East Tennessee Roots
- the history and genealogy of East Tennessee
Slavery in East Tennessee
Slaves in Census Records

Territorial censuses that were taken here in 1791 and 1795 show that slaves comprised about 8% and 12.5% of the population here, respectively.

Next, from Federal censuses of 1800, 1810, and 1820 we see that in 1800 slaves made up about 7.5%, while in both 1810 and 1820 slaves represented about 9.2%, of the population.

The 1830 and 1840 censuses included slaves in the listing for each head-of-household. These are broken down into sex and age groupings. 

The Slave Schedules:
By the 1850 census slaves were listed on a separate slave schedule. Entries were correlated to the population schedules: each slaveowner's slaves were listed individually, not by name but by age, sex, and whether black or mulatto. These slave schedules also record whether there was a 'slave house.' 

East Tennessee Roots has published a number of 1850 Slave Schedules already:
  • Blount County 1850 Slave Schedule - will be in v10n4.
  • Carter County 1850 Slave Schedule - v5n4. You can read it here: page 1 - page 2 - page 3 - page 4. I believe that Nathaniel G. Taylor's oldest slave, the 70-year-old male, was Solomon; more on him shortly.
  • Claiborne County 1850 Slave Schedule - v6n1.
  • Johnson County 1850 Slave Schedule - v5n4. You can read it here: page 1 - page 2. Notice that Catherine Moreland had a female slave reportedly 110 years old. Surname list of owners here.
  • Morgan County 1850 Slave Schedule - v8n4.
  • McMinn County 1850 Slave Schedule - v10n3.
  • Rhea County 1850 Slave Schedule - v10n3.
  • Scott County 1850 Slave Schedule - v7n4. These slaves are listed by name! You can read all about it here
  • Sevier County 1850 Slave Schedule - v7n1.

The 1860 Census has a Slave Schedule like the one for 1850.

Tip 1: If you see slave schedules that were not listed by age (oldest to youngest) consider whether they were listed by family group, for instance: man-woman-baby, then woman-two children, then man-woman probably represents three family groupings.

Tip 2: Working backward from the present, you've probably found your ancestors in the 1870 census. Now look at the same community in the 1860 census. Study, compare, think about it. Do any surnames of free blacks in 1870 match surnames of slaveowners in 1860? If yes, then do the ages match?

For some suggestions regarding tracing slaves found in the 1850 Scott County Slave Schedules, check here.

Slaves in County and State Records

Court records of almost all types can mention slaves by name, by relationships, and sometimes with a brief description. Wills, inventories, estate sales, lawsuits, bills of sale (which were often recorded in deed books), minutes, and so forth are all types of records where slaves can be found. Here's a few specific examples of the kind of information to be found in official county and state records:

From the Washington District Superior Court Loose Papers [in ETSU's Sherrod Library, Johnson City] is this 1795 "Plea of Margaret Lee." Attorney Waightstill Avery asserted that Margaret Lee was born free, to Thomas and Descinda Lee, in Boston, and was 'siezed' by a Samuel Satin about 1774 and sold into slavery. He asked for freedom for her and her two children Maria and Abraham. I don't know how this turned out -- but it sure would be interesting to find out. Here's the transcript as published in East Tennessee Roots, v6n4.

From Rhea County wills (Rhea County Guide to Wills and Inventories was published in East Tennessee Roots v9n2) we see an interesting example in that of Robert Bell. He wrote his will on 10 Sep 1834 and died soon afterward. Bell was a very wealthy man; he owned much real and personal estate. In his will he mentioned two sisters, a brother, and several nieces -- but no wife or children. He owned several slaves, some of whom were to be sold. 

But the directions in Robert Bell's will regarding his slave Sophia were different. Sophia had four children: Mary (aged 8 in 1834), Sam (aged 5), Granville (aged 4) and Claiborne (aged 2). Bell stated, "Whereas my Slave Sophia on or about the month of October 1832, contracted for her freedom and that of her children... and she has in good faith fulfilled the said contract on her part, the services and consideration money for which is hereby acknowledged... I do... manumit, discharge, and forever set free at my death the said Sophia and her children..." Further, Bell put one of his real properties in trust for Sophia, the proceeds to support her the rest of her life; she also got $33.33 per year for the next six years as well as household furniture. And there's more: another real property he placed in trust for Mary, the proceeds of which were to be used for her education, and which would become Mary's property in 1850. And each of the boys were to be apprenticed to learn a mechanical trade.

