You may have some trouble reading the hand-written letter on this page. It’s a Bill of Sale penned in 1839 and taken from the pages of one of the many deed books archived at the Wake County Register of Deeds. Except, it’s not for the sale of land, a house or any other piece of real estate. It’s for the sale of people: a mother, Emily, and her three children, William, Betsy and Hezekiah. The “grantor” is William Boylan, a politician who in the 1800s owned most of southeast Raleigh, and the “grantee” (or buyer) is a man named Isaac Hunter, a former slave who bought his way to freedom…and this Bill of Sale is his $1,400 receipt for purchasing back his wife and three children from slavery.
This incredible, illuminating evidence of one family’s agonizing human journey was discovered through the work of the Enslaved Persons Project, made possible by the Wake County Register of Deeds and its many volunteers and partners. Launched in 2021, this collaborative endeavor between the University of North Carolina Greensboro Libraries , North Carolina Division of Archives and Records , Wake County Register of Deeds and Shaw University has now uncovered the once hidden information and stories of formerly enslaved people from hundreds of pages of Wake County deed books. In many cases, these documents are some of the only written records of the lives of these people. Thanks to the staff and volunteers who spent countless hours combing through thousands of pages and indexing the information, families, historians, genealogists and the public finally have access to search and unearth this history.
Enslaved Persons Search
Using the Enslaved Persons Search, you can search the enslaved person’s name, “grantor” (or seller), “grantee” (or buyer), date, deed book or page number.Start Your Search
Our Wake County information is now part of the larger Digital Library on American Slavery (DLAS), an expanding resource of various independent online collections related to race and slavery in the United States, made searchable through a single, simple interface. Although the current focus of DLAS is sources associated with North Carolina, it contains considerable data related to all 15 slave states and Washington, D.C., including detailed personal information about slaves, slaveholders, and free people of color.
The Wake County Register of Deeds was overwhelmed with the outpouring of volunteers wanting to help with this project. While we are no longer looking for volunteers, many other counties across North Carolina are undertaking the same efforts with their records and they need your help. If you're interested in volunteering, email Richard Cox with the "People Not Property" project at UNC Greensboro: firstname.lastname@example.org.