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Briscoe Center for American History acquires Major Southern History Collection

March 13, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin has acquired an archival collection of major importance to the history of the antebellum South. The collection includes more than 185 letters, legal documents, and manuscripts related to the settlement and economy of the Lower Mississippi region, with items from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s.

This archival collection will join the Briscoe Center’s existing Natchez Trace Collection. Named for the historic route connecting Nashville, Tennessee, with Natchez, Mississippi, the collection is rich in historical materials relating to the Lower Mississippi Valley from the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.


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Detail from Bill of Sale, 1857.Detail from Bill of Sale, 1857.
Detail from Map (ca. 1798.)Detail from Map (ca. 1798.)
Detail from Advertisement for runaway slave, 1821Advertisement for Runaway Slave, 1821.

The archival materials in the new acquisition represent a wide range of themes related to the social, economic, and political history of the region. All aspects of slavery are included in the papers, from legal documents on the slave trade and eyewitness accounts of slave auctions, to runaway slave notices and letters detailing slave uprisings. The collection also includes important documentation of the Southern antebellum economy, notably the cotton and tobacco trade and agricultural technology. The Briscoe Center has also acquired a plantation overseer’s ledger and inventory of slaves from the Frog More Plantation, Louisiana.

"We’re pleased to expand our Natchez Trace holdings with these historically significant documents,” said Don E. Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. "This particular collection has rich detail on the nature of slavery in the antebellum South, including vivid descriptions of slave auctions and uprisings. By preserving these eyewitness accounts, we gain a better understanding of the nature and practices of slavery in the southern United States. These documents also include significant information for researchers of the South’s social and economic history.”

"The Natchez Trace Collection has been a critical resource for students and scholars of the American South,” notes Associate Director for Research and Collections Brenda Gunn. "This new addition promises to enrich the learning experience of students on this campus in ways that a textbook cannot. I have seen a myriad of emotions on students’ faces as they hold a bill of sale for a slave sold at auction. In that moment, history becomes tangible. I’m certain this collection holds the potential for many powerful moments.”

The Briscoe Center’s collections provide in-depth understanding of the historical development of the South, with a special emphasis on slavery, the cotton economy, and the Civil War. In particular, the more than 450 linear feet of primary resources in the Natchez Trace Collection include personal papers; business, legal, and financial records; photographs; maps; sheet music; newspapers; and pamphlets, broadsides, and diaries. These materials document the lives of government officials, politicians, soldiers, bankers, jurists, planters, merchants, physicians, clergy, educators, slaves, and homemakers who lived and worked in the parishes and counties of Louisiana and Mississippi.

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