Now, according to that volume, the Circuit Judge prevented that emancipation from being carried into effect. However, in the 1860 Rhea County census (page 9/512) we find both Granville Bell (aged 25) and Mary Bell (aged 32) as free mulattoes, living in the household of John W. Foust, who was a carpenter. Granville's occupation was listed as a trader. And get this: Granville and Mary each owned real property worth $500; also Granville owned personal property worth $1,000, and Mary owned $200. (By the way, head-of-household Foust didn't own any real property.) Both Granville and Mary could read and write. If you scan thru the census pages and you'll see that many people owned no real property; some even owned no personal property! Both Granville's and Mary's net worth indicated they were 'enjoying comfortable circumstances,' as the saying went. Sure sounds like Robert Bell's will had been implemented, doesn't it?

Four households away (page 10/512) we find a household headed by one Jack Bell, a free black, who was aged 63, and a farmer. Per Robert Bell's will his slave Black Jack (who was aged 30 in 1834) was to have been sold. Do you suppose this is he? Remember, this is the 1860 census, so his age is just about right. Let's look further at Jack Bell's household: the next person listed was Sophia Bell, mulatto, aged 58. Is this the Sophia, mother of Mary, Sam, Granville, and Claiborne, who was to be freed per Robert Bell's will? Neither Jack nor Sophia could read or write. The other four members of the household, in this order, were, and all mulattoes: Lucinda Bell, aged 22, Joseph Bell, aged 16, William H. Bell, aged 5/12, and Rufus Gothard, aged 14. (So all those had been born since Robert Bell died.)

I think there's enough evidence to assert that Granville and Mary Bell of the 1860 census were the same Granville and Mary who were freed by Robert Bell's will. I also think that the Sophia Bell of the 1860 census was their mother, and the same Sophia who was freed by his will. I also think its more likely than not that the Jack Bell of the 1860 census was the Jack whom Robert Bell willed be sold. 

We don't know the details of the 1832 contract between Robert Bell and his slave Sophia - and I doubt we ever will. But considering all the facts we do know, I think its highly likely Robert Bell was the father of Sophia's children (Granville, Mary, Sam, and Claiborne). I suspect a DNA test would be the only proof. 

For more research: If these are your ancestors, please don't stop here! There are plenty - plenty! - of avenues for further research! Check the 1850 Rhea County census: Is Sophia in it? Is Granville? Is Mary? What about any other Bells, black, white, and mulatto? Check deeds - in fact go thru them with a fine-toothed comb: What happened to Sophia's trust after the six years expired? Which properties did Granville and Mary own? When were the properties sold, and to whom, and does this reveal when anyone died, who they married, where they went? Check any and all other court records, including minutes, marriages, wills, etc.

And, don't forget that clues might be found in Robert Bell's family; you'll need to locate his father, and so on. Where did they come from and how long had they been in Tennessee? Is the 1860 census accurate that Sophia was born in Tennessee around 1800? Did she belong to this Bell family from birth? As you're searching, keep a lookout for those uncommon names - Granville, Claiborne - and don't forget there were other slaves Robert Bell owned, for instance Lucy, who was about 55 years old in 1834, was born roughly 1779, and Elijah was born roughly 1789. 

Slaves in Other Types of Records

It is not uncommon for reminiscences, autobiographies, journals, diaries, and so forth to mention slaves by name and in some instances by fairly extensive description. Here's some examples:

Richard King's Journal:
There's a part of Pleasant Forest Cemetery (in Farragut, far west Knox County) that is still known as the 'slave section.' And now some of the markerless graves there are no longer unknown! 

One of them was Lillie, who died 05 Dec 1818. Then came her sisters Cynthia (died 12 Dec 1818) and Eliza (died 03 Feb 1819). One of those three was the mother of Caroline, who died 11 Feb 1819. Then there was Viney, who died 12 May 1819. These five we know for sure were buried there. And almost certainly Bine was, too; she died 14 May 1821 at age 75. Ditto for Hetty (the third daughter of Jack and Susannah), who died in Oct. 1819. These people were all slaves of Rev. Richard King.

