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Tag: slavery

On Display: Record of the Kidnapping of Solomon Northup

The slave manifest of the brig Orleans, April 27, 1841 is on display from February 21 to March 30 in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Today’s post comes from curator Corinne Porter.

From the birth of the American republic to the abolition of slavery, kidnapping for sale into slavery was a constant threat to free black people in the United States. In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free-born African American from New York, was kidnapped by two white men and enslaved for 12 years in the deep South before he could prove his legal right to freedom. However, his liberation from bondage was exceptional—most enslaved free blacks never regained their freedom.

Abducting free blacks for sale into slavery was outlawed in most of the United States. However  uneven law enforcement, the marginal rights of free blacks, and mounting demand for slaves after the end of the transatlantic slave trade made kidnapping an attractive and potentially profitable prospect that encouraged the creation of a reverse underground railroad.

Kidnappers gave their victims aliases to hide their true identities. In his personal narrative, 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup recounts that he first heard the name he would be known by as a slave, “Plat Hamilton,” in New Orleans when it was called from this slave manifest (line 33) for the … [ Read all ]

Celebrating the life of an ancestor who was a “12 Years A Slave”

This past summer, Vera Williams attended her annual family reunion and Solomon Northup Day. The day honors her great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and forced into slavery in 1841. When Northup escaped, he wrote a book about his experiences and—most shockingly for that era—took his kidnappers to trial. The book was recently made into the movie 12 Years A Slave.

Solomon Northup Day was founded by Rene Moore, a local citizen of Saratoga Springs, NY, and has been celebrated for the past 15 years. Williams has helped organize family attendance to the events and manages a Facebook page for Solomon Northup Family and Friends. Relatives come together from across the country—including Williams’s own mother, who was honored this year as Northup’s oldest living descendant.

This year, the attendees included film executives, actress Lupita Nyong’o, and other representatives from the movie 12 Years A Slave. Moore had contacted Fox Searchlight Pictures to tell them about the annual celebration, and in turn the film company reached out to Williams to let her know they were doing screenings around country.

Guests at the Solomon Northup Day celebration in July were shown a trailer of the movie and comments from various people associated with the film including director Steve McQueen. Williams had the opportunity to speak with Nyong’o about her experience playing … [ Read all ]

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.

However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.

The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.

So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.

The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.

Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took 811 days to ratify those ten, and they became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Each December 15, we observe Bill of Rights Day.

The proposed first amendment, dealing with congressional apportionment, has never been ratified. The proposed second amendment, dealing with congressional pay, was approved by the Michigan and New Jersey legislatures on the same day in 1992—more than 202 years after Congress submitted it to the 13 states. By 1992, … [ Read all ]

The 150th Anniversary of the United States Colored Troops

Today’s blog post comes from archives specialist Jackie Budell.

On May 22, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders 143, establishing a Bureau of Colored Troops in the Adjutant General’s Office to recruit and organize African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army. With this order, all African American regiments were designated as United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the USCT, and the National Archives is pleased to announce the completion of the USCT Service Records Digitization Project. In partnership with Fold3, the project provides online access to all service records—more than 3.8 million images—of Union volunteers in USCT units.

From May 22 to 31, the digital collection will be free on www.Fold3.com. (All National Archives collections on Fold3.com can always be viewed for free at any National Archives facility nationwide.)

Compiled military service records (CMSRs) are part of Record Group 94, the Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. They contain card abstracts of entries related to an individual soldier such as muster rolls and regimental returns.

Many CMSRs also contain original documents called “personal papers,” which are especially valuable to researchers looking for documentation on former slaves. These papers include enlistment papers, correspondence, orders, prisoner-of-war memorandums, casualty reports, or final statements. Unique to the records of the USCT are deeds of manumission, proofs of slave ownership, … [ Read all ]

Emancipation Proclamation: A Letter Home

Today’s blog post comes from National Archives social media intern Anna Fitzpatrick.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation brought freedom to the slaves in the Confederacy. By the war’s end, the U.S. Colored Troops Bureau had recruited hundreds of thousands of black soldiers, who fought for both their own and others’ freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation meant that their military victories resulted in the liberation of others.

Samuel Cabble served in the Massachusetts 55th Infantry. In a letter to his mother and his wife, Leah, Cabble expressed his desire to see his wife freed from slavery:

…though great is the present national difficulties yet I look foward to a brighter day When i shall have the opertunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of freedom I would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will not be long before we shall have crushed the system that now opreses you for in the course of three months you shall have your liberty. great is the outpouring of the colored people that is now rallying with the hearts of lions against that very[?] curse that has separated you an me yet we shall meet again and oh what a happy time that will be when this unGodly rebellion shall be put down and the curses of our land is trampled

[ Read all ]