Letters from Ex-slaves, Lexington Kentucky 1830s-1880s

What happened to the strange relationships between slaves and those who claimed to own them? Evidence from the William Preston family papers shows several intriguing aspects:
  1. that many African-Americans who were freed under the auspices of the Kentucky Colonization Society took an entrepreneurial attitude toward finding success in Liberia, the land of freedom and missionaries
  2. that many African-Americans freed finally by Federal law (the 13th Amendment did this not Kentucky which was one of the last states to have legal slavery) migrated to the old Northwest territory (the first area in which American slavery was banned) to try to make it on their own;
  3. that it was difficult not to appeal to their wealthy former owners when in the final throes of need;
  4. that when they did make an appeal for help, it was made with a sense of dignity -- the words were crafted as from one human being to another -- not begging, not grovelling. The letters I have found seem to intimate an assuredness that the reader would feel the bond at that moment just as surely as he had caused the bond to be felt by the writer during slavery times.

Letters from Liberia, 1833-55 Margaret Haws in Pittsburg, PA asking for husband's free papers, 1850
Green Banks in Lexington, KY wanting to buy land, 1868Robert W. Beasly in East Saginaw, MI asking for a horse, 1868
Robert Thompson in Louisville, KY asking for bail, 1870Joseph Smith and Nelly Williams in Charlestown, IN asking for "necessary comforts of life" and a horse, 1870
Francis Vaughn in Jeffersonville, IN asking for basic subsistence, 1882Sam Giles in Olympia, KY asking for a cow, 1885


Posted March 13, 2000
email: dolph@pop.uky.edu