Primary Sources

These primary sources can be used to complement Last Seen ads to teach about the domestic slave trade, the lives of the enslaved, or family separation. These sources have been specifically selected for what they reveal about how enslaved people experienced and remembered these traumatic events. Teachers can pick and choose which sources are appropriate for their students and design their own lessons.

Ex-Slave Narratives

Ex-slave narratives are memoirs or autobiographies written by formerly enslaved people. Like Last Seen ads, these fascinating sources recount the experiences of the enslaved, usually in their own words. (Some were written with the help of editors). The full texts are available online through the University of North Carolina’s digital publishing initiative, Documenting the American South.

Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave
Elizabeth Keckley's Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave

The following excerpts are taken from Elizabeth Keckley’s memoir. The excerpt begins with Keckley’s recollections of the breakup of her family when her stepfather was taken west by his enslaver. The next passage recounts Keckley’s memories of seeing a slave auction.

Narrative (PDF)
Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky
Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky

In 1859, Francis Federic published a short (12-page) account of his escape from slavery. His second autobiography, published in 1863, provided a much more detailed account of his life in slavery. The following excerpts are directly from this second autobiography.

Narrative (PDF)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass published three autobiographies, the first in 1845, to quiet critics who claimed that he a former slave could not speak as eloquently as Douglass. Because Douglass named specific people and events, the authenticity of his claims could no longer be questioned by critics. The following account is from his first autobiography, published in 1845.

Narrative (PDF)
Days of Bondage. Autobiography of Friday Jones.
Days of Bondage. Autobiography of Friday Jones.

Central to Friday Jones's autobiography are his roles as husband and father and the unbearable anguish he experienced as an enslaved man, repeatedly threatened with the loss of his family. Almost as constant as his trials and tribulations is his reliance on his faith to carry him through each new obstacle. The following excerpts come directly from his autobiography.

Narrative (PDF)
Harry Smith, Fifty Years of Slavery
Harry Smith, Fifty Years of Slavery

The following excerpt comes directly from Smith's book, Fifty Years of Slavery in the United States of America.

Narrative (PDF)
Narrative of ... Henry Bibb, An American Slave
Narrative of ... Henry Bibb, An American Slave

The following is an excerpt from Henry Bib's autobiography.

Narrative (PDF)
Narrative of Henry Watson, A Fugitive Slave
Narrative of Henry Watson, A Fugitive Slave

This excerpt is from Henry Watson's narrative published in 1848.

Narrative (PDF)
An Autobiography. Bond and Free ... Israel Campbell
An Autobiography. Bond and Free ... Israel Campbell

These excerpts come directly from Campbell's autobiography.

Narrative (PDF)
A Narrative of Events of the Life of J.H. Banks, An Escaped Slave
A Narrative of Events of the Life of J.H. Banks, An Escaped Slave

These excerpts are taken from an account related to and recorded by J.W.C. Pennington, who was also born enslaved and managed to escape.

Narrative (PDF)
James Watkins, Struggles for Freedom
James Watkins, Struggles for Freedom

In 1852, Watkins published his first memoir, Narrative of the Life of James Watkins. In 1860, he published a revised version of his autobiography, Struggles for Freedom. These excerpts come directly from Watkins' memoir.

Narrative (PDF)
The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina
The Experience of a Slave in South Carolina

This excerpt from John Andrew Jackson's narrative, published in 1862, recounts the efforts some enslaved men went to in order to protect their relationships.

Narrative (PDF)
Narrative of the Life of John Quincy Adams
Narrative of the Life of John Quincy Adams

Adams wrote his memoir at night, after working in the fields all day. He emphasizes the economic motivations enslavers had for selling their enslaved people and about the cruelties of these forced separations. These excerpts are taken directly from Adams's memoir.

Narrative (PDF)
The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave
The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave

Henson's autobiography was first published in 1849, it was later reprinted in 1858 and 1879 with a foreword written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. These excerpts come directly from Henson's autobiography.

Narrative (PDF)
A Slave Girl's Story. Being an Autobiography of Kate Drumgoold
A Slave Girl's Story. Being an Autobiography of Kate Drumgoold

These excerpts come directly from Drumgoold's autobiography, A Slave Girl's Story, published in 1898.