How can we identify them after nearly 200 years? Because of Rev. Richard King's journal! King, a minister of the gospel, lived nearby and kept a journal of 'occurrences' during 1819-1823 (published in East Tennessee Roots v7n2). Some of the things he noted were the deaths of several of his slaves. There were other of his slaves who survived; many of those are mentioned in his journal as well. With a little effort you can begin to piece together family groupings. One important clue is King's comments on Bine, who was 75 years old when she died, thus was born about 1746: King recorded that Bine had been in his wife's family from birth - and we know that his wife's family was surname Ross, from near Camden, SC - so there's where your research goes now.

Slave Life

Folks, East Tennessee isn't the deep south. Never was. Here there were very few of the giant plantations of the lower south, with their high number of slaves working under hired overseers while the owner and his family remained ensconced in the 'big house.' 

No, here in East Tennessee the majority of whites who did own slaves -- most whites didn't own any -- owned few, say five or six. And of those who did own a lot, say 20 or more, you will see by studying the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules that 

Here in East Tennessee the slave owner and owner's family usually worked side by side with their slaves. A man slave might work alongside his owner raising crops and doing farm chores; a woman slave might work alongside her owner doing cooking, washing, and other household chores.

Or, slaves might learn specialized skills. Just as an example: if the owner was a blacksmith his slave might work alongside him in the blacksmith shop and learn blacksmithing. Now what was the result of that? For one, if the owner became ill the slave would be able to continue the do the work on his own. For another, the slave's blacksmithing skills meant he could be hired out for more money than a farmhand would bring. And third, sometimes the slave was permitted to work 'on his own' after the master's work was done; in this way slaves could earn their own money and sometimes contract with their owner for their freedom.

Therefore, some slaves had a degree of liberty and trust that may seem surprising to us. Here's some examples:

- William Moffett's slave Paul had "leave to Carrey fire armes & ammunition for the purpose of killing Squirrels & other wild game on the premises of Said Moffet, his Said Master being accountable for his Conduct in the use of Said Armes." This is recorded in the Grainger County Court Minutes of 20 Aug 1800.

- Rev. Richard King in his journal noted occasions when his slave Jack would disappear for a day or two; Jack always came back and King didn't seem too concerned that he wouldn't. On one occasion King noted Jack was out 'chicken trading.'  

- Milton Shields (in now Hamblen County) in 1842 sent his slave Oswell up to help his brother Henry Shields (in Greene County) with farm work. Oswell made the trip alone, on foot; Milton instructed Henry keep Oswell as long as there was work to do, and when done to let Oswell borrow one of Henry's horses to ride back home.

- John Brabson Shields (one of Milton's sons) enlisted in the Confederacy and near the war's end was commander of his company. Shields' slave Joe accompanied him. Shields told Joe to take one of his (Shields') horses and hide in the woods in order to avoid a certain Union company. Joe did, but he was found. The Union company stole the horse, and asked(?) Joe to accompany them as their cook. Joe did - and within a few days Joe learned of their plans and assessed their strength. Then Joe escaped one night but not before taking their best horse as replacement for the one they had stolen. Joe returned to Shields bringing the horse and the valuable information he had gathered.

- John Hillsman emancipated his slave John who soon became the owner of a lot in downtown Knoxville and made a good living as a barber. His family had their own pew in the First Presbyterian Church. 

- Marcus Parrott in his reminiscences of steamboating noted that one of the Marcus Bearden's slaves, Mintus, worked on the steamboat. 

Attitudes Towards Slavery

A fatalistic attitude combined with a rigid class system seems to have been dominant: some people are slaves - and that's just how it is. If you were fortunate, you were born a white man. If you were really fortunate, you were born a wealthy white man - and thus you were so much better than poor white men. Then there were the white women, essentially nameless, jobless, and dependent upon those white men their entire lives. Free blacks were next in order; slaves were last. 

This attitude is perhaps illustrated best in the brief eulogy Richard King wrote in his journal upon Bine's death

She is now a free woman.

Free Blacks and Mulattoes

But remember, not every black person who lived here was a slave! 

As discussed above, censuses from 1791 onward included slaves. Those censuses also included free blacks. In both the territorial censuses of 1791 and 1795 free blacks represented slightly over 1% of the population. In 1800 the percentage fell to less than one-third of 1%, and in 1810 it was about half of 1%. By 1820 it was back to almost 1%.

1810 Grainger County Census
While we do have the 'aggregates' - the census totals - for every census taken here since 1791, we don't have any details until the 1830 census. But there is one exception: the 1810 Grainger County census! It is the enumerator's copy, and it is at least 92% complete. (We know this by comparing the totals to the aggregate.)

