. 1943, around the same time she was experimenting with soybean cultivation. PC.1929.1

In 1975 and 1980, Hartsville, S.C., native and longtime Raleigh, N.C., resident Mary Coker Joslin (1922–2016) earned master’s and doctorate degrees in French from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She taught the language at Ravenscroft School and Saint Augustine’s University, and her fascination with medieval French literature led her to publish a book on the subject with her daughter Carolyn Coker Joslin Watson. However, some thirty years before her graduate studies in French, Mary Joslin’s academic pursuits had taken a different direction. In 1944, she earned a degree in botany from Vassar College. Joslin earned her master’s degree in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1946. Both of these endeavors revealed her interest in social causes.

Mary Joslin’s undergraduate studies were likely influenced by the work of her father, David Robert Coker (1870–1938), and her uncle William Chambers Coker. David R. Coker championed agricultural reform and experimented with plant breeding. Both pursuits had the ultimate goal of improving farmers’ yields and economic livelihoods. To these ends, David R. Coker’s Pedigreed Seed Company developed and sold superior varieties of cotton, corn, tobacco, and other crops. William C. Coker (1872–1953) was an associate professor of botany at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1902 to 1945. In addition to his teaching duties, he made an extensive study of Chapel Hill’s flora, cultivated a six-acre garden on the university’s campus (the present-day Coker Arboretum), and authored numerous publications.

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Women’s History Month 2018 – Charlotte Hilton Green

[This blog post was written by Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist, Private Collections of the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Charlotte Hilton Green (1889 – 1991)—writer, naturalist, wildlife and nature conservation advocate.

No1_PC_1661_B3_F1_B139 (800 x 646)

Charlotte Hilton Green, center, with Bernice Kelly Harris, right. Charlotte Hilton Green Papers, PC.1661, State Archives of NC. [PC.1661_B3_F1_B]

Private Collections are filled with the traces and imprints of inspiring women. Charlotte Hilton Green (1889-1991) is one of the many women deserving of tribute. A native of Chautauqua County, New York, Charlotte first taught school in a one-room school house, as early as 1909. Students included distractible boys who would rather shoot birds and animals than study them. Yet Charlotte was successful, in large part, because she developed the art of creating interest and communicating on a child’s level the complexities of science and nature study. Later, as writer of a weekly nature column for the News and Observer, Charlotte developed a wide following––which many attributed to her ability to put scientific facts and environmental issues into layman’s terms. Continue reading