Last names for American slaves?

+7 votes

I've just wound up a year and a half making & connecting profiles from cemetery pictures in the northeast US, mostly Connecticut. Along the way, I gave special attention to Nero Hawley, a slave and revolutionary war soldier from Trumbull, CT. In the process, I picked up a book called The Slaves of Central Fairfield County by Daniel Cruson. And so, before moving on to Texas cemeteries (the better half's roots), I figured it would make sense to spend some more time working on Connecticut slaves.

In addition to the Barbour Collection & CT Church Record Abstracts, I'm starting with the book's appendix. The first slaveowner is Nathaniel Brisco. The appendix has a column for last names, but it's blank for most of the entries. Similarly, for slaveowner Nathaniel Brisco, only one slave, Philip, has the last name listed at all.

Generally, a slave's last name at birth is the same as the slaveowner's, not their own parents. It's tough to even get an owner's name, slave's first name, and a birth or death date. Unless it's a birth record associated with the owner, it's only a best guess if you use the last name of the owner.

I'm fascinated by genealogy TV shows. In particular Skip Gates' Finding Your Roots gives significant attention to the challenges of building a tree that includes slaves. After the time I spent on Nero Hawley, I decided I could maybe help a little if I posted as much as I can from the sources I've got in front of me, before I start forgetting or pass away from old age.

I've rambled on too much! Pros and cons for giving all of Nathaniel Brisco's identified slaves the LNAB of Brisco? To be applied to all the other slaves just the same as I work through the records.

WikiTree profile: Nathaniel Brisco
in Policy and Style by Living Winter G2G6 Mach 7 (72.1k points)
edited by Living Winter

1 Answer

+8 votes
Best answer
by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.5m points)
selected by Susan Laursen
At this time, I have to agree that the surname for enslaved persons should be unknown.  Additional surnames could be what they used in the 1870 census.  For all profiles the LNAB is just that, the name they were given at birth.  It is normally documented on a birth record or baptismal record.  In the case of enslaved people they had no last name.  You can see even in wills they were not referred to with any last name.  These people made a choice of some sort when they were emancipated and from thenceforth used a surname.
The surname of the slave owner could be listed under 'Other Last Names', especially for research purposes.
Lucy, that makes perfect sense. Now, if there was a place to link wills that mention slaves. (Uh... is there a place?)
I add the will to the profile of the slave owner and hyperlink names mentioned  in the wills to their respective profiles.  I've also seen slave owner profiles that include a subsection listing the names of enslaved persons that the profiles individual "owned".
That's exactly the approach I'm taking with the links, Jilliane: I "finished" Nero Hawley, and it's got all that kind of information. At one point, Nero was a gift, or perhaps part of a dowry. I have links between all the relevant profiles for that transaction. I've not found wills for the ones I'm working on now. At least not yet. But I've used them many times. One of the best sources.

Interesting concept about LNAB, Edie. I love the idea of Unknown but a definite "other." That sounds like a good approach for search purposes, which is one of my top considerations in entering. Last Names. I don't like to argue about which is the truly "correct" spelling when there are alternative spellings. I figure they can all be entered, which makes for optimal search results.

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