Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One of the most powerful documents to come across the Schlesinger Library conservation bench is this single-leaf manuscript from the recently processed Additional Papers of the Poor Family. The document is the manumission for "Elisabeth, a negro woman," dated 1778. It has been folded into eighths, resulting in some wear and loss of ink along the folds. The verso of the document shows some calculations, possibly relating to the terms of the manumission, and a faded notation, "Negro Bet" – most likely Elisabeth's diminutive name. It is easy to imagine that this important document was kept carefully in a drawer or wooden box, which could explain the square of discoloration on the back. Conservation treatment will entail: testing the ink for solubility; careful washing; and subtle mending so that the document can be handled safely, without further loss to the text. This manumission has held together for over 200 years and as stewards of this historical document, it is the Library's job to see that it lasts even longer to convey its powerful message for generations to come.

Transcript of the manumission text:

These certify, whome it doth or may concern: that in consequence of thirty eight pound, seven shilling and six pence in continental bills & twelves weeks labour in the winter season, rec'd of Elisabeth a negro woman wich I lately bo't of Charls Putman have thot fit by & with the advice & concent of the selectmen of Plainfield: to emancipate & make free the said Elisabeth & I do hereby for my self my heirs & [assigns?] make free set at liberty & forever discharge the said Elisabeth from serving me or my heirs &cetera. But it is to be understood that I gave to said Putman my note of hand for one hundred Spanish [ ?] milled silver dollers & that in case said Putman shall obtain more of me on said note than the consideration above mentioned as he now refuses to receive continental money in pament therefor in that case said Elisabeth is to make good all damages that I shall sustain on that account.

In testimony whereof I have hearunto set my hand and seal: done in Plainfield this 28th day of September 1778.

Sam'l Fox 

The reverse side of the manumission showing calculations and text "Negro Bet"The reverse side of the manumission showing calculations and text "Negro Bet"