Narrative (PDF)
Louisa Picquet, The Octoroon
Louisa Picquet, The Octoroon

The Reverend Hiram Mattison, an ardent abolitionist, interviewed Picquet. In this account, Picquet describes her sale and life with John Williams.

Narrative (PDF)
The Story of Mattie J. Jackson
The Story of Mattie J. Jackson

Jackson published her autobiography at the age of twenty. In the preface, Jackson implored people to purchase her narrative to "aid me in obtaining an education, that I may be enabled to do some good in behalf of the elevation of my emancipated brothers and sisters."

Narrative (PDF)
Biography of a Slave; Being the Experiences of Rev. Charles Thompson...
Biography of a Slave; Being the Experiences of Rev. Charles Thompson...

These excerpts come directly from Thompson's autobiography.

Narrative (PDF)
Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Narrative of Sojourner Truth

These excerpts recount Truth's experiences of forced separation and reunion.

Narrative (PDF)
Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave
Solomon Northrup, Twelve Years a Slave

These accounts are from Northrup's memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, written and published upon his return to freedom.

Narrative (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones

In 1851, on the heels of the Fugitive Slave Law, Jones left the United States and settled briefly in St. John, Canada, where he continued to work as an abolitionist and became a vocal critic of Black emigration programs.

Narrative (PDF)

Works Progress Administration (WPA) Excerpts

The Works Progress Administration commissioned the Federal Writers’ Project in 1936-1938 to employ out-of-work writers during the Great Depression. Writers traveled throughout the south interviewing formerly enslaved people to gather and memorialize their experiences. These excerpts have been selected from different states and detail a wide array of experiences. The complete interviews are available through the Library of Congress.

The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA Interview of Ank Bishop

Mr. Ank Bishop was interviewed by Ruby Pickens Tartt in Livingston, Alabama.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA Interview with Charity Austin

Charity Austin was interviewed by Pat Matthews. At the time of the interview, she lived at 507 South Bloodworth Street in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA Interview with Cornelia Andrews

Cornelia Andrews was interviewed by Mary A. Hicks. At the time of the interview, she lived in Smithfield, Johnston County, North Carolina. She was 87 years old.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA Interview with Harriet Hill

Miss Harriet Hill was interviewed by Miss Irene Robertson. At the time of her interview, she was 84 years old and lived in Forrest City, Arkansas.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with James Brown

At the time of his interview, James Brown was described as an 84-year-old blind man. He was formerly enslaved to Mr. Berney in Bell County, Texas, in 1853. While still an infant, he and his mother were sold to Mr. John Blair, who farmed four miles south of Waco, Texas. At the time of the interview, Mr. Brown lived alone in a “shack” located at 408 W. Belknap, Fort Worth, Texas

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Jenny Proctor

Jenny Proctor, 87, was born in Alabama in 1850. She was enslaved by the Proctor family and was forced to begin working as a young girl. As soon as she was old enough, she was forced to labor in the cotton fields alongside adults. She and her husband John Proctor moved to Texas after emancipation and settled in Leon County near the old town of Buffalo. They worked as sharecroppers. After her husband’s death, she moved to San Angelo with her son.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Josephine Howard

Josephine Howard was born enslaved on the Walton plantation near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. At the time of her interview, she did not know her exact age, but remembers that when Mr. Walton moved to Texas before the Civil War, she was old enough to work in the fields. In 1937, she lived with her daughter at 1520 Arthur Street in Houston, Texas.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Josh Miles

Josh Miles, 78, was born in Richmond, Virginia enslaved by the Miles family. In 1862, the Miles family moved to Franklin, Texas. At the time of his interview, Miles lived in Mart, Texas.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview of Laura Clark

Laura Clark was interviewed by Ruby Pickens Tartt. At the time of the interview, Ms. Clark was eighty-six years old. According to the interviewer, she lived in a cabin on the outskirts of Livingston, Alabama.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Mary Estes Peters

Mary Estes Peters was born on January 30, 1860, in Missouri. The interviewer, S.S. Taylor, described her as having "a good memory and a clear mind for her age [she was 78 years old at the time of the interview]." Mr. Taylor describes her as being "reticent" to discuss the facts of her birth. Her mother was enslaved, but her father was white, the "white parentage being very evident in her color and features and hair."

