Part of Fold3’s Black History Collection is the South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872. Like the title suggests, this item contains bills of sale, inventory and appraisement books, and inventories of estates from the Charleston area of South Carolina between 1732 and 1872. It is a joint project with the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Family Search, and the Lowcountry Africana group.
Among other uses, this publication can be invaluable for tracking down African American ancestors in the Charleston area, especially if they were slaves. Because slaves were considered property, when they were sold, a bill of sale was filled out, and when an estate was appraised for tax or probate purposes, slaves were listed and appraised along with the other items belonging to the estate. Such documentation is what makes this collection such a rich resource for finding slave ancestors. However, be aware that since slaves didn’t always have surnames, you’ll most likely need to look for them in this collection through the name of the slave owner.
Some examples of bills of sale and estate inventories include:
- A bill of sale from 1826 for about 100 slaves, listed by given name
- A bill of sale from 1804 for 3 slaves that provides both their American and African names
- A 1757 inventory for the estate of Richard Cochran Ash that lists multiple slaves and their values, including one that was a runaway
- An 1827 inventory for the estate of Thomas Drayton that lists his 160 slaves by family group
An important thing to remember in African American genealogy is that not all African Americans living in antebellum America were slaves—hundreds of thousands, even in the South, were free. You’ll see this reflected within this collection by the presence of inventories for the estates of free African Americans, which provide interesting insight into the lifestyles and possessions of free blacks.
A few examples are:
- An 1810 inventory for the estate of Joseph Morton, a “free black man”
- An 1829 inventory for the estate of John Martin Logan, a “free person”
And even if you don’t have ancestors who appear in this collection—whether slaves, slave owners, or free African Americans—it still provides a fascinating look into America’s slave-owning past. So take some time to search or browse the South Carolina Estate Inventories and Bills of Sale, 1732-1872, on Fold3.