Resources for the Study of Slavery and its Legacy

The JCB offers many resources for the study of slavery and its ongoing legacy. This page presents a selection of materials reflecting the depth and breadth of the JCB’s holdings relating to all aspects of slavery, including the transatlantic slave trade, plantation slavery, urban slavery, debates over slavery and abolition, connections to the histories of economics, science, and medicine, and the history of enslaved peoples’ engagement in resistance, rebellion, and revolution. The books, maps, visual material, and manuscripts listed here represent the linguistic and geographic diversity of the Library’s collection, published in several languages and pertaining to slavery throughout the Americas (North, South, and the Caribbean), with related information about Africa and Asia.

The following resources are a sampling of the Library’s relevant historical materials. Please note that you can request these items for in-person viewing by using the "request" button in the associated JOSIAH library catalog record. The catalog record will also include a link to a digital copy of the item, if available. The maps featured on this page include links to the digitized versions in our digital repositories.

Portrait of Henri Christophe carrying a torch and sword

Biography and autobiography

First-person narratives written by formerly enslaved peoples can be found throughout the collection. These life histories stretch from the interior of Africa to the islands of the Caribbean and beyond.

•    Mary Prince, The history of Mary Prince, a West Indian slave, London, 1831 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African, London, 1782 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Olaudah Equiano, The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, London, 1789 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Vida de JJ Dessalines, gefe de los negros de Santo Domingo…, Mexico, 1806 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

manuscript sheet of account book

The Brown Family Business Records at the JCB

Spanning seven generations and nearly two centuries, the extraordinary scope and completeness of this business archive provides documentation of nearly every aspect of economic life in the 18th and 19th centuries, including slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The collection was used by Brown University’s Committee for the Study of Slavery and Justice to examine the Brown family’s involvement in the slave trade with illuminating clarity, as in the vivid tracing of the 1764 voyage of the slave ship Sally.

printed text in English

Debates over slavery, the slave trade, emancipation and abolition

The documents selected here highlight the conflict between the supposed 'economic advantages' of slavery and the moral, political and religious arguments against this terrible crime, in the United States and beyond.

•    Malachy Postlethwayt, The national and private advantages of the African trade considered being an enquiry…, London, 1746 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Anthony Benezet, A Caution to Great Britain and her colonies, in a short representation of the calamitous state of the enslaved Negroes in the British dominions, London, 1767 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Thomas Clarkson, An essay on the impolicy of the African slave trade…, London, 1788 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    William Wilberforce, A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade…, London, 1807 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Abridgement of the Minutes of the Evidence taken before a Committee of the Whole House, London, 1789 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Substance of the debates on a resolution for abolishing the slave trade..., London, 1806 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Samuel Hopkins, A dialogue, concerning the slavery of the Africans;..Norwich, Connecticut, 1776 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Isidro de Antillón, Disertacion sobre el origen de la esclavitud de los negros..., Mallorca, 1811 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Don Francisco Arias de Villaruel, Contador disputado de la aueria de la Real Audiencia, y casa de la contratacion de las Indias, que reside en la ciudad de Sevilla por Su Magestad,… [Seville, 1667-1672] [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    José Blanco White, Bosquexo del comercio en esclavos: : y reflexiones sobre este tráfico considerado moral, politica, y cristianamente, London, 1814 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Société des amis des noirs, Réflexions sur le code noir, et dénonciation d'un crime affreux, commis a Saint-Domingue…Paris, 1790 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

image of open printed book

Laws and other government documents

The Library’s collection holds legal and government documents that attempted to govern relations between slaveholders and the enslaved, codify practices of the slave trade, and regulate the sale and trade of goods.  

•    Code Noir: ou Recueil d’edits, déclarations et arrets concernant les Esclaves Nègres de l’Amérique… Paris, 1743 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]  
•    Émilien Petit, Traité sur le gouvernement des esclaves..., Paris, 1777 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Moreau de Saint-Méry, Loix et constitutions des colonies françoises de l'Amérique sous le vent… , Paris, 1784-1790 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Condições para o contrato dos escravos do reino de Angola, : que ha de principiar em 5. de janeiro de 1760…, [Lisbon?, 1758?] [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Leis extravagantes collegidas e relatadas pelo licenciado Duarte Nunez do Liam per mandado do … rei Dom Sebastiam Nosso Senhor, Lisbon [1569] [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Juan de Villalobos. …El Capitan don Juan de Villalobos, ..., sobre la introduccion de esclavos negros en las Indias Occidentales…. Sevilla, 1686 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

idealized plan of a plantation

Maps and other graphic material

Maps are invaluable primary sources that provide detail about where slavery took shape and existed across a wide array of geographic settings: towns and cities, colonies, ports, hinterlands and plantations. In often surprising ways, maps and other graphic material such as prints and portraits can also show us how enslaved peoples dressed, worked, ate, moved around and lived in communities. They can offer us suggestions of how enslaved people revolted, where they went when they did and how they lived as they sought to live autonomously in freedom.