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Mintie Miller

Mintie Marie Miller lived at 1404 39th Street in Galveston, texas when she was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
Oklahoma WPA interviews

These excerpts, taken from the Oklahoma WPA Narratives, include recollections of formerly enslaved people who witnessed others being trafficked and sold or who experienced being sold themselves.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Sara Colquitt

Sara Colquitt was born in Richmond, Virginia, and says that she is 100-years old. She was interviewed by Preston Klein in Opelika, Alabama in 1937.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Ms. Viney Baker

Ms. Viney Baker is identified as 78 years old at the time of her interview. She lived on South Harrington Street in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ms. Baker was interviewed by Ms. Mary A. Hicks.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Spence Johnson

Spence Johnson was born free, a member of the Choctaw Nation, in the Indian Territory, in 1850.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with W. L. Bost

Mr. W. L. Bost was interviewed by Marjorie Jones. At the time of the interview, he lived at 63 Curve Street in Asheville, North Carolina.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
Texas WPA interviews

These excerpts, taken from the Texas WPA Narratives, include recollections of formerly enslaved people who witnessed others being trafficked and sold or who experienced being sold themselves.

Excerpt (PDF)
The Experience of Thomas H. Jones
WPA interview with Mr. Tom Douglas

Mr. Douglas was interviewed twice. The first time by Mrs. Mildred Thompson in 1936. The second time he and wife, Mrs. Sarah Douglas, were interviewed by Mrs. Carol Graham in 1938.

Excerpt (PDF)

Images

These images, most of them created before emancipation, can be used to offer students another tool to visualize enslavement, sale, and separation—the events that led formerly enslaved people to search for their families and loved ones when they became free. More images can be found at Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora.

Slave Auction
Slave Auction

Image (PDF)
Slave Coffle, Virginia 1839
Slave Coffle, Virginia 1839

Image (PDF)
Slave Trader, Sold to Tennessee
Slave Trader, Sold to Tennessee

Image (PDF)
Slavery and Slave Trade
Slavery and Slave Trade

Image (PDF)

Information Wanted Ads

This curated set of Last Seen ads can give teachers an idea of what is available in the complete collection. Teachers may choose to use them as ready-made handouts for students. We also encourage teachers to explore the larger collection.

Mrs. Ann Hampton
Mrs. Ann Hampton

Mrs. Ann Hampton searching for her mother Nellie Beachem.

Ad (PDF)
Ben & Flora East
Ben & Flora East

Ben and Flora East seeking information about their daughter Polly and son George Washington.

Ad (PDF)
Ben Ford
Ben Ford

Ben Ford searching for his friend Ben Herbert.

Ad (PDF)
Benjamin Gray
Benjamin Gray

Benjamin Gray searching for his father Geoffrey Gray and several family members.

Ad (PDF)
Cinda White
Cinda White

Cinda White desires to hear the whereabouts of her children

Ad (PDF)
Clarissa Reed
Clarissa Reed

Clarissa Reed searching for her mother, father, and siblings

Ad (PDF)
Clery Ann Bertolotte
Clery Ann Bertolotte

Clery Ann Bertolotte searching for her parents, Susan and Cain Alison, and her siblings

Ad (PDF)
Daniel Sherman
Daniel Sherman

Daniel Sherman searching for his former wives Allie Mason, Sarah Berry, and Bitha Fason and their respective children

Ad (PDF)
Eliza Husher & Lucy A. Johnson
Eliza Husher & Lucy A. Johnson

Mrs. Eliza Husher (formerly Eliza Clark) searching for her mother Sallie Clark and siblings

Ad (PDF)
Eliza Montgomery
Eliza Montgomery

Eliza Montgomery searching for her brother Dick Bush

Ad (PDF)
Elizabeth Powell
Elizabeth Powell

Elizabeth Powell searching for her father Sam Moseley, mother Elizabeth, and siblings Harry, Amos, Isaac, Rebecca, and Lucretia

Ad (PDF)
Mrs. Elmyra Winn
Mrs. Elmyra Winn

Mrs. Elmyra Winn looking for her father Walker Haskins

Ad (PDF)
Emma
Emma

Emma searching for her son John

Ad (PDF)
Felix G. Gilbert
Felix G. Gilbert

F. G. Gilbert searching for his mother Eliza Miller and sisters Sara Jane and Rosa Miller

Ad (PDF)
George White
George White

George White looking for his mother Minerva Jackson

Ad (PDF)
Henry Brown
Henry Brown

Henry Brown seeking information about his mother Rebecca and father, a free man, Samuel Brown

