While there are many types documents relating to the institution of slavery, the most iconic and heavily collected has to be the actual bills of sale. These documents described the person or persons being sold, as well as the terms of the sale and any conditions which may have a bearing on the transaction. In general, documents of this type followed the same layout, with the pertinent information usually presented in the same order. These sales were strictly governed by the laws of the various states, though most states had similar statutes. The presently offered document is boldly headlined “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” in large letters, with “STATE OF LOUISIANA --- PARISH OF ST. HELENA” in slightly smaller letters immediately below. This document was originally printed for use by “DIOTICIAN W. THOMPSON”, though his name has been struck through with ink (as have his positions) and “Thomas Bennett” penned above. This alteration causes the first sentence to read “BE IT KNOWN, That this day, before me, Thomas Bennett Notary Public in and for the Parish of St. Helena, State of Louisiana aforesaid, duly commissioned and sworn, personally came and appeared Dudley Carter a Resident of the Parish of St. Helena State of Louisiana who declared that for the consideration hereinafter expressed, he does, by these presents, grant, bargain, sell, convey, and deliver, with a full guarantee against all troubles, debts, liens, mortgages, suits, evictions and encumbrances whatsoever, unto Howell Williams a resident of East Feliciana Parish said State, here present, purchasing and accepting for himself, his heirs and assigns, and acknowledging delivery thereof, To wit A certain Negro woman of yellow complexion aged Twenty three years Sound in body and mind a Slave for life named Letty warranted against all the vices and maladies prescribed by the Law …”. Readers should take note that the slave was warranted free of any vices and maladies prior to transaction, thereby protecting the seller should any complications arise after the sale (if any vices or maladies were present prior to the sale, they would have to be disclosed in writing at this time). The following paragraph guarantees the rights of the seller and purchaser and ends with the statement that “… This sale is made and accepted for and in consideration of the price and sum of One thousand dollars cash paid in hand the receipt whereof is acknowledged by this vendor …”. An additional manuscript sentence indicates that “… The purchaser waiving the Certificate of Mortgage required by Article 3328 of the Civil Code of this State …”, presumably done since the entire purchase price was paid at the time of sale. Apparently the slave in question belonged to Mrs. Carter (at least partially), as almost the entire last page of the document attests to her legal rights regarding the sale. This section begins “... And now personally came and intervened in these presents Mistress Elizabeth Zachary wife of this vendor who did declare unto me, Notary that it is her wish and intention to release in favor of the said purchaser the negro woman herein described, from the matrimonial, dotal, paraphernal and other rights, and from any claims, mortgages or privileges to which she is or may be entitled …”. The declaration continues, with the Notary explaining Mrs. Carter’s rights “… apart and out of the presence and hearing of her said husband …”, to which she states that “… she was fully aware of and acquainted with the nature and extent of the matrimonial, dotal, paraphernal and other rights thus secured to her by law …”. This section closes with the statement that “… the said husband being now present, aiding and authorizing his said wife in the execution of these presents, she, the said wife, did again declare that she did and doth hereby make a formal renunciation and relinquishment …” of the listed rights. This transaction was accomplished in the presence of two witnesses (William C. Williams and Robert O. Pennington), both of whom affix their signature at the conclusion. The transaction occurred on the “…. Seventeenthday of October in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-Seven …”. It is interesting to note that a manuscript statement after the printed section indicates that “… Mrs Carter not being able to write makes her ordinary mark X …”, which she actually does at the conclusion, along with the witnesses, her husband, and the notary (all of these, however, sign their names). The verso of this page is blank except for three manuscript notations describing the contents of the document, as well as the dates and official book locations where it was filed (this was done so that once stored, the document would not need to be opened to determine its nature and contents). This interesting and historic piece measures approximately 8.75 x 13.75 inches and was executed in period ink on watermarked light blue paper. The watermark features a seated figure that appears to represent Britannia on one page and “KENT MILLS / 1852” on the other. Though presently separated, the two pages of this document were originally attached along the left edge yielding three faces of text and a blank outer face. Due to the way it was printed, large areas were left blank, presumably to be used for extensive transactions (since this piece represents the trade of only a single individual, much of this blank area still remains). This is a nice, representative example of this popular type of document, with somewhat unusual circumstances that should be worthy of further research.
As noted in the above description, the principal condition issue regarding this document is its separation into two pieces. This condition has not affected any of the printed or manuscript material, nor does it detract from the historical interest. Three horizontal folds are present, a common occurrence on documents of this type as they were frequently folded for easier storage. Moderate toning and some soiling can be seen along these folds, as well as along the edges of the pages. A significant number of small white spots are scattered throughout the entire document, probably a result of improper production and less-than-ideal long term storage. Several small paper separations are noted at the junctions of the edges and folds, along with a ˝ inch long tear at the bottom of the first page (this tear has been strengthened with archival tape). The pre-printed material is sharp and bold, while the manuscript additions are light and poorly defined in some areas, though they are fully legible with effort. While not perfect (or even extremely fine), this interesting document would make a nice addition to any slavery related collection.
Note: Only a portion of the document is scanned to show the detail. Additional scans available to prospective purchasers.