A. Background

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Background & Context

The domestic slave trade transplanted approximately 1 million slaves from what was called the Upper South (primarily Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, North Carolina) to what was once called the Southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, Western Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas) between 1808, the year which the United States effectively abolished the importation of slaves and 1865, the year the Civil War ended.

Most people think of slave traders moving slaves overland in coffles. However, there was another method of transporting slaves, and that was by the coastal waterways from as far North as Boston along the Eastern Seaboard all the way to New Orleans, a trip that typically took four to six weeks. The coastwise manifests, Record Group 36 of the United States Customs Service, document this aspect of the transshipment of slaves. Though the coastwise manifests constitute one of the most underutilized sets of records by African American genealogists, these records, are well organized by ports and dates and can be easily searched, though it would be a time consuming effort. They have not been microfilmed with the exception of the coastwise manifests for the port of New Orleans, Inward and Outward Bound.

That so many African Americans were sold South or transplanted South with their owners, many of whom moved their whole plantations, has implications for your genealogical research. This process that divided families will also be experienced by you in the form of a disjuncture in your research. Overcoming this hurdle for the period when the domestic slave trade was in full swing, will have to be faced at some point by most African American genealogists. One very simple way to look at this particular period is to think of it like this: The history books say migration and settlement of the frontier; African American history says domestic slave trade -- two phenomenon that occurred at the same time, involving the same people but remembered differently, written about differently and obviously experienced differently.

If you are tracing ancestry in Virginia or Maryland and have successfully found a slave owner who disappears all of a sudden or whose activities from his records on file at the courthouse indicate many sales without an explanation, after which mp further transactions can be found, consider the possibility that he migrated out of the County to new land, namely to a part of the Old Southwest. Likewise, if you have successfully traced a slave owner in Mississippi or Louisiana back to the territorial or pre-statehood period, and can not figure out where that slave owner migrated from, then consider that he migrated overland or by sea from the Upper South with or without his slaves.

Description and Condition of Original Records

These records are in surprisingly good condition except with the earliest records, some of which are brittle. The microfilm version used to make the transcription reflects the same quality. The most difficult records to read are those where folding creases have erased a few names. The manifests are organized by year with one box typically containing two years. The records are housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Note that a box may contain a few manifests for the previous year or the subsequent year. See a more complete description of contents of manifests below.

Description of Microfilm Version

There are 25 rolls of inward (to New Orleans) slave manifests and 38 rolls of outward (departing Port of New Orleans) manifests. The microfilm version reflects the original organization of the records. Each roll of film is equal to one box of the original manifests. The first roll, dated 1818-1820, actually contains a few manifests for dates between 1807 and 1818.

Records Transcribed

The first three rolls of film of the inward manifests have been transcribed. The next installment in this database will cover an additional three rolls until all rolls have been transcribed. The database was organized by manifest with each completed manifest being assigned an entry number. There are 837 entries. Note that the number of entries does not reflect number of voyages due to the duplication of manifest Gs. If a vessel carried slaves from several different owners or agents, the master of the ship was required by law to complete separate manifests for each owner/agent and then complete a summary manifest for all slaves who would be traveling on board.

Method of Transcription

1. All information is transcribed from the original microfilm.
2. All manifests appear in the same order that they appeared on the microfilm.
3. All names of slaves appear in the same order that they appeared on each manifest.
4. Manifests for roll #1 were copied into a book, and then later entered into the database. Later, the names were directly entered i  nto the computer database, skipping the handwritten stage. Entries were double-checked against the original.


Three name indexes were created from the database entries. They are: (1) Owner/Shipper (2) Slave Surname and (3) Ship Name.

Description of the Manifests and Their Information Content

The mechanics of the trade have not been described in great detail by historians. However, having some notion of how so many slaves were shipped along the coastal waterways would be helpful. See the references below for further reading and exploration.

Printed and Handwritten

The major portion of manifests are printed forms onto which names of slaves and other data were entered. Hand written manifests were relatively rare.


Each manifest lists slaves, owners, ship masters, etc. A second sheet was generally attached to the manifest in the form of an affidavit. Owners or shippers and the ship masters were required by the law prohibiting the in  ternational slave trade to complete this form and sign it. Consignees and agents appeared less frequently. Consignees and agents may have been on board, but in general it appears that this was not the case. A consignee could also have been at the port of New Orleans waiting for a specific ³lot² of slaves. The manifests do not lend themselves to interpreting who accompanied the slaves en route. Occasionally, "On Board" was written next to the responsible party's name. This does not indicate that those whose names did not have "On Board" written next to them were not actually on board.

Names: Spelling, Slave Surnames and Free Persons

Please note that variations in spellings for the same names may occur. Nineteenth century spelling was not standardized t to the extent that it is now. Frequent use of abbreviations for first names did occur, particularly for names like William, Joseph, James, Nathaniel. Surnames for many of the slaves were entered on the manifests, especially those from Virginia. In addition, an occasional free person of color is noted on the manifests. Note also the appearance of many French names including names that for all practical purposes are English but which were spelled in a French manner.


