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Natchez Index of Free Individuals and Families of Color 1779-1865

What is the the Index?

The following pages are the culmination of decades-long research on free Black people in Natchez, Mississippi. My research began in 1996 during an investigation of property-owning free women of color who lived in Natchez and surrounding Adams County, Mississippi between 1779-1865. Later, it grew into a more encompassing community-wide study of all free Black people who surfaced in records. The process began with the careful inspection of the US census returns between the years 1816 and 1860 and the recording of every free Black person listed along with members of their households, age, color, occupations, and any property they held. William Johnson’s diary that he kept from 1835-1851 was another critical primary source base. Using the diary’s index and carefully inspecting every entry for mentions of free Black people living in Natchez provided a basis for cataloguing this population. Sporadic research trips from that time to the most recent in 2019 allowed the opportunity to visit the Adams County Chancery Court and the Historic Natchez Foundation. Within these institutions, I pored over the transcribed Spanish records, chancery and circuit court records, will books, deed books, marriage books, probate records, and Police Board records, among others to further expand the catalogue of individuals.

Early on in the process, I created the Natchez Index of Free Individuals and Families of Color to archive both transcriptions of the documents I had uncovered and excerpts from books relating to free Black people produced by other scholars. Entries to the index are organized alphabetically by an individual’s surname if known or first name when this was not obtainable. From the outset, it was my view that this index should collect all documents and records relevant to individuals of interest and others who appeared to defy neat racial characterization. With this in mind, I began duplicating each document, either by transcribing on-site, making photocopies, or later, digitally capturing images of documents. It is important to note that the focus has always been on free Black people. Therefore, not all sources are fully transcribed and are often truncated to include only the relevant information about that group.

The Natchez Database of Free People of Color was a natural outgrowth of my desire to impose a degree of organizational structure to my findings and establish an easily navigable one-stop source. Indeed, it went hand-in-hand with the process and the Index correlates directly with the Database by serving as its expanded repository. In addition to recording the name of every free Black individual who surfaced in the record, diligent attention was paid to compiling demographic characteristics within the database like gender, age, color, property ownership, occupation, and literacy, etc. This process has revealed critical patterns regarding intergenerational familial relationships, movement, and violence. The intertwining of these complementary units, the Database and the Index, serves as the backbone of this project. For more on the creation of the Index and the Database, refer to the essay on methods, “Natchez in Freedom and Enslavement: A Methodological Reflection on the Establishment of a Database Documenting Free People of Color, 1779-1865” elsewhere on the website.

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