•    Richard Ligon, “A topographicall [Description and] Admeasurement [of the yland of] Barbados…” in A true & exact history of the island of Barbados, London, 1657 [digital record]
•    Mancel, "Plan géometrique de l'habitation de Mr. Guilleaume François Vallée," [Haiti], 1775 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    “The representation of the brig Vigilante from Nantes…” in [Album for the relief of British negro slaves], Birmingham, 1828 [digital record]
•    [Post-emancipation life], London, 1837, 6 leaves of plates [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Nicolas Colibert after Louis Freret, “Habitation des negres,” “Le culte des negres,” “Le mariage des negres,” “Arrivee des Europeens en Afrique,” Paris, 1795 [digital records here, here, here, here]
•    [Diagram of a Slave Ship] in Résumé du témoignage… Geneva, 1814 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

views of two forts on the island of Guadeloupe

Travel narratives and other accounts

As a key element of many colonial American societies, slavery often features prominently in descriptions of the region. The Library’s collection contains many examples of accounts written by travelers, planters, missionaries, and other commentators that include information about slave labor and conditions of enslavement.

•    Jean Baptiste Debret, Voyage pittoresque et historique au Brésil, ou Séjour d'un artiste français au Brésil…, Paris, 1834-1839 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    P.J. Laborie, The coffee planter of Saint Domingo… To which are added, some hints on the present state of the Island, London, 1798 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    William Beckford, A descriptive account of the island of Jamaica: with remarks upon the cultivation of the sugar-cane…, London, 1790 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Edward Long, The history of Jamaica…, London, 1774 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Jean Baptiste Du Tertre, Histoire generale des Antilles habitées par les François…. Paris, [1667-1671] [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Bryan Edwards, The history, civil and commercial, of the British colonies in the West Indies.... London, 1801 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Jose Fernandez. Apostolica, y penitente vida de el V.P. Pedro Claver, de la Compañia de Iesus… Zaragoza, 1666 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

printed text in English

Trade and business papers related to the transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic trade in African captives and race-based chattel slavery in the Americas were complex economic events and transactions that entailed the production of a wide variety of texts, both manuscript and printed, describing various aspects of these trades with a chilling neutrality that shows us how entrenched and accepted these trades were. These texts included merchant manuals, encyclopedias of trade, narrative descriptions of how to conduct trade, and calls for and against free trade.

•    James Houstoun, The Works … Containing memoirs of his life and travels in Asia, Africa, America and most parts of Europe…, London, 1753 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Recueil de Différentes Pieces pour & contre l’admission des Etrangers dans les Isles Francaises de l’Amérique…[s.n.]. [S.L.], 1785 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

broadside in French

Rebellion, Flight, Autonomy and Revolution

Many items in the collection attest to the efforts of enslaved peoples to resist the conditions of oppression, attain freedom, and establish autonomy. The resources listed here include accounts of escape and rebellion, descriptions of independent settlements of people who escaped slavery (often referred to as “maroons”), and material documenting the pivotal role of enslaved peoples in revolutions throughout the region.

•    William Young, An account of the Black Charaibs in the island of St. Vincent's; : with the Charaib treaty of 1779..., London, 1795 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Robert Charles Dallas, The history of the Maroons: from their origin to the establishment of their chief tribe at Sierra Leone..., London, 1803 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Jean-Antoine-Alexandre Noyer, Mémoire sur la Guyane française, Cayenne, 1824 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    George Pinkard, Punishment of the Maroons of Demerara... London, 1816 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a five years' expedition, against the revolted Negroes of Surinam, in Guiana, on the wild coast of South America, from the year 1772, to 1777, London, 1796 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Historia de la isla de Santa Domingo…Madrid, 1806 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Proclamation / nous, Étienne Polverel & Léger Félicité Sonthonax, commissaires civils, que nation française voyé dans pays-ci, pour mettre l'ordre et la tranquillité tout par-tout…Cap Français, July 2, 1793 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]

printed text in French

History of science and medicine

The dreadful treatment of enslaved peoples in the Caribbean exposed them to a number of diseases hitherto unknown to the Europeans. The emergence of a 'Tropical medicine' helped physicians to understand the role of the environment both in propagating these conditions and treating them with medicinal plants and other remedies.

•    Jean Barthélémy Dazille, Observations sur les maladies des Negres..., Paris, 1776 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]
•    Jean-Baptiste René, Poupee-Desportes, Histoire des Maladies de S. Domingue, Paris, 1770 [catalog record (JOSIAH)]