In the context of American Chattel Slavery, Manumission refers to both the act of enslavers freeing the people they enslaved and the legal document that records this freeing. Manumission has existed across many slave societies in different forms and approaches. Further reasons Quakers manumitted the people they enslaved can be found on the Essays Page.
Witnesses to the signing of the manumission are white Quakers who serve as legal witness to the signing of the manumission. Among the witnesses are both other slaveholding Quakers and Quakers without a record of slaveholding.
Signers of the manumissions are the slaveholders, sometimes through purchase, inheritance, or the management of an estate, who are seeking to relinquish ownership of the people they enslave.
Enslaved people appear in the manumissions as those being freed by the manumission. Sometimes multiple people are freed in one manumission. Sometimes ages are listed. Sometimes freedom is withheld from enslaved people until a certain age, often 18 or 21. Some of the people Quakers enslaved were Quakers themselves, others were not, religious affiliations of the enslaved are not noted in the manumissions.
A slaveholder is someone who held people as slaves at any point in their lives. They could have come into possession of enslaved people through purchase, inheritance, or on the behalf of an estate. In our manumission collection, the majority of slaveholders are Quakers, with a few exceptions.
Meeting clerks are those who have written, or filled in the blanks, of manumissions. Clerks, additionally, may have made copies, by hand, of some of the manumissions in our collection. Lastly, clerks have sometimes created brief summaries on the backsides of manumissions that list dates, place names, and people’s names of the manumission. These summaries are used to clarify unclear handwriting in our gathering of data.