Arkansas African American Records

Prior to the Louisiana Purchase, there were few slaves in Arkansas; after 1836 though, the numbers increased as white settlement moved west from the South-East.Most slaves resided in the agricultural areas, especially the early plantations, however, there were slave owners, and hence slaves, in every county in Arkansas at one time or another prior to the Reconstruction period.

Researchers of African American will find the following sources valuable in their research:

Research for slaves from 1850 - 1860 can be done using the federal slaveholders census records available in the Arkansas census area of our site. If your ancestor was a free black during that time he would be found in the general 1850 and 1860 census, instead of the slave schedules. All blacks were enumerated after 1870 in the general census.

An additional source of information for researchers after 1865 are the Freedmen's Bureau records. The US War Department created the Bureau after the Civil War, to bring social assistance to over 3 million former slaves and poor whites in the southern states. Unfortunately, the Bureau only ended up helping tens of thousands of former slaves; however, the records it did leave are considered to be one of the finest sources available for African American research between 1865 and 1872; that time known in U.S. history as the Reconstruction Period. Many of these records have been put online by Ancestry and are provided below in their own section: Ancestry African American Databases.

Probably the most complete work done on slavery in Arkansas was written by Orville W. Taylor in 1958 and called Negro Slavery in Arkansas. Unfortunately, this manuscript does not appear in complete form online. However, it has been republished by the University of Arkansas Press, and is more widely available. The link on the title above will take you to a page at Amazon where you can order the manuscript. I found a copy of the book online which allows a preview of the actual written pages at Google Books: see Negro Slavery in Arkansas

Orville Taylor traces the growth of slavery from John Law's colony in the early eighteenth century through the French and Spanish colonial period, territorial and statehood days to the beginning of the Civil War. He describes the various facets of the institution including the slave trade, work and overseers, health and medical treatment, food, clothing, housing, marriage, personal morality, legal regulation and discipline, and the free black and manumission.

A final research tool for African Americans looking for their Arkansas ancestors would be the Arkansas History Commission, which with help from the Arkansas Black History Advisory Committee collects business records, church records, diaries, journals, letters, lodge records, personal memoirs, photographs and other related documents.

 

Arkansas African American Biographies

Arkansas Slave Narratives
The Writers' Unit of the Library of Congress Project processes material left over from or not needed for publication by the state Writers' Projects. On file in the Washington office in August, 1939, was a large body of slave narratives, photographs of former slaves, interviews with white informants regarding slavery, transcripts of laws, advertisements, records of sale, transfer, and manumission of slaves, and other documents.

Aaron Hurvey - Aaron Hurvey, an escaped slave, is one of 5,526 recorded black soldiers who joined the Union Army in Arkansas during the Civil War.

Henry Turner - He was born a slave in northern Mississippi near the small towns of Red Banks and Byhalia, was the property of his owner, Edmond Turner, and was brought to Phillips County by "his white folks" some months before the war.

African American Arkansas Cemeteries

Arkansas African American Military Records

Documenting African Americans in the Records of Military Agencies
In the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), there are vast quantities of records in numerous record groups (RGs) pertaining to the participation of African Americans in the military. But archivists' ability to respond effectively to reference requests is hampered by the lack of finding aids on records of military agencies, particularly records created immediately before and after World War II. Even when such aids exist, they are fragmentary or too general to determine if the described records are pertinent to the topic of African Americans. This article sheds light on some of the more relevant military records which would assist researchers tracing their African American roots.

Arkansas Slave Records

Indenture Bonds for Hempstead, Arkansas

Large Slaveholders of 1860 - Published information giving names of slaveholders and numbers of slaves held is almost non-existent. It is possible to locate an ancestor on a U.S. census for 1860 or earlier and not realize that ancestor was also listed as a slaveholder on the slave schedules, because published indexes almost always do not include the slave census.

Sevier County Slaves & Their Owners
James Jr. and his brothers and mother, inherited slaves at the death of father--and it is probable that some of those people came to Arkansas with James Clardy, Jr.

Slaves of the State
Many people have the mistaken impression that slavery was outlawed or abolished in the United States after the civil war by the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

1866 Treaty with Cherokee Nation Articles Pertaining to African Cherokee Citizens and Ending Slavery in the Nation
All the Cherokees and freed persons who were formerly slaves to any Cherokee, and all free Negroes not having been such slaves, who resided in the Cherokee Nation prior to June first, eighteen hundred and sixty-one, who may within two years elect not to reside northeast of the Arkansas River.

Slave Data Collection (hosted at Afrigeneas)

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Research Tools

African American Newspapers
A list of African American Newspapers available for research at the Arkansas History Commission.

Documenting African Americans in the Records of Military Agencies

Ancestry African American Databases

U.S. Colored Troops Records
Records of the more than 178,000 men who served in the U.S. Colored Troops regiments during the Civil War.

Freedmen's Bureau Records
The records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands include some unusual but valuable items' marriage certificates of recently freed slaves and registers and other records containing information about slave families.  These items are quite fragmentary and they are by no means a complete record of family life before emancipation, but they have been useful to historians and sociologists who have examined them because data about the slave family is not generally plentiful.

Freedman's Bank Records
More than 480,000 records of Freedman's Savings and Trust, which served thousands of former slaves between 1865 and 1874. Among the most underused bodies of federal records useful for African American genealogical research are the records of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company. Chartered by Congress in early 1865 for the benefit of ex-slaves, the surviving records relating to the bank and its collapse are a rich source of documentation about the African American family. In an effort to protect the interests of depositors and their heirs in the event of a depositor's death, the branches of what is generally referred to as the Freedman's Bank collected a substantial amount of detailed information about each depositor and his or her family. The data found in the files provide researchers with a rare opportunity to document the black family for the period immediately following the Civil War.

Freedmen's Bureau Marriage Records
In Arkansas, superintendents issued marriage certificates, occasionally performed the ceremonies themselves, and made regular reports to the assistant commissioner in Little Rock.  Consequently, the Arkansas bureau records contain a relatively large quantity of marriage information.  Assistant Commissioner John W. Sprague directed his subordinates "to keep and preserve a record of marriages of freed people, and by whom the ceremony was performed."  Some officers interpreted Sprague's instructions more liberally than others.  The register kept at Fort Smith shows no information about the individuals who were married beyond their name, age, and residence.  The agent at Arkadelphia, however, also recorded the color of the persons marrying, the color of their parents, the number of years they had lived with another person, the reason for the separation, and the number of children by the previous union.

World War I Draft Cards
Records of nearly 2 million black men (ages 18-45) who registered for the WWI draft in 1917 and 1918

African American Photo Collection
Thousands of photos showing African Americans throughout American history

Southern Claims Commission Records
Roughly 23,000 claims filed by Southerners who sought compensation for property seized by the Union Army



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