In the 1810 census the 'head of household' was listed by name; that's the only name you'll find. Then there are number totals in these categories: 'free whites' in five age groupings (under 10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, and over 45), males first then females; then one column for 'free colored' and one for 'slaves.'

This 1810 Grainger County census (remember, its at least 92% complete) has 34 households that include 'free blacks.'  (23 of those households consisted entirely of free blacks; 11 households were free blacks and whites.) Here is a list of those 34 household heads:  Berry, Rebecca  -  Bolen, William  -  Bolen, David  -  Bolen, Lisha  -  Bruenton, Mourning  -  Bruenton, James  -  Butler, John  -  Collins, Dowel  -  Collins, Lewis  -  Collins, Griffin  -  Collins, Joseph  -  Denson, Elizabeth  -  Dimry, John  -  Goan, James  -  Goan, John  -  Goan, Shadrack  -  Goan, Claiborn  -  Goan, Caleb  -  Howell, Henry  -  Ivey, Martha  -  Ivey, Baxter  -  Ivey, Polly  -  Kesler, John  -  Lephew, Joseph  -  Mournin, Sarah  -  Reed, William  -  Reynolds, James  -  Scott, Gooden  -  Scott, Dennis  -  Scott, Jesse  -  Scott, Edward  -  Shelton, Stephen  -  Worley, Moses  -  Worley, James.

Keep in mind that some of those may have been Melungeon families. Bolen, Collins, Goan, and Scott are among the surnames known to be Melungeon. 

Revolutionary Soldiers 
Roane County was the home to a free black man by the name of Primus or Primes. 

On 16 Nov 1846 Primus applied for a pension under the Act of June 7, 1832, at which time he stated that he was 86 years old and gave the following testimony: that he volunteered in the service of the United States in 1777, in the capacity of waiter to Col. Thomas Carson of Rowan County, NC. He was taken prisoner in Charleston, along with Col. Carson; paroled, ignored his parole and rejoined the army again at Salisbury under Gen. Gates. He was at the battle of Camden, where he received an injury to his head; was in Col. Williams' regiment at King's Mountain. Also he was in the battles of Cowpens, Guilford Court House, and Eutaw Springs. He was under Gen. Washington at York Town and was present when Cornwallis surrendered. He served 4 years' total.

John Wright swore that he was well acquainted with Primus and that Primus was believed in the neighborhood to have been a Revolutionary Soldier. Nevertheless, it appears Primus never did get a pension. According to the pension file (R8486), Primus died in either December, 1848 or January, 1849, leaving one son, Primus Jr.

I sure wish someone would research him! I've noticed in the 1860 census there is a Sarah Primus, a 37-year-old mulatto, in Jefferson County. Any relation? What about a Nancy Primus, a 72-year-old black woman, in Sullivan County in 1880?

David Pinn/Ambrose Month
You know in the 1840 census there was a place to name the Revolutionary Pensioners. The 1840 Knox County census shows a David Pinn as a Revolutionary pensioner. He was living in Lutitia Dabney's household; all the household is listed as free colored. This guy's been elusive. Some people claim that he's the Ambrose Month, who, on 07 Jan 1834 and as a Knox County resident, applied for a pension. (Pension granted: see W7477.) Could it be? I throw up my hands in despair.
Pharaoh "Uncle Ferry" Chesney, of Union County, Tennessee. The 1900 census gives his age as 114. 
Slaves have lived in East Tennessee since the first white settlers brought them here about 1770. Actually, there were some here earlier. Some slaves were held in the Cherokee nation. 

A slave named Abram reportedly saved the British in Fort Loudoun in 1760 by carrying messages to and from South Carolina authorities that the fort was under siege by Cherokee.

While finding genealogical information on an ancestor who was once a slave is challenging, it is by no means always impossible. Sometimes, yes - but not always. See some examples below. 

By the way, remember that not every black person living here was a slave! Some were born free; others were emancipated. 

Under the 1796 Constitution any free man who met property and residency requirements could vote - and that included black men.
"On the 14th [May 1821] old Bine died, about 12 o'clock, full of days and entitled to the grateful thanks of the whole family. She was a Country born Slave, and in my wife's family from her birth, 75 years. She is now a free woman. Her virtues were numerous, and her vices such as arose from her State in life."