Friday, September 26, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Robeson County, NC: Lessons from the Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color

John Smith, past editor of the Burke Journal, was the presenter for this session.  I happen to have several direct lines in Robeson County and I wanted to hear anything and everything John had to say even though my lines are white.

John told us something about the State Archives of North Carolina that is very important to know.  The Archives has filed all slave records and records of free persons of color under the Misc. section of each county.  I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t have thought to specifically look there.  I probably would have checked the Misc. category anyway just to see what was there but I wouldn’t have expected that it is the routine filing location for the records specific to blacks and free persons of color.

The second thing John told us is that even if you are doing white research you will want to consult these records because the slave owners are mentioned.   I learned this when I started reading the Slave Narratives.  Even though these would be considered records that African-American researchers would be more interested in, slave owners, overseers and persons on neighboring plantations are not only mentioned but many times they are mentioned in detail.

Here is where it gets really good, at least for me.   John is transcribing all of the records in the Misc. file for Robeson County, many of which are court records.  He told us about several cases involving slaves to give us some idea of the type of information you might find.  He mentioned TWO of my ancestors!  He talked about Joseph Lee (brother to my 5th great-grandfather) and Sarah Slade (possible 5th great-grandmother from a completely different line).  I told him I want a copy of his book as soon as it is published and I have been prodding him to get it done quicker.  He has already done seven other counties.

I routinely look at court records but would I have read through the cases involving blacks?  Probably not especially considering that these records have been segregated out by the archives.  Now I know better. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Where can I purchase John Smith's books? Thanks

    1. I found them listed on Amazon. Here is one of them.

  2. Wow. This could be very valuable. Both my husband and I have ancestors with roots in North Carolina, but few records. Thanks.