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AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum

Georgia Importation Records -- Can they help you?

The entire American South experienced a southwestward migration throughout the antebellum period. Historian Ira Berlin calls the people who lived in slavery from 1810 to 1861 the "Migration Generations" (Ira berlin, Generations of Captivity, Harvard University Press, 2003, page 159). The genealogical implications of migration are that movements of slave owners and their slaves expand the geography of our research. Records of the ancestors could be anywhere along the migration path that the slave owners took.

This is why Georgia "Importation Records" can be so important to any researcher. The Importation records may list slave owners with their slaves at the moment they entered Georgia, but their migration may have ended in any county or state in the southwest United States.

What are the Georgia Importation Records?

In 1798 and again in 1817, the Georgia General Assembly banned the interstate movement of slaves into Georgia, and provided fines and imnprisonment for violators -- but also provided that residents of the state and people migrating into Georgia could bring their own slaves across the border for their own use. To document these legal importations, the 1817 law required:

"That any person or persons hereby authorized to bring, import, or introduce any slave or slaves into this State, shall, before such slave or slaves is or are actually so brought, imported or introduced therein, go before the Clerk of the Superior Court of some county in this State, and make and subscribe an affidavit in writing, which shall be lodged with such Clerk, stating that he or she is about to bring, import and introduce into this State, a slave or slaves, in terms of this Act, particularly describing such slave or slaves by their names, ages and qualifications; that he or she is the true and lawful owner of such slave or slaves; that the said slave or slaves is or are about to be brought, imported or introduced into this State, for the sole purpose of being held to service and labor by him or her . . ."

Sometimes the person making affidavit was an agent for the owner, rather than the owner in person. In such cases, the records identify both the agent and the owner.

The State Archives has microfilmed books from twelve counties, Camden, Columbia, Elbert, Franklin, Jackson, Jones, Morgan, Oglethorpe, Pulaski, Richmond, Warren, and Wilkes, that record affidavits of persons importing slaves into Georgia. Years covered vary by county, but range from 1800 to 1845. Today the surviving records patchy at best, doubtless reflecting some lax enforcement and the loss or subsequent destruction of records. Large gaps in the record are due the on-again-off-again legal history of the ban on interstate slave traffic into Georgia ---Imposed in 1798 and 1817, the ban was repealed in 1824, then re-enacted in 1829. Restrictions in the law were modified in 1836. The ban was repealed in 1842, re-enacted exactly one year later in 1843, repealed again in 1849, reimposed in 1851, and finally repealed for the last time in 1855.

To put these records in perspective, there were 47 counties in Georgia in 1820, growing to 93 counties by 1840. The twelve counties named above, for which we have Importation Records, therefore, represent only a small part of all Georgia counties -- but four of the twelve are on the border with South Carolina, three more are close to the SC border, and another is on the Florida border. Slaveholders from other counties and states had to pass through these places, and it would have been convenient to register imported slaves at a courthouse near the border. For example, the Columbia County book registered slave owners from three other Georgia counties and one importer enroute to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Between all twelve counties, there are probably thousands of slaves named in these records.

Only the Columbia County Importation Records, and part of the Richmond County book, have been extracted. They will soon be available online exclusively at Afrigeneas. These Importation Record books are important to the history of all Americans. I would like to partner with anyone who wants to help complete this project. Email me. Particularly anyone with access to the original county records, or the microfilm at Georgia State Archives or UGA, or persons willing to purchase the film. Need extractors and proofreaders.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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