The port of embarkation (departure) is always included. All vessels landed at New Orleans unless otherwise indicated. Note that port of embarkation does not indicate residence for any of the individuals, particularly slaves, named in the manifests. Note that Bayou Balize is frequently mentioned as a landing prior to arrival in New Orleans. Balize was an island on the mouth of the Mississippi River o ûn the Louisiana side. A lighthouse was located on the island, but it eventually fell into disuse once the Port of New Orleans was developed. It was an island known for its illegal activities including smuggling and illegal importation of slaves. Attempts were made to determine whether the stopover at Balize, generally a few days and in one instance several weeks, was used as an official clearing point before arrival in New Orleans. No confirmation could be made on this query.

Dates & Travel Times

The date given in the transcription is the date on which the manifest forms were completed. It is a rough indicator of the date of departure. No dates of arrival in New Orleans were transcribed. Average travel times between ports was approximately 4 to 6 weeks. Note that these are manifests arenot ship logs indicating, for example, if the ship stopped at any other ports for pick-up of slaves. In general, the t Žrips appear to have been direct except in the case of several vessels that stopped at Balize as mentioned under Ports above.

Ship Masters/Owners/Shippers/Consignees/Agents

Ship Masters are captains of vessels, not ne cessarily "slave masters" although an occasional ship master did declare his ownership of a slave by using an official manifest form. Some forms were preprinted with an "owners" column, thereby leaving the question of ownership relatively unambiguous. This was the exception rather than the rule. The question of ownership is a complex one because of the number of transactions that could have occurred in buying and selling slaves. The following kinds of ownership could have existed for any one of the slaves being shipped to New Orleans, and users of this data should bear this in mind carefully:

Note that nearly all of the slaves wound up on large scale plantations along the Mississippi River in both Louisiana and Mississippi. A prodigious study of surviving slave sale transactions recorded at New Orleans will help the creative researcher to follow the trail. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall has published a database used for her historical research, but information on that database is not available at this time. 

Stories to be Discovered in Manifests

It is utterly strange that there is tremendous silence in the oral history about such a huge migration of people. In addition, much of the surviving eyewitness accounts and stories deal with travel overland rather than by the coastal waterways. Yet, the manifests contain much incidental information especially on runaways, deaths on board, inconsistencies in the manifests as completed at the port of departure and the appearance of the slaves at the port of arrival. The customs officers at New Orleans apparently took their jobs seriously, often noting these inconsistencies and often reflecting their suspicion that the slaves being brought were arriving from Africa rather than from a location in the United States. In s ¿ome cases, the customs officer in New Orleans indicates that the slaves faced a roll call. Note that the parties to the shipment all had to sign the manifests declaring that they were in compliance with the US law prohibiting further importation of slaves after January 1,1808. The first paragraph of the manifests typically contained these words:

Manifest of Negroes, Mulattos and Persons of Color, taken on board the (Name of ship) whereof (name of ship master), burthen (ship tonnage), to be transported to the Port of (name of Port) for the purpose of being sold or disposed of as slaves or to be held to service or labor.

The declaration at the bottom of the manifest which had to be signed by the ship master and the lawful agent or owner of the slaves read:

I, (Name of ) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly swear to the best of my knowledge and belief that the persons above, specified were not imported or brought into the Untied States, since the  first day of January, eighteen-hundred and eight, and that under the Laws of the State of (name of state), they are held to serve or labor as slaves so help me God. Collector¹s Office signature at the Port of Departure and signature of owner/agent.

Upon arrival at New Orleans, the customs officer had to inspect the slaves and verify the content of the manifests after which he affixed his signature. In one case, the New Orleans customs officer made a long set of notes (Entry 404), reproduced below:

I have examined the within named and described slaves, and found them to agree with the general manifest, with the following exceptions:

1. Sam White (No. 12) appears to me to be a full blooded mulatto but in other respects agrees with his description in the manifest.

2. Maria (No. 34) appears, and on the separate manifest is said to be only 9 instead of 19 years old; I had no doubt of the mistake having been made in transcribing.

3. George Washington (No. 35) appears not to be quite black: I should jud ge him to be three fourths, or, if such a mixture be possible, four-fifths black.

4. Anny Pusey (no. 111) I should judge to be 20 years of age instead of 16; but of this I thought it possible I might be mistaken.

5. James Brown (No. 115) appeared to have a tawny tinge instead of black; but which, I conceive, might be the effect of ill health.

6. Sam White (No. 12) and George Washington (No. 35) were directed to be detained on board, for further order; the remainder were permitted to be landed.

