Slavery in North Carolina: A Pathfinder for History 3000, 4000, 5135
Spring 2006
by Maury York


Begin historical research with secondary sources: Search the online catalog.

Subject alphabetical searches:

North Carolina--History

Locates such sources as:

Powell, William S.  North Carolina through Four Centuries.   NoCar F254 P63 1989

Slavery--North Carolina

Locates such sources as:

Kay, Marvin L. Michael and Lorin Lee Cary.  Slavery in North Carolina, 1748-1775.   NoCar E445 N8 S74 1994

Parker, Freddie L.  Stealing a Little Freedom: Advertisements for Slave Runaways in North Carolina, 1791-1840.  NoCar Ref E445 N8 S74 1994

Umphleet, Le Rae Sikes. "Slavery in Microcosm: Bertie County, North Carolina, 1790-1810." M.A. thesis, ECU, 1998.  NoCar E445 N8 U44 1998

Notice that most books on slavery are grouped together in the E440s; browse the shelves!
Check bibliographies in books and theses for additional references.

Build on your research, using bibliographies and periodical articles


Jones, H.G.  North Carolina History: An Annotated Bibliography.  NoCar Ref F254 J66
Contains references to books, theses, periodical articles, and other material on slavery in North Carolina. Check the online catalog to see what titles our library has. Interlibrary loan is available to obtain materials we do not have.

Periodical Articles:

North Carolina Historical Review.  NoCar F251 N892 (1924-present)
Quarterly journal containing articles on North Carolina history; useful indexes assist in locating articles on slavery.

America: History and Life
Online index of articles in historical journals, 1967-present; available on Joyner Library's Web pages under Electronic Resources/ Arts, Humanities & History.

Online, full-text articles in journals, including historical journals; available on Joyner Library's Web pages under Electronic Resources; click on "Resources A-Z" and then "J."

Use primary sources to add depth once you have narrowed your focus

Slave narratives (selected examples)

The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. (2 vols. of N.C. narratives)  NoCar Ref E441 A58 v. 14, v. 15
These are also accessible in electronic form.  They are available on Joyner Librar's Web pages under Databases; click on "Resources A-Z" and then "A."

Jacobs, Harriet.  Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  Joyner Stacks E444 J17 A3 1987

Jones, Friday.  Days of Bondage: Autobiography of Friday Jones.  NoCar Rare E444 J66 1883

Parker, Allen.  Recollections of Slavery Times.  NoCar E444 P37 1895a

Census Records

The U.S. censuses for 1790-1860 contain information about the number of slaves owned by each slaveholder in North Carolina. Especially useful are the censuses of 1850 and 1860. For these years, separate slaveschedules list the age, sex, and color (black or mulatto) of each slave. The number of slave cabins on each farm is listed also in the 1860 census. These records are on microfilm in the North Carolina Collection's Microfilm Room. The collection has published abstracts of these schedules for some counties in North Carolina. See handout,  Printed Indexes to the United States Census Records in the North Carolina Collection, 1790-1930. Click here for the top and body of a page from the 1860 slave schedule for Wake County, North Carolina. 

County Records

The North Carolina Collection has acquired microfilm copies of county records for 14 counties in eastern North Carolina. Dating from the eighteenth century to around 1900, the records include court minutes, deeds, estates records, and wills, many of which contain information relevant to the study of slavery. Indexes and abstracts for some of these records are also available. Click here to see part of the will of Elizabeth Pugh of Bertie County, 1818, Book G, Page 34, Bertie County Wills, in which she bequeaths some of her slaves.


The North Carolina Collection's Microfilm Room contains early North Carolina newspapers on microfilm. Those for the eighteenth century through the end of the Civil War contain much information on slavery, including ads for runaway slaves. A guide to the holdings is at Click here to see an advertisement for a runaway slave that appeared in the February 8, 1860, issue of the Raleigh Register.

Legal Sources

State laws and the state Constitution addressed the issue of slavery. Early laws can be found in the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina  NoCar Ref F251 N6 1993; those for the antebellum period have the call number NoCar Ref KFN 7425 A243. For state constitutions and constitutional amendments, see North Carolina Government, 1585-1979   NoCar Ref JK 4131 N67 N68x 1981. See also an important treatise on the law: Potter, Henry. Office and Duty of a Justice of the Peace  NoCar Rare KFN 7920 P67 1828. Similar manuals precede and continue Potter's work. Click here to see "An Act to Prevent Free Negroes from Hiring or Having the Control of Slaves," Chapter 36, Public Laws of North Carolina, 1860-61.

Published Documents

The North Carolina Collection contains volumes of the edited papers of prominent persons of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their letters contain many references to slavery in North Carolina. Among them are the papers of William Tryon, John Gray Blount, Willie P. Mangum, William Alexander Graham, Thomas Ruffin, Archibald Debow Murphey, Zebulon B. Vance, and David Reid. Call numbers can be located in theonline catalog, using a title keyword search with the names of these men (e.g., papers Thomas Ruffin). Click here to see a portion of a letter from E. P. Guion to Thomas Ruffin, August 28, 1831, concerning the Nat Turner slave rebellion (Papers of Thomas Ruffin, vol. 2, p. 45).


Original maps and reprinted maps of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provide useful context for the study of slavery. For a description of holdings, see the handout, Map Series in the North Carolina Collection. Most maps in the North Carolina Collection are not cataloged; ask for assistance at the Service Desk. Click here to see a portion of a map of Wake County, ca. 1870, showing the names of landowners in Oak Grove Township who once owned the slave Friday Jones.

Slavery in North Carolina - Joyner Library

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