Documenting Captivity: Digitizing Slave Records of the Southeastern United States, 1785-1926

Material Description

The materials to be digitized include correspondence, journals, memoirs, receipts, bills of sale, account and ledger books, court cases and depositions, and estate inventories and divisions, all of which make reference to or name individual slaves or groups of slaves owned or traded in Kentucky and surrounding states and territories. The materials come from more than 150 collections held by the Filson Historical Society. Collections held by the Filson are donated by private individuals or organizations, or are purchased using monies from an institutional acquisition fund. The provenance of each collection, as available, is included in the Deed of Gift. Due to the nature of slavery, and slave records, the type of materials that shed light on the subject are dispersed across the collections of many individuals, families, and organizations. The materials appear predominantly in family collections, primarily those of slaveholding families of Kentucky, Virginia, and other southern states. Due to the variety of item types, the materials illustrate several aspects of slaveholding and slavery, from legal documents to personal opinions about individual slaves and the institution of slavery. Prominent families of Louisville and Kentucky are represented, including the Clark, Shelby, Clay, Taylor, and Bullitt families.


This 18-month project conducted by the Filson Historical Society will digitize materials from 18th and 19th century manuscript collections relating to enslaved African Americans in the southeastern United States, and a small number of items related to freedmen and women. Record types include, among others, correspondence, journals, bills of sale, ledgers, and estate documents. The project will consist of the in-house digitization of materials; item-level cataloging building on pre-existing collection-level cataloging; entering digital materials into an online content management system and digital access tools. Access to the digitized materials by researchers in the region and across the globe will allow for new scholarship on both the broader institution of slavery and on the histories of individual slaves and families. This project will be the Filson’s initial major digitization effort following the recent addition of a grant-funded digitization lab and content management system for cataloging and online access.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



The Filson Historical Society, Inc.


  • Ms. Jennifer Cole (The Filson Historical Society)
  • Mr. Aaron Rosenblum

Date Range

1785 - 1926

Geographic Scope

The materials included in the project were created by families and individuals living in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana, and describe activities taking place in those states.


  • 2000 Manuscripts