Man Finds 1858 Bill of Sale for Slaves Hidden in Old Book

Man Finds 1858 Bill of Sale for Slaves Hidden in Old Book

A Virginia Beach man got a stark reminder of a dark time in U.S. history after purchasing an old book, and is now speaking up about it for the first time.

According to The Virginia Pilot, who recently wrote about the find, Andy Ott made a startling discovery fifteen to twenty years ago after bringing home an old volume from an antique store. After flipping through the book’s pages he came across something that is not at all unusual – a piece of paper being used as a bookmark of sorts.

What was unusual was what he discovered written on that faded blue paper.

“Daniel Fisher of the County of Princess Ann(sic) and State of Virginia have this day sold unto Daniel Ward of the same County one negro woman Eliza and Child also one boy name (sic) Ned and one Girl name Mahalia for the sum of thirteen hundred dollars…Nov. 6, 1858.”

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The other side reads:

“Bill of Sale from Daniel Fisher. $13.00”

Family historians who have spent time researching slaves or slave owners have likely had the sad experience of reading similarly disturbing documents in their studies. But finding an original receipt, possibly stored in the pages of an old book for more than 160 years, is a haunting reminder that the United States once allowed people to be sold as products.

According to the The Virginia Pilot article, after discovering the paper, Ott was unsure what to do with this piece of history so he stored the find in a protective sleeve and put it away in his bedroom dresser. Recently, however, he decided he was finally ready to take the next move.

With the help of a local special collections librarian, Mary Lovell Swetnam – Ott has been researching Eliza, Samuel (later discovered to be the name of the child in the document), Ned and Mahalia to find out if they have any living descendants. Why? He wants to give the receipt to them.

“This would be a stunning piece of their genealogy. That’s somebody’s great, great grandmother,” he points out.

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The rest of this fascinating story, including many details about the genealogical search for the people named in the document and a photo of the original bill of sale, can be found in The Virginia Pilot article right here.  If you have any information that could help Ott and Swetnam with their search you will also find contact details for the author of the article, Denise M. Watson, at the end.

For help with your own research into African American ancestors and/or slaves see our guide here. You may also like to read: Searching for Lost Family: These Heartbreaking Ads by Former Slaves Are a Vital Genealogy Resource.

1 thought on “Man Finds 1858 Bill of Sale for Slaves Hidden in Old Book”

  1. When I bought our house in Virginia it came with the original Chattels. People asked me to have them removed, but I said no, they showed the history of AMERICA. They no longer held any effect today.

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