Since February is Black History Month, it seems appropriate to mention some of the lesser-known records that are available for African American research at the National Archives. Among those are vessel manifests that document the antebellum domestic slave trade. Even though Congress outlawed the slave trade in 1807, the law of course did not prohibit the continued right to own or transport slaves from state to state. Vessel captains transporting slaves from the Upper to the Lower South had to provide U.S. Customs agents with manifests of their “cargo” at the ports of departure and arrival. What is extremely useful about these records is that they identified the slaves by name and provided a personal description–few other federal records before the Civil War included such important information. The forms also provided the name and residence of the owner, making it possible to link specific slaves to families that show up on other federal records, such as the U.S. census.
Currently, the only records available online are the inward and outbound slave manifests for New Orleans, which have been digitized by Ancestry.com from microfilm publication M1895. Slave manifests for a few other southern ports, including Charleston (ARC ID 2767346), Savannah (ARC ID 1151775), and Mobile (ARC ID 2554808), are available at NARA’s Southeast Regional Archives in Morrow, Georgia.