Special Collections and University Archives has recently added to its collections a manumission written in 1801 by Moses Hall of Nicholas County, Kentucky. This manuscript document is a contract stating that Hall will free Dinah, a black female slave, when she reaches her 23rd birthday in five months (March 10, 1802).
Manumission was the act of freeing a slave by a slave owner, through a deed or will. This act of an individual contrasts with a governmental directive to free slaves, such as the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln in 1863. Manumission in the United States was done for a variety of reasons, ranging from a sentimental gesture to a method of incentivizing obedience at the prospect of eventual freedom. However, the practice became increasingly regulated in order to limit the population of freed black residents in the colonies starting in Virginia in 1691 when a law was passed that required freed slaves to leave the colony within six months and for the previous slave owner to pay for the trip.
In Kentucky, the history of slavery and emancipation reflects the complexity of its geographical position as a border state. During the early nineteenth century, Kentucky was a site of abolitionist movements and home of notable emancipationists such as Cassius Marcellus Clay. It was also a State that was slow to enact the changes required by the Thirteenth Amendment. For example, the Kentucky House of Representative had refused to ratify the amendment (a defiant act that was finally and symbolically amended by its General Assembly in 1976).
This artifact serves as a primary source document in teaching and studying the history of slavery in the United States. As time passes, it becomes easier to lose connection or even to deny the existence of dark periods, like slavery, or other tragic events in human history. As the motto of the National Archives states: Past is Prologue. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
A transcription of the manumission follows:
October [yt] 5th 1801. To all whom it may concern know ye that
I Moses Hall of Nicholas County and commonwealth of Kentu
-cy do Emmancipate and set at liberty one Negro woman named
Dinah when she will arrive at twenty three years of age which
will be on the tenth of March 1802