Buying and Selling Enslaved Persons in Baton Rouge

By Madeline Holmes

Image of Baton Rouge City Hall, where the EBR Clerk of Court is located

 Baton Rouge City Hall sits in the heart of the Downtown area, located alongside other prominent city buildings on St. Louis Street. After taking a short elevator ride down to the basement, one can locate the Clerk of Court office. In this seemingly sporadically organized office, you’ll see shelves upon shelves of massive books lining the walls, many of which appear to have not been touched for decades.

Photo of a portion of the Conveyance Records collection in the EBR Clerk of Court Office.

Several stretches of wall in the back of this office are home to a series of thousands of massive books (about 10-15 pounds in weight and 300-400+ pages a piece) labeled “Conveyance Records.” These conveyance books are the records of most, if not all, property transaction that has occurred in East Baton Rouge Parish from 1846 to present. While there were certainly transactions concerning the buying and selling of enslaved persons in EBR prior to 1846, the official records do not begin until then. The first conveyance book is labeled A-1 and by the year 1976, the office was on book 2535. Instances of enslaved persons are found throughout books A-1 to approximately book 20. To clarify, this means that there are 48 of these massive conveyance books containing records of enslaved men, women, and child being bought and sold – records that likely have been seen or analyzed for countless years.

These books contain what you’d likely expect property transaction records to contain: details of every building, acre of land, and piece of livestock that exchanged hands in the parish,. Though some modern translations are typed or written in print, many of the older records were carefully written in intricate Antebellum script. What you might not expect to be included in these conveyance books, however, are records of enslaved persons being bought and sold right alongside farmland and cattle. And for many of these enslaved men, women, and children, these records of them being sold as human commodities are the only times their names have ever been written down; the only place where their existence is documented. However, I strive for this to no longer be the case. While this database has been created from records that only viewed these enslaved persons as property, providing accounts of these enslaved men, women, and children is the first step in humanizing them and reconstructing their narratives. 

East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, Conveyance Record A-1: 111; Morgan Morgan (deceased) Estate and Property Appraisal, 24 March 1847; Office of the Clerk of Court, City of Baton Rouge.

The document pictured above is an example of just one of the hundreds of pages in each of these Conveyance Record books. The particular document details the appraisal of the property of the late Mr. Morgan Morgan of the city of New Orleans. His primary assets are listed, described, and appraised in the document, located in the numbered list 1- 5. I have transcribed portions the numbered list below:

1: A negro man named Ben, aged about thirty-six years, Appraised at eight hundred dollars

2: A negro woman named Mary, aged about twenty-three years, and her child George aged one year and a half, Appraised at six hundred dollars…

3: Four yoke of oxen, Appraised at eighty dollars…

4: One sored horse, Appraised at thirty-five dollars…

5: Five or six head of cattle and a few hogs running at large, Appraised at twenty dollars…

The two enslaved adults and one enslaved child that were in Mr. Morgan’s possession at the time of his death are listed and appraised alongside his livestock in this conveyance document. Subtle practices such as this reinforced the belief that enslaved persons were viewed more as tangible commodities rather than as humans.

In looking at this database and interpreting the narratives of these people, it is critical to consider that these may be the first documents recording hundreds of men, women, and children as people, not property. It is our duty to remember them in a way that respects their memory and maintains the dignity of their personhood. 

Slavery in Baton Rouge

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