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Tag: slavery

Emancipation Proclamation: My Dear Wife

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

Envelope from a letter sent by John Boston to his wife Elizabeth, January 12, 1862, enclosed in a letter from Major General George B. McClellan to the Honorable Edwin Stanton; Letters Received, 1805–1889; Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1762–1984, Record Group 94; National Archives Identifier 783102.

During the Civil War, the government moved slowly but steadily from an affirmation of the Constitutional protection of slavery to its complete abolition with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. This change was in part forced on the Federal government by the growing numbers of enslaved people who fled and sought protection behind Union lines.

John Boston, fleeing slavery in Maryland, found refuge with a New York regiment in Upton Hill, Virginia, where he wrote to his wife who remained in Owensville. At the moment of celebrating his freedom, his highest hope and aspiration was to be reunited with his family.

My Dear Wife it is with grate joy I take this time to let you know Whare I am
i am now in Safety in the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn . . . this Day i can Adress you thank god as a free man I had a little truble in giting away But as the lord led the Children of Isrel to the

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Emancipation Proclamation: Flight to Freedom

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

Page 1 of Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Case of U.S. ex. rel. John Wheeler v. Passmore Williamson, 07/19/1855; Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2004, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia. (National Archives Identifier: 2641488)

Before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, many men and women in bondage ran away from their owners to freedom. These escape attempts were dangerous, and not all of them were successful. Abolitionists sometimes helped slaves in their flight to freedom, like these two men in the case of the escaping slave Jane Johnson and her children.

Jane Johnson and her two young sons were enslaved by John Hill Wheeler, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. While on his way to South America, Wheeler brought Jane and her sons to New York and Philadelphia. Once the three slaves were in Philadelphia, abolitionists William Still and Passmore Williamson helped Johnson and her two sons escape to Boston.

Wheeler petitioned the court to have Williamson return his slaves. In the Writ of Habeas Corpus commanding Williamson to return Jane and her sons, Williamson stated that he was unable to do so:

Passmore Williamson the defendant in the within writ mentioned for return thereto respectfully submits that the within named Jane, Daniel and Isaiah .

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Emancipation Proclamation: Petitioning for Freedom

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

January 1 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While this document is remembered for freeing the slaves in the Southern states, petitioners had been attempting to end slavery since the nation’s founding. Petitions by anti-slavery groups were sent to the newly elected Congress soon after it first met.

On December 30, 1799, the Reverend Absalom Jones and other free blacks of Philadelphia sent a petition to Congress. Although they recognized the “blessing” of their freedom, they were concerned about their fellow men: “We cannot be insensible of the condition of our afflicted Brethren, suffering under various circumstances in different parts of these States; but deeply sympathizing with them, We are incited by a sense of Social duty and humbly conceive ourselves authorized to address and petition you in their behalf.”

Page one of the Petition of Absalom Jones, and Others, People of Color, and Freemen Against the Slave Trade to the Coast of Guinea; HR 6A-F4.2; Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

Jones and the petitioners noted that the Constitution “is violated by a trade carried on in a clandestine manner to the Coast of Guinea.” They also mentioned that the Southerners’ practice of kidnapping free African Americans and transporting them to … [ Read all ]

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on display in New York City

The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. . . . In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. President Abraham Lincoln, 1862.

Two original versions of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation will be displayed together for the first time in the Schomburg Center in New York City from September 21 to 24.

This is a rare opportunity to see the signed draft that is part of the holdings of the National Archives. This document represents the transformation of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from intent to action. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln’s handwritten draft was transcribed, affixed with the Seal of the United States, and signed by him. The Proclamation now carried the force of law.

The Proclamation had been in development since the summer. In July 1862, President Lincoln read his “preliminary proclamation” to his Cabinet but decided to wait for a Union military victory to issue it. On September 17, 1862, over 6,000 Union and Confederate men died at Antietam in the bloodiest day in American history. Thousands more were wounded or missing. It was also the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

On … [ Read all ]

Waiting All Night for a Look at History

The line to see the Emancipation Proclamation could mean a wait of six hours. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

Americans are used to waiting in line for things they really want: tickets to a rock concert, a World Series game or a controversial new movie, for example.

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, this week some people  waited all night for a brief look at one of the nation’s most historic documents — the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The Proclamation was on display for 36 hours in conjunction with the showing at the museum of NARA’s “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit, which is on display there through September 5, before moving on to Houston and Nashville.

The Emancipation Proclamation, part of the National Archives’ holdings,  is displayed very infrequently and for short periods because of its fragile condition, which exposure to light can worsen, and the need to preserve the document for future generations.  On display in Dearborn were only two of the five pages and a replica of the front page; the document is double-sided.

Visitors had only a 36-hour window for a chance to see the document. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

With this historic document on display, the Henry Ford Museum got one of the biggest turnouts ever.  The 36 hours began at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, and ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday, June 22.

Press accounts reported that there … [ Read all ]