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Central Pennsylvania's journey from enslavement to freedom
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How to Use the Enslavement Data Listings

Site Organization

Information on this portion of the Afrolumens Project site is sorted into three main categories:

  • Data about slaveholders and the persons they enslaved

    (go there)
    The collected raw data about enslaved persons and slaveholders (data list) is organized by counties, and is then alphabetized according to the surname of the slaveholder.  The lists are long, and many listings lack detail.  Some listings, however, give much information about the individual slaves.  Little or no attempt is made to explain or interpret the data on the data lists.  The lists are presented, for the most part, as raw data only.
  • Educational articles about the collected data

    (Go there)
    Presented here are articles written about specific aspects of African and African American enslavement in Pennsylvania. These include a discussion of names given to enslaved persons, where and how Pennsylvanians bought persons to enslave, how enslaved persons resisted their bondage, an image gallery, and more.
  • Support pages, links, and news (Go there)

    This section includes links and addresses of local historical societies and research resources, and other support pages.

About the Data

The Order of Information on the Data Lists

Each listing represents a record of one African or African American enslaved person or indentured servant. The county lists are sorted alphabetically according to the slaveholder's surname. This order is the most useful for several reasons. It groups enslaved persons together who would have lived with the same slaveholder and increases the likelihood of finding persons related to each other. Also, records of slave surnames are rare, many being identified only through their given name.  Upon viewing a data list page, you can search the listings for a specific enslaved person's given name by using your browser's "find" feature (Most browsers use Ctrl + F). Sources or source numbers are listed in the last line of each enslavement entry; numbers correspond to the supplemental list of sources used in compiling this record. Ages given for enslaved persons are generally in years. An "a" following an age indicates an approximation. Many slave registration papers list only an approximate age. Some enslaved persons are listed with exact dates of birth. These generally are the children of enslaved mothers, registered in 1788 and later. Others are calculated based upon the ages given in the original record or primary source document.  In most cases, the ages given for enslaved persons are not official, but estimates by the slaveholders filing the record.

Terminology, and Other Notes

The terms "slave" and "servant" were often used interchangeably, especially in the earliest years of the time period covered in this study. After the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780 was passed in Pennsylvania, the term "servant" frequently came to mean either someone in indentured servitude or someone employed by the head of the household. The passage from slave to servant was often indistinct for many Blacks, many of whom remained with their former owners after being legally emancipated. The term "slave" or "enslaved person" is used here to represent persons who were truly in bondage even though some records list them as "servants." This list does not include white indentured servants, who, though also subject to cruel treatment, were a different class of labor from Black slaves and Black "indentured servants." The Afrolumens Project recognizes that bondage of any kind is a horrible condition to endure for any person. This study, however, primarily documents and records the history of Black bondage in order to better understand its effect on the development of the Central Pennsylvania and greater Pennsylvania Black community.

The locations listed for the slaveholders, especially "Township" designations, are greatly mixed, and generally represent the location listed in the original record. Researchers should take into consideration how township boundaries shifted and new townships and counties were created through the years.

Finding a Person in the Data Lists

Locating a Slaveholder

There is no overall site index listing all of the people recorded here.  In order to locate a specific individual, whether enslaved person or slaveholder, start with the Pennsylvania county in which you believe that person lived.  Each county for which enslavement data has been collected has a header page (Go there), with  links to individual pages for that county.  Most data is collected under pages organized by slaveholder surnames, for reasons given above.  Therefore, if you are looking to locate a specific slaveholder, look for the specific county page that might contain his or her surname.  At the top of those pages are lists of all slaveholders on that page.  Click on a name to be taken to that slaveholder's data and slaveholdings.

Locating an Enslaved Person

While locating a specific slaveholder is relatively straightforward, locating a specific enslaved person is difficult due to the poor records that were kept and that have survived.  It usually requires considerable work and patience.  If you know the name of the slaveholder who held the slave, but not the slaveholder's county of residence, you can start at the top of the individual county pages, at the listings of all slaveholders on that particular page.  If you find the slaveholder in question, just click on the name to be taken to the slave listings for that slaveholder.

If you don't know the slaveholder's name, but you think you know the county that the slave was held in, you can start at the top of each individual page for that county and use your browser's find feature.  On most browsers, simply hold down the Control (Ctrl) button and the F key at the same time.  A search box will pop up.  Type in the first name of the slave for whom you are searching.  Try different spellings and options if you have no success.

If you don't know either the slaveholder's name or the county of residence, you may have to search page by page, which will take time and patience.  Keep in mind that this site does not have all of the enslavement data from the entire state of Pennsylvania.  At this time it contains only a portion of the known data that has been collected so far.  We hope to change that to a "large portion of the known data" in the coming years, however no data set of this nature can ever be considered "complete."


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