No re  ason was indicated for keeping Sam White and George Washington on board. Note Entry #506 which involves a convoluted story that boils down to the following facts noted by the customs officer at New Orleans when three slaves who faced a roll call could not speak or understand English:

Permitted to land except that Monday and Hannah appear to be "New Negroes from the Gold Coast three years since." 11th February "Examined the slaves described in the annexed manifest . Find them to agree. Monday and Hannah in this manifest have the appearance of New Negroes from the Coast--they can not speak English.

Or consider the very first entry wherein ³A New negro man with a collar round his neck with Hugh Young writ upon it² was brought in from Charleston in 1807 and for who qm freight of $30 was paid.

Slaves often had to face a weary road that involved walking to a port of departure as in the following case for Entry #437 where slaves were walked from the Savannah region to Pensacola and then boarded a ship to New Orleans. The manifest read:

Manifest of slaves belonging to R. Richardson of Savannah and brought overland from the state of Georgia into West Florida for the purpose of being transported from there to the state of Louisiana and now shipped as passengers on board the steam ship Robert Fulton, Timothy Bannard Master ... from Pensacola for New Orleans. Owner is Richard Richardson.

Free blacks were often kidnapped and shipped South and their protestations were registered in the manifests. In some cases, freed slaves of a deceased slaveowner, not quite fresh in his grave, were whisked away to be transported South. Consider the f ¿ollowing case (Entry #412):

O & S: Josiah L. Ford/Foard, Cecil County Maryland
George m 19 5-4 Light Black
Leney f 20 5-4 Mulatto
Caroline f 12 4-4 Dark Mulatto
Harriet f 22 4-9 Dark Mulatto

Note: Foard/Ford states that "... under my father's will, they will be entitled to freedom at the periods of time mentioned in said will."

At the end of this series of manifests, the following statement appears on the deposition:

This is to certify that the within named Negroes Arthur, Keziah, Josiah & Harriet have been taken out of the vessel by my order on an alleged violation of the law relating to the sale of Negroes for transportation out of the state and are detained for decision of the complaint made on their behalf.

Could it be that (1) the owner, Josiah L. Ford, was illegally reenslaving the named slaves; (2) that to cover it up, he entered their names incorrectly except for Harriet; (3) that he even attempted to sell one of the slaves wh ¹ose name, Josiah, he shared.

Only the descendants of these slaves will be able to answer the questions through a prodigious search of the records to see what happened to them. Did they regain their freedom ad remain in Virginia or did they wind up in the Mississippi Delta?

Finally, Sally Hemings was not the only slave to travel to Europe with an owner. Entry #297 shows a slave named Thomas, personal body servant to one J.B.E.G. Muloan, traveled to France in 1821 with the said J.B.E.G. Muloan and his Missuss (sic).

Occasionally, researchers will be lucky enough to locate a manifest that indicates the movement of a whole plantation to an area. For example, Entry #60 indicates that Benjamin Ballard of Halifax County, North Carolina was moving to St.Landry Parish, near Opelousas, where he had already purchased land and intended to settle. Samuel Thomas, also of Halifax County stated the same in manifest #101.

Such are the stories that can be discovered if you fo llow the correct methods.

An Invitation to Join This Project

As far as is known, none of these records have been transcribed for genealogical purposes. Historians have certainly used these records for their own research, but none to my knowledge have taken it upon themselves to do complete transcriptions. There are 25 rolls of film for the inward manifests alone and 38 rolls for the outward manifests. If all of these could be transcribed and easily made available in electronic format, what a tremendous resource for genealogists as well as others. If you would like to join in this project, please e-mail me at

Applicable Restrictions on Use of This Data Base

You can not be restricted from using the information in the manifests as they N are originally filed or microfilmed by the National Archives. These are, after all, public records. However, the usual copyright restrictions for materials that have been transcribed and published from original records in internet and other formats apply. We assume you know that you can not publish this material in its entirety as a transcribed work. That has already been done, and you¹re looking at it now. This is a real live person¹s efforts and labor that is being donated free to members of the Afrigeneas list in the spirit of furthering the state of African American genealogy and history. Should you use any part of this transcription for purposes other than doing a genealogical search, all rights apply and you are expected to acknowledge the source correctly. Please notify us if you would like to use this data base for a major u research project. Finally, the transcriber/author of this version of the manifests can not be held responsible for any errors that occurred in the process of transcription nor for passing those errors along to the users of this database.

References For Further Reading

Clark, T.D. ³The Slave Trade Between Kentucky and the Cotton Kingdom.² The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 21 #3 (December, 1943).

Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925. New York: Pantheon, 1976. (Note that this has an excellent section on the impact of the domestic slave trade on families.)

Tadman, Michael. Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South. Madison: Univeristy of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

Wesley, Charles H. ³Manifests of Slave Shipments Along the Waterways, 1804-1864.² Journal of Negro History. Volume 27 (April,1942)155-174.

Created: 6 March 1999
Updated: 25 April 1999
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