Ad (PDF)
Isaac Williams
Isaac Williams

Isaac Williams offering $200 reward to anyone who can find his grandchild

Ad (PDF)
J. A. W. Moore
J. A. W. Moore

J. A. W. Moore looking for her husband Peter Picket, sister Mary, and brother Wright

Ad (PDF)
J. W. Williams
J. W. Williams

J. W. Williams seeking information of his grandparents Joshua and Mahala Williams or any of their descendants

Ad (PDF)
Jennie Crawford
Jennie Crawford

Jennie Crawford (formerly Jane Jones) seeking her relatives

Ad (PDF)
Jerry Williams
Jerry Williams

Jerry Williams searching for his parents Jerry and Sophia Thompson and siblings

Ad (PDF)
John Shackelford
John Shackelford

John Shackelford looking for his mother Caroline and seven siblings

Ad (PDF)
Lazarus Holland
Lazarus Holland

Lazarus Holland looking for his parents James and Kenna and several siblings

Ad (PDF)
Lucinda Keys
Lucinda Keys

Lucinda Keys looking for her children Albert and Margaret Carpenter

Ad (PDF)
Lucinda Lowery
Lucinda Lowery

Lucinda Lowery searching for her daughter Caroline Dodson

Ad (PDF)
Mary Long
Mary Long

Mary Long searching for her mother Eliza Long, siblings George and Charlotte Long, and extended family

Ad (PDF)
Press Low
Press Low

"Press" Low looking for their mother Mary

Ad (PDF)
Rachel Rogers
Rachel Rogers

Rachel Rogers seeking brothers Nick and Nussau Sanders and sister Sookie Toles

Ad (PDF)
Reverend H. S. Roberts
Reverend H. S. Roberts

Rev. H. S. Roberts seeking information about his son Wm. Lewis Johnson

Ad (PDF)
Reverend Lymas A. Anders
Reverend Lymas A. Anders

Rev. Lymas A. Anders (formerly Lymas Cook) searching for Gideon Cook, Betsey Cook, and their children

Ad (PDF)
Robert Henderson
Robert Henderson

Robert Henderson searching for his uncle Reuben Henderson

Ad (PDF)
Rosanna Patterson
Rosanna Patterson

Rosanna Patterson searching for her unnamed mother, as well as Sarah Patterson and Henry and George Holiday

Ad (PDF)
Samuel Dove
Samuel Dove

Samuel Dove searching for his mother Areno, sisters Maria, Neziah, and Peggy, and his brother Edmond

Ad (PDF)
Sally Stevens, also known as Mrs. Sarah Bell
Sally Stevens, also known as Mrs. Sarah Bell

Sally Stevens seeking her sister Judy

Ad (PDF)
Silas & Annie Thomas
Silas & Annie Thomas

Silas Thomas searching for his children and Annie Thomas searching for her family

Ad (PDF)
Escape on the Underground Railroad
Escape on the Underground Railroad

Frances Parker, Ellen Nettleton, and Sarah Elizabeth Brooks searching for family members believed to have self-emancipated using the Underground Railroad.

Ad (PDF)
William Tunstel
William Tunstel

William Tinsel seeking his brother McLeroy

Ad (PDF)
Willis Mays
Willis Mays

Willis Mays searching for his aunt Sophia and uncles Ruben Grimes and John Ray

Ad (PDF)
Dianna Johnson
Dianna Johnson

Dianna Johnson searching for her mother Hannah Hilliard, sisters, and brothers (1st of 4 ads)

Ad (PDF)
Dianah Johnson
Dianah Johnson

Dianah Johnson searching for her mother Hannah Hilliard and siblings (2nd of 4 ads)

Ad (PDF)
Diana Johnson
Diana Johnson

Diana Johnson searching for her parents Jack and Hannah Hellard (3rd of 4 ads)

Ad (PDF)
Diana Johnson
Diana Johnson

Diana Johnson searching for her parents Jack and Hannah Hellard and siblings (4th of 4 ads)

Ad (PDF)
Esther Turner
Esther Turner

Esther Turner searching for her mother, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncle

Ad (PDF)
Henry and Sandy Anderson
Henry and Sandy Anderson

Henry and Sandy Anderson looking for their mother Peggy and several siblings

Ad (PDF)