Stories behind a Bill of Sale

Bills of sale are one of the most common documents we have about American slavery.  They were carefully written to ensure the legality of the sale, and carefully preserved and guarded by the purchasers in case they ever needed to support their claims.  But bills of sale also have another purpose; they give glimpses into the lives and families of the humans being bought and sold.  This collection asks students to consider what details about slaves live emerge from these collections, both intentionally (the slave owner’s perpetual claim over their slaves’ lives, the legalese of buying human beings, etc.) and inadvertently (the size of slave families, the frequency of childbirth, the gender roles of slaves).