Records of Ante-bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War

 Source Report by Ben Lovell '10

1. What is it? The Records of Ante-bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War is a broad collection of documents, which had previously been in various libraries around the country, which deals with everyday life on plantations in the antebellum South. The fourteen series collection is on 35mm microfilm. Each series in this collection are from different libraries or institutions around the South. For example, the two series of the collection owned by Bowdoin are selections from the Library of Congress and the Library of the University of Virginia.

2. When was it made, by whom, and why? The general editor of the series is Kenneth M. Stampp. The first series in this collection was published in 1985 and it is a continuing work. Stampp compiled this collection, as he explains in his "Introduction," in response to the overwhelming amount of controversies and wealth of materials that had been previously published and released about slavery. Thus, the imputes for the creation of this collection was to bring together all of the scattered documents of plantation life into a broad collection that may help to shed light on many of the controversies and historical research regarding slavery.

3. Who appears in it? There are various people that appear in the collection. They are mostly the very wealthy planters of the South. Bowdoin owns Series C part I and Series E part 2. Both of these series deal with large Virginia planters. Series C contains documents from the "Shirley" Plantation Journals, the William B. Randolph Papers, and the Bruce Family Papers. Series E specifically contains documents from the Berkeley, Gilliam, Barbour and Randolph families. Since these collections span a large amount of time there are documents from various members of these families.

4. How is it organized? Each series in this collection is from a different library and/or institution. Depending on the specific series there are several sub-parts. In the case of Bowdoin's collection the sub-parts focus on the geographic area of Virginia. The documents from each collection, in these sub-parts, are organized chronologically. It can be a little confusing though, because when you encounter a new collection of documents from a different source they start over chronologically once more. For example in Series C Part 1, there are the William B. Randolph Papers which has three smaller sections: legal, financial, and personal papers. These three sections are separated and each is organized chronologically.

5. How do you use it and are there any finding aids or supplemental material? This collection which is on microfilm is very large; Series C part 1 contains eight reels and Series E Part II contains twenty-six reels. Each of these collections on microfilm are accompanied by a printed guide. The guides were complied by Martin Schipper. The guides accompany the specific series and contain its' table of contents. The guides also give a brief explanation of each specific collection, any relevant history regarding it, and which reel the documents are on. Following that the guide gives the source, often the name of the author of the document, of each frame in the specific reels. Thus, one is able to find specific documents that may deal with a certain individual. Use of the guides is imperative because the collection is extremely large and can be complicating. Another useful resource is a website by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: This website can also be useful because it give a brief summary of what each series and its' parts contain.

6. How do you get access to it? Both the Records of Ante-bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War and the guides that accompany it are located in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library on the first floor in the Microfilm room. There are no restrictions on the collections' use, so you are able to use them anytime that the library is open.

*Microfilm Reference Numbers:
Series C Part 1: Main Micro Film 3086 no. 1-10
Series E Part II: Main Micro Film 3087 no. 1-26
*Guide Reference:
Series C: Main Micro Index HD1471.US R45 ser. C
Series E: Main Micro Index HD1471.US R45 ser. E pt. 2-3

7. What kinds of questions can it answer? This collection can help answer a broad range of questions regarding much of the day to day life on plantations. The collection contains various documents such as bills of sale, contracts, wills, correspondence, and personal papers. However, these collections are almost entirely made up of documents from the slave owners themselves. Thus, it is difficult to use this collection to answer certain questions about the unfiltered or undistorted thoughts of slaves. Another problem is that the collection chronicles many of the larger plantations and so it is not as useful when exploring topics relating to small planters. But this collection is so detailed that its contents can be used in a broad variety of ways and for a variety of topics. For example, this is one of the seemingly trivial correspondences from Series E part II:

"196. 1762 Dec. 18. Edmund Berkeley to William Carney. ALS. 1 p.
‘William, I cannot send by Wm. White any more than ten shillings for want of change which I delivered to Wm. White in presence of Jane Baker for ye worst made show that prhaps ever was made by a white man attested by Mr. Ross.' Witness: Jane Baker.
197. 1762 Dec. 23. Wm. Carney to Col: Bartley [Berkeley] in Middlesex. Als. 1 p. [On verso of item preceding.]
‘... if your Honour Please pay Mr. Thos Fearn the Sum of one pound five shillings...'" p. 127

So in short, this collection is specifically helpful to anyone who looking into almost any aspect of plantation life from the Colonial Era to the Civil War, especially from the point of view of the planters.