About the Digital Library on American Slavery

The Digital Library on American Slavery (DLAS) is an expanding resource compiling independent collections focused upon race and slavery in the American South, made searchable through a single, simple interface. DLAS houses tens of thousands of records relating to all 15 slave states and Washington, D.C. as well as a number of northern states. DLAS contains detailed personal information about over 100 thousand individuals, including enslaved people, enslavers, free people of color, and more.

The goal of the Digital Library on American Slavery is to bring together and make freely accessible public records related to enslavement, with an emphasis upon the names and stories of the enslaved. DLAS strives to be a documentation project, not an interpretive effort. The team works with researchers to make data sets available for personal research.

Each project housed within DLAS includes a data dictionary and user guide tailored to that data set or type of record. A detailed history of each project is also available.

Included documents and datasets

Court petitions (The Race and Slavery Petitions Project)
The Race and Slavery Petitions Project is based upon the research data of Dr. Loren Schweninger and offers data extracted from eighteenth and nineteenth-century documents and processed over a period of eighteen years. The project contains detailed information on about 150,000 individuals extracted from 2,975 legislative petitions and 14,512 county court petitions, as well as from a wide range of related documents, including wills, inventories, deeds, bills of sale, depositions, court proceedings, and amended petitions among others. Buried in these documents are the names and other data on roughly 80,000 enslaved people, 8,000 free people of color, and 62,000 whites, both enslavers and not.
Runaway slave notices (The N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisements Project)
This project provides online access to all known runaway slave advertisements (more than 5000 items) published in North Carolina newspapers from 1751 to 1865. These brief ads provide a glimpse into the social, economic, and cultural world of the American slave system and the specific experience within North Carolina. The project includes digital images, full-text transcripts, and descriptive metadata, as well as contextual essays and an annotated bibliography.
Slave deeds (People Not Property)
People Not Property is a unique, centralized database of bills of sales from across over 20 North Carolina counties, Washington DC, and other states. The project indexes the names of enslaved people from across the state, and includes robust metadata, images, and searchable indexes. This is an ongoing effort, and the project will continue to expand to other counties across North Carolina as well as into other states and districts.

Project staff

Richard Cox
Digital Technology Consultant
DLAS project manager
Daniel Nanez
IT Analyst & Database administration
DLAS Developer
David Gwynn
Digitization Coordinator
Slave Notices Project manager

Previous staff

Dr. Brian Robinson
CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for African-American Studies
Claire Heckel
People Not Property Project Coordinator

Funding sources & recognitions

In 2022 the Digital Library on American Slavery was awarded a $99,915 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to expand the People Not Property project into four additional North Carolina counties.

The Digital Library on American Slavery received a 2021 American Council of Learned Societies Digital Extension Grant. This collaborative, community-engaged research project leverages the infrastructure and expertise of the Digital Library on American Slavery (DLAS), with the goal being to expand ongoing digital research to three additional public universities in North Carolina (ECU, NCCU, UNCP) through a set of interrelated research projects that engage and empower local communities while fostering collaboration among scholars at diverse stages of their professional development.

In 2020, the Digital Library on American Slavery was recognized as as the first-ever "virtual" stop on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, operated by the National Park Service. The Network to Freedom program consists of locations with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad; educational and interpretive programs that pertain to the Underground Railroad; and research and educational facilities. There are over 600 locations across 40 states, plus Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Also in 2020, the Digital Library on American Slavery and UNCG became the host of a Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for African American and African Studies. We were very fortunate that Dr. Brian A. Robinson accepted the opportunity. Dr. Robinson earned his Ph.D. in American History from the University of South Carolina at Columbia. He works with the DLAS team to develop web-based content for engaging with and training teachers to use the Digital Library on American Slavery, and focuses on data manipulation and visualization, text mining, and GIS applications that enhance the historical record and increase the visibility and discoverability of DLAS.

The first phase of the People Not Property slave deeds project was funded in 2018 through a three-year, $294,603 grant from the National Archives' National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to digitize nearly 10,000 North Carolina slave deeds and bills of sale, create a comprehensive database for the digitized records, and provide detailed metadata of these documents.

Phase One of the N.C. Runaway Slave Advertisements collaborative project between the University Libraries of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the F.D. Bluford Library at North Carolina A&T State University was made possible through funding from the federal Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina. Phase Two was initiated with the assistance of a Strategic Seed Grant awarded by the UNCG Office of Research and Engagement and is now supported completely by the UNC Greensboro University Libraries.

The creation of the Digital Library on American Slavery was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2009, and was designated a We The People project. Previous funding for the Race and Slavery Petitions Project was provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives [NHPRC] (1991-2005), the National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH] (1995-2009), and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (1997-2005).

Media & selected presentations, 2018-present